Two hotly-anticipated discs of classic American pop, Jessica Molaskey's "Pentimento" and Darius de Haas' "Day Dream (Variations on Strayhorn)," get released in stores June 4, following a May 21 web release from the independent label, ps classics.
Those who couldn't wait for the June 4 street date got the new albums of pop standards a few days before their neighbors.
Molaskey's recording seems to be the most talked-about discs of American pop songs never released. She shared an early pressing of the recording with friends and industry people in 2001. Radio host and American pop expert Jonathan Schwartz sang its praises and played its tracks to thousands of his New York-area listeners, calling it one of the best albums of 2001. Molaskey's distribution deal fell through when Jerome Records collapsed, but producer Tommy Krasker, founder of ps classics — devoted to theatre music and classic American pop — invited the recording into his label's stable. The label has a distribution deal with Image Entertainment.
Krasker went into the recording studio Jan. 21 to complete a disc of songs featuring Broadway actor-singer Darius de Haas performing the music of Billy Strayhorn. The new album is inspired by a cabaret concert de Haas performed in New York City in 2001, first at the Kaplan Penthouse in March as part of the American Songbook Series, then during the summer in a two-week engagement at Arci's Place. For psclassics information, visit psclassics.com.
"I saw Darius' first performance at the Kaplan Penthouse, and loved it not only for the sheer musicianship, but also for the feel of the show, which drew on all Darius' talents: It was part theatre piece, part jazz set, and part concert," Krasker told Playbill On Line. "Darius had assembled a quintet of gifted musicians to work with him, mostly from the pop and jazz world, but at the same time, the approach reflected Darius' theatrical and classical sensibilities as well."
Half of the Strayhorn program was recorded in December 2001 with the quintet of Deidre Rodman, Brad Jones, J.T. Lewis, Roy Nathanson and Marvin Sewell. "But Darius and I also wanted to augment the forces a bit for recording, and we called on one of our favorite orchestrators, Bruce Coughlin, to help us maintain the theatrical balance," Krasker said. Coughlin and Krasker first worked together on the disc of Floyd Collins.
Strayhorn is best known as Duke Ellington's longtime collaborator, and wrote the tune that became Ellington's signature work, "Take the 'A' Train." Although Strayhorn wrote both words and music, the album will include collaborations with lyricists Johnny Mercer ("Satin Doll") and John Latouche ("Day Dream").
"A couple of tunes, like 'Take the 'A' Train' and 'Satin Doll,' are standards," Krasker said. "Others, like 'Lush Life' and 'Something to Live For,' are widely known to Strayhorn fans. We're also including two little-known selections from a 1957 suite called 'Such Sweet Thunder,' inspired by Shakespeare's verse, and unveiling two songs from an unproduced musical [Rose-Colored Glasses] that Strayhorn wrote in the mid '50s with Luther Henderson."
Darius de Haas has performed on Broadway in Kiss of the Spider Woman, Lincoln Center's revival of Carousel, Rent, The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm and Marie Christine, and played C.C. in the recent Actors' Fund benefit of Dreamgirls. He was embraced for his work in the title role of Music Theatre Group's Running Man, snagging an Obie Award in 1999. Recordings include "Children of Eden,", John Adams' "I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky" and Ricky Ian Gordon's "Bright Eyed Joy."
Krasker has recorded de Haas four times before, on "Ceiling/Sky," "Myths and Hymns," "Bright-Eyed Joy" and "Dreamgirls."
Tracks on "Day Dream (Variations on Strayhorn)" include:
- "My Love Is as a Fever"
- "Take the 'A' Train"
- "Your Love Has Faded"
- "Passion Flower"
- "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing"
- "Lush Life"
- "Pretty Girl"
- "Take All My Loves"
- "Satin Doll"
- "Something to Live For"
- "Just A-Sittin' and A-Rockin'"
- "House on a Hill"
- "Got No Time"
- "Love Came"
- "Blood Count"
- "Day Dream"
The new Molaskey recording is co-produced by Allen Sviridoff and Molaskey's musician husband, John Pizzarelli, who is also heard on the CD.
Molaskey (of Broadway's Dream and Parade, Jason Robert Brown's Off-Broadway Songs for a New World and the regional hit, 3hree) spoke to a handful of labels about the disc in 2001, and "Pentimento" was poised to be released by Jerome Records earlier this year. That plan fell through when Jerome's owner, John Jerome, was charged with — and later admitted — embezzling from his day job to support friends and cabaret projects. Molaskey and her producing partners recorded without financial support from Jerome and they owned their recording outright, and were free to shop it around.
"Pentimento" represents the taste and wishes of Molaskey and guitarist Pizzarelli, who handled most of the arrangements. Pizzarelli's father, Bucky, is also heard on the disc (father and son both play ukelele and guitar). Molaskey said some of the charts weren't written out when they recorded, and the players were all friends and family, so there's an organic, jazz-club quality to the tracks. Brother-in-law Marty Pizzarelli is on bass.
In choosing the songs, Molaskey asked her 80-year-old mom what she thought the most significant songs of the 20th century were. American pop from the 1920s and '30s was the answer, inspiring such choices as "Look for the Silver Lining," "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," "I'm Just Wild About Harry," "Ain't We Got Fun," "What'll I Do," "With Plenty of Money and You" paired with "We're in the Money," and more.
"I was so taken with the flavor of bittersweetness underneath," Molaskey said. "It felt like a perfect fit for me. When we put these songs all together, I said to John, 'Why is this the saddest album anybody ever made?' There's something about being happy in spite of whatever is thrown at you. I think we can understand these songs better now because we are changed [after Sept. 11]. It's a mood record."
How did Molaskey approach the songs? She said she asked herself: "What would you do if you were playing the part of a singer in 1930?"
"I closed my eyes and channeled something, I think," Molaskey said.
Larry Goldings plays piano (and does Ray Kennedy) and created the piano arrangements. Some of the tracks are sweetened with clarinet (Ken Peplowski), brushes (played on a phone book by Tony Tedesco) and violin (Johnny Frigo) and cello (Jesse Levy).
Molaskey (as lyricist) and Pizzarelli (as composer) also wrote two period-sounding original songs, "Sail Away" and "I Tried Too Hard For Too Long."
How does she feel about this being known as the best album that nobody yet owns?
"The weird thing that happened with this record was, we gave a copy to Jonathan Schwartz and friends, when they all came to [her gig at] Feinstein's last year, when we assumed the record would be out," Molaskey explained. "I expected Jonathan to say, "Oh, dear — nice try, go back to Broadway.' He's not the kind of person who minces words. I really was nervous for him to listen to it. He so got what we were trying to do."
Tommy Krasker, who runs ps classics, was one of the people who heard the disc last year, when it was being shopped to potential distributors.
"I adored it from the first notes of music — it was a fresh, invigorating take on classic material, everything I wanted ps classics to stand for. "Jessica was in glorious voice, and she was surrounded by an amazing group of musicians. As they made their way through a dozen-and-a-half songs from the '20s and '30s, they gave them this remarkable spirit and depth. But ps classics was still a pretty small company then, and I wasn't even in a position to put an offer on the table. When I learned last month that Jessica was without a distributor, I sent her a note and she wrote back instantly. I have such a long history both with Jessica, who appeared on ps classics' 'Windflowers: The Songs of Jerome Moross' last year, and with her husband John — with whom I first worked a decade ago on [the first full recording of the Gershwins'] Lady, Be Good! It feels very nice for us all to be collaborating again."
The timing of the release is designed to coincide with Molaskey's four-week run beginning May 28 at Feinstein's at the Regency, the Manhattan cabaret spot.
The "Pentimento" disc includes:
- "Oh, You Beautiful Doll"
- "I'm Just Wild About Harry"
- "Ain't We Got Fun"
- "What'll I Do?"
- "Plenty of Money and You/We're in the Money"
- "Waitin' for the Train to Come In"
- "Red, Red Robin"
- "By the Beautiful Sea"
- "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"
- "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning"
- "You Made Me Love You"
- "I Tried Too Hard for Too Long"
- "When I Lost You"
- "Look For the Silver Lining"
- "I Can't Give You Anything But Love"
- "Beautiful Dreamer"
- "Sail Away"
Discs from ps classics so far include "Philip Chaffin: Where Do I Go From You?," "Windflowers: The Songs of Jerome Moross" and a studio cast recording of Vincent Youmans' obscure 1932 musical, Through the Years, with Brent Barrett and Heidi Grant Murphy. Just announced by the label for future release are the world premiere recordings of Rodgers and Hart's Spring is Here and Michael John LaChiusa's First Lady Suite.
— By Kenneth Jones