PJ Parker
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PJ Parker

Somerset, New Jersey, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2017 | SELF

Somerset, New Jersey, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2017
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Great name, PJ Parker. It's fun, memorable, and classic all at the same time! And amazingly enough, those words also describe the artist's holiday release, It's Christmas. Framed just by the piano and bass, vocalist PJ Parker presents traditional, minimalist jazz, providing the sort of intimate experience you would count yourself lucky to experience in a swank urban watering hole in late December.

Parker has a sparkle in her eye and smoky intonation in her flexible jazz instrument. The artist brings considerable craft and color to each word and tone, making it a pleasure to absorb the emotional highs and lows. From the sly delights of Jingle Bells and the playful (Everybody's Waitin' for) the Man with the Bag to Parker's aching interpretation of moving gems such as A Child Is Born and I Wonder as I Wander, the album is consistently entertaining. Parker's own Not Beneath the Tree is a well-written ballad about the greatest gifts, which (not surprisingly) cannot be purchased online. It's Christmas nicely combines the sacred and secular, and the overall tone is slightly subdued and richly contemplative.

Those who favor sophisticated jazz stylings will find much to love here. PJ Parker's release is a delectable dish for the holidays, perfect for two to enjoy by candlelight!

--Carol Swanson - ChristmasReviews.com


Contributed by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor

I live in a jazz-rich community that boasts at least a dozen vocalists whose talents easily equal the best in New York or LA, yet they remain, for various reasons, relatively unknown beyond our outer ring suburbs. I suspect this is true in many other locales where home-grown talent rarely attains national recognition. Even in New York—or perhaps especially in New York—it is likely that dozens of top-notch artists fly below the radar, known and appreciated only by those in their immediate environs.

Each year I receive at least a handful of indie-label and self-produced CDs from musicians who, like the best in my area, have as much to offer a jazz audience as any who top the charts and polls. Intimate (PJB Creatives, 2006), a self-produced recording from native New York vocalist PJ Parker, is an appealing debut from an artist deserving wider recognition.

Singing and performing came naturally to PJ, whose father was a pianist/composer/conductor, and whose mother was a dancer and singer. She recalls performing Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song” at age three, and taking requests from patrons at Long Island restaurants as a five-year old. Early success through school and church performances led her to study music at New York University, where she studied voice in five languages. After graduation, PJ found plenty of work from concert halls and dinner theater to summer stock and musical revues, traveling with show bands and singing with orchestras in New York and Atlantic City.

Image A long-running gig at Rosse’s—“a lovely little place tucked in the mountains of Martinsville, New Jersey”—featuring just voice and piano provided the live music for Intimate. In dedicating the recording to her father (“a man of deep soul and poetry”), PJ notes that Tom Parker introduced her to the classic repertoire of Frank Sinatra, the Hi-Lo's, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McCrae and Tony Bennett, and “to the simple magic of piano and voice.” That simple magic is indeed pared down to a set of sixteen duets, PJ’s vocals supported only by either Vinnie Ruggieri or John Bianculli on piano. Notes husband/producer Bill Bowman, “There were no written arrangements. PJ simply called out a key and a tempo to the pianist, and off they went. So what you're hearing is the music, as it happened, which really is the essence of jazz, I think.”

The title Intimate refers not only to the small club ambience and interaction between vocalist and pianist, but to the gentle passion that PJ injects into each song, each track a personal statement that ensures a recording that goes far beyond the usual set of familiar standards. While it might be easy to push such fare into the background as pleasant “aural wallpaper,” in doing so the listener would miss the spontaneously crafted arrangements, the clarity of the voice, the unwavering pitch, the essence of the lyrics. Contrary to cabaret or “lounge” singing, Intimate is a perfect example of “jazz” singing—without going outside the sensibilities of a mainstream audience, PJ makes every note and phrase a personal experiment. Her interpretation is defined by nuance rather than by big leaps and twists, which is not to say that she doesn’t reshape notes and phrases along the way. With her delicate but not fragile approach, one senses that PJ has listened extensively to Billie Holiday without any suggestion of imitation. Her tone reminds me a bit of Jane Monheit, not as creamy and more prone to adventure.

Eleven of the sixteen tracks feature Vinnie Ruggieri on piano, with John Bianculli on the rest. Both prove to be elegant foils for Parker, often generating a feel of a larger ensemble, contributing their own ideas that add layers to the journey. Ruggieri in particular creates basslines that had me wondering, frequently, if there really was an acoustic bass player missing from the credits.

While all tracks are familiar—even well-worn—pages from the Great American Songbook, the selections are diverse in sources and moods. Two tunes each come from the pens of the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, and the team of Comden, Green and Styne, with the rest from such heralded composers as Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, McHugh and Fields, and Sammy Cahn. Throughout, the pace is relatively slow, from ballad to mid-tempo, and no track reaches five minutes, with most fulfilling their purpose within three or four. Even within these relatively short takes, there’s a lot of room for voice and piano to explore.

The set opens with a gentle but sparkling “Just in Time,” followed by the sweet passion of “Blame It on My Youth. PJ slows “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” to a near ballad tempo, and Ruggieri’s soloing here is as delightful as her vocals. On “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” PJ adds a touch of sass and more twist to her improvisation on the melody, unable to suppress a giggle at the end. How many singers have done “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face?” PJ brings a - JazzPolice.com


Reviewed by: Larry Taylor

In Intimate, vocalist PJ Parker makes her CD debut, singing favorites from the American Song Book. She sings the ballads with sweetness and delicacy ... Overall, it’s a good record, something relaxing to listen to while, say, driving or lounging in the backyard.

The tracks were made over a period of months at Rosse’s, a restaurant in the Watchung Mountains of New Jersey. Very capably accompanying her on various tracks are pianists Vinnie Ruggieri and John Bianculli.

Parker says she was Inspired in her youth by the likes of Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughn. Here, though, she sings with a touch of Jane Monheit-like sweetness in the ballads ...

Standing out among the 14 favorites is a slow, languid version of “Surrey With The Fringe On Top.” With Parker, the two lovers described aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere; likewise the journey is pleasant for the listener. In “Don’t Blame Me,” Parker also hits her groove, swinging lightly, prodded most capably by Ruggieri’s piano work.

She is at her best on “Blame It On My Youth.” With Bianculli’s sensitive touch leading her, she brings a breathy sweetness to this contemplative paean to the lover we’ve all lost at one time.

With “All of Me,” she is in command, slowly drawing the listener in with an attitude of majestic surrender. These slow tempos are her forte. - JazzReview.com


by Scott Yanow

PJ Parker dedicates Intimate to her father who, when she was
young, often accompanied her on the piano. The set of vocal-
piano duets, with Vinnie Ruggieri playing piano on 11 selections
and Jon Bianculli on the other five, was recorded live at Rosses,
an establishment in Martinsville, New Jersey that is unfortunately
no longer open. All 16 of the standards are well known but, by
sometimes performing the songs slightly slower, out-of-tempo or
at a faster pace than expected, the warhorses (which include
“Just In Time,” “How High The Moon,” “All Of Me” and “Am I Blue”)
are brought back to life, never sounding tired or overly
predictable. PJ Parker has a sweet and very musical voice and
her singing is full of honest emotions and subtle improvising. This
is a difficult release to resist and is well worth acquiring, available
from www.pjparker.net. - Los Angeles Jazz Scene


(Translated from the original French)

by Michel Bedin

"This is an 'exercise without a net,' from which she emerges with much mastery and grace."

"All these songs are brought back to us through this voice, rather soft, tender and assured, that PJ Parker treats us to."

"This CD is a beautiful example of real jazz in the United States, the popular jazz that has never been avoided by people who know the music."
- Jazz Hot Magazine, Paris


PJ Parker has one voice but several personalities on Dreams Are Meant for Two, and each of them lights the dynamite which leaves every track on the album shaken and stirred. Parker is no timid jazz vocalist; she tackles each composition with fiery passion and striking self-confidence.

On her version of "Black Coffee," Parker deepens her voice to a bluesy croon, intensifying the song's bad-habit confessions. Joel Frahm's saxophone adds palpable heat, especially when he starts to jam near the song's climax. Parker's darkly seductive singing and Frahm's scorching sax literally elevate the track to an exhilarating rush of steam.

Parker's unrestrained performance on "Black Coffee" epitomizes her approach to the rest of the material on the CD. Whether they're covers of standards or originals, Parker displays remarkable bravado. "Then I'll Be Tired of You" is given a dreamy, star-struck delivery that rejuvenates the often-remade tune. On "Angel Eyes," Parker's sultry, soulful vocals soar above Vinnie Ruggieri's incandescent piano and Earl Sauls' low, throbbing bass. The level of comfort that Parker has with these classic songs is impressive in its depth. She knows them inside and out and is keenly aware of how to make them seem new again.

Sinfully sexy saxophones and pulsating bass lines conjure feelings of magnetic attraction on "Moonglow," and Parker's rich, emotionally fueled voice thickens the romantic mood. On "Let's Fall in Love," Parker finds herself in the throes of Valentine's Day euphoria; her playful, upbeat singing is sweet and utterly charming.

Dreams Are Meant for Two never grows old or tiresome because Parker is always awake at the wheel, always in step with her top-flight backing musicians and respectful to the songwriters and performers she is paying tribute to here. However, perhaps most importantly she isn't afraid to reveal parts of herself in the process. - All About Jazz.com


Two years ago I had the opportunity to “meet” New York area vocalist PJ Parker through email and review of her debut recording, Intimate. At the time, I noted that “without going outside the sensibilities of a mainstream audience, PJ makes every note and phrase a personal experiment. Her interpretation is defined by nuance rather than by big leaps and twists, which is not to say that she doesn’t reshape notes and phrases along the way. With her delicate but not fragile approach, one senses that PJ has listened extensively to Billie Holiday without any suggestion of imitation. Her tone reminds me a bit of Jane Monheit, not as creamy and more prone to adventure.” About a year later, PJ followed with a set of holiday cheer (It’s Christmas), again a collection of standards and less familiar covers, again offering “intimate” conversation as well as swinging good fun, a bit more adventure.

The adventure continues with the recent release of Dreams Are Meant for Two (PJB Creatives), and now PJ seems more confident, her interpretations taking still-subtle yet more personal directions. In short, Dreams Are Meant for Two is the sort of recording that pushes an already-competent artist into the realm of “talent deserving wide recognition,” and hopefully critics and audiences nation-wide will take notice. Unlike the previous recordings with only piano (Intimate) or piano and bass (It’s Christmas), Dreams finds PJ in front of a larger ensemble. Again she collaborates with pianist Vinnie Ruggieri on the arrangements; bassist Earl Sauls reprises his role on the holiday recording. But this time there’s the additional layers of drums from Tim Horner, guitar from Coleman Mellett, and particularly the bright intensity and melodicism of tenor/soprano saxman Joel Frahm. More voices yield more texture, a richer tapestry on which PJ can weave her magic.

And magic indeed infuses the 15 diverse tracks, covering familiar standards of Irving Mills, Matt Dennis, Harold Arlen, Gershwin and Kern, Hammerstein and Kern; the songbook of Peggy Lee, and PJ herself, with two original tunes and the title track, a newly discovered composition penned by her late father. A pianist/composer/conductor who passed along his love of music, Tom Parker left behind a manuscript that PJ discovered while working on her new recording, a piece without lyrics. Although the tune was undated, PJ “felt a deep sense that this lovely melody had been written to and for my Mom, and more than likely before their marriage.” Adding her own lyrics, “Dreams” became the stunning finale to her most definitive work to date.

“Moonglow” sets the stage for a set that is bright, swinging, often light as a feather but heavy with feeling. The first verse introduces one of New York’s most under-rated reed players, Joel Frahm, in a luscious voice/tenor sax duet. PJ’s light touch on Matt Dennis’ well-covered “Angel Eyes” makes understatement thoroughly sultry, and her phrasing and melodic improvisation signals a more adventurous approach than on the earlier recordings. “Long Ago (And Far Away)” highlights the intricate guitar of Coleman Mellett, and Mellett and Sauls combine to give the track its mildly bossa swing. PJ injects subtle drama, reminiscent of Monheit but more exploratory, particularly as she creates her own horn-like closing verse. The comparison to Monheit seems more on the mark on the sweet “Then I’ll Be Tired of You,” her soprano sure yet delicate, her heart transparent. Mellett offers a perfect solo interlude, a complementary hue on the sonic color wheel, while Ruggieri provides exquisite supporting lines, piano and voice closing in duet.

Gears switch perceptibly but delightfully with an utterly seductive “Black Coffee.” A whiney soprano from Frahm, well-placed percussive accents from Horner, and swampy basslines from Sauls create the context, but PJ’s pacing and phrasing are as wicked and engaging as any interpretation I’ve heard. Frahm conjures the Devil himself with a snakey solo, mirroring PJ’s teasing tone. From the Devil in disguise PJ moves to the beguiling “Old Devil Moon,” swinging and enticing, criss-crossing her range “flying high and wide,” almost “too hot to handle.” Again the undertow is provided by Sauls. A brighter tone permeates “Let’s Fall in Love,” PJ and Joel Frahm in counterpoint, Ruggieri, Sauls and Mellett providing the swing. Frahm and Mellett trade solo riffs before PJ takes a spin with bass alone. One of the shorter tracks, it is also one of the most upbeat.

Lost or crumbling love is the theme of adjacent tracks, the medley of Buffy St. Marie’s “Until It’s Time for You to Go”/Jacques Brel and Rod McKuen’s “If You Go Away” followed by “Love Me or Leave Me.” In particular “If You Go Away” has been covered in a jazz context before, but perhaps never as effectively, in English or French. PJ offers a bilingual interpretation. Sauls opens “Love Me or Leave Me” with a loping solo, PJ joining in with a lilting swing. Love is resurr - Jazz Police.com


Discography

INTIMATE -- 2006
IT'S CHRISTMAS -- 2007
DREAMS ARE MEANT FOR TWO -- 2008

Photos

Bio

PJ Parker has performed in concerts, dinner theater, summer stock, regional theater and musical revues, and has also been the featured vocalist with orchestras and bands from Atlantic City to New York City.

PJ has performed/recorded with Christopher Bakriges, John Bianculli, Jerry Bruno, Lou Carter, Roy Cumming, Glenn Davis, Joel Frahm, Steve Gilmore, Tim Horner, Harry Leahy, Keith MacDonald, Gary Mazzaroppi, Coleman Mellett, Geary Moore, Vinnie Ruggieri, Earl Sauls, Radam Schwartz and Avery Sharp.

She has been an opening band featured vocalist for John Pizzarelli and Harry Connick Jr., as well as the featured female vocalist in Trump Plaza’'s big band show, “"Your Seaside Ballroom,"” also appearing in Philadelphia’'s Variety Club Telethon.

REVIEWERS ACROSS THE US AND EUROPE EMBRACE PJ PARKER:

“"Parker tackles each composition with fiery passion and striking self-confidence ... the level of comfort that Parker has with these classic songs is impressive in its depth. She knows them inside and out and is keenly aware of how to make them seem new again.”"
– All About Jazz

“"She is in command, slowly drawing the listener in with an attitude of majestic surrender ... accolades go to her own ‘'Love’'s A Logistical Thing.’' The catchy lyrics and charming, lightly swinging vocal are a pleasure. ‘'Dreams Are Meant For Two'’ is a lovely song, full of genuine emotion. She does it justice in her soft, rich voice."” – JazzReview.com

“"Stunning ... with 'Dreams Are Meant For Two,' PJ Parker has issued a definitive statement of intent: to challenge the heart, to unlock memories, to reinvent the familiar, to entertain. And to do so on her own terms, with her own voice.” PJ's original songs “suggest PJ Parker has the potential to be a significant songwriter.”" – Jazz Police

"'Intimate' “is an ‘exercise without a net,’ from which she emerges with much mastery and grace.”" – Jazz Hot; Paris, France

"'It’'s Christmas' is “a recording of distinctive sound, arrangement and virtuosity."” – Jazz Police

“"PJ Parker has a sweet and very musical voice and her singing is full of honest emotions and subtle improvising.”" – Scott Yanow/LA Jazz Scene

“"Her vocal renderings of old standards and new compositions is unique and instantly personal.” Her voice is a “powerful but well-restrained instrument.”" Skope Magazine

ACCOLADES:
Blues Nominee: 2012 Hollywood Music in Media Awards
Honorable Mention: 2010 Seventeenth Annual Billboard Worldwide Song Contest
Jazz Nominee: ISSA Song Contest 2009
Top 10 Finalist–Best International Artist: Australia's 9th Annual Music Oz Awards
Jazz Nominee: 2009 Hollywood Music in Media Awards
Semi-Finalist: 2009 UK Songwriting Contest

DISCOGRAPHY
Intimate (2006)
It's Christmas (2007, 2012)
Dreams Are Meant For Two (2008)

FILM CREDITS:
2013- PJ's original song, “Dreams Are Meant For Two,” with music written by her late father, Jazz pianist Thomas E. Parker, makes its motion picture debut in Joe Basile’s “West End." The movie won "People's Choice" at the 2013 Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park and was the "Soho's Pick" award winner at the 2013 Soho International Film Festival in New York City:
Downtown Film Festival, Los Angeles: Best Director, Narrative; Best Supporting Actor; Manhattan Film Festival, Best Crime Drama.

2012 - Soundtrack: Golam Mustofa/Christopher Rinaman film, "A Drop Of Love," winner of five prestigious awards at the American International Film Festival.

TELEVISION CREDITS:
Parenthood (NBC),
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS)
The Vampire Diaries (CW).
Hand of God (Amazon Streaming)