A chance meeting online paid dividends for Beverley Beirne when top New York keyboards player/record producer Jason Miles – of Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross fame – offered to work with the Yorkshire-based singer and her band in the studio. Dream Dancer is the second album to result from the partnership. Feature by Rob Adams:
The four days that Beverley Beirne spent in the studio with her band and American producer Jason Miles turned out to be very productive. Not only did the Yorkshire-based singer’s 2018 release, Jazz Just Wants to Have Fun, materialise, but the follow-up – her third album – Dream Dancer, which is released on 5 July, resulted from those same sessions.
“They’re quite different,” says Beverley. “Jazz Just Wants to Have Fun was a collection of songs from my youth that weren’t previously associated with jazz singing, whereas Dream Dancer, although it has occasional surprises such as David Bowie’s Let’s Dance sung as a samba, is much more from the jazz tradition.”
Teaming up with New Yorker Miles, whose previous work includes creating the synth programmes on Miles Davis’ 1980s albums and sessions with Aretha Franklin, David Sanborn and Luther Vandross, was a result of Beverley’s husband Mark befriending Miles on Facebook.
“Jason had posted an article on his Facebook page about how the producer’s role was really valuable but not necessarily valued,” says Beverley. “So Mark asked him if there were any producers in the UK he could recommend. It turned out he didn’t know any but when we sent him some music, he said he was planning a trip to Europe and offered to work with me while he was over.”
Beverley had recorded her first album, Seasons of Love, without a producer and quickly found that the points Miles made about the producer’s role in his article were valid.
“We’d arranged the songs that became Dream Dancer and gigged them, so we were all quite familiar with them,” she says. “I didn’t want them to sound over-polished, which is maybe what I associated the term ‘production’ with. I wanted a clear sound, with everyone able to be heard, and to have the feel of a gig. So, I sang live with the band and basically Jason nudged us to get the best performances possible.”
For Beverley, the most important aspect of singing is that the listener believes the lyrics.
“I like melody and that might be the first thing that draws me in,” she says. “But the words need to tell a story that I can connect with and ultimately project to an audience and put my own stamp on.”
Two of the songs on Dream Dancer come from the rich catalogue of the late Greenock-born saxophonist and composer, Duncan Lamont, with whom Beverley worked for a few years on his Duncan Lamont Songbook shows and who died in 2019. Beverley had already planned to include Lamont’s Now We’re Just Friends. Then, the night before the recording, he called to say that he’d added words to Old Brazil, a tune he’d written for the children’s television programme Mr Benn. So it, too, was included, with Lamont contributing saxophone, Jason Miles adding strings and top Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo and percussionist Cyro Baptista guesting.
“I grew up watching Mr Benn on television and had been asking Duncan to write lyrics to Old Brazil for ages, so I’m very proud to have that on the album, especially with Duncan playing on it,” says Beverley.
Lamont also played on Now We’re Just Friends and Miles added strings to Temptation, which Beverley first heard Bing Crosby singing through her parents’ record collection. Miles also played Fender Rhodes on Let’s Dance.
“Jason added those touches after he went back to New York,” says Beverley. “Apart from those tracks, though, and Bill from Show Boat, which is voice, flute and piano, it’s me and my regular band, pianist Sam Watts, bassist Flo Moore, drummer Ben Brown and Rob Hughes on saxophone and flute. That’s the way I wanted it because I want people to hear what they get live and when we get back to playing gigs, which will hopefully be soon, if they buy the album, they can go home and listen and say: yes, that’s what we’ve just heard.”
Dream Dancer is released on 5 July.
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