Vocalist's Second Motéma Music CD Drops Today, 1 -11 11
Let’s Fly, the much anticipated follow-up to Amy London’s acclaimed 2008 Motéma debut, When I Look in Your Eyes, is a swinging and sensual affair, replete with jazz and Brazilian standards, tasty re-imaginings of songs by Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro, and rare gems by bop legends Charles Mingus and Elmo Hope. London’s considerable talents, developed through her many years as a first-call New York City jazz, Broadway and big band vocalist, shine on Let’s Fly, her second CD for Motéma . The recording takes its name from the lead track, an uplifting, truly swinging version of ''Let’s Fly," which was penned by vocal legend Annie Ross when she was just 14. Ross submitted the song to a contest for a chance to have Johnny Mercer record the winner. "Let’s Fly" won, and was recorded by Mercer in 1945. It has never been recorded since, until now, where it happily sees the light of day with London's delightful approach, featuring a vocalese verse of her own.
Let’s Fly, released on Jan. 11, 2011, is a true love letter of a CD. "I am in love with every single song on this CD, tunes and lyrics alike. They are all melodies, grooves and stories that I love to share with audiences, wherever I go," enthuses London. "What unites this material for me, is that the stories reflect where I am right now in my life. Every song was sung with certain people in mind, and I wrote the arrangements to ornament the stories."
On this musically impeccable set, London is accompanied by an A-list of New York players who breathe and groove with her as one, as they travel through her solid, unique and deeply personal arrangements. Motèma label-mate Roni Ben-Hur provides an important element of the overall sound. His tone and swing on guitar, which helped make London's When I Look in Your Eyes an international success, is even more prevalent here, where London has chosen to arrange material with a smaller, more intimate, ensemble feel, as opposed to the ‘little big band’ approach of her previous disc. Drummer Steve Williams, known well for his stellar work with Shirley Horn, reveals himself once again to be a quintessential "singer’s drummer," never missing a beat, always in support of the song. Amy gives her regular collaborator, bassist Santi Debriano, a great deal of room in this recording to express his unique improvisational talents, and the ultra-tasty pianists Tardo Hammer, Glauco Sagebin and Richard Wyands also bring delicious musical treats to the table. Under London’s sure leadership, the ensemble effortlessly glides from up-tempo swing classics to complex melodic ballads, portraying a deep emotional musicality that is also accentuated with evocative percussion work by Steve Kroon (Luther Vandross.)
The work of a gifted storyteller with a powerful, poignant voice, London’s Let’s Fly spills over with musical tales of love and passion. She launches her newest musical offering with the wistful reverie of Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer's "Out of This World," which opens with a hypnotic groove and evolves into a stunning showcase for London's soaring vocals. On The CD's title track, London offers up a lighthearted, vocalese take on “leaving your blues behind," supported by cool keyboards and blithe bass lines, courtesy of Tardo Hammer (Annie Ross, Jon Hendricks) and Debriano (Pharoah Sanders, Larry Coryell, Randy Weston.) London's original vocalese verse breathes new life into this carefree gem, as it simultaneously honors Ross as a great pioneer of the vocalese style. " It was immensely intimidating to both compose a solo and write a vocalese for 'Let's Fly.' It sat on my piano for a year, while the mantra of 'How can I ever attempt to write something to a tune by the legendary Annie Ross, the creator of 'Twisted,' the most beloved and clever vocalese ever?' danced in my head! I tossed some ideas around, and finally went with my gut feelings about the meaning of the song," says London in reference to her reworking of "Let's Fly." "This is the third vocalese I've written," she continues. "Each time I write them, I keep in mind the brilliant job done by Eddie Jefferson on 'Moody's Mood for Love.' Eddie took the original lyric of 'I'm in the Mood For Love,' and expounded upon each phrase, digging deeper meaning and more imaginative stories out of each idea, while maintaining the rhyming throughout. That was my goal here as well."
London keeps the energy high on Jobim's "This Happy Madness," which opens with Ben Hur's beautiful guitar styling, and quietly builds through London's enchanting vocals into a joyous solo from Brazilian pianist Glauco Sagebin. With brilliant and astute accompaniment by veteran pianist Richard Wyands, (Ella Fitgerald, Billie Holiday, countless others) the singer covers the unusual Charles Mingus ballad, "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love," with sensual soulfulness, a quality that permeates all thirteen selections on Let's Fly, from the tender "You Taught My Heart to Sing," to the affirmative "Here's To Life."
Turning from the Great American Songbook to some of her other significant influences, London plays roles of both pianist and singer on Laura Nyro's "I Never Meant to Hurt You," (off the 1967 album, The First Songs). "I consider Laura Nyro to have been my first vocal coach-as a teenager. I sang along with her constantly and spent hours at the piano learning all of her songs," remembers London. She pays tribute to another of her early influences, Joni Mitchell, on "All I Want," infusing Mitchell's Blue-era tune with a sinuous, rhythmic energy. "I was enormously influenced by both Laura and Joni when I was growing up and first getting into music. I sang and played every single song the two of them wrote. For a long time, as an aspiring jazz singer in New York, I felt guilty about having been influenced by 70s pop music, I thought I wouldn't be taken seriously by the jazz crowd if I performed any of it. Now, I'm finally out of the closet. I grew up in the 70s, I was immersed in and sang along with that music, as did almost everyone in my generation, and I'm not embarrassed about it anymore!" declares London.
"'You and the Night/Habanera' offers an interesting pairing,' London continues. "I sang Habanera, an aria from the opera Carmen, when I was studying opera in college, and I think it makes an intriguing combination with the Arthur Schwarz/Howard Dietz tune from the 1930s. Also, opera singers always sing Habanera in the original, higher key of D minor/D major, but here I've sung it in the key of G."
London interprets the Irving Berlin chestnut from the 1920s, "How Deep Is the Ocean," with a modern groove, and laces "I Love Being Here With You" with a sense of swing that aptly captures the spirit of composer Peggy Lee. "This tune was written in the 1950s (and included on Peggy's 1961 album, Basin Street East) so it's a "younger" jazz standard that's also unique in that the legendary female jazz singers didn't write a lot of tunes, but Peggy's an exception," explains London. The singer says that she chose to include "You Taught My Heart to Sing" because its writers - lyricist Sammy Cahn, from the Tin Pan Alley days, and modern pianist McCoy Tyner - presented her with an unusual paring of different generations and styles.
As disparate as the work of the songwriters included on Let's Fly might seem, London, who teaches at New School University and is one of New York’s most respected jazz vocal instructors, says that all the songs do, in fact, have something in common. "The first thing I look at in a song is the story. It is the most important aspect of any song. Of course, it has to be combined with a great melody to be a great piece overall," she explains. "A good song should be like a one act play, with both a melody and lyric that are built around a beginning, lead to a climax, and then to a resolution at the end." Closing the album on an upbeat note, Amy sings and scats on "Without A Song," her ultimate valentine for her premier passion – music - “After all,” she concludes, “there ain’t no love at all, without a song.”
London's Motèma debut, When I Look In Your Eyes (2008), served as an introduction to her powerful way with lyrical interpretation and inimitable arrangements, bringing her to the attention of an appreciative audience of jazz lovers and garnering excellent reviews internationally. Mark Saleski lauded her "incredible voice" in his review on Blogcritics.org. and Christopher Loudon of JazzTimes noted, “hers is an immense talent deserving of national attention." Midwest Record also raved about the CD, calling it "a fast ball right down the middle for jazz vocal fans. Tasty, tasty, tasty. "
The publicity generated by When I Look in Your Eyes effectively launched Amy London’s international touring career, leading to performances in Russia, Turkey, the UK, Italy, France, Belgium and around the U.S.
One might well wonder why this talented artist’s recording and touring career got such a late start. The fact is that London had chosen to work locally in the metropolis of jazz in order to be able to focus on raising her two daughters. Now that her girls are nearing adulthood, with the solid support of her label, her musical partners, and the press, the auspicious 1/11/11 launch date for this CD also looks to mark the true lift-off date for the career that this vocalist extraordinaire has always believed she would have. Perhaps therein, lies the true meaning behind the CD’s uplifting title, Let’s Fly!
More about Amy London
Born into a culturally active, Ohio-based Jewish family filled with mirth and talent, performing was quite literally in Amy's DNA. Jazz began to officially enter her orbit when she began studying jazz piano as a high-school senior, and then had an opportunity to take voice lessons with Milt Weiner, who had coached Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney. "Milt was the first one to bring my attention to jazz phrasing and putting across the story, he was a huge influence," says Amy. Though she earned her B.A. degree from Syracuse University in opera, Amy's true passion, and most of her college musical experience, was singing in big bands, small bands and in musicals. She joined with singers Judy Niemack and Alexandra Ivanoff to form the vocal trio, 'Jazz Babies.' Seven years with the 'Jazz Babies,' along with experience gained in 'Vocal Jazz, Inc.,' a five-voice group that toured the New York City elementary schools, honed Amy's jazz harmony chops to a high polish.
Further vocal group work with New York Singer's Orchestra in the late eighties brought Amy to the attention of the legendary Broadway composer Cy Coleman, who cast her as the lead singer in the "Angel City 4," the vocalese quartet that was the musical engine of his six-time Tony-winning and Grammy-nominated Broadway hit, City of Angels. After City of Angels closed, Amy enjoyed a three year stint at the 'Rainbow Room,' and also received a call from 'New York Voices' leader Darmon Meader to record with the group as the fifth voice on the CD Ancient Tower. A three year engagement in an Afro-Cuban band led by the NYC leader, Alfredito, gave her a chance to jam with such Latin jazz stars as Charlie Palmieri, Barry Rogers and Jimmy Sabatier while developing her "cool Latin vamp," and led her to add mastery on a variety of percussion toys to her growing arsenal of musical talents. All the while, Amy was building her skills as a solo jazz singer, leading her own groups in NYC clubs such as The Blue Note, Dizzy's, Birdland, Small's, Sweet Rhythm, Kitano, Jazz Gallery and many more.
London is an in-demand vocal coach in NYC, and at New School University, where she helped establish the vocal jazz program (now one of the strongest such programs in the country). She also works and teaches with her husband Roni Ben-Hur, who is a key music educator in his own right.