SAN ANTONIO - With hopes of finally breaking out regionally and nationally, the Alamo City's most popular jazz crooner has released I'll Take Romance--a tour de force of romantic jazz and pop songs showcasing his rich, expressive voice and demonstrating why he is poised to emerge as a star in the growing neo-classical" jazz movement in America and abroad.
It has been a long time coming, but I believe that I have finally achieved something really special with this beautiful new album," Slavin says. I am very proud of the CD and everyone who worked on it. I have high hopes that it will be warmly received by my fans and by the music industry."
For nearly two decades Slavin has earned an enduring reputation in San Antonio, Austin and throughout Texas for his smooth voice, unique phrasing, genuine love of performing, and classy repertoire of songs spanning six decades of jazz and pop classics. And now, with this new CD, he is preparing to take his act on the road" to the jazz and cabaret capitals of the United States and Europe.
I'll Take Romance derives its title from a classic Broadway song from 1937--with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and music by Ben Oakland. Slavin chose this title song because it sums up what he believes is his contribution to the classic vocal jazz genre: updated, fresh interpretations of timeless material that capture the many nuances and moods of love, romance and relationships. In turn, his interpretations have secured him fans of every age.
I know I seem hopelessly sentimental to many, but I don't apologize for it," he says. Yet I am not stuck in the past. From the very beginning of my career, I have tried hard to bring something new and different to everything I perform and give the songs I choose my own personal stamp. I want to make my music relevant to today's listeners. I think I have succeeded with this CD."
I'll Take Romance features 16 tracks running the gamut from lush violin-infused arrangements to cool swing numbers to spicy Latin tempos.
Conceived and executive-produced by Slavin, produced by noted jazz pianist/composer/arranger Barry Brake of The Jazz Protagonists, recorded and mixed by Danny Reisch at Keith Harter Music in San Antonio and mastered by nationally renowned engineer Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound in New York City (who most recently worked on the Norah Jones' project, Not Too Late, and was responsible for the digital re-mastering of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong's classic Verve LP, Ella and Louis), and loaded with veteran jazz players including two Grammy nominees, the audio quality, musical integrity and artistic polish of this new CD is as good as it gets in the industry.
I'll Take Romance opens with a musical gem destined to make a real impression with listeners and radio programmers: Thoughts of Your Smile," a totally new treatment of the 1959 Brazilian bossa nova classic by Luiz Bonfa, Manh de Carnaval," known to many jazz enthusiasts by its English title, A Day in the Life of a Fool." Slavin is the first singer to record these new lyrics - written by Brake and set to the haunting Bonfa melody. The song lays the foundation for the album's romantic mood and showcases Slavin's rich lower register and intimate baritone singing style, creating an impression of pillow talk" between lovers.
This selection is immediately followed by a snappy swing jazz version of the Cole Porter hit, You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," written for the 1943 Broadway musical, Something to Shout About. Slavin's voice rings out in his higher range against a traditional jazz backdrop of acoustic bass, piano and drums and switches effortlessly into low register as he and the band tackle a surprising chromatic scale ending.
Next is a decidedly cabaret-style treatment of Tea For Two" from the 1925 musical No, No Nanette. Pianist Morris Nelms provides expert and sensitive accompaniment to Slavin's slow, passionate and hopeful interpretation of this song that has too-often been relegated to cheesy cha-cha treatments. Slavin's version also opens with the rarely heard verse, which could be a song in itself. (Since its release three weeks ago, this track has received regular airplay on San Antonio jazz and adult contemporary radio stations.)
Track four is a contemporary jazz waltz performance of the title song, I'll Take Romance--one of two versions of this classic that are featured on the CD. The first is fiery and exciting, infused with happiness and daring. The second, which closes the album, is full-throttle romantic and sexy, overlaid with a lush acoustic violin arrangement written by Brake and performed by violinists from the San Antonio Symphony. It wraps up the listening experience of this CD with a sense of magic that is reminiscent of the Nelson Riddle albums of the 1950s.
Other outstanding selections on the CD include Alone" (a heartbreaking 1930s ballad full of longing and featuring a plaintive alto saxophone solo by Pierre Poiree); three Latin-inspired performances spotlighting the percussion talents of Grammy-nominated international recording artist Henry Brun (the 1960s bossa nova hit Summer Samba", the Sammy Cahn standard Day by Day" and 1950s songstress Rosemary Clooney's highly suggestive, Top 10 hit Mangos"); beloved crooner Frankie Laine's 1949 smash That's My Desire"; Duke Ellington's Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me"; Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's evergreen Come Rain or Come Shine"; 1920s ragtime ditty Just You, Just Me," which was also the title of Slavin's cabaret debut in 2006; James Van Heusen's ode to the multiple moods of love, But Beautiful"; and a shimmering, dramatically understated, three-o'clock-in-the-morning style performance of I Could Have Danced All Night" from the Lerner and Loewe musical, My Fair Lady. (This selection is the hands-down favorite of the majority of musicians featured on the album.)
Perhaps the most unusual selection on Slavin's new 16-track disc is a virtually unknown gem commissioned and recorded by 1950s and 1960s female pop music superstar Connie Francis, I Can't Reach Your Heart." Written by Benny Davies and Ted Murry, who penned some of Francis' biggest hits, including her 1962 Billboard-topping single Don't Break the Heart That Loves You," this song was relegated to the B-side of the soundtrack to her 1963 MGM film, Follow the Boys. The only other artist ever to record this beautiful song is Agnetha Faltskog, the Swedish singer most famous for her work in the legendary pop group ABBA and now a solo artist.
A lifelong fan of Francis, which he admits is not the norm for a jazz singer," Slavin says he was determined to include something by her on this album as a tribute to one of the best and sadly underrated pop singers ever."
But I wanted to include one of her songs that most people have never heard. And it had to be one that I thought I could pull off in the context of this album," Slavin says. I played Connie's version of the song for Barry and for Morris, and they both thought it was pretty and something that suited me. Its teardrop in the voice" sound also fit into my CD's theme of romance in all of its guises. I love the way it turned out."
He and the band chose a more contemporary sound for the song and their version--the first American recording of this song in more than 40 years--should appeal to anyone who buys this CD.
I'll Take Romance is available in select San Antonio stores, online at CD Baby.com, Apple iTunes, at MySpace.com and other online sites, as well as at Slavin's many personal appearances.
About Ken Slavin
Recently voted Best Vocalist of 2007" by readers of The San Antonio Current, Slavin started relatively late in the music business, not stepping on the stage to pursue his lifelong dream until shortly before his 29th birthday.
Now a seasoned 46, Slavin is more determined than ever to make his mark beyond San Antonio on the jazz and cabaret circuits in the United States and abroad. He is actively seeking gigs in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, on cruise ships and overseas resorts, and at noted American and European jazz festivals. (He already has been invited to perform in Portugal next year, based on advance media praise for I'll Take Romance.)
Long before the current crop of young interpreters of classic jazz and the Great American Songbook embarked on their careers, Slavin was working the microphone in a town known more for rock, country and Tejano music than jazz. He literally has appeared everywhere from hamburger joints to concert halls, earning scores of fans and positive media reviews along the way.
Slavin made his professional singing debut on Valentine's Day 1990 with the Regency Jazz Band at the rowdy and slightly seedy Dick's Last Resort on the San Antonio River Walk. Decked out in a double-breasted Givenchy suit, he made an unforgettable entrance in front of several hundred inebriated tourists wearing Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. But they applauded long and hard and a serious singing career was born.
With the encouragement and guidance of legendary Regency bandleader and award-winning jazz bassist George Prado, Slavin used that experience as a springboard to begin working in earnest to learn good material, meet (and hire) top-flight musicians and book gigs wherever he could find them. And he practiced endlessly, always learning from his mistakes and striving to get better with each performance.
Seventeen years, thousands of gigs and four CDs later he continues to successfully perform everywhere from restaurants, nightclubs and piano bars to private parties, black-tie galas and outdoor jazz festivals. He's also popular on local radio and TV programs. He has headlined San Antonio's Jazz'SAlive" festival multiple times (opening for jazz drummer Chico Hamilton, jazz chanteuse Dee Dee Bridgewater, jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Latin jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri, among others), has played the famous Texas Jazz Festival in Corpus Christi, and has appeared at other major music events throughout the Lone Star State. Most recently, he began making inroads into the Austin jazz scene, which he has described as one of the hardest nuts to crack" in his career. He now appears regularly at the upscale III Forks restaurant in the burgeoning, ultra-hip Second Street District of the Texas capital.
In the1990s Slavin earned a reputation as a very public and dedicated AIDS activist, using music has his weapon. He created, produced, publicized and starred in a series of successful fund-raising concerts benefiting the San Antonio AIDS Foundation. He also produced a critically acclaimed jazz CD, Tender is the Night, for the organization, donating all sales to what was then the only full-service hospice care facility for AIDS sufferers in South Texas. His six-year effort raised more than $35,000 for SAAF and provided tens of thousands of dollars in free media coverage for the organization and its efforts - no small feat in conservative and Hispanic South Texas where AIDS and other gay issues are still not dealt with as openly as in other major U.S. cities.
Slavin is ready to take his singing career to the next level. I'll Take Romance may be the key that will finally open new doors for this passionate, talented and still relatively young Texas singer with big dreams for a full-time future in jazz.
Ken Slavin, executive producer/vocalist
Barry Brake, producer/arranger
Danny Reisch, recording engineer (Keith Harter Music, San Antonio)
Steve Fallone, mastering engineer (Sterling Sound, New York)
Morris Nelms, piano
Chuck Moses, bass
Kevin Hess, drums
Henry Brun, congas and other Latin percussion - multiple Grammy and Downbeat award nominee
Polly Harrison, guitar - featured on the upcoming Christmas album by The New Four Freshmen
Pierre Poiree, alto saxophone
Al Gomez, trumpet - Grammy nominee
All violin and horn arrangements were written and conducted by Barry Brake. Other arrangements were collaborations between Ken Slavin, Barry Brake and Morris Nelms.