Jazz can be thankful for dreamers--artists such as Lorraine Feather who refuse to allow their artistic visions to be tainted by the demand of commerce. On Monday night at Catalina Bar & Grill, Feather (daughter of the late Times jazz critic Leonard Feather) performed a set of songs that were--in concept, at least--as esoteric as they were entertaining.
But just imagine what the reaction might have been if Feather had taken that concept into a pitch meeting at a major record company. "What?" I can hear one of the suits saying, "You want to do an album in which you write a bunch of lyrics for Fats Waller instrumentals? You're kidding, right?"
Feather wasn't kidding, however, and actually managed to have the songs released in a collection titled "New York City Drag" on the Rhombus label. The good news is that it's receiving a surprising amount of airplay (a tribute to public radio); the downside is that it's not likely to turn up on Billboard's Top 200 chart.
The best part is that Feather did it at all, that she applied her witty way with a lyric to a set of vocalese numbers arching through the stunning complexities of Waller's piano lines. On her menu: familiar tunes such as "Fractious Fingering" (retitled "Jukebox" in Feather's version) and "Smashing Thirds" (retitled "Cezanne"), as well the less familiar "Gladyse" (whimsically retitled "Gal on the Side/She's Gettin' Some") and "Numb Fumblin'" (retitled "In Living Black and White").
Feather not only composed this daunting collection of lyrics, filled with tricky inner rhymes, offbeat stories and sardonic references, she also sang them with astonishing vocal dexterity.
Accompanied by pianist Shelly Berg (who bravely and brilliantly managed the Waller-referenced backings and interludes), bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Greg Field, she offered an evening that was as poetic as it was musical.
The only flaw in an otherwise marvelous program, in fact, was the tendency of the slightly over-weighted instrumental sound to bury some of Feather's rapidly paced phrases--every one of which warranted close hearing. But that's a minor carp for a performance that was a rare and wonderful example of what can happen when an artist with Feather's talents decides that a work worth doing is worth doing, regardless of its commercial potential.