I crawl the aether webs daily…

…scanning the “all things Sinatra” stacks as one of the ways to sniff out salient VocalStandards news, story ideas and tidbits.

About a month ago, I saw a promo for “An Evening with Susan Chastain: Susan Sings Sinatra!” … a gig that that was set for Ann Arbor on August 4.

Well, it’s been a crazy, busy few weeks since then with the trip to LA to see Luca Ellis and Mr. Davi, but I figure anyone that sells out a gig promising the following is certainly worth a look (from the Kerrytown Concert House promo):

“Susan Chastain returns to Ann Arbor for an evening of classic Frank Sinatra tunes, covering the hits he recorded throughout his career, and telling his story. …”

I was right…

Susan Chastain has an interesting story and is a talented vocalist. Sadly that story and talent leads to only a single Chastain recording. Though she appears on several other LPs as a guest vocalist, Steady Gig is the only pure play Susan Chastain album I’ve been able to find.

Relative to the instant gratification world we live in these days with digital downloads and next day Amazon shipping, it was comparatively hard to find and secure Susan’s LP off the PKO Records website (the only place the CD is sold). I tend to get all twisted up in the game waiting for the USPS to do their thing, but Steady Gig arrived in pretty short order and it was well worth the trouble and shipping latency.

The interesting bit…

Susan it seems actually “hated jazz” (her words from the Steady Gig¬†CD liner notes). She took a job in 1989 managing The Bird Of Paradise Jazz Club in Ann Arbor as a way to cover the food and rent for herself and her two young children — “Dreading the music” (again her words) as she dragged herself to work each evening.

After a time, the jazz/American Songbook immersion therapy apparently worked ūüėČ . Susan came to not only disavowed her earlier bias away from jazz and the standards, but she actually started to come around from behind the bar and sing occasionally with Paul Keller’s Ensemble.

From there, everybody became fast friends … Susan would become the owner of the Firefly Club (formerly The Bird Of Paradise Jazz Club) and apparently Chastain’s appreciation for the vocal standards lead to much more singing and eventually the 2005 PKO Records release of Steady Gig.

Not a Steady Gig as it turned out…

Sadly the LP name must have tempted the fates … actually I don’t believe in that crap, but regardless the Firefly Club did close in August of 2009. In the end, this may have been the best out come for Susan; from what I’ve read she is very happy with her new life. She has more time for family, remains active as a vocalist and is involved in nurturing new talent the Michigan jazz community … good for her.

But bad for us…

Not because Susan has her life on track (that IS indeed a good thing). But Steady Gig is a very nice debut LP — quite nice in fact — and it’s bad for us that it’s the only dedicated recording of Ms. Chastain bringing her warm, round, resonant — 3 dimensional — alto vocal style to The Great American Songbook.

After listening to this CD for some days now, I would really like to hear more from her.

As you can see from the track list (left), this LP is pretty much a center-cut selection of American Songbook standards. However all the numbers wander away from their traditional arrangements with the “horns forward” jazz stylings of The Paul Keller Ensemble — a fun divergence to be sure.

Steady Gig¬†is not a massive re-visioning like we’re seen from say,¬†Kat Edmonson¬†or¬†Karin Allyson.¬†Paul and his Ensemble definitely take some license with the original arrangements and deliver jazz interpretations, but the PKE charts are still draped along the backbones of the original numbers … interpreting but never forgetting where these songs come from.

Steady Gig…

…is simply a very good LP. Nice song selections for both Susan’s vocal style and Paul/PKE’s musical sensibilities, on a very nicely mastered and produced CD. I’m always baffled when I com across quality LPs like this that are not more widely distributed.

I enjoyed pretty much all the numbers on Steady Gig, but three songs off the track list standout for me. Being a sucker for Johnny Mercer, “Day In, Day Out” (track one) smacks you right in the face with the quality, jazzy horn charts and Susan’s round vocals. Then right to a fun latin beat, Merengue styled version of “Comes Love” — a number more often rendered as a swinger or jazz trio ballad.

Susan and Paul hit just the right jazz tones on one of my all time favorite numbers — Ann Ronell’s “Willow Weep For Me” (a beautiful, poetic song that SHOULD have been written by Johnny Mercer).

Give my favorites a listen below*…

…and I’m guessing some of you will make your way to the PKO records site to snag a copy of Steady Gig. I’ll short circuit the process for one lucky visitor. Just comment below and I will pick one of the commenters to receive my review copy (opened) of the CD.

(VS_Guy ratings:¬†“+++”¬†pluses are good; “~” for meh to middling; ¬†“- – -” minuses are not good)

Day In, Day Out 4:04 +++ Great job with Mercer classic
Comes Love 5:05 +++ Merengue!!!
They Can’t Take That Away From Me 4:13 ++ Nice jazz treatment of George and Ira
Everything I Have Is Yours 4:06 + late night torch number
What A Difference A Day Made 4:32 ++ sort of a “Murph and the Magic tones” feel but very nice ‘bone solo
I’m Just A Lucky So And So 4:07 +++ Ellington number lays great for Chastain
Devil May Care 2:58 +++ another good Chastain song selection with nice sax solo
I’m Walkin’ 3:46 + a bit innocuous but nice
Willow Weep For Me 5:26 ++++ vocals, piano, trumpet … excellent rendition
Like Someone In Love 3:20 ++
Perdido 4:47 ++ Not Sarah Vaughn but fine job on a classic

[* Please remember that any/all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY¬†and NOT intended as a substitute for the properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — ¬†NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED; please¬†contact me¬†directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.]¬†