Lerner & Loewe Celebration From Arbors Records Out Today
ARBORS RECORDS is celebrating the music of iconic composer Frederick Loewe this fall with two new albums of songs from the legendary musicals of Lerner & Loewe performed by an astonishing array of jazz heavyweights. Counterpoint Lerner & Loewe features Dick Hyman on piano and Ken Peplowski on clarinet and tenor sax. Adrian Cunningham & His Friends Play Lerner & Loewe features bandleader and saxophonist/clarinetist/flautist Adrian Cunningham with Fred Hersch on piano, John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, with guest stars Randy Brecker on trumpet and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone. Both albums are available on streaming platforms, download and CD wherever music is sold today, Friday, October 11.
When My Fair Lady was enjoying its hit run on Broadway after opening in 1956, Shelley Manne & His Friends' seminal album, Modern Jazz Performances of My Fair Lady, became a cultural touchstone as the then best-selling jazz album of all time. Since then, such jazz luminaries as Quincy Jones, Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Chet Baker, Billy Taylor, among many others, have presented their unique takes on the Lerner & Loewe catalogue - all the way through Dick Hyman and Ruby Braff's collection in 1989.
Thirty years later, in that same grand tradition, these two new collections present pioneering interpretations of songs not only from household-name shows like My Fair Lady, Camelot and Brigadoon, but also from less frequently heard Lerner & Loewe properties like The Day Before Spring.
Hyman and Peplowski's Counterpoint Lerner & Loewe displays the incomparable improvisational connection between these two world-renowned artists in addition to a ground-breaking contrapuntal style - presenting well-loved melodies in unexpected and exhilarating ways. For instance, according to Ken, giving "a classical kind of setting with these ominous chords underneath the melody" to My Fair Lady's famously ardent "On the Street Where You Live," the song takes on an almost solemn sound instead of its customary love-at-first-sight ebullience. Camelot's usually haunting "Follow Me" gets a rhythmic bounce. Its lush romantic ballad "If Ever I Would Leave You" becomes stunningly simple. And the sweet, gentle melody of "Waitin' for My Dearie" from Brigadoon is, instead, jaunty with a modern syncopation.
Hyman says of his musical relationship with Peplowski: "We've been working on contrapuntal playing for some years now. Getting to unexpected territory is one of the pleasures of our collaboration: we listen to each other and we trust each other. Loewe's music is very melodic, but it is our jazzman's tradition to fill up the harmony, and to make the whole thing a little more adventurous. Sometimes we go off on strange tangents and kind of dare the other fellow to understand what we're doing or create something in contrast, just to make something come out in ways we didn't expect."
Adrian Cunningham & His Friends Play Lerner & Loewe boasts the best possible mixture of written charts and improvisation, demonstrating a variety of approaches to harmony, tempo and time signature. Cunningham started the process with research. He explained: "I watched all the movies, My Fair Lady, Camelot, Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon. It was helpful to put the numbers in context, having the music come from a real story, more than just notes on paper. I loved trawling through the characters, asking 'What do they mean when they're singing this melody?' I knew the songs in the basic repertoire, but I wanted to go deeper, do some detective work, present songs that perhaps hadn't been widely known. I am happy to create something fresh with vintage material. So much great American music can continue to be reborn and reshaped into something new."
Cunningham embraced the idea of many of his versions would be significantly different from the originals, while preserving the essence of each selection. Thus, the meditative intention and connection to nature can still be heard in "I Talk to the Trees." In "They Call the Wind Maria," the chaotic nature of the wind is maintained through the fast tempo choices, the driving rhythm section ostinato, and the open, angular harmony. And "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" finds a context that is appropriately cheeky and playful, as Adrian creates a specific new groove for the melody section to play over.
On "The Heather on the Hill," Fred Hersch commented: "I've played it for years, it's just such a lovely sentiment. Loewe captured that little Scottish essence in that tune. You can visualize a place when you play it, the lyric is very descriptive, and it's got a very nice form to it." Cunningham, in turn, says, "I don't think anybody can convey a ballad like Fred; it's amazing the way he delivers harmony and supports you. That level of professionalism is just heavenly."
"Loewe's music brings something very special to the jazz world," continues Hersch, "because of its roots in classical operetta. The modulations were a little more daring, going to farther key centers, different forms."
Hersch chooses "Just You Wait" as a favorite - beloved from My Fair Lady but rarely heard in a jazz context. "It's such a great character song," he says, "and often what enters the repertoire are not specific character songs. But ones like this, with a sentiment that speaks to everybody, can work as standalone pieces."
These two albums together celebrate the reinvention of a catalogue of glorious songs - in some cases almost 75 years after they were first played - introducing a new generation to the music and magic of Lerner & Loewe.
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