Sinatra, James Williams tributes
January 1, 1970Just Jazz Notes this week: the main piece on a tribute to Frank Sinatra by singer Betsyann Faiella and pianist Hank Jones, the short item on a two-night tribute to James Williams to raise funds for a scholarship in his name at the Berklee College of Music.
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Their Frank dialogue brings singer and pianist together
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | October 8, 2004
Betsyann Faiella and Hank Jones would probably never have put together their joint tribute to Frank Sinatra had Faiella not been listening to the radio en route to a recording session in Los Angeles seven years ago.
At the time, Faiella was a good six months or more into recording what she thought would be her first CD, a collection she describes as "esoteric cabaret music."
"I was listening to this eulogy [of Sinatra] on NPR on the show 'This American Life,'" she recalls. "It was hysterically funny and irreverent and touching and poignant, and it was even funnier because in 1997, if you remember your history, Mr. Sinatra was still alive. I thought, `God, this guy is it . He's so much it that you can eulogize him and he's not even dead yet.' "
By the time she got to rehearsal, Faiella had decided to junk the work-in-progress and start over with what became her 2001 debut CD, "Can I Be Frank?," a baker's dozen of Sinatra-associated standards.
Jones, who'll be performing with Faiella tonight and Sunday at the Regattabar, didn't get involved until the next year. "Can I Be Frank?" had opened some doors for Faiella, and her manager wanted to pair her with a pianist of Jones's stature and book the two of them into New York's Blue Note jazz club.
"He thought it would be a good idea to connect me with a great and well-known jazz piano player for a variety of reasons," recalls Faiella by phone. "One, for visibility. Two, for the growth that it would provide for me as an artist.
"The fact that Hank is willing to do that and to help me is amazing to me," she continues. "It's not that I don't think that I have the chops; it's just that there are very few people who would really do that."
Jones is, after all, among the finest pianists in the history of jazz, and he maintains an active career at age 86. (Faiella is not much more than half that, but coy about specifics. "You can say I'm 40-something," she says.) Last month saw the release of "Someday My Prince Will Come," a Great Jazz Trio set recorded two years ago with Richard Davis and Jones's late brother Elvin. Jones also last month returned to the studio with Joe Lovano to record a follow-up to their May release "I'm All for You," one of the best jazz CDs out this year.
Jones's long career includes a couple of decades with the CBS orchestra, which would lead one to believe that he would have crossed paths with Sinatra. Not so.
"Never met him, never worked with him," Jones says from his home near Cooperstown, N.Y., "but I've always admired him. I remember the first time I heard him sing, he was singing with the Tommy Dorsey band at the Paramount Theatre in New York."
The thing that impressed him then, he says, was not only his voice, but "the way he phrased. He made you think that it was a conversation. He was talking to you, in song."
Faiella has similar qualities, according to Jones. "Betsyann has this knack of being able to phrase very well, and she phrases pretty much like Frank," says Jones. "I think that's one thing that makes her singing as effective as it is. And also she has a wonderful voice."
She can't literally be Frank, of course — the CD title was very much tongue in cheek. But being Frank never was Faiella's intent.
"What I wanted to do was bring a feminine perspective to some of the music that Frank Sinatra recorded," she says. "I love the simplicity with which he portrayed the relationships between men and women. Like a song like `The Tender Trap.' It's such a '50s sentiment, but the fact of the matter is, I believe it. I believe you can be influenced by the twinkle in somebody's eye."
Betsyann Faiella and Hank Jones will perform their Tribute to Frank Sinatra at the Regattabar tonight at 7:30 and 10 and Sunday night at 5:30 and 8. Tickets $25. Call 617-395-7757.
A fitting tribute
James Williams was, besides an accomplished pianist, a devoted teacher of jazz throughout his career. He joined the faculty at Berklee College of Music just after his own graduation from Memphis State in the 1970s and was head of jazz studies at William Paterson University in New Jersey from 1999 until his death this past summer at age 53.
It's fitting, then, that his name will live on in Boston via a James Williams Scholarship at Berklee, and that saxophonist Bill Pierce has lined up Mulgrew Miller, Donald Brown, and other top talents for a pair of fund-raising concerts at Ryles tonight and tomorrow night.
"He was kind of my mentor," says Pierce, who heads Berklee's woodwinds department and played beside Williams in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and other groups over the years. "He was a constant campaigner, an advocate for jazz and musicians to not only pursue the music and the art, but also to be more self-assertive and entrepreneurial. And he was like that with everybody."
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company