Greg Henry Waters Newsletter December 2007
The Jon Burr Band and Songs
Birdland at 44th Street and 8th Ave
New York, New York
Date - December 9, 2007 2 p.m.
A few of us were outside the front doors waiting for them to open and I was thinking about this concert and what it was going to be like. The intelligence and experience one needs to create music is a developing process through a musician's entire life. I have known Jon Burr for over twenty years and the experiences he has had as musician has contributed to this development and his accomplishments.
Today. I watched his band grow. His creation of a new group, concept, format, presentation, arrangements, harmonic function and a contribution that is rare and unique to the music world because of the musical activities that presented themselves to him.
Jon Burr presents his song book with three accomplished singers, (Ty Stephens, Hilary Kole and Yaala Ballin) and an outstanding rhythm section that flows from light country, to traditional blues, to fusion, great solos, that all important swing feel with the upright bass, blending of instruments and voices. John's songs were moving from different styles and the singers voices were used to match the texture of the song. Burr was with Buddy Rich, Tony Bennett, Stan Getz and Chet Baker for many years. He developed his song compositional style and bass playing from having performed with these giants in the jazz world.
On Sunday at 1.30 pom. At Birdland, the people were walking in and finding their sits and the musicians were arranging their music and making last minute preparations. Everybody was waiting to see what this concert was going to be about for it was by invitation only. This certainly was Burr's day and the compliment of most of his entire musical career, all put into this one concert, DVD and of course his songs. The singers sat to the left of the stage waiting to be called up to sing their songs.
Then Burr gave a polite introduction for each singer and told something about when and how he wrote these songs and then he invited Stephens on stage to sing the first song.
Stephens sang a swinging happy tune with his big smile and was kind of bluesy. The second song was by Kole and it was a soft light tune with her pure clear voice. Nothing too dramatic just a nice soft, gentle song. Then Stephens came back up and Burr took a moment to pick up the electric bass and then he took some time counting off the tempo and I could hear that pulse that he learned from Buddy Rich. Burr played electric bass like it was a musical instrument and not a rock machine. This style of playing so influenced the drummer and guitar player that it changed the entire sound of the band from a traditional rhythm section to an all out blowing group of a Chick Corea electric band or a Miles electric group. This was the way this concert continued through out the performance: introduction of the singer and song, changing of instruments from the bass to electric bass, and acoustic guitar to electric guitar and from soprano saxophone to tenor saxophone and then the music began again.
Picture: Jon Burr, Yaala Ballin, Ty Stephens and Second Row:Hilary Kole, John Hart and Anthony Pinciotti!
I must pay a special tribute to the guitar design of the arrangements. Hart changed the tone from a folk guitar, to a rock guitar, to a jazz guitar, to an organ sound in the blues and was the added color of the group that brought out the color of the singers and songs to a fantastic level of sound. My entire body was vibrating from the harmony, blend and orchestration of the band. These artists really had respect for the music, arrangements and the singers. This was not an ego trip, but a group of musicians performing with a common goal of creating the best music and accompanying the singers with the highest standards of musical performance.
Finally, Yaala Ballin came up to sing, who I have heard before sing in a different band. She is so smooth and quiet woman it was a real pleasure for me to listen to her and with the blending of the tenor sax with the voice and guitar was unique, and I only heard this in great recordings like the score from South Pacific. But the singer was better than the singers from South Pacific I might ad. The solos from the tenor, guitar and piano excelled to a high 'pitch' of excitement. All were on the same level and blended together like cream in coffee.
So much of the time we only hear things from known names, but Burr achieved musically more than Buddy Rich, Tony Bennett and Stan Getz because he became a song writer and a lyric writer. I do not understand why more artists are not allowed to move forward and be known? Burr took that extra step and created something new for the world to listen to. All the singers were very comfortable with the words and melodies and presented the songs in the proper context.
Burr genius was shining when he chose the singers and the songs for them to sing. For he had three singers with three different voices and three different styles. Also, he had his lovely 14 year old daughter sing a beautiful song that presented the sound of youth in our day. She did a fantastic job. Father Burr was very nervous about this performance, but it came off just fine.
Burr presented them so professionally with his thought out introductions and the difficult task of counting off the right tempo to get the true flavor of the song. This was the flavor of the evening, introduction for the singer and the song, changing of instruments and the often critical step of counting off the tune. It is wasn't right, the tempo, Burr would stop the band and start over.
Let me introduce to you more about each musician and what I heard and saw this December Sunday in New York City: Ty Stephens is a swinger with a big smile, swing and happiness in his voice. He wants to have fun singing and let people enjoy his voice. His rhythm is very exacting and fits in with the melody and rhythm section. He was very easy to listen to and watch.
Hilary Kole is a diva and a beautiful woman, with her long hair and presence on stage. When she walked on stage she wanted you to know she was there. Her tone is like a bell ringing with the pitch right on with a straight tone. Then she goes into a vibrato in exact sink with the tenor. She sang Burr's very mystics songs and did it like a diva. Also, she sang a soft folk song. Kole has a gorgeous voice and a clear style of a Joni Mitchell.
Yaala Ballin is the mystic quiet jazz singer with her laid back style and clear voice. She was very respectful and quiet on stage after she walked up. She looked great and her presence was not domineering. Her voice and sound moved from one note to the next with the presence of a 'Frank Sinatra', but she favors the jazz style rather than the pop style of Sinatra. She sings a bossa nova like it was her natural instrument. We look forward to many great recordings from this young giant.
Jon Davis is the all around veteran pianist with great technique and musical accompaniment that fits in with what is going on. He also played a few major jazz solos. Davis is an asset in any band. He had his back to the audience so not too much to say about his looks.
John Hart (guitar) was the orchestrator of the band. He had so many different sounds coming out of his guitar. It simply was amazing. He had six foot pedals and two guitars to do this gig. Hart played some outstanding fusion solos and jazz solos. He communicated well with the tenor player, Joel Frahm, they played many duet solos through out the concert. Hart stood in front of the drummer so one could see him clearly the entire concert.
Joel Frahm was the featured jazz soloist in the band. I could only think Burr loved the sound of the tenor sax after performing with Stan Getz so many years. Frahm had a clear tone from the bottom of his horn to the high register. His solos were clear and well thought out like Getz would play, but he was more into the style of the jazz fusion players rather than the post modern tenor players. It was nice to hear a tenor player who knew how to blend with the other members of the band and not always try to take over with their 'power'.
Anthony Pinciotti, drummer, was the 'foundation' behind the group. Where I was sitting I could not see him for Burr and Hart covered him up. But, without a great drummer the band is kind of helpless, because if the right fills or feel is not there. What is the band to do? Well, Pinciotti had all the right fills, breaks, correct volume, and styles down. Burr of course knows what kind of percussionist he needed and he picked the right man for this group.
Finally, someone had the courage to try something new within the traditions of jazz and popular music. Burr did not go into the Coltrane area of free music which so many do today and call it creative. I hear so many copy cat bands here in NYC, but this band was reaching out for something traditional and new.
Jon Davis Hilary Kole Joel Frahm
Http://www.jonburrband.com Listen to the music here!