Modern Crooners: 7 Top Standards Singers of 2017

Last year, I put together a list of often-overlooked singers of American standards. It was such a joy to find new interpretations, and make a list. Below, are seven more that I am enjoying. They are in no particular order.

Click Here for last year’s list, which includes Zooey Deschanel, Caleb Collins, Madeline Peyroux, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Wade Tower, Aaron Minick, Holland Mariah Grossman, Landau Eugene Murphy, Matt Dusk and Marc Broussard. I reserve the right to do a second 2017 list, if I am so moved.

1. Frances Madden:

What’s not to love about Australian Frances Madden? Terribly attractive, cute, but not cutesy, and completely solid. The song “Such a Beautiful Thing” is the sort of song this world needs. What makes her stand out is that she writes her own songs, and also does standards, making her a deeply dimensional artist. Joyful. This world does not need more angst. It needs a few more like Frances channeling their talent.

2. Matt Forbes

This Canadian does all the typical Sinatra standards, but I found him most interesting in his version of Rod Stewart’s “Some Guys Have All the Luck.” Frankly, there is always a danger in doing things Sinatra did with any sort of cool swagger. You risk having a tribute band approach. This reverses things, as Stewart gained fame from doing standards, perhaps not realizing that his songs now are standards. I really love the way he does it straight, like he would have sung it on the Merv Griffin Show. On the verge of cheese but never all the way in. The bridge solo reminds me of a friendly TV sitcom sound, in a good way. This approach would not work with “Do You Think I’m Sexy.” Arrangement by the brilliant Callum Au is joyful.

3. Alex Platt & Dheepa Chari

This temporary duo of Los Angeles musician Platt and vocalist Dheepa Chari recorded this restrained version of Old Devil Moon, co-produced with Rob Kohler. Platt describes himself as a drummer, educator and producer. Chari is of Hindustani heritage, by way of Texas, Los Angeles and New York City. We like that she sees herself as straightforward. We need more of that sensible stuff in music. What it is. What it is.

4. Nina Repeta

North Carolina actress Nina Repeta, best known for Dawson’s Creek, is also a nifty song stylist. “Fly Me to the Moon” is almost always a good song, and doing it in a minimal way, in the hands of a vocalist who hits the notes, and every syllable, is satisfying. Michel Legrand’s “Watch What Happens” is also refreshing, and not academic.

5. Kristin Slipp and Dov Manski

Slipp has a unique voice that verges on being a bit too odd for standards, but hits notes you would not expect. Manski does a mean Wurlitzer. When not doing standards, Slipp is an indie songwriter. You could sit down for a very happy evening listening to those two, but always be a bit on edge, in a not too dangerous way. Kristin’s voice may not be for all, but it is completely relaxing.

6. Lisa Tuyula

German singer and artist Lisa Tuyula sings where spirituals and standards connect. Yet I just can’t figure out how well she captures “My Funny Valentine” in a very plain, but compelling way. Below, Tuyula with Christopher Reinhold on the piano in a Soundcloud sample.

7. Caesar

Caesar’s rendition of “The Very Thought of You” is lush sounding, and rich.  He does an “Autumn Leaves” in part Japanese and English. He grew up in Chicago, and has performed with many greats, often compared to Nat King Cole.

That’s it for now. If you know of others who should be on this list, please leave a comment below.

The Record of Rich Conaty, New York Broadcaster

NEW YORK – Rich Conaty, one of the national treasures of American music history, died Dec. 30, 2016. Conaty, 62, was perhaps the nation’s greatest expert on the songs of the early era of classic American recordings, and his programs and legacy will live on, long after his life.

Conaty hosted a radio program, The Big Broadcast, beginning in the 1970s when he was a Fordham student. On his show he played and discussed popular standards from the early to mid 20th century, with an emphasis the ’20s and ’30s. The WFUV program continued until just before he died, and hundreds of episodes are recorded for posterity. Continue reading

CIA Declassifies a Norfolk, Virginia Garden Dedication

Alex Kiehl from his senior photo in the Horizons yearbook, 1978.

NORFOLK – Recently, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified a school garden re-dedication from 1979 in Norfolk, Virginia, as part of many hundreds of other documents. I happened upon this 1979 invitation to the dedication of the Alex Kiehl Garden by just using the word “Norfolk” as a search term. As I read the invitation, I wondered how on earth the C.I.A. kept information on my school’s student council? And what was the larger story?

The dedication was at Norfolk Academy, my preparatory school, on Sunday, Oct. 7, 1979. The handwritten invitation reads thus:

The Tunstall Student Council invites you to attend the dedication of the Norfolk Academy Memorial Garden, which is being established in memory of Alex Kiehl. The ceremony dedicating the Kiehl Garden will take place on Sunday afternoon, October 7, at one o’clock in the courtyard of the May Library.

It turns out the invitation, sent to Mrs. Turner (obviously Mrs. Stansfield Turner, wife of then CIA director Stansfield Turner) and written in perfect prep school cursive, was obviously issued by the students themselves. The CIA notes it was received Oct. 1, 1979. The invite was sent to Turner’s first wife Patricia; his second, Eli Karin Gilbert Turner, died in a plane accident in Costa Rica. The later divorce was public news because in 1986, the Associated Press reported on a lawsuit between Adm. Turner and his daughter over the divorce.

Pictured here, the declassified invitation to the Kiehl Garden dedication. Image in CIA.gov Archives/FOIA Reading Room

That Mrs. Turner might have been invited is no surprise. Kiehl was from a distinguished Navy family, and Alex Kiehl had died in 1978 in a tragic car-jacking at Georgia Tech where he was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. His father, the late Cpt. Elmer Hill Kiehl, was a distinguished and dashing Navy officer who commanded the Naval Amphibious School in Little Creek, Va., among many other assignments.

Kiehl was a great athlete, student and lacrosse player at Norfolk Academy, and the death in his freshman college year took everyone as a major shock. While a few years younger, I remembered him well as one of those older students with a sort of star power, though the details of the tragedy were only vague. Looking back, it tells how promise and youth can be quickly lost.

Meanwhile, the invitation lives in the C.I.A.’s online Reading Room archives, forever preserved as evidence of how evil acts can touch so many lives. It is one of many hundreds of fascinating pieces of Hampton Roads history in the archive including:

  • A letter to Gordon Harper of Virginia Beach’s Hoff Cadillac, thanking him for personally delivering his new car to Stansfield Turner.
  • A 1970 leave request from George A. Carver, asking for time to sail the Chesapeake Bay and visit Sandbridge, Virginia Beach, for rest time. Carver, a distinguished C.I.A. officer with extensive Vietnam expertise, was notably a witness at the successful libel trial of Gen. William Westmoreland.
  • Telepathy research the C.I.A. was doing in January of 1989 to ask a person to describe a section of the Busch Gardens theme park through ESP. Really. The idea was was to research whether Edgar Cayce-like extra sensory perception could assist spying. The files of the project, called Sun Streak and Stargate, are all online, and are endlessly fascinating.

Alex Kiehl is still remembered at Norfolk Academy, where an annual award is given in his honor. His mother, Aroostine Kiehl, died in February, 2016, in time to see Georgia Tech unveil stands in his honor, the Alexander G. Kiehl Stands.

Below, a video of his life and compiled by Georgia Tech, where his memory is still celebrated. The story is proof that decency and honor, over time, can take away but some of the pain inflicted by dark acts.

 

The History of the Southgate Lohman Map of Eastern Virginia

VIRGINIA BEACH – The recent edition of Virginia Living magazine includes a feature on the history of the Southgate Lohman map of Tidewater, Virginia that resided at my family restaurant, Duck-In.

The 1934 map was a featured decorative element at Duck-In Seafood Restaurant in Virginia Beach up to the time it closed.

You can get a subscription to Virginia Living here at VirginiaLiving.com or find it online HERE.

 

 

Modern Crooners & Standards List 2016

Like David’s Psalms, America’s standards are our gift to the world. My father, who saw many a great standard sung at the University of Virginia in the 1950s, reminded me that long after we are gone as a country, and much about it forgotten, the great songs will live on.

American popular standards, perhaps, will never have the place that they had during the time of the big bands, when so many pop artists were singing the songs and new titles were being born regularly on Broadway and in the movies.

That being said, the genre is very much alive. Older singers often do an album of standards, and each year new artists arrive on the scene that sing these great songs. The challenge is that outside of pops symphony concerts, weddings and a few jazz lounges, there are not alot of places to hear this sort of music in a regular setting such as in Palm Beach or New York.


I thought this list needed to be made, in no particular order, just to keep track of them in my mind. Of course, there are big singers like Diana Krall, Jamie Cullum, Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Buble, but most know them. Sadly, these guys hardly get any radio time, even in Florida where we have plenty of people who grew up with their songs originally.

Standards Singers

  • She & Him: Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward are the duo She & Him. (Thanks Jonathan Fox!) They’ve sold alot of albums and are on Columbia, but not sure why they aren’t ever on the radio. Their superior and stripped down Time After Time is perfection. I could listen to that one over and over again. But the Yesterday Once More on her HelloGiggles.com site takes me to some sort of place I want to keep going, even if she’s just singing to a lame-o mp3 track.

  • Caleb Collins: An Idaho native who came to New York via Nashville. A very good Our Love is Here to Stay with Alicia Olatuja gives standards a jazzy, sophisticated feel without being too lounge. Yet he is best known for his Christian music, including the Brooklyn Tabernacle; his I Feel Jesus in the Room is a rather charming new style Gospel.

  • Cécile McLorin Salvant: stylish jazz standards singer whose precise delivery of words takes every old song she sings into sort of timeless nightclub, neither past nor future. Cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Wives & Lovers.

  • Wade Tower: A completely straightforward standards singer from Stillwater, Oklahoma, who gets points for wearing a suit when he sings. His Way You Look Tonight is good, and thankfully he doesn’t try to ape Sinatra. Would be interesting to hear him with a record company budget in a great studio with slick arrangements.

  • Aaron Minick: A giant blast of a voice from Nashville; he comes from a gospel singing family and also does some great gospel. He hardly needs the mic. I very much enjoy his It Came Upon The Midnight Clear, and wish Christmas radio would play stuff like that rather than the 10 songs they seem to recycle. The carol shows an interesting place where pop music and hymnology intersect. Do listen to him with gospel singer Ron Hemby and Johnny Minick singing the Imperials’ More (Than You’ll Ever Know).

  • Holland Mariah Grossman: The beautiful brunette also does a sultry My Funny Valentine, with a very long emphasis on words like MYYYYYYY and a long SMYLLLLE rather than the “unphotographable. She also wears pearls. Snazzy. You will like when she sings “Sweet” and “smile” as well. I like it just as much as Chaka Kahn’s rendition.

  • Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.: A West Virginia car washer with dreds who won America’s Got Talent. His audition of Got You Under My Skin had a very good “ANNND” that got under the audience’s skin.

  • Matt Dusk: A Canadian like Michael Buble, he is a Canadian jazz musician and singer. He has two gold albums. His solo My Funny Valentine is far more than worthy, and made even better that the video has him in a tie in front of what looks to be a vintage Plymouth, with a chick coming over to him in pearls at the end. Above a duet with Eleanor McCain in To Make You Feel My Love.

I am keeping a Twitter List of standards singers HERE.

 

 

An Appreciation for Jerry Weintraub


There is so much to appreciate about the late Jerry Weintraub, who died Monday at age 77.

He had many careers, including Elvis Presley manager and producer of many great movie franchises including The Karate Kid and Oceans Eleven. He was the quintessential old-school movie producer; Jewish, born in Brooklyn and Bronx, work for a studio and then set up his own shop.

Confidant and publicist Paul Bloch told Variety that one of his habits and traits was keeping in touch and calling when down.

“Famous or not famous — he’d call and try to cheer them up. He’d tell them the next day would be a bright day. There was not a negative bone in his body.”

Ralph Macchio, the Kid himself, wrote this in Variety of the last time he saw Weintraub at a remake premiere of The Karate Kid.

He gave me a bear hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, “I love you.” Then he called the photographers over to grab some pictures. He wanted to make sure my son got in the shot: one big happy family.

He was not always successful; his company went under at age 50, which gives anyone of an age looking for a new idea some hope. Continue reading

Bet on Cumulus Radio? Seeking Alpha Pro Article

This May, covered the future of Cumulus, the ailing radio company that owns some of the greatest stations in the U.S., and controls all the great legacy assets of network radio.

77abcmusicradioATLANTA – Back in the 1970s, there was a Chuck Barris produced TV program called The $1.98 Beauty Show. Barris, of The Gong Show, produced it. The joke (other than the awful orchestrated “beauties”) was that the price $1.98 was a signal, in and of itself, of pathetic cheapness.

The number came to my mind Friday when Cumulus Radio (NASDAQ: CMLS) ….

Click HERE for full Seeking Alpha pro feature.

Check in at Virginia Beach’s Duck-In

VIRGINIA BEACH – Keeping the memory alive of my grandparents and uncle’s restaurant, Duck-In, continues to be lots of fun.

The restaurant, founded in 1952, was located on Route 60 at the entrance to the Lynnhaven River. It was a roadside bait shack, but my grandparents, Mr. & Mrs. W.R. Miller, turned it into a local seafood restaurant, way before the word “locavore” was hip. They named it Duck-in because it was so little you could quickly “Duck-in” and out.

Growing up, I did not know it was a hipster place; instead it was merely authentic in the way they only late local food, with beers from distributors they knew.

It closed over a decade ago when the real estate boom made the family an offer it could not refuse.

I maintain the duck-in.com website, and hope to maintain it until the restaurant is rebuilt somewhere along the water on the Chesapeake Bay. Wish to join the current Duck-In community? I also administer the Fans of Duck-In Facebook page.