Midnight Jazz

Tonia Tecce’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ is ‘immaculately produced…timeless, classic’

July 14, 2008
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Reviewed by Vivian Fields

Tonia Tecce/What a Wonderful World

What a Wonderful World is not the kind of album you’d expect from an unsigned artist. Usually a record such as this – immaculately produced, lushly arranged, backed by real orchestras including the Philly Pops, the New Jersey Pops, and the Newark Symphony – stems from an ambitious dream that only major labels can fulfill. I won’t even attempt to guess how expensive this CD was to create. But, when you’re handling a class talent with a stunningly beautiful operatic voice like Tonia Tecce, there shouldn’t be any holding back. That isn’t hyperbole, either; this is a woman who has performed at Carnegie Hall.

The orchestral sweep of “It Could Happen to You” and “Dream Medley” takes you into another realm, a world of beauty and wonder; Tecce’s uplifting soprano becomes one with the instruments, as if she is carried by their winds. At times, her singing reminds me that of Julie Andrews but with a more operatic flair. On “O Mio Babbino Caro,” Tecce’s voice is so haunting that I feel like I’m listening to vinyl from a half-century ago; you can almost imagine the snaps and pops in the tune. It’s a tie for who has the most powerful instrument on What a Wonderful World: Either Tecce and her vocals or the tools of the symphonies who are supporting her here.

Fabulous, timeless, classic.



Hailing from Pittsburgh, the Soiree Band makes Big Band music with a sweet voice

June 24, 2008
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Written by Vivian Fields

One of the year’s most delightfully charming surprises in the jazz field is the wonderfully titled No One Claps for the Low Notes by the Soiree Band. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Soiree Band is Big Band jazz with a powerhouse vocalist,Christina Cataldo, who has a sweetly intoxicating voice that leads, rather than follows, the army of instrumentalists surrounding her. Drummer Reid Hoyson spoke to Midnight Jazz about this special unit.

Vivian Fields: Your vocalist, Christina Cataldo, has a strong, soulful voice that seems to have stepped right out of the ’40s. How did you find her?

Reid Hoyson: I had been looking for a singer for a while and she was referred to me by another singer in the Pittsburgh area.  Christina at the time had just graduated from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, as a music theater major.  Maureen Budway, who suggested I contact her, is a very good singer as well, and said that she was ” the real deal.” So I couldn’t wait to hear her sing, and when I did I just loved her. She is young but can sing any style with ease. Unfortunately for the band, she moved back to New York to try theater performance. She is only in her 20s so I expect we will be hearing about her.

Fields: Just how big is the Soiree Band? How many members in all?

Hoyson: The new CD has two sections, the larger big band and then material with rhythm and five horns and a vocalist. The group started as a trio with myself on drums, Bruce Wallace on bass and Victor Garzotto on piano.  We brought in various guests to play on our first CD, Soiree.  That was in 1998. We now have added Ray Defade, Sr. on sax and flute, who also does a great job of arranging for the band. He is definitely an important part of this whole organization. I had always wanted to do a big band project, and I knew Ray could do the writing. “Soul Searchin'” is an original of his.

Fields: When the Soiree Band performs live, do you have this large ensemble?

Hoyson: We usually can get away with seven pieces. Every once in a while we can add two more horns and go out with nine people. But for the most part we use two horns, trumpet and sax and rhythm with guitar also. It is really hard to find clients to pay for that many musicians.  In the jazz clubs, of which there are not many in Pittsburgh, we can go with only five pieces. We do private functions as well and play all kinds of music, as you can hear on the CD. But whatever we do, the arrangement are good, the tunes are good, and we always leave plenty of room for improvisation. We all have strong jazz backgrounds, so that is important to all. But I still think you can go out and do a private function and play some great music for people, even if it isn’t a jazz gig.

Fields: How did the group get together?

Hoyson: I had gotten to the point where I wanted to have the opportunity to have some input as far as what music was to be played, and we all know the way to do that is to have your own band.  So with our little trio, as I mentioned earlier, as our basis, I began to expand the size of the band and build a nice book of arrangements with Ray Defade’s help. Ray writes the arrangements so that they work with any number of horns. How flexible we all must be in today’s music world. The next step was this recording, which I did at
Audible Images in Pittsburgh. I waited for a year for the completion of the studio, but I think you will agree it was worth the wait. They have a great facility and are producing Grammy winners every year.

Fields: When did you first become interested in jazz? Who or what provided the inspiration?

Hoyson: I think I was born with the desire to play drums and was immediately interested in all kinds of music. I had a music teacher named Gus Dolfi who had a big band, and he made sure I could read and play all styles. He had me learn all the Latin rhythms which I love playing to this day. And how to kick a big band. He would have me sit in with his big band when I was in high school.  I played rock & roll because I grew up in the ’60s, loved the Beatles and soul music.  Then it was Bill Evans and jazz trios. I played with three great Pittsburgh piano players, with upright basses and real pianos when I was young. That’s really hard to come by these days. I loved to watch Buddy Rich play. Influenced by Harvey Mason, Airto, Peter Erskine,
Mickey Roker.


Laura Pursell’s ‘Somewhere in this Room’ is ‘meticulously crafted and classically arranged’

June 2, 2008
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Reviewed by Vivian Fields

Laura Pursell/Somewhere in this Room

Laura Pursell’s Somewhere in this Room is too beautiful to be categorized as Adult Contemporary. Given that the genre has embodied too much cheese the past couple of decades, laying the Adult Contemporary tag on this meticuously crafted and classically arranged project is too superficial. The first five or so minutes of Somewhere in this Room, the opening “Overture,” is a sweeping instrumental piece that’ll leave you breathless and in awe with its waves of lush violins and evocative piano. Pursell doesn’t even sing on it; it isn’t until the second track, “When You Come Down,” that Pursell is introduced, seducing us with a fragile voice as sweet and warm as Karen Carpenter’s in her prime.

From “Overture” you get the impression that Pursell will pursue chamber-pop on the rest of the CD. Not at all. Pursell veers from the bluesy regrets of “Not Much to Lose” to the bossa nova charms of “When You Smile” to the orchestral masterpiece that is the title cut. Producer Andrew Bonime does an outstanding job of keeping the record consistent even when Pursell strays from one genre to the other. The album is not meant to be sliced into pieces on an iPod; it must be experienced from beginning to end, letting its various parts melt into each other to produce a massively satisfying and hauntingly pretty whole. Somewhere in this Room is nothing less than a work of art.


Singer/model Mary Fakhoury discusses eclectic music, speaks out on industry

April 28, 2008
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An Interview with Mary Fakhoury

Written by Vivian Fields

Mary Fakhoury is not an easy artist to catagorize, but the dreamy soulfulness of her voice transcends any stylistic leap-frogging. On her aptly titled five-track EP Universal Worlds, Fakhoury challenges the listener with a decidedly varied menu, everything from piano jazz covers (the immortal “Someone to Watch Over Me,” delivered here with character and palpable longing) to world music (“El-donia,” sung in Arabic) to French balladry (“La Vie En Rose”).

Vivian Fields: There’s an eclecticism in your music that many artists today simply aren’t capable of fulfilling. Have you always had a larger vision of what you want musically? How did this come about?

Mary Fakhoury: When we are asked as listeners what kind of music do we like, we normally have a variety: jazz, pop, opera. So if we are capable to do so as artists why can’t we create music that falls under different genres? My image of music is larger than life; my syles and love for what I do are always changing. I have been told that my mind works a million miles a minute, but I am so greatful for these gifts. I am super creative and think outside the box always. I think [that’s because of] the exposure that I had growing up the child of singers, I was exposed to everything on a daily basis, Arabic operas to Indian music to Frank Sinatra.

Fields: Why do you think there’s so few women being played on the radio these days?

Fakhoury: I don’t know why there are fewer women being played on the radio? Maybe because some of them are to busy getting into trouble, who knows, but I know there are some amazing singers on the up and coming. The radio does not always display the best, just the ones who made it.

Fields: You’re a model as well as a singer. Which came first: Your desire to model or create music? Describe the genesis of each career move.

Fakhoury: My desire to create music has always been a first. I went into modeling to help bring me out of that shell of fear of being in the entertainment business. I’ve really been modeling and singing and acting at the same time, but music was definitely the first of my ventures. I work in Chicago as a print model, and I also do some acting gigs. I love all three of them, but music is my baby.

Fields: Do you feel that jazz music has become too much of a boys’ club lately?

Fakhoury: Yes, I do feel jazz has become a bit of a boys’ club. I don’t know why so many female artists are flocking to pop; they can do a little of both if that’s their style.

Fields: So many female artists these days, no matter what the genre, fall into the industry trap of wearing scantily-clad outfits and outrageous behavior to promote themselves. What are your thoughts on that, honestly speaking?

Fakhoury: I’ve never found that to be attractive. There is a fine line between being sexy and being vulgar. Much of what we see today is vulgar; you show too much and you leave nothing to the imagination. Let’s take Marilyn Monroe as an example of sexy. She is no doubt the sexiest woman on the planet, but what made her so sexy? Was it that she went out to public places without wearing underwear? (We don’t know; she didn’t show it.) No, it was her personality, beauty, and natural flirtiness that oozed sex appeal without being vulgar. She had “it” and knew how to use “it.” It angers me how many of today’s female artists take that vulgar route. If it’s to sell more than your not being true to your art, because it’s not who you are. I have had to overcome so many barriers going into music because of the strict Middle Eastern upbringing I was raised in. My parents thought that I would have to become sleazy or trashy, and that’s simply not true. Why can’t we take the classy artists as examples who count on their vocals to get them through a show and their other amazing talents, not how tight and scantily-clad their outfits are? Vulgarity is a dime a dozen, and I choose to be a diamond in the rough. I don’t want to rely on my looks. I want to rely on my talent and my brain. Sex sells but it doesn’t make it right. We are artists, aren’t we? Selling our music?

Fields: What musicians are role models for you? Do you have any?

Fakhoury: I have many musicians that are role models. I am really old school with a new age twist. I love Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, and yes, Madonna. I know she has done some really shocking things, But I have never seen a more intelligent artist with a drive and ambition to keep going. You have to be special to stay in the market as long as she has. My dad is a role model, too; he gets on the stage and he owns it.

Fields: Where were you born and raised? Did you come from a family that loved or created music, too?

Fakhoury: I was born in Michigan, and raised in Chicago and Los Angeles. I came from a music family, my father is one of the best in his genre of music and has been touring and performing since he was eight years old, in Arabic.

Fields: How long have you been doing music?

Fakhoury: I have been doing music for the last 10 years now. I got a little later start because of the walls placed in front of me. My parents did not allow me to sing; now they see the light and understand it’s not the profession – it’s the person. You can be a “doctor” and be a sleaze bucket.

Fields: What excites you more: Being onstage or in front of a camera?

Fakhoury: Being on stage is more exciting. You have a live audience; it’s your one shot. You can’t say, “Can I do that over?” It will be disastrous. But being on stage, for sure, it’s euphoric.


‘Charmed’ brings new life to torch songs

February 21, 2008
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Reviewed by Michael Sutton


Valentine’s Day may be over, but that doesn’t mean you still won’t be Charmed by Torch. Showing no fear – and remarkable confidence – in performing jazz standards with new original material of their own, Torch display class, good taste, and overall stellar musicianship. It all begins at the top with vocalist Seela Misra, whose late-night crooning is as sensual as it is soothing, especially on “Just Say the Word,” probably one of the most romantic and fetching numbers on here, and the instantly lovable “Alone Together.”

However, it’s not just about the slow-dance picks. “Is It Enough” and “My Baby Just Cares for Me” are driven by Misra’s animated performances. They serve as an example of how a strong vocalist, one with a vivacious personality, can elevate songs to another level. Experience, too, is key; this doesn’t sound like the work of newcomers but people who are so familiar with this genre, what really makes it tick, that they can invigorate it with their own distinct vision.

The drumming is particularly special, giving the tracks a solid foundation as on “Is It Enough” and “Caravan,” the Duke Ellington classic. Some people might pitch this to only an older crowd; however, that would be a mistake. Real music transcends age groups, and even kids who aren’t familiar with torch songs will register with the emotions and passions conveyed on Charmed.


Posted in Jazz Vocals

About author

Julian Wilson, Editor, has been writing about different genres of music, from jazz to techno, for nearly two decades in print.