When, three years ago, Carol Welsman delivered a rather underwhelming I Like Men, Reflections of Miss Peggy Lee, who knew it represented a stylistic turning point? Welsman has always been an extremely warm singer, but never what you’d describe as dewey or fragile. Across all 14 of the exploration-themed tunes that fill Journey, the Canadian chanteuse and pianist continues her tilt Lee-ward, precisely echoing Peggy’s breathy, ethereal style. By and large it works, largely because Welsman is as intelligent an interpreter as Lee was.
Though only one Lee-penned tune is included- “Where Can I Go Without You”, the worldwide search of post-breakup solace she crafted with Victor Young- Peggy’s imprimatur is evident throughout. “By the time I get to Phoenix”. The woebegone interior monologue of which seemed so ideal fro Lee when she included it on 1968’s Two Shows Nightly, is given a similarly slow, ruminative reading. Welsman’s “Two for the Road” is a mirror image of Lee’s hushed, contemplative version from 1967. And though Peggy’s take on “You’ve Come a Long Way from St. Louis” (with George Shearing in 1959) is a shade slyer, Welsman ably captures the same purring perceptiveness. Venturing further out, Welsman offers a vibrant “Samba Do Avaio”, a sprightly “Fly Me to the Moon” in French and an impressively bruised “Travelin’ Light”. But most impressive is her shimmering sway through Johnny Mercer and Marian McPartland’s “Twilight World” that closes the album.
By George W. Harris reviews Sara Leib, Cristina Morrison...
... And then we come to the Ringer. Carol Welsman plays piano as well as sings with a voice that mixes a bit of wisp, moxie and an inside joke twinkle-in-the-eye that you just won’t resist. She swings like the Nat Cole Trio on readings of “Route 66” and the clever “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” and can glide like a baby in a bathtub on the slinky “You Came A long Way From St. Louis.” She has an uncanny knack for picking wonderful material as well. Who else would dare do a stark reading of vocals and piano on “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” or a French version of “Fly Me To The Moon,” and make it work? As for her delivery, she can take a lyric and hold it, clip it, gasp it, sigh it and coax in ways that will make you howl in ecstasy. If she comes to town, get a front row seat!
by Chuck Berg
Carol Welsman defies all expectations. A singer of uncommon musical and dramatic range, she is also a superb pianist. Moreover, in the hipster argot of the Rat Pack, she’s “a tall drink” whose glamour-gal looks would stop traffic even at Sunset and Vine.
Although she grew up in Toronto, the now L.A.-based Welsman is a jet-setting sophisticate fluent in French, Spanish, Italian and, as she demonstrated beautifully in several bossa novas, a heart-on-sleeve caresser of Portuguese.
Although it’s been six years since her last capital city visit, Welsman triumphed again on Sunday at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center’s Regency Ballroom with poignantly reframed standards that thrilled a packed house of Topeka Jazz Workshop patrons.
In her opener, “I Love Being Here with You,” artist and audience bonded as one. Although cloudy and gray outside, inside, Welsman’s multimegawatt smile, intimate vocal inflections and jaunty, bop-tinged pianistics made everything sunny and warm!
Reflecting her devotion to jazz-pop diva Peggy Lee, Welsman’s take on Lee’s first big hit — “Why Don’t You Do Right?” with Benny Goodman’s band in 1939 — was a hip swinger whose bluesy interrogations never sounded fresher.
Nudging Welsman onward was the incredible rhythm section of L.A. bassist Rene Camacho, L.A. drummer Dave Tull and K.C. guitarist Danny Embrey. With collective “Who’s Who” credits ranging from TV’s “Family Guy” to Sergio Mendez, the Pointer Sisters and Linda Ronstadt, their hand-in-glove support was supple and sure.
Welsman’s set-ups were likewise perfect. Her wonderful “sketch” of cabaret artist Blossom Dearie, the little lady with the little girl’s voice, was a flawless segue to the delicious sleuthing of Dearie’s “I’m Shadowing You,” including its tongue-in-cheek reference to J. Edgar Hoover, and Welsman’s transcendent miming. Welsman’s program was artfully varied in pace and tone. With the trio sitting out, her tender vocal-piano tracing of the life-cycle story of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” was a you-could-hear-a-pin-drop, show-stopper. With Rodgers and Hart’s “Lover” (introduced by Jeanette MacDonald in the movie “Love Me Tonight” in 1932), Welsman, taking her cue from Peggy Lee’s dynamite version, purred — as well as roared. Welsman is a gracious leader who gave her men plenty of elbow room. In addition to featured solos, she swung the spotlight to drummer Tull whose insouciantly sung and witty novelty songs, including “The Airplane,” brought the house down.
It was Welsman’s stellar musicality that held the stage. Like Diana Krall, Welsman is very much her own woman, a musician’s musician whose art is elevated by beautifully crafted charts that keep everything moving within, as well as between, tunes.
By any and all measures — from her spotless articulation, razor-sharp intonation and jazzy phrasing to her powerful storytelling — Carol Welsman is the real deal, the complete package and a performer whose ease and joie de vivre are beyond compare!
Judging from the audience’s rapturous embrace, one hopes that Welsman won’t be a stranger and, indeed, will be back in Topeka soon!
On the road. It’s the one experience that is common to every musician – jazz, country, classical, rock, rap, you name it. It’s almost impossible to have a career making music without having to pack a suitcase and climb into a car, a bus, a train, a boat or a plane.
That was one of the motivations behind singer/pianist Carol Welsman’s new album, Journey. But there were others, as well. The fundamental view of life and love as a journey was one. Plus the very practical fact that the Great American Songbook is bursting with songs inspired by travel.
On Thursday night at Vitello,’s Welsman celebrated the release of Journey with a mesmerizing performance of select songs from the album. Along with a few equally compelling numbers – a high spirited romp through a vocalese rendering of “Cottontail” was one – that had nothing whatever to do with travel.
But the centerpiece of the program was a collection of songs rich with the romance and the poignancy, the pleasures and the unpredictables of the journey.
To mention a few of the highlights: Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” was re-imagined with gentle, bossa nova-tinged rhythms. On Bob Russell and John Benson Brooks’ too-rarely heard “You Came A Long Way From St. Louis” Welsman’s blues-inflected interpretation perfectly captured the tune’s sardonic whimsy. Bobby Troup’s “Route 66,” another blues-driven tune, emerged as an upbeat swinger.
There was an exquisite rendering of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” sung by Welsman primarily with her own piano accompaniment, delivered in an intimate narrative fashion that found the inner heart of the song. And Henry Mancini’s “Two For The Road,” a tune he described as his own favorite of his many songs, was combined with “Moon River” for yet another affecting view of love’s journey.
And there was more. A lovely pair of travel songs, both dealing with loss in their own unique fashion: the Mercer/Van Heusen classic, “And I Thought About You,” and Peggy Lee and Victor Young’s affecting “Where Can I Go Without You.’ And two blues-driven numbers: B.B. King’s cautionary tale, “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” and Herb Ellis and Johnny Frigo’s metaphoric “Detour Ahead” added another slant.
This far-reaching collection, a compelling overview of the many musical manifestations of journeying, was delivered in memorable fashion by Welsman, with the superlative aid of guitarist Dan Sawyer, bassist Rene Camacho and drummer Jimmy Branly. Singing this kind of material, in a felicitous musical setting, Welsman revealed her remarkable, far reaching range – from her swinging, supportive piano to the warm-toned, richly expressive qualities of her voice. Add to that her gift for musical story-telling, and there’s no wonder why this was such an enchanting evening.
Oscar's Music Steals the Show
Salute to Oscar. Carol Welsman, one of Oscar Peterson’s favourite singers, performed the vocals at a special Saturday-night concert in Toronto that kicked off a series of five performances called “Aspects of Oscar.” The concerts will honour Oscar Peterson, the world-famous Mississauga pianist. Welsman said Peterson helped launch her career with his personal and professional support of her music. Seen with Welsman are Dave Young on bass and Terry Clarke (left) in drums. Staff photo by John Stewart
Oscar Peterson's music stole the show Saturday night at the first of five concerts Toronto concerts being staged by the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) to honour the late Mississauga jazz giant.
During a chat with long-time Peterson collaborator Dave Young that opened the second half of the show, RCM Chief Executive Officer Mervon Mehta asked Young why Peterson’s skills as a composer are not better known.
“At the end he played his own music almost exclusively,” said Young, a bassist who worked with Peterson on and off over 35 years. Young put the oversight down to the fact that Peterson was so good at interpreting the music of others that his own writing was inevitably overshadowed.
Entitled Oscar’s Songbooks, the concert at Koerner Hall highlighted the series of tributes to songwriters (Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Vincent Youmans, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington) that Peterson recorded from 1951-53 after he burst onto the jazz scene in New York.
Young's quintet used memorable Peterson arrangements as they played plenty of wonderful chestnuts from those catalogues. But it was Peterson’s own music, the core of the second set, that spoke most profoundly to his legacy.
For, while his virtuosity at the keys and his flawless technique are justly celebrated, the strength of his writing continues to be significantly undervalued.
The case for the musical defence was brilliantly executed on Peterson compositions by Young on bass, Robi Botos on piano, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Terry Clarke on drums and Reg Schwager on guitar. Wheatland, the majestic sweeping portrait of the Prairies that Peterson painted on his famous Canadiana Suite album, opened the last half of the concert. By its conclusion, you could almost close your eyes and hear the rustle of the wind through the shimmering grain.That was followed by the gentle When Summer Comes, which Young called one of Peterson’s many “memorable” works.“Some of the ballads he wrote were just wonderful,” Young said. Elvis Costello so enjoyed the tune that he put lyrics to it for his wife Diana Krall to sing to Peterson on his 80th birthday.A little-heard three-part interpolation of a Bach suite by Peterson showed how two masters — separated by hundreds of years of time — can still collaborate brilliantly.
Although the musicians all shone, special mention must be made of Botos. “Holding down the piano chair is not an easy task in this group,” Young chuckled in introducing him. Botos didn’t try to imitate Peterson — as if anyone could — but he brought the same frenzied, driven, whole-body commitment to the playing of each note that so characterized the master. Botos was deeply disappointed several years ago when he travelled to Mississauga’s Oscar Peterson Public School to play for his piano hero, only too discover Oscar was too sick to attend.
The concert series would not have been possible without the assistance of Peterson’s widow Kelly, Mehta said, explaining how she helped format the series. It will feature concerts highlighting Peterson’s solo work, his trios, his swing side and his blues streak.
Both Kelly Peterson and daughter Celine were among those who offered the performers a standing ovation.
Music Critic Elysa Gardner's #4 favorite album (of all genres) of the year.