Tag Archives: Roy Hargrove Quintet

Old/New Albums: Dinah Washington’s “The Swingin’ Miss ‘D'”

dinahwashingtonMy finding this album is one of those gorgeously fortuitous circumstances where a string of seemingly unconnected events led me to this album. I’ll give you the truncated version:

In October, Colleen and I (and an in-utero Millie) were visiting our good friends Nicholi and Tiffany out in Seattle. We had one last night before heading home and we were running through things we could go do. Nic and Tiffany had researched a few options and one was see who was being featured in the month-long jazz festival. None of us being huge jazz fans, I honestly didn’t think it would happen since none of us would know who was playing.

Wouldn’t you know it, they are running through the list of performers that evening and The Roy Hargrove Quintet was one. I immediately flipped and we called for tickets. Fast forward to the show; we walk into this small, dark jazz club and get seated in a comfortable booth about 30 feet from the stage. I’ve written more about the show here, but let me say it was one of the very best live music experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of having.

Apologies, that really wasn’t that brief. Anyway, one of the songs that RHQ did was “Never Let Me Go.” In fact, if my memory serves me, it was the only song to which Roy Hargrove himself provided vocals. And it was gorgeous. He has such an unexpected voice, and it lent itself to the song so well and was just a heartbreaking song. Heading home, I knew I’d need to do some research on this tune.

Turns out, it’s a song written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for the 1956 film “The Scarlet Hour.” I also found that it was done by the jazz singer Dinah Washington on her record The Swingin’ Miss “D”, released the same year as the film.

Dinah Washington was a name that was just barely on the periphery of my jazz knowledge, but getting to know this record has been wonderful. Her vocal tone has quite a warble to it, but it’s far more subtle than say, Snow White’s warble. It is perfectly suited for this orchestral jazz music.

Speaking of the music, look who else’s name is on the cover of the album. It’s one of my Top 5 Favorite Producers*: Quincy Jones. One of the coolest parts of this record is hearing Jones’ orchestra play such a fun array of big band jazz tunes.

The thing that really stuck out to me most is how intricately the musical parts are weaved together. Brass on top of strings on top of percussion on top of whatever else. Within each instrument section, he’s putting lines together that are so beautifully complementary. After hearing his orchestra, it’s fascinating to go back to an album like Thriller and realize that Q was able to produce, arguably, the best pop album of all time because of his work on decades-old albums like The Swingin’ Miss “D”.

While she might not be as immediately well-known as Billie or Ella, Dinah Washington holds her own in the vocal arena. If you fancy yourself a fan of ’40s/’50s big band standards, you’ll get a kick out of this album.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. Never Let Me Go
  2. Every Time We Say Goodbye
  3. They Don’t Believe Me

*I quickly skimmed this 6-year old blog before I linked to it, and I need to qualify it by saying how out of date the list is. There is a great chance Kanye wouldn’t even make my Top 5 anymore, let alone be number 1. I should redo that list sometime.

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The Roy Hargrove Quintet: Live at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 10.26.13

rhquintet

It’s been about two months since I saw the Roy Hargrove Quintet live in Seattle and I’m still not totally over it. I’ve written before about how I’m not the most die hard live music fan, but this performance was hands down one of best I’ve ever seen and made any hassle of live music shows worthwhile.

It was complete happenstance that we got to see him that night. Our friends Nicholi and Tiffany had scoured the city of Seattle for live performances and had found nothing worth attending, save two jazz groups, neither of whom they knew. Imagine my delight when one of the names they dropped was the Roy Hargrove Quintet.

Roy Hargrove is a jazz musician who has been performing for upwards of a quarter century. He’s played with a slew of incredible musicians, some famous and some not so, and can be found providing lush horn arrangements for a surprising number of decently popular tracks. Among these side gigs are several co-writing and performing credits on D’Angelo’s groundbreaking, pedestal-topping sophomore record, Voodoo. Colls and I got to see him close the Chicago Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend in 2011, among probably five to ten thousand fans. It was a great show, so I jumped at the chance to see him again.

We called and got insanely reasonably-priced tickets for the second set of the night, and headed to Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley about 9 PM. We walked into a room that could fit probably about 200 people total. Sensual lighting and clinking glasses, it was as stereotypical as a jazz club can get. We were escorted to our booth, approximately 30 feet away from the stage. Our seats couldn’t have been better. The band is announced and comes on stage; Hargrove immediately kicks off the set and goes to town. From there, it was an hour and a half of jazz.

Lots of people might not think that sounds great, and before this concert, I might have been one of them. But there is something about the way Roy Hargrove plays, and the way his Quintet elicit sounds and melodies out of each other. At times gorgeous, at times smokey, at times spooky, at times frenetic, the music they created together was all over the map. Even with piano/percussion/bass/sax/trumpet, they pulled in sounds of current pop, club music, bebop jazz, and modal jazz. I even heard the Pink Panther riff at one point.

Minus a cloud of cigarette smoke lingering above the musicians, it felt exactly like seeing Miles Davis in 1961. With a contemporary twist. At the show’s closer, Hargrove and Justin Robinson (sax) came off the stage as they were playing and walked among the audience tables. They walked past our booth and I could’ve reached out and touched them. I was literally three feet away from a guy who co-wrote songs on Voodoo. I still can’t get over that. But they morphed the whole smokey ’50s jazz club into a New Orleans Big Band parade with two musicians. I recorded the audio with my phone, and the quality is certainly lacking, but even with poor audio, I’ve listened to the playback of the show probably 20 or 30 times since, and these five musicians coalesced so effortlessly to bring us this ever-changing array of musical styles underneath the umbrella of jazz horns and piano and bass and drums.

The following clip is about three and a half minutes long, and I would encourage you to listen to the whole thing. And go see them live if you get the chance. It really is an insanely cool experience. Can you spot the pop song Hargrove references at 2:50?

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