Judy Wexler
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4.5 stars!
"Rare is the jazz vocal CD that makes one stand up and take notice on the first hearing. But Judy Wexler achieves that reaction with her brilliant Dreams & Shadows, in part due to her instinctive ability to bring out the best in each song, often taking it into unfamiliar territory. The inventive arrangements by pianists Alan Pasqua and Jeff Colella (who alternate at the keyboard) are also an important factor, along with their use of key soloists to add flavor to each chart. There are a number of familiar favorites: the driving post-bop setting of "Comes Love" utilizing Colella's altered harmonies; "If I Only Had a Brain" with Wexler's playful vocal accented by the bird-like chirps of Bob Shepherd's soprano sax; and Sonny Rollins' "Pent Up House," newly fitted with Jack Prather's lyrics and featuring Wexler's deft re-creation of Rollins' original solo. Several songs come from the world of pop. Wexler's sensitive handling of Pasqua's haunting arrangement of "One Less Bell to Answer" (a hit for the 5th Dimension) and the sassy bossa nova scoring of "Spooky" (popularized by the long forgotten Classics IV) accented by Gilbert Castellanos' sinewy muted trumpet are examples of looking for material in unexpected places. Her sensual rendition of Victor Young's "Dreams & Shadows (Delilah)" and engaging scatting in Jerome Kern's "In Love in Vain" revive two gems by two masters of the Great American Songbook. Judy Wexler deserves widespread recognition for her outstanding CD."
--- Ken Dryden - All Music Guide


"If Ms. Wexler had written the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, it would have read "Give me your obscure, your neglected love songs…" She scores heavily by collecting rarities from Kern, Berlin, Mancini, Lennon/McCartney, Abbey Lincoln, Bob Dylan, and Charlie Haden for the title tune. This debut album is simply sensational. Wexler emerges as one of the most focused, unpretentious, no-nonsense, bop-oriented jazz singers around. She boasts range, firm intonation and the kind of enunciation that makes her the darling of lyricists." Harvey Siders - JazzTimes Magazine


"Judy Wexler pulls you into her music with a combination of wit, style and knowingness that must make a lyricist very pleased that she's chosen to interpret his or her words. On top of that, her playful way with a tune and the wonderful fluidity of her voice would make any melodist smile. With her sharp jazz instincts and formidable vocal skills, she knows exactly where to stretch or alter time and when to veer slightly from the melody. Dreams & Shadows is her second disc, but it has the confidence and assurance one would expect from a singer with a more extensive discography.

Dreams & Shadows benefits from fresh song choices that smartly highlight Wexler's talents. She covers two songs by Blossom Dearie, warm tributes from her to a fellow singer, and two infrequently covered standards, Harold Arlen's "If I Only Had a Brain" and Jerome Kern's "In Love In Vain." Her take on "Spooky," the '60s hit for the Classics IV, is cool and sexy, and her moving version of "One Less Bell to Answer" avoids the maudlin clichés other singers have fallen prey to. Wexler's readings are dramatic, but she never overwhelms or over emotes.

Wexler is surrounded by very strong musicians throughout Dreams & Shadows, including Joe LaBarbera on drums, pianists Alan Pasqua and Jeff Colella, and Bob Sheppard on reeds. Pasqua and Colella have prepared swinging, tasteful arrangements for her and she delivers. Beautifully mastered by Ron McMaster, the sound on Dreams & Shadows is very good -- open and expansive.

Some buzz seems to be building around Wexler and, for once, it's deserved."
--- Joseph Taylor

- Soundstage!


"Dreams & Shadows (Jazzed Media) is the second album by vocalist Judy Wexler, but is the first that I have heard. From the evidence here, she is one fine singer, and has surrounded her self with a fine cast of musicians. Pianists Jeff Colella and Alan Pasqua, reedman Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, bassist Darek Oles and drummers Steve Hass and Joe LaBarbera contribute in various combinations, while Tollak Ollestad on harmonica and Stefanie Fife on cello each appear on one track. Wexler has a distinctive, voice full of shadings, and simply knows how to dig into a song and find its essence. Speaking of songs, Wexler has chosen an interesting and eclectic program. She has mostly stayed away from the catalog of standards favored by most jazz and jazz-influenced pop singers. Even when she goes in that direction, the songs that she opts to include, "Comes Love," "In Love in Vain" and "If I Only Had a Brain," are not anywhere near the overdone category. Her take on "One Less Bell to Answer," makes this song take on a depth that was untapped by the hit version from the Fifth Dimension. It would be hard to find anyone other than Blossom Dearie herself who would include two songs by Dearie and Jack Segal in an album. Well, Wexler sings "Bye, Bye Country Boy" and "Summer Is Gone" in a way that will surely please Miss Blossom. To confirm her jazz chops, Wexler vocalizes two jazz tunes, "Pent Up House" by Sonny Rollins, with a lyric by Jack Prather, and "Blue Daniel" by Frank Rosolino, retitled "Life's a Lesson" by lyricist Ben Sidran. This is an impressive collection by a singer who is sure to attract lots of attention with quality efforts like this."
--- Joe Lang
- Jersey Jazz


"Since 1999, Judy Wexler has wowed local L.A. audiences with her pitch-perfect vocals sung as jazz should be sung -- with soul, style, clear articulation, and the ability to swing with the best of them.

"Comes Love" and Wexler come on like gangbusters as she takes this tune to new heights with superb phrasing and a message that captures the soul of the listener. Gilbert Castellanos adds some trumpet mastery to the already hot mix.


"If I Only Had A Brain" -- Judy Wexler tells a musical story on this tune that has not only clever lyrics but a melody that touches the heart. This tune is one of the hallmarks of this album. Jeff Colella at the piano and saxman Bob Sheppard add the final touch to a lovely vocal rendition.

"Bye Bye Country Boy" -- Blossom Dearie's soulful tune is smokier than a speakeasy under the supple-as-silk style of Judy Wexler. There is a lot of fertile ground to till on this track, and Wexler leaves no stone unturned with this version that would make angels cry.

Bebop is alive and well under the tutelage of Judy Wexler as she parlays "Pent Up House" into a soon to be classic. This singer has all the necessary ingredients and a sense of time that is remarkable. Bob Sheppard's tenor solo is a gem.

I remember Judy Wexler from her early years as a very hip singer with
all the inherent tools to be a force in the jazz genre...and it's no
surprise that she has emerged as just that, a star among stars.
5 STARS"
- John Gilbert


"These days female jazz vocalists are a hot commodity. That, for good or bad, means they are also something like seven cents a dozen. The unique, if not new, sound of a skilled vocalist with a smokin' combo is everywhere. There are a plethora of new (and old) voices to choose from. How does one decide? You can't get all of the new CDs in search of the gems among the mundane--that's our job. So...perhaps the question should be how do we decide?

When I receive a CD by a jazz vocalist for review, as I did with Ms. Judy Wexler's 'Dreams & Shadows,' the first thing I listen for, of course, is the quality of the singer's voice. Not really can she sing--most who've made it to this level can--but can she achieve the right style? Does she sound relaxed, confident and musical? Can she swing? Ms. Wexler made it through this round with lightning speed. She's definitely got it right; this is the sound I look for.

The next thing I examine is the choice of material. Is it varied? Does it reflect the past, present or future? A little of each? Even better. This leads me to another area--the breadth and width of the singer's capabilities? Does she handle ballads with equal finesse as the more swingin' numners? Can she display a variety of characteristics with her voice? Is there a sense of humor? Poignancy? Seductiveness? Again, Judy Wexler and Dreams & Shadows did not disappoint. The program contains a number of jazz standards, including "Pent Up House," "Comes Love" and the title track, which is perhaps better known among jazz fans as "Delilah," which was of course made famous by the legendary Max Roach/Clifford Brown quintet of the fifties. Wexler's arrangement is a slightly modernized take on Roach and Brown's classic. From the more unorthodox side of things comes "If I Only Had a Brain" (put a check next to that sense of humor question), Burt Bacharach's "One Less Bell to Answer" and Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue." These songs are just some of the highlights of an entertaining thirteen song program.

One final area I examine when reviewing a female jazz vocalist is the quality of her backing band. This was a no brainer with 'Dreams & Shadows.' Big guns like Joe LaBarbera (who does a particularly masterful job with this recording) bolster a long list of talented musicians that support Judy Wexler in a most musically respectful and uniquely engaging fashion. These guys smoke on the swingers and gently glide through ballads, comfortably negotiating everything in between.

With all of my prerequisites met, I can easily say that Judy Wexler is a great singer and 'Dreams & Shadows' is a great CD. Glowing reviews are always fun to write, as there's real passion behind my words. This CD is not one to miss. This review will be a blast to write. As the screen just advanced to page two of my Word document entitled "Judy Wexler," I realize that I seem to have already written the review. Go figure. OK, I did my part, now do yours. Go out and get Judy Wexler's 'Dreams & Shadows.'"

- Dave Miele


NPR Weekend Edition Interview with Susan Stamberg, March 22, 2008:

"From the evidence on her new second album, Dreams & Shadows, Judy Wexler can sing almost anything.

Wexler can be slow and sad without being goopy. She can straight-out swing, and she can take a classic jazz riff and keep riffing, even with words. Not bad for someone who says she didn't necessarily grow up with jazz.

"My whole life, I've been involved with music and studying it," Wexler says. "But with the jazz idiom, it's actually not something that I grew up with, per se. It's something that I came to later in life."

Well, sort of.

"Well, actually, I was [listening to jazz]," she said. "I lied. My dad had music on all the time ... and my father was — he loved to sing. He was always singing. And my mother and he would dance in the living room -– put on music and dance. And that was very joyful."

Susan Stamberg spoke with the jazz vocalist about the tunes on her new record."

Podcast available at www.judywexler.com
- NPR Weekend Edition


"So refreshingly good, so fundamentally gifted is Judy Wexler that it's a bit distressing to learn that inexperience, coupled with a degree of late-to-the-party anxiety, very nearly kept the flame-haired Angeleno from becoming a jazz singer.

Her original intent was to study acting. Then the desire to become a clinical therapist caught her fancy, prompting her to pursue a major in psychology. Then the acting bug bit again and it was back to drama class. After a two year stint with Caught in the Act: A Theater Collective of Four Short Women, a Bay Area quartet devoted to comedy and music, she married her upstairs neighbor. Together, around the corner from their North Beach apartment, they discovered Keystone Korner. The world of jazz opened up to her, harmony and vocal studies followed, and the idea of building a career accompanying herself on piano took root. Convinced "I'd be a hundred years old before I'd be as good as I wanted to be," she decided to focus solely on singing. But, melodramatic as it sounds, it took a nudge from her dying mother to turn the dream into reality.

Now, with this exalted follow-up to 2005's superb Easy on the Heart, Wexler proves she's ready to join the top rank of female jazz vocalists. Listen to the heated urgency that propels both her "Comes Love" and "In Love in Vain." Hear how she explores the murky corners of the Victor Young-penned title track. Appreciate the aching simplicity of her "One Less Bell to Answer," the wry half-smile that ignites "If I Only Had a Brain" and the cool sensuality of "Spooky." Most glorious of all (which, given the superior quality of these 13 tracks, is saying a lot), is her immaculate treatment of Blossom Dearie's "Summer is Gone," where warm memories and chilled loneliness swirl together like windswept autumn leaves."
--- Christopher Loudon - Christopher Loudon


"West Coast jazz vocalist Judy Wexler not only knows her way around a bop tune, fluidly negotiating angular intervals and racing tempos, she knows how to personalize a pop tune, no matter how familiar or faded.

On "Dreams & Shadows," her second CD, Wexler finds inspiration in a refreshing assortment of songs. Take Sonny Rollins's "Pent Up House," for example. Equipped with delightful new lyrics and punctuated by Wexler's fluid vocalese take on the opening tenor sax chorus that Rollins originally recorded, the performance quickly stands apart as bright and inventive.

More often, though, the mood is comparatively subdued, with Wexler consistently displaying her interpretative finesse. Her rendering of "If I Only Had a Brain" is rhythmically engaging and poignantly yearning in equal measure. Her fondness for jazz vocalist Blossom Dearie's under-recorded songbook yields two small gems: the dreamy recollections "Bye Bye Country Boy" and "Summer Is Gone." Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue," which features a haunting piano arrangement with muted trumpet, serves as a soulful interlude. Indeed, Wexler is accompanied throughout by a first-rate ensemble that includes pianists Alan Pasqua and Jeff Colella, drummer Joe La Barbera and reedman Bob Sheppard."

- Mike Joyce


Pianist Alan Pasqua also makes an impressive contribution to jazz singer Judy Wexler's exciting "Dreams & Shadows," her second CD on the Jazzed Media label, splitting the arranging and playing duties with pianist Jeff Colella. These guys highlight a punchy recording with a strong band presence that includes trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Darek Oles and drummers Steve Hass and Joe LaBarbera, all of them swift and seasoned musicians. But "Dreams & Shadows" is Wexler's baby all the way, one that can claim turf on the small landscape of genuinely great modern jazz vocalist recordings.

Wexler bites into the lyric of "Comes Love" and doesn't let go, and her band chases after her with the reins of the melody in hand. She slinks through the exotic oldie, "Delilah," and "brings the ruckus" to a swinging interpretation of Sonny Rollins' "Pent Up House." Her eclectic program covers tunes by Elvis Costello and Blossom Dearie, as well as classic material by Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen (a clever version of "If I Only Had a Brain"). This CD puts Wexler solidly among the ranks of really good singers like Kate McGarry and Tierney Sutton. On "Dreams & Shadows" she sounds exceedingly relaxed and comfortable throughout, and exhibits just enough fearlessness, daring and control that everything here just clicks." - Primetime A&E


Discography

"Dreams & Shadows" (Jazzed Media, released March 2008). #2 on the JazzWeek chart reflecting top 2 in national jazz radio airplay in the U.S. This CD is being played on jazz stations nationwide and carried on many internet radio shows. Judy spoke with esteemed journalist Susan Stamberg about "Dreams & Shadows" on NPR Weekend Edition, and the podcast is available by copying and pasting this URL: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88756094.

"Easy on the Heart" (Rhombus Records, released March 2005). Top 50 in national jazz radio airplay for six weeks. Arranged by Alan Pasqua.

Photos

Bio

"…to merit being called a jazz singer you have to have something to say-your own story-as it moves you then and there." .... Nat Hentoff

From Louis Armstrong to Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis to Pat Metheny, jazz artists have always sought to tell stories. And Judy Wexler is a natural storyteller, with a distinctive voice, full of shadings. She knows how to dig into a song and find its essence. She is also "one of the most focused, unpretentious, no-nonsense, bop-oriented jazz singers around," according to Harvey Siders in JazzTimes, with an "instinctive ability to bring out the best in each song, often taking it into unfamiliar territory," wrote Ken Dryden in All Music Guide. Her 2005 debut, "Easy on The Heart," made radio waves and introduced her to a wide jazz audience; now comes the follow-up… debuting at #2 on the national JazzWeek chart, "Dreams & Shadows," her new CD on the Jazzed Media label, confirms her ability to find great songs and effortlessly bring them to life. As Christopher Loudon of JazzTimes asserts, "With this exalted follow-up to 2005's superb "Easy on the Heart," Wexler proves she's ready to join the top rank of female jazz vocalists." Judy was interviewed on NPR Weekend Edition by Susan Stamberg, who said, "From the evidence on her new second album, "Dreams & Shadows," Judy Wexler can sing almost anything."

Judy has sung at the Blue Note in New York City, Blues Alley in Washington DC, Jazz Alley in Seattle, Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles, and Anthology in San Diego. She has also performend at Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, the Dubai International Jazz Festival, and the San Jose Jazz Festival. She opened the show for the legendary Mose Allison at the Temecula Valley International Jazz Festival, and she has also headlined in venues as diverse as Montreal, Istanbul, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Miami, the Sundance Film Festival, and the 2006 IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) conference in New York, garnering rave reviews and building audiences along the way.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Judy studied piano from the time she was 5, but she gravitated toward theater, acting and singing in high school productions. She majored in psychology and theater at UC Santa Cruz, and after graduating, moved to San Francisco where she continued to perform in theater. Judy met her future husband, her upstairs neighbor, and together they spent a lot of time listening to jazz. "My husband and I lived in North Beach, just a couple of blocks from Keystone Korner," she says (referring to the world-renowned jazz club that closed in the 1980s), "where we frequently heard the finest jazz musicians around. It drew me in then and never let go."

A few years later, the couple moved to Los Angeles. Judy continued performing in theater and television, and guest starred on the hit comedy Frasier. But she was still drawn to jazz and began studying at the Dick Grove Music School. She concentrated on jazz harmony and jazz vocals, and subsequently studied for several years with acclaimed pianist Terry Trotter, with the goal of accompanying herself at the piano. Judy explains, "Finally, I figured I'd be a hundred years old before I'd be as good as I wanted, so I decided I should focus solely on singing." But it took a deathbed wish from her mother to get Judy out on the nightclub stage.

"My mother told me, 'Kid, you want to sing. I'll die happy if you just get out there and do it.' And that was really her final gift to me. She gave me a kick in the ass."

A few years of increased exposure on the L.A. scene earned her a reputation for the craftsmanship and emotional immediacy of her singing, while displaying her knack for compiling a spirited, cliché-free repertoire. Judy collaborated with Alan Pasqua as pianist and arranger for her first disc, Easy on the Heart, which received wide airplay and critical acclaim. Pasqua shared the playing and arranging with Jeff Colella on Judy's new CD, Dreams & Shadows, which has received rave reviews and has remained on the national JazzWeek chart for three months since its March 2008 release.

"I love the freedom of jazz and I love being able to connect with the audience and express myself through the lyrics," Judy beams. "There is so much great material to explore and share. And living in southern California, I get to play with some of the finest jazz musicians in the world. It's a privilege that I never forget when I get up to sing."