Carol Simpson
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Carol Simpson

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Bob Holloway-Tenor Saxophone
James “Smitty” Smith-Trumpet
Art Hillery-Piano
Bill Markus-Bass
Donald Dean-drums

In the Crenshaw area of South Los Angeles, a grassy tree lined neighborhood once seen by many as the future of a Multi-Cultural L.A. is now the home of an important jazz venue to musicians and enthusiasts everywhere. Don Mohammed along with the late master drummer Billy Higgins founded the World Stage Performance Gallery some twenty years ago after most jazz venues were just a distant memory from the storied Central Avenue past. Together Mohammed and Higgins forged a now thriving Mecca of jazz in Southern California where many youthful, aspiring players get the kind of training and exposure that is vital to the perpetuation and development of a jazz tradition.

On Saturday, July 20, we are treated to a performance of the imaginative, humorous, energetically sexy vocal style of Carol Simpson. As we arrived, the band was ready and friends of the singer were getting seated and comfortable. The music hits you like a ton of bricks, a slow freight going south, shaking boxcars and all. The Blues is pulling into this station and we, like anxious passengers longing to see our hometown after a long absence scurry aboard. By now we are clapping hands and tapping feet as drummer Donald Dean, veteran of many recordings with jazz luminaries, Les McCann, Nancy Wilson and so many others lays a lush carpet of syncopated joy around the thumping bass of Bill Markus. The ingredients of jazz pulsate through night air as Bob Holloway, recently with Ike Turner, James Brown, and countless R & B legends, plays his tenor sax in the tasty blue-bop tradition of Clifford Jordan and Hank Mobley. Finally, that bright and lusty trumpeting of James “Smitty” Smith ignites the room with phat, swooping lines reminiscent of Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, and Lee Morgan.

“Blue Bossa,” a Kenny Dorham original and standard among jazz musicians is next with Dean working at the front with polyrhythmic strokes, steeped in Afro-Cuba. Here is the perfect space for Holloway to produce his “sheets of sound” approach to improvisation. I listen intently while gazing at a large portrait of John Coltrane on the southern wall. In this intimate setting, the trumpet of Smith seems overpowering, like the sweat of a heavyweight-boxing match. The people were roaring support and clapping hands with a kind of reckless flair. By the time we heard the last strains of this Kenny Dorham classic, the house was ready for Ms. Simpson, who stepped to the stage from behind a dark curtain in black. A striking presence, Carol ripped through the 1928 Ellington standard “It Don’t Mean a Thing If it Ain’t Got that Swing.” With grace she delivered the verse section. Most people of my generation are only familiar with the chorus. It swung hard and quick with a Billie Holiday style quick tremolo. The singer did take some liberties with the rhythm, but we realized as the night went, this was part of her approach to jazz. “Thou Swell,” the Rogers and Hart melody shows off Carol with the big voice punctuated by crisp horn lines. On tunes like this, her treatment of the melody is a little risky but nice and very energetic. The next piece was written as collaboration between Bing Crosby and others, “A Ghost of a Chance,” a beautiful ballad in a pensive, blue mood that Carol claims with her cutesy rendering of the melody, wrapping herself around the blue notes as if to say: In quiet moments I wonder what happens to lovers’ dreams.

Fat’s Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” delivers a no-nonsense rendition with some long swoops and scoops. Simpson’s ability to hang on a note like a horn player is very exciting; she is enjoying the sound so much, that any moment the tune may take a new riff and excite us even more. “I Thought About You”—Johnny Mercer, 1939, features Ms. Simpson in a smoky, lounge vocal style inside this lovely melody and lyric. Tenor sax gets deep inside the chords for us in a sweet vibrato, then trumpeter “Smitty” takes a piece of old New Orleans to our night music. The old Bebop tune “Jordu:” Duke Jordan is treated with cool abandon as Carol, the skilled lyricist, handles the melody in the low end of her range while the band plays good accompaniment. Carol’s mother, (Martha Sattler) is present tonight and this tune was dedicated to her. Martha played the trumpet at one time and exposed her daughter early to jazz. It’s easy to see how she developed her approach to phrasing.

“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”—Cole Porter’s 1942 offering swings in a straight-ahead style, with horns punching out riffs that tease out the singer in her slippery way of using tension and release. “Don’t Make Your Move Too Soon—Ernestine Anderson’s influence is definitely not lost on this night. We were heaving with a hard driving shuffle. Both tenor sax and trumpet want more solo space but Simpson goes to her small voice with a low down and funky drone like rendering that says ‘Let’s save some for set two, fellas.’

Well, the people in the street pause by the door to listen, around the corner a trumpet wails, up the block, soprano sax man ponders at the curb while this little piece of L.A. lives in the Central Avenue tradition. Oh yes, Billy Higgins is smiling tonight. As John, her husband, puts it: “With a deep desire to bring jazz to youth and specifically to expand the jazz audience in Los Angeles, she is seeking to promote jazz outside the traditional jazz community in such venues as her home town of Malibu.” Next, Carol Simpson will be appearing at the Embassy Suites here in Los Angeles. Catch her if you can.
- Beverly Hills Outlook


Discography

Singles:
1. Malibu (winner of 2008 Malibu Music Award)
2. Ode to Juno (played on KKJZ Los Angeles Jazz stations)
3. LP: "It's All Good" (15 tracks, 1-6 radio airplay (local & abroad) & streaming):
1. Can't Get Up (#1 for 2 mos. R&B MP3.com)
2. A Man Like You (#1 for 2 mos. Urban MP3.com)
3. Cut You Loose (#2 for 2 mos. Urban MP3.com)
4. People of the New Millennium (top 20 World Music MP3.com, semifinalist Amnesty songwriting, played on South Africa radio stations/clubs)
5. Happiness (top 10 R&B MP3.com)
6. Hey Brown Eyes (Top 10 R&B MP3.com)

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Bio

Carol Simpson is a passionate jazz vocalist. Singing with a style that embodies deep emotion, she draws upon both jazz and blues and infuses her work with personality and enthusiasm. As a multi-linguist, she sings bossa novas and sambas in Portuguese and many jazz standards in French. Her influences range from Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin to the bebop 40s and 50s artists, Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gilespie, Miles Davis and hardbop artists of the 60s and 70s, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, and Wayne Shorter. Beyond her singing talents, Carol is a skilled composer and lyricist and has penned words to great classic compositions such as Miles Davis’ Blue in Green and Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite.” She has collaborated on songs with renowned pianists Cedar Walton and Freddie Redd. Carol writes daily and recently recorded a CD including her own vocalese lyrics to great standards such as Coltrane's “Moment's Notice,” along with compositions of her own. With a deep desire to bring jazz to youth and specifically to expand the jazz audience in Los Angeles, she seeks to promote jazz outside the traditional jazz community (such as in her hometown, Malibu). She is the 2008 recipient of the first time Malibu Music Award for best song about Malibu.