Robin Phillips writes:
My new album, ‘Sing. Play.. for Pleasure’, is the culmination of two year’s discovering, listening, learning, sharing, enjoying, transcribing, arranging, recording, editing, mixing and mastering. I first discovered vocalese singing on the closing credits to the ‘Bird’ movie, then, just as Harry Connick Jr acted as the doorway for me into jazz as a teenager, Georgie Fame’s more recent vocalese album ‘Poet In New York’ got me fully into the vocalese artform and so I started looking up who were the main players and buying CDs. I listened to Eddie Jefferson, Kurt Elling, Lambert Hendricks and Ross, Mark Murphy, King Pleasure, Bob Dorough, and many others. Whilst I appreciated the skill of all the above it was King Pleasure’s voice, lyrics and delivery that I really connected with.
I became more and more immersed in King Pleasure’s voice, his clever wordplay, how he could find wonderful new ways of extrapolating the original song’s lyrics or meaning, to fill the huge word count required for a vocalese solo. Rather than say ‘I’ll know more in a few years’, he would say ‘if we just wait until we’ve made a few more trips around the sun perhaps I’ll know much more about it then’, awesome. Another factor that drew me to him was how few people know of King Pleasure (not King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys) or anything about him.
Discovering more information about King Pleasure was much harder than I thought, the same snippets of info kept coming up online. This led me CD liner notes first and then to vinyl, for the information on the sleeves, which has restarted a love-affair with this medium that will now continue.
In order to add something new and personal to the project, I started looking for solos to write some original vocalese to. I wanted to choose a much more modern song but soon realised that the best bet was to do as the greats had: find a melodic solo on an instrument close to the human voice. I ended up choosing Chet Baker’s solo to Let’s Get Lost and Jon Hendricks’ scat to No More Blues.
The other challenge I had to overcome was working out the correct lyrics to the existing vocalese solos that I was going to cover. Unlike most modern songs or jazz standards it is not as simple as searching for them online, and they are not really printed anywhere. Many of the original vocalese recordings are also not of great quality making it even harder to work out the lyrics by ear. In the end it came down to close listening, and a bit of help from the wonderful Anita Wardell.
Then, on the Friday before hitting the studio I received another King Pleasure vinyl album in the post. I’d got it hoping to find the original source of the Pleasure liner notes where he talks about his philosophy of Planetism and to my disappointment it was not on it. But to my utter delight I discovered two pages of liner notes about King Pleasure’s role in vocalese, jazz singing, and ‘moving the idiom forward’, written by the legendary (and still gigging in his 90s!) Jon Hendricks. What was more, they were written in rhyme, and also said (more eloquently than I ever could) almost exactly what I felt about Pleasure myself. I decided then and there and then that I simply had to record the liner notes and that is what is used as the text for the Liner Notes track on the album. Jon Hendricks has listened to this and given it his approval which was another great moment in realising this project.
This journey has been so inspiring, and if it draws even a few people to the work of King Pleasure then it will have played a role in keeping great jazz music alive. Even though King Pleasure only recorded a few dozen tunes and, it seems, disappeared suddenly off the scene, he along with Eddie Jefferson, was a founding figure in the concept of vocalese singing. As Hendricks says in his liner notes, how many can say they moved an art-form as ancient as singing, forwards. During this journey, I have learned so much about singing and jazz, so something that started off as a simple concept for an album, has turned into a pilgrimage.
Sing. Play ..for Pleasure is launched at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Feb 2nd. Tickets HERE
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