JAZZ AVIARY  Susan Krebs & the Soaring Sextet
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JAZZ AVIARY Susan Krebs & the Soaring Sextet

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... Vocalist Susan Krebs decided a few years ago to devote herself fully to singing, and the jazz world is a better place for it. Krebs’ voice is rich and pure with an enticingly dusky patina. Blessedly free of affectation, she rivals Karrin Allyson and Diana Krall in her ability to climb inside a lyric and make it seem as if she’s lived there her entire life...
Under the musical direction of pianist Rich Eames, backed by an Eames-led sextet and a supplementary string quartet that provides eider-soft yet oak-sturdy nests for each song, Krebs so skillfully invades the likes of “Baltimore Oriole”, “Skylark”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”, Lennon and McCartney’s “Blackbird” and Abbey Lincoln’s “Bird Alone” that the result is like a series of delicate yet masterfully constructed origami creatures; and her swooping, soaring reinterpretation of “Bob White” is the best, and the most imaginative, I’ve ever heard.

Christopher Louden
Vox/JAZZ TIMES
- Vox/Christopher Louden/JAZZ TIMES


Susan Krebs can remember the precise experience that stimulated "Jazz Aviary" - her celebration of birds through music, poetry and birdsong. "It dates back to waking up at dawn in my grand¬mother's house in the country," the singer-actress says. "Lying in my bedroom in that old house, listening to an unbelievable chorus of birds singing in those early morning hours - singing music, really. It's' always been with me, and I think that, more than anything else, is what led me to this place."
"This place" is a program further exploring the music and nature connections Krebs first encountered in her albums "What Am I Here For?" and "Jazz Gardener." With "Jazz Aviary" - which will be performed in three concerts at Space at Fountain's 'End in Silver Lake - she brings it all into full bloom.
In the songs, Krebs and her six musicians soar through jazz-in-flight versions of material including Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's "Skylark," Lennon-McCartney's "Blackbird" and Ralph Vaughan Williams' "A Lark Ascending." Between songs, Krebs recites poetry from Thoreau, Shelley and others, occasionally tossing in some ornithological facts ("In as nonintellectual a manner as possible," says Krebs with a laugh).
The performance includes recorded sounds of birds themselves, the myriad songs, calls and cries that have drifted through Krebs' memory. Interestingly, the experience of "Jazz Aviary" has had similar effect upon her audiences, she says. "I've had people call me to tell me how it triggered their own childhood experiences. How, for the first time as adults, they began to hear the birds in their own backyards," Krebs says. "And that was like, 'OK, my job is done.' Because if nothing else, I want 'Jazz Aviary' to help people cut through the cacophony that is modern living and bring us back into the rhythm of nature - back to slowing down, listening and tapping into cosmic time."
- Don Heckman//LA Times


The aviary world has always been appealing to jazz artists. Material from the bop era either written by or celebrating the life of Charlie "Bird" Parker includes "Ornithology," "Yardbird Suite" and "Birdland." Eric Dolphy once said that he was inspired by birdcalls, and "Baltimore Oriole," "Skylark," "Bye, Bye Blackbird" and others have long been staples of the jazz repertoire.

But it remained for singer Susan Krebs to link all these elements together into a fascinating musical presentation she calls "Jazz Aviary: A Celebration of Birds through Music, Poetry and Birdsong."

On Sunday afternoon at Giannelli Square in Northridge, Krebs, backed by guitarist Larry Koonse, saxophonist-flutist Rob Lockart, bassist Tim Emmons, percussionist M.B. Gordy, drummer Jerry Kalaf and pianist and musical director Rich Eames, mixed songs, video, poetry and narrative into a musical-dramatic tribute to the timeless appeal of bird song.

She narrated poems and aphorisms by Henry Thoreau, Victor Hugo and others, and sang some of the standards noted above as well as lesser-known but equally compelling numbers. She also described the characteristics of various birds as the cozy auditorium echoed with their recorded sounds.

Although most of her career has been spent as an actor, Krebs has quietly built a career as a highly credible jazz singer. Her versions of "Blackbird," "Baltimore Oriole" and "Skylark," among others, were notable for their imaginative musicality, and the soloing by every player was first-rate.

But it may have been a Chinese proverb read by Krebs that best described the essence of "Jazz Aviary": "A bird does not sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song."
- Don Heckman//LA Times


#1
Jazz Aviary Concert @ Giannelli Square 3/27/08
LA Jazz Scene/Harvey Barkan

Jazz vocalist Susan Krebs has conceived and performed a thoroughly unique show, combining skilled jazz musicians and advancements of 21st century computer programming and projection technologies, featuring nature’s colorful, beautiful creatures, birds. Calling her show Jazz Aviary, a musical ornithology, she combines the shared abilities of man and bird to sing, and produce what we enjoy as music. Consider before you might pre-judge, there is much here that is innovative, mind stretching, and simply beautiful! This is based on songs that involve birds by great music notables as Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology”, Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s “Skylark”, Abby Lincoln’s “Bird Alone”, Dave Brubeck’s “Strange Meadowlark”, and John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird”. Krebs expressed the wonder and awe of combining birds and their songs as visual and auditory projections with music played by dedicated jazz players, and brief thoughtful touches of relevant poetic commentary.
Before the set began, continuous changing graphics of birds were projected onto a large on-stage screen as their rhythmic birds songs were heard. The colorful varieties were remarkably beautiful to the eyes as well as to the ears, transitioning in brilliantly chromatic photographs, prints, paintings,, and ancient and contemporary sculptures. As the set opened, vocals and commentary by Susan Krebs were backed by co-coordinated images and sounds of birds as she mentioned each, precisely timed to be seen and heard at the just the right moment, on the screen behind her. Jazz Aviary had the satisfying easy flow of a complex but well honed Broadway production, reflecting a lot of time and effort to accomplish this result. It required the capable self-assured musicians in the Soaring Sextet for this unusually structured presentation to come off so well. They were Rich Eames (musical director, piano), Riner Scivally (guitar), Rob Lockart (sax, flutes), Scott Breadman (percussion), Jerry Kalaf (drums), and Ryan McGillicuddy (bass). It was fascinating to watch them bring the music and the graphics together with such enjoyable results. Projection Technician Mark Cabalquinto skillfully kept the graphics and sounds occurring exactly on time, utilizing a computer program called Watch Out by Dataton, created by programming wizard Marc Rosenthal.
This is an astounding production that must be experienced to be felt and understood. It is a multi-senses feast that you will long remember, extremely well done by caring musicians and technicians, daring to be experimental in their art and dedicated to a new captivating result. But then isn’t that what jazz musicians have always done? This show requires many hours to set up and take down, and understanding, cooperative management at concert facilities like the splendid Giannelli Square in Northridge where I experienced this performance. Jazz Aviary is indeed an amazing show that is a one-of-a-kind stimulating musical sensory experience that is recommended. Susan Krebs left us with several thoughtful relevant messages, my favorite being, “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” (Chinese Proverb)

#2
Vocalist Susan Krebs is a very creative woman, so it was not enough to have a band member introduce her and to just begin singing. No, first she transformed the cozy Giannelli Square Theater into a large, active aviary, with a large photo of a tree and birds projected against the stage wall. Song birds could be heard on the speakers throughout the afternoon’s performance.
The excellent sextet: Rich Eames/piano, Larry Koonse/guitar, Rob Lockart/SaxFlute, drummer Jerry Kalaf, MB Gordy on percussion and bassist Tim Emmons warmed up the room with a bluesy “High Flyin’ Bird” and a lovely “Song of the Birds”. Krebs walked into the theater and recited poems about birds and aphorisms from philosophers such as Henry Thoreau. It was clear that she has given her topic a lot of thought and was going to educate as well as entertain. She then sang “Bird Alone” written by Abbey Lincoln, arranged by Eames. Her voice is expressive and unfussy. With such interesting material, presented so well, there is no need for belt ’em-out the ballpark show stoppers. “Songbird” was deceptively simple with Krebs’ soft voice and Koonse giving her gentle accompaniment. Krebs looked totally relaxed and surely she has rehearsed and performed this program many times, to get it so seamlessly perfect.
Why do birds sing? They sing when they’re wooing, courting, defending and simply communicating their presence in the world. For “Bob White”, Krebs’ voice was deeper and more assertive. It was a busy tune, with Gordy’s percussion and Lockart’s nicely focused sax solo as it all came to a flashy finish. “Baltimore Oriole” was a new song to me. Krebs sang in a dramatic, slower style. The tune was a lament, in which the birds became the metaphor for humans. Lockart’s sax was very sexy, in a film noir-ish way, for a poignant presentation. Dave Brubeck’s “Strange Meadowlark” was fascinating as Eames’ melodic piano passages recalled a Brubeck aura. Krebs adjusted her dynamics for a dramatic close. The “Lark Ascending” was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams, arranged by Kalaf. It was a gorgeous piece and Krebs gave the stage over to the musicians, who performed with restraint so a beautiful, peaceful tune could emerge. Lockart’s flute worked the melody, while the others embellished the delicate notes. Kalaf, Emmons and Gordy were extremely sensitive to the mood. “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was given a swingy, samba-ish flair and here I was expecting a somber ballad. Silly me. Lockart’s flute was lilting, Koonse’s guitar buoyant and saucy.
After an intermission with refreshments served in the lobby area, Set 2 began with the musicians romping through Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology”. Emmons took the first solo, creating a mini portrait with his bass. Koonse used a very bright tone and Lockart’s tenor was rousing. After letting loose in full force, they all stopped on a dime. Marvelous! “Zipadee Do Dah” was almost simply spoken by Krebs. Lennon & McCartney’s “Blackbird” sounded like an ancient tune; hard to believe it’s a contemporary tune, as Krebs gave it a dramatic reading as she closed the tune softly. Gordy began “Bird in the Rain” with exotic percussion instruments – shakers, a rain stick and then congas and Eames’ piano added more drama as Krebs sang. It’s not surprising that she is also an actress. She uses her voice with great facility, always in focus with the story she’s telling. It’s all very hypnotic and quite wonderful. “Skylark” must surely be one of the prettiest songs ever written. Krebs’ interpretation was delicate and deliberate. “Song of the Birds” featured improvised vocalizing to end a fascinating program. As Krebs stated in closing, “May you always hear the birds sing!”
This was one of the most refreshing, interesting, stimulating shows I’ve ever attended. Giannelli Square was the perfect location for this multi-media presentation. Inside the cool and cozy theater, I did nothing but think about birds and darn if I didn’t pay more attention to the birds around my house for the next week or so! Krebs and her amazing musicians created something of singular beauty.

- JA @ Giannelli Square//LA Jazz Scene


Finally! A jazz singer who wouldn't get offended by a critique that began "Boy, this one's really for the birds!" Alfred Hitchcock may have tapped into our fear of these soaring creatures years ago, but Susan Krebs has nothing but fondness for our feathered friends—and expresses her joyous affection magnificently throughout this fascinating concept project. The impetus for these expertly arranged 16 tracks of every great bird tune one could imagine ("Skylark," "Blackbird," "Songbird," "Strange Meadowlark") was the notion that we have a deeply rooted connection to the avian tribe and the universal music we share with it. Conceived and performed by Krebs—a singer/actress who launched her musical career with 1999's well-received Jazz Gardener—in collaboration with the Soaring Sextet of some of L.A.'s most notable musicians, Jazz Aviary is the culmination of several years of concert and multi-media presentations. One of the sonic hooks is, of course, actual field recordings of birds, but this is no new age nature CD. Even if you don't connect spiritually on the concept, cool, easy swinging arrangements of tunes like Abbey Lincoln's "Bird Alone" and heartfelt, soulful expressions of lesser-heard bird songs like "Baltimore Oriole" are irresistible offerings from a formidable jazz artist. The most fascinating arrangement is the pure upright bass, birds, sax and percussion driven "Bob White," which Krebs delivers with wit and a wink. This is followed by a creative, bird and flute sweetened caress of "Blackbird." She also includes a unique medley of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Dink's Blues" and Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," showing that birds can go country and reggae (with a marching New Orleans vibe) and assure us that "every little thing's gonna be all right!" A lot of great jazz interpreters gather great songs together, but few do it as well and convincingly as Krebs. This is a treat for lovers of birds, jazz and music that makes the heart soar like "A Gaggle of Geese."

- Jonathan Widran - AMG


According to Wallace Stevens there are at least thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird. The great romantic poets, too, were more than inspired by nightingales and skylarks - even crows! To be sure, the bird and the bard have long been kindred spirits, manifested too by lyricists of the great American songbook in all its extended renditions - pop, rock, country, soul, jazz, fusion, reggae, new age, you name it.
It’s in this birdie-liking tradition that Susan Krebs and her musical director, Rich Eames, in collaboration with the Soaring Sextet, warble, recite, whistle and orchestrate this fine, imaginative flock of sixteen tunes in musical testimony to Eubie Blake’s sanguine counsel: Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind - listen to the birds. And don’t hurt nobody.
Which is to say, there’s certainly no hating this creative offering, just love and joy and gratitude for the inspiration which motivated this full-throated song fest. Poetry alternates with song through the compositions of Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Lennon and McCartney, Bob Marley, Hank Williams, Charlie Parker, Abbey Lincoln, and a covey of other artists re-perceived and covered by Krebs, Eames, Kalaf and company. What an assembly of artistry!
Krebs’ interpretive passion, intelligence, and love for the project can be heard throughout. Her vocals and recitations are uniformly confident and engaging. Eames, too, controls and owns each and every tune leading and directing superb performances by guitarist Scivally and flautist Lockart especially, but with the rest of the musical flock exchanging point position like a high-soaring formation of Canada geese or graceful Sandhill cranes drafting their way through the blue.
Familiar tunes such as Skylark, Ornithology, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Three Little Birds, and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square might take center stage for some listeners, intrigued here with just how ingeniously unfamiliar, incongruous familiarity can be. The effects of bird calls punctuating human song sound anything but campy, blending in as if the most natural of accompaniments.
The medley of Marley, Williams, and the traditional Dinks Blues is a case in point - all three tunes seemingly all from the same brood. A Gaggle of Geese...What the Crow Said leads from the reciting of a comic aviary typology into Ornithology, which, in turn, so appropriately precedes Medley in the play list, beginning with more bird calls followed by a cacophony of instruments in varying textures of volume and duration soon blending to a unison playing of the head, demonstrating one reason Parker became known as Bird - notwithstanding his predilection for a tasty yard bird now and again. And soon Scivally shines forth in long-lined, finger-licking evocations of the tune’s popular contra fact. Somewhere There’s Music indeed - and it’s here!
I’m So Lonesome... features just a whippoorwill, a guitar, and Krebs. Similarly Dink’s Blues features doves, piano, bass, softly-brushed drums, and Krebs. Three Little Birds is as sweet a little jazz march as could ever be heard. And what’s so impressive throughout all the selections is how one tune leads naturally into the other, contributing to the thematic unity of all.
Skylark, nearly everyone’s favorite bird song as far as standard go, begins simply with vocal and piano and although expectations for a larger chorus of instrumentation hold for a time, the realization soon comes that the beauty is in the simplicity. Much the same feeling results from Bird in the Rain, although in a more mournful mode, due in large part to the effect of MB Gordy’s (note from S.Krebs: Jerry Kalaf’s actually) sustained vibraphone. Nightingale modulates into a Latin rhythm, featuring Lockart and Scivally, with Krebs doing her own kind of celebration of the general soaring of the entire ensemble which is strongly felt here.
Song of the Birds appropriately has no words, per se, just a kind of Catalan scat with Krebs’ call responded to by Lockart’s soprano sax, Eames’ keyboard, and a fade out of bird calls. It’s a cool ending to a composite of many diverse songs all sounding like one. If a bird is a bird is a bird and the music of the spheres is ubiquitous, then Jazz Aviary is a splendid representation of bird-like precision, decisions, and unity!

Bob Gish/Jazz Improv Magazine
- Bob Gish/Jazz Improv Magazine


Discography

"Jazz Aviary" - GreenGig Music -
Currently receiving international
airplay & downloads

"What Am I Here For?" - GreenGig Music - 2002

"Jazz Gardener" - Sea Breeze Jazz - 1998

Photos

Bio

"Jazz vocalist Susan Krebs has conceived and performed a thoroughly unique show that is innovative, mind-stretching, and simply beautiful. This is an astounding production!" (LA JazzScene)

"A fascinating musical presentation." (Don Heckman/LA Times)

I have had a long-time fascination with birds. I remember as a kid, lying stretched out in a hammock between two grand sycamores, just watching the birds, listening to the birds - digging the birds! Birds and humans have shared this planet for many millennia. Our impulse to sing and our desire to fly reflect this deep and ancient connection with the avian tribe. The eloquent biologist, E.O. Wilson, writes that "the preservation of the world lies in understanding and appreciating the wonder and awe that nature arouses". With "Jazz Aviary", I want to express the wonder and awe specifically that birds arouse - through Music, for example, Lennon/McCartney’s “Blackbird”, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”, a jazz arrangement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “A Lark Ascending” and Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds"; through Poetry & Spoken Word, expressing man’s eternal fascination with birds; through simple ornithological Facts; beautiful Visual Projections and finally, by listening to the birds themselves from field recordings of Birdsong.
My intent is not only to entertain, but to awaken and re-connect people to the natural life around them. So I am always delighted when the concerts resonate powerfully with the audience. Often, folks share with me their childhood memories of the magic of birdsong; I receive e-mails and phone calls thanking me for awakening them to the music of the birds in their own backyards. And there is always much enthusiasm for the music in all its variety and depth, and for the entire multi-media theatrical experience.

"Susan Krebs has nothing but fondness for our feathered friends - and expresses her joyous affection magnificently throughout this fascinating concept project... irresistible offerings from a formidable jazz artist." (Jonathan Widran/AMG)

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