“The Art of Accompanying” — a 50-song playlist

March 28th, 2021

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photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

William Gottlieb’s 1947 photograph of Ella Fitzgerald at the microphone, with Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson and Timmie Rosenkrantz at New York’s Downbeat Club

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…..In the introduction to his new Jerry Jazz Musician series “Two Of A Mind: Conversations on Creative Collaboration,” contributing writer Bob Hecht writes;Accompanying a jazz-oriented vocalist is a subtle art, demanding a level of skill and sensitivity that can easily go under-appreciated. It can sometimes be a relatively thankless job—the spotlight is rarely on the person at the piano bench, nor do listeners typically buy a singer’s record because a particular accompanist is on the date. It has been said that as an accompanist you know you have done your job well if you have appeared to stay out of the way of the vocal, if all of the attention has been on the singer and the song.

…..“Yet accompanying is a highly advanced, nuanced art. It is a process of musical and emotional attunement that has been likened to the intuitive interaction of two intimate dancing partners, able to anticipate one another’s every move. Some otherwise excellent pianists are good at it and others aren’t. As Carmen McRae told Art Taylor in his book, Notes & Tones, ‘An accompanist and a guy who can play the piano are two different things. Even if a guy can play his buns off, it does not necessarily mean he can accompany a singer. A guy must really love to do it.’

…..“The pianists who are great at accompanying are able to merge with the vocalist, and to breathe as one at times. When one listens carefully to the best accompanists of the great jazz divas—Ellis Larkins with Ella Fitzgerald, for example; or Tommy Flanagan with Ella; Jimmy Rowles with Carmen McRae; Bill Charlap with Carol Sloane; Bobby Tucker with Billie Holiday; Ronnell Bright with Sarah Vaughan—you can hear the aural actions of subtle musical painters, offering the perfect, succinct introduction, remaining closely attentive to the singer’s breathing, inserting tasteful fills to augment the lines and the meaning of the musical story, adding bits of color here or a supportive foundation there—all in the service of creating the perfect setting for the vocal—so that the final result is a union, a true duet, a conversation between a singer and a pianist.”

…..You can read Bob’s first exploration on this topic – interviews with Grammy Award-winning pianist Bill Charlap and his mother, the singer Sandy Stewart – by clicking here.

…..For a deep musical dive into this world, Bob put together a marvelous 50-song Spotify playlist, “The Art of Accompanying,” featuring great performances by Shirley Horn, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, and many others.  You can access it below.
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“Art of Accompanying” playlist credits

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“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” Cécile McLorin Salvant: vocals; Aaron Diehl: piano; Rodney Whitaker: double bass; Herlin Riley: drums

“My One and Only” Ella Fitgerald, Ellis Larkin (p)

“Darn That Dream” Sarah Vaughan, Ronnell Bright (p), Freddie Green (g), Richard Davis (b), Sonny Payne (d), Frank Foster (ts), Snooky Young or Joe Newman (tpt)

Come Dance With Me” Shirley Horn (vcl, piano), Charles Ables (b), Steve Williams (d), 1990

“Lucky To Be Me” Monica Zetterlund, Bill Evans (p), Chuck Israels, (b), Larry Bunker (d), 1964

“My Ship” Mark Murphy, Francy Boland on piano, Jimmy Woode on bass, Kenny Clarke (d), 1967

“I Remember You” Jazzmeia Horn, pianist Victor Gould, bassist Ben Williams and drummer/percussionist Jerome Jennings

“The Night We Called It  Day” Carol Sloane, Bill Charlap (p), Sean Smith (b), Ron Vincent (d), Frank Wess (ts), 2014

“Once In  While” Freddy Cole, Bill Charlap (p), Peter Washington (b), Kenny Washington (d), 2006

“Porgy” Billie Holiday, Bobby Tucker (p) Mundell Lowe (g) John Levy (b) Denzil Best (d), 1948

“When Lights Are Low” Roberta Gambarini, Hank Jones (p), 2007

“Something To Live For” Carmen McRae, Billy Strayhorn (p)

“Nancy With the Laughing Face” Kurt Elling, Laurence Hobgood (p),

Clark Sommers: bass

Ulysses Owens: drums

Ernie Watts: Tenor Saxophone

“Naturally” Veronica Swift, Benny Green, flutist Anne Drummond, bassist David Wong, drummer Kenny Washington, and Josh Jones on percussion, 2018

“Skylark” Bill Henderson, Tommy Flanagan (p), Freddie Green, guitar; Milt Hinton, bass; Elvin Jones, drums; 1960

“As Long As I Live” Anita O’Day, Paul Smith (p), Barney Kessel (g), Joe Mondragon (b), Alvin Stoller (d), 1955

“The Shadow of Your Smile” Tony Bennett, Jimmy Rowles (p), Johnny Mandel (arranger), 1965

“There Will Never Be Another You” Nancy King, Fred Hersch (p)

“My Ideal” Freddy Cole, Bill Charlap (p), Peter Washington(b), Kenny Washington (d)

“Stardust” Shirley Horn, Bill Charlap (p), Peter Washington(b), Kenny Washington (d)

“They Say It’s Spring” Blossom Dearie (vcl, p), Ray Brown (b), Jo Jones (d), 1956

“One For My Baby” Frank Sinatra , Bill Miller (p)

“How Deep Is the Ocean” Dena DeRose (vcl, p), Martin Wind (b), Matt Wilson (d)

“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” Irene Kral, Alan Broadbent (p)

“Hi-Fly” Mel Torme, George Shearing (p), Don Thompson (b), 1997

“Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” Paula West, George Mesterhazy (p), Ed Cherry: guitar; Barak Mori: bass; Jerome Jennings: drums, 2012

“It Amazes Me” Tony Bennett, Ralph Sharon (p)

“Something I Dreamed Last Night” Veronica Swift, bassist David Wong, drummer Kenny Washington, and Josh Jones on percussion, 2018

“My Man” Ella Fitzgerald, Tommy Flanagan (p), Keter Betts – Bass; Bobby Durham – Drums, 1977

“Nobody Else But Me” Sandy Stewart, Dick Hyman (p), 1985

“But Beautiful” Tony Bennett, Bill Evans

“A Sleepin ‘ Bee” Nancy Wilson, Joe Zawinul (p), Sam Jones (b), Louis Hayes (d), Nat & Cannonball Adderley, 1961

“Ghost of Yesterday” Carmen McRae, George Shearing (p)

“You Say You Care” Rebecca Kilgore, Randy Porter (p), Scott Steed (b), Neil Masson (d)

“Trouble Is a Man” Cecile McLorin Salvant, Sullivan Fortner (p)

“Sweet Lorraine” Gregory Porter, Chip Crawford – piano, Tivon Pennicott – sax

Jahmal Nichols – bass, Emanuel Harrold – drums, Vince Mendoza – conductor

The London Studio Orchestra

“Lover Man” Carmen McRae, Norman Simmons (p),  Mundell Lowe (g), Bob Cranshaw (b), Walter Perkins (d), 1961

“Exactly Like You” Helen Humes, Gerald Wiggins (p), Ed Thigpen / drums, Gerard Badini / tenor sax, Major Holley/ bass

“Turn Out the Stars” Meredith d’Ambrosio (vcl & p)

“Baltimore Oriole” Sheila Jordan, Steve Swallow (b), Denzil Best (d)

“Sunday” Carmen McRae, Jimmy Rowles (p), Joe Pass (g), Chuck Domanico (b), Cuck Flores (d), 1961

“Angel Eyes” Anita O’Day, Merrill Hoover (p), George Morrow (b), John Poole (d), 1981

“Some Other Time” (Bernstein) Monica Zetterlund, Bill Evans (p), Chuck Israels, (b), Larry Bunker (d), 1964

“Some Other Time” (Styne) Betty Carter, Harold Mabern (p), Bob Cranshaw (b), Roy McCurdy (d), 1965

“Soon” Ella Fitzgerald, Ellis Larkin

“Detour Ahead” Tierney Sutton, pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Trey Henry, and drummer Ray Brinker

“This Time the Dream’s On Me” Mel Torme, George Shesring (p), Din Thompson (b)

“Lullaby of Birdland” Chris Connor, Ellis Larkin (p)

“For All We Know” Janis Siegel, Fred Hersch (p)

“I’m All Smiles” Diane Reeves, Trumpet: Nicholas Payton, Piano: Peter Martin, Bass: Ruben Rogers, Drums: Gregory Hutchinson

Guitar: Romero Lubambo

“The Nearness of You” Nancy Wilson, George Shearing (p), Dick Garcia (g), Walter Chiaisson (vibes), Ralph Pena (b), Vernell Fournier (d), Armando Peraza (percussion), 1961

“Willow Weep for Me” Sheila Jordan, Barry Galbraith (g), Steve Swallow(b), Denzil Best (d)

“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” Helen Merrill, Kenny Barron (p), Rufus Reid (b), Victor Lewis (d), Wallace Roney, Roy Hargrove & Lew Soloff (tpts), 1994

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Bob Hecht frequently contributes his essays and personal stories to  Jerry Jazz Musician.  He has a long history of producing and hosting jazz radio programs; his former podcast series, The Joys of Jazz, was the 2019 Silver Medal winner in the New York Festivals Radio Awards.

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