Got to Get Jazz Into My Life

All That Jazz: Mar, 2012

When Elvis Costello played Vienna’s Konzerthaus recently, he demonstrated his impressive jazz chops, new evidence of his genre-bending ambitions. An original “punk” of the 1970s, Costello has more than dabbled in the genre, having put North, his album of piano ballads, at number one on Billboard’s Traditional Jazz Chart, where it stayed for five weeks. With his song writing partner, and wife, jazz pianist Diana Krall, he was responsible for six songs on her successful 2004 album, The Girl In The Other Room.

While in no way abandoning his pop roots, Costello has grown a career, developing in the process a respectable jazz pedigree.

This past month, another Costello song-writing partner, none other than the mellow half of the singer-songwriter team of Lennon-McCartney, Sir Paul himself, joined the jazz bandwagon, releasing Kisses on the Bottom, on Concord Records. An album of standards from the American Songbook, produced by Krall and Tommy LiPuma, with orchestrations by Johnny Mandel and Alan Broadbent and only two of his own tunes, Kisses on the Bottom is a departure for this proud former Beatle.

As a singing musician, McCartney put himself in the hands of jazz pros, leaving his guitar, for the most part, aside. Isolated in the legendary Capitol Records Studio A, in front of the microphone that, according to the liner notes (remember those?), was used by Nat “King” Cole, he had to reach deeply into his Liverpool boyhood, recalling songs his father taught him, and into the legacy of a craft nearly forgotten.

McCartney admits – 40-plus years later – this is his answer to his surviving band mate Ringo’s Sentimental Journey from 1970. The title, Kisses on the Bottom, quotes the album’s opener “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter,” a hit for Fats Waller in 1935, so the influences are clear.

Not coincidentally, two of the key contributors to this effort, pianist and arranger Alan Broadbent and, separately, guitarist John Pizzarelli, will gig this month in Vienna at Porgy & Bess – (See VR Events, Jazz Concerts, p. 24)

This may all seem strange: Wasn’t it McCartney, his mates, and the whole British Invasion that both knocked off the pre-fab girl groups and Elvis-wannabes and set a new standard for authenticity with the notion of the singer-songwriter? As Will Friedwald put it in the Wall Street Journal, “If there was any one band that put the older generation of songwriters out of business, it was the Beatles.”

Irony upon irony, though, as despite the overall excellence of the performances, the true standout of this album’s 14 tracks is the McCartney-penned “My Valentine” a genuinely “Beatlesesque” classic. Complete with strings and Eric Clapton, “My Valentine” rewards with a strong narrative performance by McCartney at his “smoochiest”.

The song selection includes tunes associated with artists from Charles Brown (“Get Yourself Another Fool” with Clapton, making his mark with a tasty blues) to Cole (“It’s Only a Paper Moon”), but with none bearing the Sinatra imprint. McCartney’s singing is warm, occasionally echoing the Beatles, a group who would now and again dip into this style, recall “Honey Pie”, even “Here, There and Everywhere”. One also hears his solo years, with “Always” reminding those old enough to know of “My Love.” No, with Kisses McCartney has no interest in becoming “The Voice” of his generation. He doesn’t need to prove anything.

With Kisses on the Bottom McCartney comes through, proving his durable, winning versatility. Never slumming, a professional to the end, he convinces as the converted jazzbo. Sure, nothing is forever. The Beatles, after all, were here and gone by 1970, but we jazz fans can dream can’t we? Dream that “the music” will again be respected: the once and future pop.

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