John Cushon introduced me to many people on this project, including Carol, but that was around 35 years ago. It was a pleasant social outing and that was that. Fast forward to The Drummer Loves Ballads. John had an idea:
“What if we restated the lyrics at the end in French?”
I liked it. And John happened to know this great person who was both academically trained in French and had also lived the “real” language in France for several years.
“I can call my friend Carol,” he said.
A glimmer of memory …”Wait. Thirty-five years ago Carol?”
Indeed it was. She came in and nailed the reading, with an emotion-filled final “adieu” at the end that still gets me.
And now I call Carol “friend,” too. (I suspect it will stay that way only as long as I resist the urge to demonstrate to her that I can still sing the entire “Dites-moi, pourquoi la vie est belle” song from South Pacific — a remnant from my unheralded role as “Jerome’s” understudy in Winnetonka High School’s production of the musical.)
Carol Bar’s love for jazz dates back to her college days as a member of the first vocal jazz ensemble at the University of Kansas under the outstanding direction of Dr. Ron McCurdy. Originally from New York City, she grew up in Overland Park, Kansas, and takes advantage of the countless live jazz venues that Kansas City has to offer.
Carol has a master’s degree in French as well as a bachelor’s in Italian from the University of Kansas. She was awarded a graduate Rotary International scholarship to study in France in 1985-86 and earned a Licence degree in Lettres Modernes from the Université de Rouen. She lived, worked, and studied in France for five years and has more than 30 years of teaching experience with learners of all ages, including corporate clients. Madame Bar was one of the original teachers at Académie Lafayette, a total immersion French charter school in Kansas City, Missouri, during the first five years of its inception.
She is a certified AP and College Now instructor and has been teaching all levels of French and inspiring students at Blue Valley High School for the past 18 years. Carol takes pride in sponsoring her high school’s chapter of the National French Honor Society, takes an active role on the District French Curriculum Committee, and loves traveling with student groups to France where she can help them step outside of their cultural and linguistic comfort zone.
In her spare time, Carol not only enjoys listening to live jazz, but she seizes every opportunity to visit her two amazing children who live in California. La vie est belle!
One door closes and another opens — and if you’re lucky, the perfect person walks in. An early edit of “The Shadows of Paris” was presenting some challenges and we decided to try a different tact on the ending.
John Cushon: “How about a gypsy-style viola solo?”
John Armato: “I love it, but …”
John Cushon: “I know a guy.”
He always does.
The guy was Steffen Drabek, who responded from his home studio in Bremen, Germany, with several beautiful takes for us to choose from.
My subsequent correspondence with Steffen has been as delightful as his music, and recently he asked that I be sure to recognize his photographer wife, Jutta Drabek-Hasselman, for taking the marvelous image of Steffen with his light-trailing bow in the shadows of … Bremen.
Steffen Drabek is among the elite breed of musicians who move with as much ease, talent, and renown in jazz circles as they do in classical circles. A member of the Bremen Philharmonic Orchestra since 1992, Steffen is a composer, arranger and conductor in both classical and jazz music for concert, theater, and film music.
Born in 1966, he started playing violin at the age of seven before choosing the enticing lower register of the viola. He studied viola at Musikhochschule Detmold with Prof. Nobuko Imai and attended masterclasses with Prof. Wolfram Christ and Prof. Yuri Bashmet
Steffen has performed at international music festivals such as Tanglewood in the United States, and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in Germany. His multi-faceted career has brought him into the musical company of internationally recognized artists such as Claudio Roditi (with Klaus Ignatzek and Jean-Louis Rassinfosse), pop singer Anastacia, and the legendary Oleta Adams among others.
Ron’s name kept coming up.
I was debating how to approach the song “Moonlight” and ultimately decided the album could use a good old-fashioned duet between a man and a woman. Molly Hammer would be the female vocalist, but I just didn’t know any male vocalists who seemed right to carry the other end.
But other people did and it turns out they were all thinking of the same guy: Ron Gutierrez. I knew his name but not his voice. So I checked out his voice and then I knew all I needed to know.
How Ron manages to evoke a crooner sensibility and a Motown soulfulness at the same time I’ll never know. But the “how” really doesn’t matter, I suppose. I’m too busy enjoying it …
Based in Kansas City, Ron Gutierrez has performed from St. Peter’s Basilica to Carnegie Hall, and from The Kennedy Center to The Grand Ol’ Opry. Vocal versatility developed naturally for Ron. His father, saxophonist Tony Gutierrez, was a founding member of the Topeka Jazz Workshop. His mother loved country music. And Ron sang for Sunday church services. Those influence shaped a soulful jazz style now all his own.
At the University of Kansas, Ron performed in a vocal jazz ensemble and sang in Kansas City clubs, including three years as lead vocalist for Garry Mac Productions and The Atlantic Express, a 12-piece, 60s-style R&B group. Eventually, Ron won an audition with the elite vocal ensemble, The U.S. Army Chorale (now the U.S. Army Band Downrange), part of The United States Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” based in Washington, D.C.
His various experiences combined have given him opportunities to perform alongside such artists as Michael McDonald, Wynonna Judd, Rita Moreno, and B.B. King, as soloist with The National Symphony Orchestra, on the nationally televised “Showtime at the Apollo,” and numerous live PBS concerts, as a concert soloist at St. Ignatious Cathedral in Rome, as headliner of the inaugural Jazz in Riads Jazz Festival in Fez, Morocco, and on tour with the world-famous Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
You can follow Ron at rongutierrez.com
I didn’t meet Molly until the day we tracked “Moonlight.” I knew her by reputation and by recordings but had never heard her sing live. My mom had died just days before and Molly was (again) persevering through an insidious cancer. Yet, she greeted me with hugs befitting an old friend. Then she sang and I had a new vocal crush. Too soon the session was over.
Molly died while the album was still in production. I’m sad that I met her so late and knew her too little. But fortunately for all of us, her gift lingers here.
Molly Hammer performed in the Kansas City area until her untimely death in 2020. She arrived on the Kansas City scene in 2005, after deciding her years as an actress – including portraying Patsy Cline for five years in a theme show in Iowa – were missing something: She wanted to be a jazz singer. Molly steered in that direction by studying intensively with Kansas City pianist Joe Cartwright. By 2016, Kansas City’s alternative publication, The Pitch, had awarded her their Critic’s Choice award for as Best Jazz Singer.
With an eclectic vocal background, she found her home in the world of jazz and blues, drawing inspiration from the likes of Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Sara Vaughn, and many others. She performed with some of the finest jazz musicians in the Kansas City area, always referring to it as a “privilege,” and was routinely heard at The Green Lady Lounge, The Blue Room, Corvino Supper Club, and Chaz on the Plaza. Molly was also a frequent cast member at the Quality Hill Playhouse for a dozen years.
Molly was from Excelsior Springs, Missouri. She studied theatre at Chadron State College in Nebraska, and was a graduate of Kansas City’s Artist INC program. She was especially proud to have sung the National Anthem for both hometown champions: The Royals and The Chiefs.
“Hi John, it’s Lisa Henry. I’m recording a demo for the Monk competition and thought I’d see if you’d play drums on it.”
I’d known Lisa for awhile, since working a downtown Kansas City club called Maryanne’s on Main a few times with her and the great Everette Devan on B3, and countless gigs with her on the Steve Miller Orchestra. I loved her style, thought we swung together easily, and we had a ton of laughs when we shared the stand.
So, obviously, I said “great, let’s do it!” right? No. Apparently insecure-John wrestled the phone away from excited-John and stammered “Really? Are you sure you don’t want someone like Cushon?”
Long pause. “Uh, don’t you want to do it?” she finally asked, sounding confused and a little hurt. Excited-John finally took the phone back. “Yes, I mean … YES!”
Man am I glad excited-John got his head together because playing with Lisa is something special because SHE is something special. Love you Lisa!
Lisa Henry was a winner of the 1994 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition and was later named an International Jazz Ambassador to Africa. She toured Chile, Argentina, and Peru with the Institute in 1998 and celebrated its 20th Anniversary with a performance at the White House in 2007.
Raised on music in Kansas City, Lisa began singing in the Baptist Church at the age of six. Her jazz career began in the nightclubs of Kansas City at age 17. She was mentored by the great Hammond B-3 player, Everette Devan, and cut her big band teeth performing with the Vince Bilardo Big Band and Steve Miller Orchestra. She has since appeared at legendary venues and festivals ranging from Wolftrap to the Playboy Jazz Festival.
Known as a warm and unique vocal stylist and storyteller, Lisa has performed around the globe, including tours of Mumbai and Calcutta, India, with Kenny Garrett; South America with Herbie Hancock; Southern and Eastern Africa with T.S. Monk, and a month-long performance and educational tour in Madagascar. She has shared the stage with other legends as well, including Kenny Barron, Terri Lyne Carrington, Rosemary Clooney, Roy Hargrove, Kevin Mahogany, Lou Rawls, Wayne Shorter, Grady Tate, Clark Terry, and others.
Her latest recording, “Live from 18th and Vine,” has received critical acclaim.
My only trepidation in asking Brett to play “Night Lights” in memory of Kerry Strayer was that I had played it so much with Kerry — and have listened literally hundreds of times to a cherished studio demo of the tune we did together in 80s — that I worried no one could do justice to those memories. After all, I’d never even played with Brett before.
It just goes to show how wasted worry is.
The track speaks for itself. All was comfortable and comforting. It was effortless to play together and Brett’s sound was uniquely elegant. He not only served Kerry’s memory beautifully, he made a new memory for me that shines just as bright.
Brett Jackson works with many of Kansas City’s premier jazz ensembles including The Project H (2014 Pitch Award Winner – Best Jazz Ensemble), Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7, and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. Brett also fronts his own quartet and is on call for other artists, ensembles, productions and tours such as Cyrille Aimée, Bobby Watson, Roy Hargrove, Michael Feinstein, Kansas City Symphony, Kansas City Repertory Theater, Coterie Theater, Broadway road shows, and acts such as Tech N9ne, Krizz Kaliko, Zach Mufasa Band and Josh Heinrichs.
Brett holds a degree from Bethel College (North Newton, Kansas) in music education and two master’s degrees from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in saxophone performance and jazz studies.
As a flute, clarinet, sax and jazz improvisation educator, he teaches privately and is on the faculty of Kansas City Kansas Community College as well as Harmony Project-Kansas City, an organization providing free instruments and instruction to young people in the Kansas City area.
Brett can be heard on “Everyday, Forever,” “We Live Among The Lines,” and “Become Light” from The Project H, “The Basement Beat” and “Soul Jazz Fridays” from Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7, “Make It Right” and “Perseverance” by the Zack Mufasa Band, “Rhapsody” by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, “Go” by Krizz Kaliko and “The Storm” by Tech N9ne.
Indirectly, there would be no The Drummer Loves Ballads were it not for Jeff Lisenby. We met around 1984 in the rhythm section of Kirby Shaw’s jazz choir at the UMKC Conservatory of Music. He was a working pro and I was a student. When I asked him who he thought I ought to study with he gave me John Cushon’s phone number. A few lessons turned into a lifelong friendship — one that ultimately led to John agreeing to produce this album.
Jeff was a brilliant musician and a gentle, encouraging, and witty human being. I liked and admired him immediately. His unexpected passing in January 2021 was devastating to all who knew him. I mourn the loss of a great talent, which was monumental. But even more, I mourn the loss of a great person, which was larger still.
Formerly of Kansas City, Missouri, Jeff Lisenby spent the final nearly 40 years of his career in Nashville, Tennessee. Among other marquee credits, Jeff music-directed, played keyboards and accordion, and performed in “Ring of Fire, The Music of Johnny Cash” on Broadway, and on the cast album.
Jeff represented the U.S. in international classical accordion championships and twice won bronze medals. He performed with the Nashville, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Lexington, and West Palm Beach Orchestras, the Nexus Chamber Orchestra, and Alias. He played keyboards with the touring shows of Wicked and Jersey Boys and accompanied Brenda Lee, Luciano Pavarotti, Dolly Parton, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Coasters, and Donna Summer, among many other legendary performers.
Before his unexpected passing, Jeff taught music at Belmont and Lipscomb Universities, was the choir and Musical Theater accompanist at Father Ryan High School, and playded on numerous recordings, including the Grammy-winning “Songs from the Neighborhood — the Music of Mister Rogers”, and on his own CDs, including “Walkin’ the Winter Wonderland” and “A Spy in Tortuga,” available on Apple Music.
I had heard Houston Person on recordings for years, but the night I heard him live at the Iridium in New York was like sitting in front of a fireplace on a cold night. When I decided to include “Don’t Worry ’bout Me” on the album I remembered that warmth and became greedy for it.
Thanks to my friend, Anne Phillips, Warren Vaché had already agreed to appear on “Dreamsville.” Knowing he and Houston had a history of recording duets together I thought, why not ask Warren to do both tunes and ask Houston to join him for a duet on “Don’t Worry”?
I asked Anne. Anne asked Houston. To my everlasting delight, he said “yes.”
With more than 75 albums as leader and countless more as sideman to his credit, Houston Person has come to define the term “soul jazz” with his lush, spare and heartfelt approach to the tenor saxophone.
He has recorded with Charles Brown, Ron Carter, Bill Charlap, Lena Horne, Lou Rawls, Janis Siegel, Horace Silver, Cedar Walton, Grant Green, and others. He is known for his close musical partnership with Etta James and has frequently recorded duets with cornetist Warren Vaché.
In 1966, Houston established his reputation for round tones, warm moods, and romantic solos with his first album as a leader, Underground Soul. He continues to draw from the blues, ballads, and R&B as well as jazz standards. At times, he embraces popular tunes, turning them into thoughtful statements as well as crowd-pleasers.
Houston grew up in Florence, South Carolina, and learned to play piano before switching to saxophone. He studied at South Carolina State College, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1999. Later, he continued his studies at Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. His influences include Gene Ammons, Illinois Jacquet, Harold Land, Hank Mobley, and Sonny Stitt. He received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award in 1982.
Houston lives in Newark, New Jersey.
During my “coming up” years in Kansas City I was a sideman (a freelancer working with anyone who called vs. a steady member of a regular band). Being a sideman means never knowing who else will be on the stand when you get to a gig. In those days, if I saw Doug Talley walk in as I was setting up it always made me smile. Doug is one of those people who is as humble and nice as he is superbly talented. He just makes you glad to be around him.
Fortunately for me, I’ve been around Doug off and on for more than 35 years now. I think the first time we met was when I auditioned for Paul Gray’s seven-piece house band at the newly opened and jazz-themed Vista Hotel (now the Downtown Marriott) in Kansas City circa 1985. Alas, the drummer’s throne ultimately went to Mark Olson, but it was consolation to know Doug from then on. When he arrived at the studio to make his tenor “hum … like cashmere” on “At the Trocadero,” well, it made me smile like the old days.
Doug Talley has shared the stage with Jay McShann, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Mintzer, Claude “Fiddler” Williams, Bobby Watson, Karrin Allyson, Randy Brecker, Scott Robinson and Gary Foster. He has appeared at the 18th & Vine Festival, the Kansas Jazz and Blues Festival, the Kansas City Spirit Festival, the Coleman Hawkins Jazz Festival, Mayport Jazz Festival, and in Las Vegas with The Four Freshman, The Platters and The Diamonds. In addition to leading with his own jazz quartet, Doug has performed with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra since its inception in 2003.
Doug is a Selmer saxophone artist and clinician. He was a faculty member of the Great Plains Jazz Camp for many years and also served as the musical director of the Corporate Woods Jazz Festival Youth Jazz Band.
In addition to dozens of recordings as a sideman, his discography includes four recordings on the Sea Breeze label for the Trilogy and Boulevard Big Bands as well as the Doug Talley Quartet’s five CDs: Town Topic, which Jam magazine reviewed as “…reminiscent of the Modern Jazz Quartet;” Night and Day, which received national airplay; Kansas City Suite, a musical depiction of the quartet’s hometown; The Chess Players, the music of Wayne Shorter; and By Request, an offering of the quartet’s most requested music.
A highlight of my years in New York was the many Sundays Bob Kindred invited me to sit in at his jazz brunch at Café Loup. Occasionally he called me for other gigs, including a couple with Warren Vaché, whose lush cornet playing I’d loved for some time. Despite an imposing reputation and bearing, Warren’s personality was as gentle as his playing and the gigs were a delight.
When I decided to include “Dreamsville” on The Drummer Loves Ballads, I almost immediately thought of featuring Warren. A decade had passed since those gigs, though, so I asked Anne Phillips, the late Bob Kindred’s former wife, if she could help me connect the dots to Warren.
Connect she did; a dream “yes” showed up in my email and a dream performance opens the album. Lucky me, he said “yes” twice and he appears toward the end of the album as well, with his incomparable duet mate, Houston Person, on “Don’t Worry ’bout Me.”
Warren Vaché is a supremely accomplished, versatile and rare cornet, trumpet and flugelhorn artist. Known especially for his cornet, he has been in demand around the globe for decades, astounding audiences with his burnished tone, lyrical style, and intelligent improvisations.
Warren has performed and recorded with such legends as Benny Goodman, Rosemary Clooney, Benny Carter, Hank Jones, Gerry Mulligan, Woody Herman, Ruby Braff and Bobby Short as well as contemporaries such as Phil Woods, Jon Faddis, Bill Charlap, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He has performed at every major jazz venue and festival around the world and at revered venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Vienna Opera, and the Royal Festival Hall in London.
A guest artist on countless record dates, Warren has recorded more than 35 albums under his own name, including the award winning “2gether” with Bill Charlap. He composed and performed the music for the movie “The Luckiest Man in The World,” and performed on the soundtrack for “Biloxi Blues,” and “The Dain Curse.”
Coupling a beautiful tone with a chance-taking style, Warren utilizes the complete range of the jazz vocabulary. Pianist and composer Jim McNeely has said: “Every chorus Warren plays is like a lesson in the history of the trumpet.”
Some of my guests on this album go back to the start of my musical career. Others I met for the first time for this project. And then there’s Lucy Wijnands, who I’ve known just about her entire life. One of twin daughters of my dear childhood friend, Lisa Smith, Lucy is no longer amazed when I make a coin appear behind her ear. Instead, she amazes me with the magic she brings to a lyric. Take a look at her bio and you’ll see it’s not just me. She’s caught plenty of people’s attention with her extraordinary and unusually mature voice.
It’s a special pleasure to see someone you love find their art and excel at it. It’s an even more special pleasure to be the beneficiary of that art. I expect we’ll all hear more great things from Lucy Wijnands in the years to come. If I’m feeling prideful I have no doubt I’ll say, “You know, my album was her recording debut!” But deep down I’ll know it was she who did me a favor and not the other way around. And I’ll smile at her the way she used to smile at me and my coin tricks.
Lucy Wijnands was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. She got her start performing with her father, stride piano master, Bram Wijnands. From a very young age, she sang with her father in jazz clubs in Kansas City and at festivals. The two have performed together across Europe, including a tour of the Netherlands in the summer of 2019.
Lucy is the 2021 winner of the prestigious Ella Fitzgerald Vocal Competition. She has lived in New York since 2013, where she studies with renowned vocalist Anne Phillips. She was nominated for a Maestro Award by the Philadelphia Heritage Festival in high school and awarded the Ella Fitzgerald scholarship at the SUNY Purchase conservatory of music, where she studied with Peter Malinverni, Alexis Cole, Ingrid Jensen and Jon Faddis. She toured Tokyo as an ambassador for the university.
Lucy has performed with musicians such as Joe Lovano, Bob Kindred, Paul Meyers, Corky Siegel, and Kenny Washington and has appeared in concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room with rising star pianist, Julius Rodriguez. She was featured in a five-month residency with the Birdland Big Band, directed by David Dejesus. Janis Siegel and Lauren Kinhan featured Lucy on their online show “Vocal Gumbo.”
The Drummer Loves Ballads is Lucy’s national recording release debut.
As I talked with musicians about who I should get to play the tribute to Steve Patke they each gave the same name and no other: Lynn Zimmer. As with some of the other guest performers on the album, I knew Lynn by reputation but had not played with him personally.
Boy am I glad this project changed that.
You will hear first hand all of the musical reasons I say that when you listen to “Memories of You.” But in addition to the tone, the phrasing, and the relentless swing, let me add that Lynn is simply a total pro. Walked in early, walked in ready, nailed the take, listened to playback long enough to make sure everyone was happy, and then left without fanfare. It was perhaps the simplest session of the entire album. Every musician should be so lucky to have a moment like that.
Lynn Zimmer was surrounded by Dixieland and Swing-era albums in his childhood home at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. By the time he was 19 he had started gigging professionally on clarinet at the lake’s Osage Beach. Just three years later Lynn auditioned for and toured with Clyde McCoy, whose famous recording of “Sugar Blues” sold millions.
Next came stints in Kansas City – most notably with the New Red Onion Jazz Babies – and San Francisco – with the legendary Turk Murphy. In 1990, Lynn moved to New Orleans and was hired by the internationally known, Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Al Hirt. For the next year and a half, Lynn toured with Hirt and played in his nightclub on Bourbon Street. “I’ve had good clarinet players in my band for many years,” Hirt once said. “In my opinion, the finest has been Lynn Zimmer.”
Lynn eventually moved back to the Lake of the Ozarks and performed at Dick Hawk’s Country Club Hotel & Spa for twelve years. It was there he began his friendship with legendary Nashville recording artist Boots Randolph, of “Yakety Sax” fame, resulting in countless live performances and a CD recording together.
Lynn now lives in Kansas City, where he performs year-round at the Gaslight Grill.