Broadway's Jessica Molaskey will finally see the release of her debut solo album, "Pentimento," May 21 from ps classics, the independent label known for showcasing theatre music and American pop songs.
Co-produced by Allen Sviridoff and Molaskey's musician husband John Pizzarelli, the disc was recorded last year and has been without a distributor, but private copies were sent to friends and colleagues of Molaskey's in 2001. Those copies turned out to be seeds on the wind.
Radio host and American pop-song historian Jonathan Schwartz hailed "Pentimento" as one 2001's best albums, but listeners have been frustrated that they can't get their hands on the disc (Schwartz enticed his fans by playing the recording on his New York City radio program). The disc has an exclusive release May 21 on the ps classics website (www.psclassics.com) prior to going nationwide in stores June 4, through a distribution deal with Image Entertainment (the folks who brought Fosse to DVD).
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 allegedly embezzling from his day job to support friends and cabaret projects. Molaskey and her producing partners recorded without financial support from Jerome and they own 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 at Feinstein's at the Regency, the Manhattan cabaret spot, beginning May 28. The June 4 "Pentimento" release also coincides with the street date for ps classics' "Darius de Haas: Day Dream (Variations on Strayhorn)."
The "Pentimento" disc includes "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" (Nat D. Ayer & A. Seymour Brown), "I'm Just Wild About Harry" (Eubie Blake & Noble Sissle), "Ain't We Got Fun" (Richard A. Whiting, Gus Kahn & Raymond B. Egan), "What'll I Do?" (Irving Berlin), "With Plenty of Money and You"/"We're in the Money," with additional vocals by Pizzarelli (Harry Warren & Al Dubin), "Waitin' for the Train to Come In" (Sunny Skylar & Martin Block), "Red, Red Robin" (Harry M. Woods), "By the Beautiful Sea" (Harry Carroll & Harold Atteridge), "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (Harry Carroll & Joseph McCarthy), "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" (Irving Berlin), "You Made Me Love You" (James V. Monaco & Joseph McCarthy), "I Tried Too Hard for Too Long" (John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey), "When I Lost You" (Irving Berlin), "Look for the Silver Lining" (Jerome Kern & B.G. DeSylva), "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" (Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields), "Beautiful Dreamer" (Stephen Foster), "Sail Away" (John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey).
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.
— By Kenneth Jones