Vance Gilbert Works His Magic at the Historic Infinity Hall
His reputation precedes him. But that’s no reason to let an opportunity to see Vance Gilbert pass you by! Fresh off a tour of Australia, Vance has for some time now been a major mover of the singer-songwriter scene. His penchant for storytelling, mingled with his terrific sense of humor makes a Gilbert gig a lively event indeed. And, oh by the way, if you’ve heard the man’s latest album, Nearness of You—or any of his albums for that matter—you know he can sing.
Gilbert was born and raised in the Philly area and he started his career in Boston aspiring to be a jazz singer. But things happened, and he soon found himself in the warm embrace of the singer-songwriter world, opening for folks like Shawn Colvin and later comedians George Carlin and Paul Reiser. One of those shows, in Dallas, earned him some good press from the local paper: “With the voice of an angel, the wit of a devil, and the guitar playing of a god, it was enough to earn him that rarity: an encore for an opener.” Of course, that was ages ago. But the fact is, Gilbert has only gotten to be a more engaging performer, with beautiful, worldly stories, finely honed guitar technique, and a voice that delivers.
Over two decades-plus in the music business, Vance has produced a healthy helping of great recordings, including the widely raved about BaD Dog Buffet. Old White Men hit the Top 10 on the Folk DJ chart on its release and Unfamiliar Moon landed in the Boston Globe’s Top 10 Records of the Year upon its release in 2005. Perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this particular press release is the fact that Vance’s live album, Somerville Live, issued in 2000, was described by the Boston Globe as a work “young songwriters should study the way law students cram for bar exams.” And we haven’t even talked about Nearness of You, which features Vance singing stripped down versions of 14 of his jazz faves.
Vance’s upcoming gig at Infinity Hall will be reliably memorable. His show is entertaining, his stories are by turns funny and poignant, and his music, above all, is well worth hearing.
KRISTEN LEE SERGEANT has been gigging around the New York City area for several years, developing her jazz vocal chops. Inside/Out (Whaling City Sound – 087) is her first album, and from the evidence here, she was certainly ready to spread her talent to a wider audience. With backing from David Budway on piano, Chris Berger on piano and Victor Ector on drums, she sings six standards, “Never Will I Marry,” “Old Devil Moon,” “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “So Many Stars” “I Wish I Were in Love Again” and “It Never Entered My Mind.” Like so many younger singers, she grew up listening to the pop music of her generation, and has chosen to include some material from more contemporary sources to her repertoire. In this instance, she selected hits by Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” the Police, “Every Breath You Take,” and Modern English, “I Melt with You,” to fill out her program. Perhaps it is a generational thing, but these songs just do not hold up well next to the older songs, but Sergeant does a fine job of bringing them into a jazz context. The lady can sing, and there should be more fine albums like this one coming from her down the road.
Some vocalists aspire to be jazz singers. Others claim the mantle but fall short. The lucky few, like Kristen Lee Sergeant, meet the challenge and merit the title.
Inside Out displays Sergeant’s qualifications – her superior intonation and control, an interpretive command that ranges from defiance to gentility, a willingness to take risks with harmony and rhythm, the freshness of her arrangements, synchronicity with her accompanists, and the manner in which all these elements yield a supremely musical package. She has refined these skills over the past decade, and her woodshedding period has yielded an imposing debut album.
Sergeant grew up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a suburb on Boston’s North Shore that she is quick to point out is the home of Singing Beach. During her high school and college years, she was focused on theater and classical singing, and when she moved to New York after graduating from Brandeis University her intent was to pursue a theatrical career and study opera. Then her roommate suggested that Sergeant check out cabaret legend Marilyn Maye, and a new fascination took hold. “I had listened to cabaret and jazz a bit, but hadn’t really been exposed,” Sergeant recalls. “Seeing Marilyn perform convinced me that there was a more intimate way of reaching an audience.“ Sergeant has become a student of Maye’s. “Marilyn reminds me to celebrate the beauty in my instrument.”
Sergeant also found herself immersed in jazz after the leader of a big band heard her rehearsing bel canto in a practice studio and invited her to sit in. Soon she was a permanent member of the ensemble, which only added to her growing sense of the music. “I was able to observe how the soloists were trying to discover something,” she explains, “which taught me to embrace the process of improvisation. The band played a lot of transcribed solos from Art Blakey records, and just singing along was a great education in itself.”
Hearing Maye and working with the big band led Sergeant to reconsider her musical priorities. “I saw that technique is a double-edged sword,” she says. “Classical training can make you more adept, but it can also be a shield, as if being able to do all of the tricks puts you beyond criticism. And there’s stuff you miss in more traditional vocal study, particularly in the area of rhythm. I began to realize that as a student I had reached a peak, only to discover that I could see a higher summit.”
Another key moment in Sergeant’s development was encountering a Carmen McRae video from the 1960s television series Jazz Casual. “Carmen’s incredible commitment to the lyrics, together with her complete musicality, made me realize that such things were possible. Around that time, a theatrical project I had been involved in for quite a while got a New York tryout on a night that I had a jazz gig. I realized that I had undergone a transition and missed the tryout.”
Studies with vocalist/pianist Tom Lellis put the finishing touches on Sergeant’s jazz apprenticeship. “Tom is a great teacher,” she confirms, “and he was particularly helpful in my approach to rhythm. Hard bop is my favorite listening music, which may seem like an odd choice for a singer, but Tom helped me apply the colors of hard bop to my approach. And he made me realize that, in jazz, vibrato is a choice rather than an essential. Most importantly, I learned that while I may be as deliberate as need be when I practice, what comes out when I perform has to relate more to instinct. When I’m into a song, the chances I take are all instinctual. And the meaning of each tune is my window into improvisation. If what I’m trying to do is not based in a deep well of feeling, it’s not going to happen.”
Sergeant has put her philosophy into practice in this debut program, which places her individual stamp on a half-dozen consensus standards plus three additional hits from the ‘80s. She explains the presence of the latter by noting that “I chose `Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ and `Every Breath You Take’ because these songs are in the back of all of our minds. We hear them at Whole Foods, or in malls, or wherever we find ourselves wandering around; yet they aren’t sacred cows, so they are approachable for rearrangement. I took that freedom,” she jokes, “and abused it.” “I Melt with You,” the Modern English hit, is less familiar than the Tears for Fears and Police tunes, yet provided the kind of open meaning that Sergeant finds inspiring. “Thinking about melting led me to the messy intro,” she explains, “and then thinking more about melting led to the spoken word statement that alludes to both personal attraction and nuclear war.”
The rest of the program is personalized as well, with such memorable touches as her half-time statement against the rhythm section at the start of “Old Devil Moon,” the Monkish setting of “I Wish I Were in Love Again” and the straightforward wonder of “So Many Stars.” As the tracks were being recorded, producer Suzi Reynolds pointed out that Sergeant had created a song cycle, one that began with the power of “Never Will I Marry” and ultimately looped back to another form of never. “All of these songs mean something to me,” Sergeant confirms, “and the musical vocabulary of jazz allowed me to reinvent. `It Never Entered My Mind’ is so personal that I can’t listen to it. It’s the sucker punch at the end of our visit to all of these rapturous places.”
Sergeant is quick to share the credit with her rhythm section, which is comprised of players who, in her words, “can say what they need to say explosively.” She has a history of playing with pianist David Budway and bassist Chris Berger; and while many of her gigs do not allow for drummers, she found Vince Ector “a treat to work with.” She shares this writer’s appreciation of Budway’s contribution, both as a member of the trio and, on the closing two tracks, as the sole accompanist. “I’ve done gigs with David almost as long as I’ve been in New York. He’s such a versatile musician that he’s even done classical things with me. David has an endless imagination. You can work with great accompanists and great soloists, but only a few can do both. David is one of the few.”
What has resulted on Inside Out is nothing less than a confirmation of Kristen Lee Sergeant’s embrace of the jazz aesthetic. “Jazz is about bringing something new to what may be familiar material,” she insists. “The art form doesn’t need you if you’re not seeking a new way. Unlike my work in theater, it’s about what I want to say, what I can bring that no one else can bring. And while my training with a big band was invaluable, your own improvising is limited because this massive machine surrounds you. The trio gave me more opportunity to play off what everyone else is doing, which is another thing that I love about jazz. It allowed me to follow Suzi’s advice to `seize the musical moment.’”
Consider the moment seized.
Track Listing & Publishing Info
1 Never Will I Marry 3:32
(Frank Loesser, rearranged by Kristen Lee Sergeant) MPL Music Publishing Inc. OBO Frank Music Corp.
2 Everybody Wants to Rule the World 4:06
(Orzabal, Stanley, Hughes, rearranged by Kristen Lee Sergeant) Platinum Songs OBO Amusements LTD, Rights Management Rosetta VM PKA Virgin Songs, BMG
3 Old Devil Moon 4:28
(Burton Lane & E.Y. Harburg) Chappell & Co. Shapiro Bernstein OBO Glocca MorraMusic
5 I Melt With You 5:44
(Richard Ian Brown, Stephen James Walker, Robert James Grey, Michael Frances Conroy, Gary Frances Mcdowell, Dalton Dieh, rearranged by Kristen Lee Sergeant) Universal – Songs of Polyg OBO Universal/Momentum Music 3 LTD
6 So Many Stars 4:02
(Sergio Mendez, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman) WB Music Corp Spirit Two Music OBO Spirit Services Holdings, SARL
7 Every Breath You Take 3:16
(Sting, rearranged by Kristen Lee Sergeant) EMI Blackwood Music Inc. OBO Magnetic Publishing LTD.
The Art of Storytelling
Vance Gilbert Works His Magic at World Cafe Live
The Art of Storytelling
Vance Gilbert Works His Magic at
World Cafe Live
“If Joni Mitchell and Richie Havens had a love child, with Rodney Dangerfield as the midwife, the results might be something close to the great Vance Gilbert“, says Richmond Magazine
Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Vance started out hoping to be a jazz singer, and then discovered his affinity for the storytelling sensibilities of acoustic folk music. Word spread like wildfire about Gilbert’s stage-owning singing and playing, compelling Shawn Colvin to invite him to be special guest on her 1992 Fat City tour, where he took much of America by storm and by surprise. “With the voice of an angel, the wit of a devil, and the guitar playing of a god..” wrote the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after a show on that tour. Noted not only for being the ever consummate performer, Gilbert has recorded 14 albums, including 5 for Philo/Rounder Records. Along with being opener of choice for artists as varied as Arlo Guthrie, Anita Baker, and Southside Johnny, the mid 2000’s found Gilbert opening 140+ shows for comedian George Carlin. Most recently he’s the opener of choice for Paul Reiser, the Milk Carton Kids, and the Subdudes, along with his own busy acoustic music making schedule.
Considered by many to be an integral part of the national folk scene, his soon to be released record The Day Before November (mid 2019) features an eclectic roster of musical types including rocker Mike Posner, Celtic harpist Aine Minough, bluesman Chris Smither, and Al Green’s organist Stacey Wade. He even has a tune on a Grammy Nominated children’s album. How rounded is that?
“Vance Gilbert is a living legend who has opened for artists as varied as Aretha Franklin, Shawn Colvin and comedian George Carlin. Gilbert’s jazz-inflected folk guitar features sophisticated melodies and meticulous solo arrangements. Lean back into his chops and admire the pairing of melodic inversions with Gilbert’s storyteller’s eye.” — Ethan Fogus
“I can throat sing like a Tuvan when I’m warmed up. I can imitate Billie Holiday. I write songs people think are unrecorded Richard Thompson tracks. I have tunes often mistaken for Gershwin or Harold Arlen. I can make you laugh, cry, and pee depending on where you are in my show. Simultaneously.
This is my time. I’ve was homeless for 4 years as a teen, on the run from violent, alcoholic parents. I’ve been kicked off of airplanes for reading a book about airplanes, I’ve been a tennis instructor, public school multicultural arts teacher, cook, and aviation history researcher. I’m over 60. I’ve been the opener of choice for Shawn Colvin (the whole Fat City Tour), Milk Carton Kids, Aretha Franklin, Arlo Guthrie, I did 150 dates with George Carlin just before he passed, over 20 now currently with Paul Reiser (Mad About You guy), co-written tunes with Grammy Country Music winner Lori McKenna, and I have a song on a Grammy-nominated children’s album. I’m a noted performance instructor. I’ve coached gameshow host John Davidson. I tour all the time.
This album is all over the map. But it’s full-on me. I produced it and I sing my ass off. Various tunes on this album could be hits on Americana, 70’s/R&B, AAA. It’s all that and spoken word, country blues, funk, and even Celtic, pennywhistle included. Mike Poser sings on this album. Aine Minough plays Celtic harp and sings. Al Green’s organist Stacey Wade, Tommy Malone of the Subdudes, all play prominent instrumental parts on this batch of tunes. Boston Pops strings arranger Brad Hatfield did strings and keyboard. Even Chris Smither’s first gig solely as guitarist and foot stomper happens here. This album is called Good Good Man. I currently like it very much.
I’ve had 13 previous albums, 4 on Rounder Records. Some I like very much, some, meh. Airplay on AAA and folk radio all over the place.
I’ve played most North American and two major Australian Folk festivals including Newport, Rocky Mountain, Winnipeg, Calgary, Kate Wolf, Ottawa, Falcon Ridge, and more. I’ve played clubs, coffeehouses, PACs – and I’ve done over 3,500 shows booked by The Roots Agency, on roster with them for nearly 27 years. Yeah, I’m loyal too.
I’m Black, I sing, I play an acoustic guitar, and I don’t play the blues. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I break that lazy expectation into pieces. Media loves to wonder about that.
If you aren’t intrigued by now, please read no further. Oh, ok, you’re at the end anyway.”