Storied jazz vocalist and composer Judi Silvano celebrates the 20th Anniversary of her recording career, with the April 10 release of her tenth album, Indigo Moods (Jazzed Media). What makes this release different from most of Silvano’s previous nine albums is that Indigo Moods consists entirely of familiar popular jazz standards delivered in an extremely intimate setting.
This album exemplifies the impact of the trio format with which the veteran singer has been working for several years, in venues across New York, Philadelphia and the Mid-Atlantic area, featuring pianist Peter Tomlinson and trumpeter Fred Jacobs.
“The reason that I did this album now, with these songs and with these musicians,” she says, “is because our musical communication felt so connected. Peter Tomlinson has a flowing and evocative touch and Fred Jacobs is a beautifully melodic player. It felt like the time was right to feature these songs that I have known virtually my entire life, with these musicians.”
The songs are mostly pieces that the trio has performed live on gigs, but, she elaborates, “There are always surprises when you get into the recording studio! We didn’t start with set arrangements. I led the session but with a collaborative attitude and because we are so attuned to each other, things would just spontaneously happen in intriguing places – I love that!”
A Philadelphia native who has lived in New York for most of her professional life, Silvano’s background was originally in dance and formal “classical” music. However, once immersed in Manhattan’s bustling “downtown” arts scene, she was invariably drawn to jazz and improvised music. Silvano developed relationships with leading improvisers in New York City and premiered original works in ensembles with musicians such as Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, George Garzone, Tim Hagans, Ratzo B. Harris and Gerry Hemingway. Personal encouragement from veterans like Bob Brookmeyer, Abbey Lincoln, Manny Albam, Gunther Schuller, Sheila Jordan and Mal Waldron helped formulate Silvano’s style.
“I grew up listening to singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan but I needed to study and learn the repertoire for myself in order to make the stylistic transition from the classical style to the more dramatic Jazz singing.” Since that time, Silvano has completed 10 recordings under her own name, and sung on numerous others, collaborating with leading heavyweight jazzmen of multiple generations.
“In the past 20 years, I have developed longstanding relationships and the deep sense of trust that comes with that, enabling me to grow and reach within myself to sing this classic repertoire,” says Silvano.
Ready to interpret the Great American Standards, Silvano chose to do so in an emotionally exposed, stripped down format, without bass and drums. “I have been collaborating with Peter & Fred as a Trio for over two years. The synthesis of our musicality allows us to weave our melodic ideas by carefully listening to each other as we play these vintage tunes. With this recording, I feel I have integrated bringing these songs to life in my own personal way with a sense of ease. And at least for me, that only comes with having lived a little longer, from experience.”
Silvano is accomplished at composing and performing fully-notated contemporary works (such as Lori Dobbins’s “Sketches for Silvano” and Kenny Werner’s “No Beginning, No End”), at improvising wordless jazz vocals, and, increasingly, at realizing the familiar music and lyrics of such masters as Johnny Mercer, George and Ira Gershwin, and their colleagues.
These songs were both challenges and opportunities to sing. “Mood Indigo” and “Still We Dream” are the works of two immortal jazz composers, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, the latter famously Monk’s only waltz (known instrumentally as “Ugly Beauty”). Irving Berlin’s imagery of “It Only Happens When I Dance With You” (from Easter Parade) spoke to her partly because of her career as a dancer. “I love the way Strayhorn’s melody on “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” unfolds and opens up, like a flower turning upwards towards the sun, a beautiful image. I’ve sung it on many gigs, and recorded it before, but not with this fluidity.” And about “Skylark” she says, “What a magnificent song, a dreamscape of emotion and longing!” On both the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You” and Jobim’s “If You Never Come to Me,” she catches listeners off guard by not starting with the lyric. “I want people to tune into the melodic and rhythmic movement before they hear the words.”
The end result is 14 songs, all of which are well known, although many of the verses to these vintage tunes (like “If I Had You” and “If You Could See Me Now”) will surprise even serious song buffs. Silvano says, “The music really unfolded as we went along and because we listened attentively and responded to each other’s sounds, we could create fresh interpretations of these amazing songs. I hope our listeners will share this sense of adventure upon hearing the stories of these great songs once again!”
In addition to her accomplishments as a singer, dancer, composer, and songwriter, Silvano is also a painter. Three of her watercolors are featured in the album booklet ingeniously merging Silvano’s distinctive visual imagery with the uniquely expressive music of her “Indigo Moods.”