A debut album, like the first flickering glimmers of a morning
sunrise, is a special event, uniquely full of hope and promise.
How grand it is to be able to report that this initial recording
by vocalist Sherri Roberts is a many-splendored outing that
welcomes into the fold one of the most impressive singers to
come along in years. Her technical gifts, most notably a crystalline
purity of diction that is a delight to the ear, are complemented
by the intelligent use of a warm mezzo voice that conveys a
lyric's sentiment like an old friend sharing good news. In short,
I fully expect this talented lady to turn more than a few discerning
heads with the performances collected here.
in Atlanta, Georgia, she first embraced jazz during a stay in
Boston (a town that has always smiled on the music, and gifted
us over the years with such formidable thrushes as Teddi King
and Frances Wayne). Today, based in San Francisco, Sherri has
evolved into a true scholar of popular music with a deep appreciation
for its heritage. She freely cites such diverse influences as
Ella Fitzgerald, Carol Sloane, Helen Merrill, Chet Baker and
Shirley Horn. She was even privileged to study briefly with
Jeri Southern, forging a simpatico bond that was sadly interrupted
by Southern's untimely death.
labels "cabaret performer" and "jazz singer" are needlessly
constricting when applied to a versatile artist like Sherri
Roberts. She has an adventuresome repertoire, and can roam through
both Tin Pan Alley and the unconventional charts of more modern
day talents with equal facility and charm.
"The arrangements for this album were fairly spontaneous," she
recalls. "The music was put in front of the musicians about
a week before the recording." Fortunately, the players joining
her in the studio were also talents of the first order. Musical
direction and the majority of the arrangements were placed in
the worthy hands of bassist Harvie Swartz, noted for both his
work as a group leader and his collaborations with vocalist
Sheila Jordan. Other arrangements and ideas came from imaginative
and dexterous pianist Mark Soskin, who can proudly boast of
being one of tenor sax titan Sonny Rollins' preferred side men.
The studio crew was capably fleshed out by Jeff Williams on
drums, Keith Underwood, flute, Lenny Hochman, bass clarinet,
Anabelle Hoffman, cello, and Bob Ward, guitar.
title track, "Twilight World," is an all too seldom heard gem,
with a lovely melody by Marian McPartland and typically evocative
lyrics by the master, Johnny Mercer. You might recall a fine
recording of this song by Tony Bennett some years ago, but Sherri
succeeds in making this property entirely her own. In a gracious
note, Ms. McPartland herself praised this performance as "very
musical and altogether pleasant to listen to."
"I Remember You" is another inspired Johnny Mercer lyric, intro
duced in 1942 by Dorothy Lamour in the Paramount musical The
Fleet's In. The words and accents are remarkably "singer
friendly," and Sherri obviously enjoys caressing the pretty
open-vowel sounds in a manner slightly reminiscent of the wonderful
Early" is something else entirely, a technically daunting instrumental
from the brilliant Bill Evans, with lyrics later added by Carol
Hall. "Piano players can't even play that one in tune," quipped
Harvie Swartz. "It's a tough one." Both Sherri and Mark Soskin
meet the challenges flawlessly.
"Roundabout" was often cited by composer Vernon Duke as one
of his two personal favorites (along with the perennial Autumn
in New York) from among his many outstanding tunes. Sherri
was captivated by Ogden Nash's lyric, a bittersweet story of
someone unlucky in love, which she does full justice.
Happy Madness" is the other side of the relationship coin, a
buoyant bossa nova from Antonio Carlos Jobim, with a giddily
romantic English lyric by Gene Lees. The alto flute work of
Keith Underwood contributes mightily to this infectious performance.
instrumentation on "This Is New" is also key to the finished
result As Sherri ably sells a truly surrealistic lyric (recall
that this song was introduced by Gertrude Lawrence during a
dream sequence in the 1941 musical play Lady in the Dark), the
Klezmer tinged clarinet of Lenny Hochman adds to an ambience
that Sherri properly dubbed "Afro-Judaic, with some babaganoush
on the side!"
in June" is a favorite from the Hoagy Carmichael songbook, graced
by Paul Francis Webster with the kind of lyrics that make the
tune an experience you can taste, smell and feel. Sherri, with
a storehouse of Southern memories, is an ideal candi date to
conduct the down-home images straight to the heart of even the
most jaded Yankee listener.
on no other tune in this collection are Sherri's interpretive
powers given a finer showcase than on "Emily," a gorgeous Johnny
Mandel melody enhanced by yet another brilliant set of Johnny
Mercer Iyrics that was featured in the 1964 film The Americanization
of Emily. It's a seemingly odd choice for a female vocalist
that Sherri transforms into a natural, approaching the sentiment
from a third person standpoint and wringing out every last drop
of beauty in a lilting, waltz-like performance that is sure
to linger in your memory.
time ago, Sherri decided that an intriguing performance concept
would be an extended set of songs about springtime (ideally
to be performed during that most verdant season), which she
entitled "Suddenly It's Spring." Excerpted from that cycle here
are her versions of that title song and "Take a Chance on Spring,"
a bebop romp by Tadd Dameron that allows for bracing interaction
between pianist Soskin and drummer Jeff Williams.
album concludes on a high note with Sherri's richly textured
performance of her own Iyric to Dave Brubeck's "Summer Song,"
here entitled "Song of Summer." Inspired by a solo interpretation
of this tune by pianist Jessica Williams, Sherri used that arrangement
as a point of departure and crafted a piece intended to convey
the "lush heaviness" of her childhood's southern summers. Needless
to add, she succeeded in winning fashion.
can only hope that this collection will be the first of many
visits to the melodic twilight world of Sherri Roberts. If you
love good music, it's a richly rewarding, very pleasant place
to spend some quality time.
Joseph F. Laredo, popular music historian for Capitol,
PolyGram, MCA labels, etc.