BWW CD Review: Chita Rivera AND NOW I SWING Presents A Personal Look At A Legendary Lady's Life In Music
When a Broadway performer has a specialty they can often find themselves in a labeled box that restricts their work. The actors do Shakespeare, the dancers do Fosse, the singers do Sondheim and they all just accept the position they have been handed because, as artists, they often have to take what they are given if only to get some work. It has been said that actors are beggars, and they have to accept that which they can get.
Chita Rivera is no beggar, she is theatrical royalty, and she has never done anything but make her own rules, play her own game, shape her own destiny. Though Ms. Rivera has a lifetime of artistry behind her and a healthy resume that showcases her versatility, that role for which she is most known is that of The Dancer, appropriate since she is one of the legendary dance talents in the business. The appellation should not, though, restrict a persons' perception of the lady's work - Ms. Rivera has one of the most distinctive voices to come out of Broadway, ever, as well-trained and recognizable, as respected and revered as that of Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, and Leslie Uggams - and she uses all her skills as a singing actor when she goes into the recording studio.
AND NOW I SWING is a CD Chita Rivera released a few years back that is ostensibly a companion piece to her nightclub act, but that's not all listeners will find here. Beautifully preserved are songs from throughout Rivera's career, like "Nowadays," "Love and Love Alone" or "Where Am I Going." Interspersed with these classic Rivera tunes, though, is where the CD gets its title. Chita Rivera has been hiding a secret from the world: she is a jazz singer, and the Broadway belter proves it by taking songs from The Great American songbook like "I Won't Dance" and "Sweet Happy Life" and serving them up in various performances of jazz stylings all her own. Indeed, every song that isn't a Rivera standard evokes a different mood that can be found in a jazz club whether it is the swinging "I Won't Dance/Let Me Sing" medley or the Latin-infused "Sweet Happy Life/Mas Que Nada" mashup, not to mention a sexy samba of a "More Than You Know" that has Chita's stamp all over it. Ms. Rivera wasn't taking any chances with this CD: she had a very clear intent to step out of the box, but one feels like that isn't just a professional leap, that this is the way she lives her life off of the stage, mixing things up in a way that suits the woman she is, then bringing that flair to the artist she is. One wonders why the lady waited so long to dip her toes in this water, but one won't wonder why for long - it's all in the story Rivera is telling.
This isn't Chita Rivera's first solo CD. In 1961 Rivera released an album titled AND NOW I SING And in '62 her follow up record was CHITA! When listening to the records (both wonderful by the way) one gets a clear representation of the product being put out by Broadway singers in the 1960s but those albums are missing something that pervades every note, every interpretation, every moment of And Now I Swing - Chita Rivera's life. Those previous albums are recordings of fun, tuneful songs of the time, ones that a singer might choose to sing because they were pretty and clever and popular. The journey the listener goes on with And Now I Swing is one that Chita Rivera has orchestrated to show them who she is, what she has learned, how she has lived, and that it has all been worth it. When Chita Rivera sings any one of these songs, it is possible to hear her smiling, to feel her confidence, to acknowledge her journey, and to know how much fun she has had in her life, because that fun oozes from her vocal performance the way it shows during her live performances. Listeners who have had the opportunity to see Rivera perform live will have instant recall when the songs play on their devices, while those who haven't seen Chita live will have the richness of their imaginations and the pictures Chita inspires therein. You can even see her dancing inside of the songs - just listen and you'll see - she sings with so much emotion (ALL of them) that those moves that have made her so famous fly out of the speakers and into your mind.
As much fun as it is to take the jaunts with Chita on the up-tempo numbers, there is equal benefit in the insanity of Brel's "Carousel" (a favorite of Chita's) and the wistful romance of the slow-jazz informed "Not Exactly Paris," complete with moaning horns helping to set the mood, and although her connection to the three Kander and Ebb compositions is as palpable as ever, the recordings with the most tangible emotions are the last two on the CD. When Chita Rivera sings the Carol Hall paean to relationships, "Circle of Friends," it is clear that the companions for whom she was singing when she recorded are ever-present in her heart and her mind. This is a particularly moving performance on this good-natured CD, one that everyone who isn't a loner will be able to relate to. Finally, like a chef serving up the perfect dessert to their guests, Chita Rivera closes out And Now I Swing with a tender and knowing "A Nightengale Sang in Berkley Square" that will leave the listener smiling, and grateful for the chance to remember something happy from their own past, their own nightingale in their own square. It's a peaceful, slightly playful, definitely affectionate way for Rivera to end a dreamy and delightful disc that will be as enjoyable to listen to as it was for Chita to record.
Chita Rivera And Now I Swing is a 2009 release on the Yellow Sound label, now represented by Broadway Records. It is available on iTunes, Amazon, Apple Music, Youtube Music, Spotify, and the Broadway Records WEBSITE