A Conceptual Gem Melding Jazz and Literature on the Rekindled Artists House Label
Jazz singer/composer Nancy Harrow has released another conceptual gem with Winter Dreams. It is her fourth literary song cycle -- very cleverly and beautifully conceived, arranged and played. Lost Lady, based on a Willa Cather novel, was the first. The second was The Adventures of Maya the Bee, based on a German childrens classic which she read in translation as a child. For the third she turned to another American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his novel The Marble Faun. On Winter Dreams, Harrow wrote all of the songs, conceived of the idea of using the words and life of Scott Fitzgerald as inspiration, and worked with Roland Hanna to arrange the pieces.
It's a moving collection, a moment in time, well played and sung. It's a jazz record, really one from another era. Nowadays it's all about all-star records, ballad records, and making records to market them. Winter Dreamsis a nice antidote to all that. It was Roland Hanna's last arranging work and their fifth recording together. In addition to Harrow and Hanna, Frank Wess, Grady Tate, and Rufus Reid all contribute their marvelous interpretive talents. These are all artists from a couple of generations back, from a time when all commercial music - TV, theatre, radio - was played by studio players, and this included several generations of great jazz players. It's a time quickly passing. But a time of important links in the chain of this treasured thing we call jazz. What music like this represents is the musical time in which it was created, in which all of these great players have spent the last 40 or 50 years of their lives. There was some DEEP experience in that room. Can you imagine the music all of these open ears must have heard and played in their lives? It's stunning to think about. And Nancy Harrow created it, this canvas on which this marvelous artistic statement could reveal itself.
In a way it's ironic that we are at the end of a certain jazz age", and this music takes as its inspiration the glory and ending of a previous jazz age, Fitzgeralds lost" generation, 80 years in the past, just on the edge of living memory. Since her debut in 1960, Nancy Harrow has made a quiet career out of doing completely unique jazz recordings that she has had to almost will into being. Throughout her career she has employed some the greatest players of her generation and beyond, from Phil Woods, Clark Terry, Ray Drummond, Buck Clayton, Ben Riley, Bob Brookmeyer, George Mraz, Jack Wilkins, Billy Hart and many others. In Nancys literate and probing embrace of Fitzgeralds milieu we can also experience the world of the lost" generation of jazz players, players that now have to teach the young kids so the young kids can go out and take their record deals away from them. These are men who learned jazz by doing it. They are only a step or two away from the originators of the art form; the originators were their teachers. Nancy represents and glorifies this generation of unheralded geniuses.
Were you to talk to Nancy Harrow about what motivates her, what she thinks of the current music scene, about what it was like working with a creative mind like Roland Hanna, you'd see for yourself that she's a kind and generous person who has the strength and determination of a sensitive, thoughtful and enduring artist. That is NOT an easy job but somehow Nancy has been able to do it. In 1960, it was Nat Hentoff who discovered Nancy, and recorded her for the Candid label and it was John Lewis who took her under his wing, from whom she developed a big part of her creative imagination. These are heavy duty guys, so Nancy is NO slouch. She is someone to be reckoned with, someone who has lived the independent feminist" artist life while others were just talking about it. She's done it quietly but consistently over 40 years.