THE ROYAL BOPSTERS PROJECT
A Stunning Multi-Generational Vocal Summit Bringing Vocalese into the Present While Honoring Its Rich Past.
“a magnum opus of jazz and song”– Michael Bourne, Singers Unlimited, WBGO.org
The Royal Bopsters Project is a singular recording with a one-two vocal jazz punch. It simultaneously introduces a powerful new vocal jazz quartet –Amy London, Darmon Meader, Dylan Pramuk & Holli Ross – while it serves as a stellar vehicle to honor five of the most influential jazz vocalese legends of all time: Mark Murphy, Bob Dorough, Jon Hendricks, Sheila Jordan, and Annie Ross. This epic and historic release is co-produced by Motema artist Amy London with vocalist/arranger Darmon Meader. Sadly ‘Royal Bopster’ Mark Murphy, who sings wonderfully on four tracks on this record, passed away on
October 22nd, just a month after the release of the album. Fortunately he was able to witness the success of the release before he passed.
Critical Acclaim for the Royal Bopsters Project:
“A magnum opus of jazz and song, gathering and celebrating bop and vocalese with the best (and last) of the definitive jazz singers … “ – Michael Bourne, Singers Unlimited, WBGO.org …
– Christopher Loudon, Jazz Times, (A JazzTimes Best Album of 2015)
“Sensational new vocal jazz quartet, London, Meader, Pramuk and Ross…” –Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal
“This project unites a new voice in Jazz Quartet singing, whose ideas are fresh and plans are set…If all musical projects could be this well programmed…” – C. Michael Bailey, Allaboutjazz.com
“What an uplifting and thoughtful programme The Royal Bopsters Project is. I cannot think of a more memorable recital as heady as this by Amy London, Darmon Meader, Dylan Pramuk and Holli Ross and featuring The Royal Bopsters Mark Murphy, Sheila Jordan, Annie Ross, Jon Hendricks and Bob Dorough. I am tempted to say that this might be one of the finest four-part-harmony-plus… that has been put down on record. In glowing voices London, Meader, Pramuk and Ross rip through a richly imagined ecstatic and deeply felt repertoire made even more spectacular with The Royal Bopsters themselves on eight of the twelve songs. More riveting music there has not been since the Manhattan Transfer recorded Vocalese in 1985…” – Raul Da Gama, (Jazzdagama.com)
“Killer stuff that crosses every type of time and tide divide you can imaging. Check it out…” – Chriss Specter, Midwestrecord.com
“More than a tribute …. It’s a living, breathing participatory memento of new meets old…great choices of original and standard material–all done in the classic mode of bop singing exemplified by these giants of scat and song…” –Andrea Cantor, The Jazz Police
“Crack harmonizers Amy London, Darmon Meader, Dylan Pramuk, and Holli Ross breathe new life into the decidedly hep tradition on The Royal Bopsters Project, a lush and lively new album that spans the generations and includes appearances by vocalese masters Bob Dorough, Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross…” – Richard Gehr The Village Voice
ABOUT THE ROYAL BOPSTERS PROJECT:
With singers ranging from age 33 to 93, The Royal Bopsters Project is a multi-generational vocal summit on which the talents of singers London, Meader, Pramuk and Ross unite in harmony to pay tribute to the art of vocalese singing and to the forefathers and mothers of their favored art form. This homage features five vocalese pioneers, each of whom helped to invent the bop-vocal or ‘vocalese’ art form. Six-time Grammy nominee Mark Murphy (1932–2015), considered one of the most influential vocalists in jazz, appears on four tracks, including an outstanding new version of Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” a song which stands very tall among Murphy’s many breakthrough recordings. Four of the ‘Bopsters’ – NEA Jazz Masters and Grammy Award-winners Jon Hendricks (b. 1921) and Annie Ross (b.1930) who represent two thirds of the pioneering vocalese group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross; NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan (b.1928); and Arkansas Hall of Famer and Schoolhouse Rock mastermind Bob Dorough (b. 1923) have one feature track on this recording.
Four years in the making, The Royal Bopsters Project was initially conceived by producer/vocalist/arranger Amy London as a twilight years feature for her musical hero and close friend Mark Murphy, who she cites as a key influence, (as do scores of other successful jazz singers.) One by one, the other ‘Royal Bopsters’ signed on for the project at London’s behest. “ I can’t believe my luck to have all of my vocal jazz heroes on this one recording,” says London, a jazz vocal hero herself at this point, having helped to found the prestigious New School Jazz BFA Vocal program, one of the first and most respected such programs in the country, out of which many top young vocalists have emerged. “I wanted to honor these elders and bring their music to a new generation who may not be aware of their importance to this music.”
London, who has released two acclaimed albums on Motema (When I Look in Your Eyes and Let’s Fly), happily returns to her group singing roots with The Royal Bopsters Project. London was just 19 when she first saw Mark Murphy perform at the Blue Wisp in her hometown of Cincinnati. It was Murphy’s show that inspired her to pursue a career as a jazz singer, which has led her to many prestigious endeavors, including an extended run as an original cast member chosen by Cy Coleman for his Broadway hit musical, City of Angels.
In 2010, Amy and her longtime group-singing pal, Holli Ross, went to visit Murphy, then 78, to cheer him up after health issues caused him to move to the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, NJ (not far from London’s and Ross’ homes). The three became fast friends as London and Ross visited regularly and took their vocal hero on outings to clubs in NYC and to London’s classes at the New School. In fact, the initial spark of this recording was a 2011 concert that London staged at the New School to feature Murphy. For that show, she put together a ten student jazz choir, which included one of her students, Dylan Pramuk, a young and gifted bop bass vocalist and arranger from the West Coast, as a key member. Also featured were Holli Ross and London herself, who sang the soprano lead. The concert was a resounding success, and London immediately recognized that the one-night collaboration was greater than the sum of its individual parts. With her own soprano, Pramuk’s bass and Ross’ alto in place, she just needed a tenor to round out a new quartet that she envisioned that night. Fortunately, she was able to tap the talents of her dear friend Darmon Meader to join and to eventually co-produce this recording.
It took three years for the recording to come together, due mainly to the schedules of the four other vocal legends that London recruited as the project evolved. While Murphy was the ‘featured star,’ eventually the guest list expanded to include four more masters: Bob Dorough, the famed pianist, singer, composer, songwriter, arranger and producer, who shines here on his own “Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before;” Jon Hendricks – who more than lives up to his monikers, the “Poet Laureate of Jazz” and the “James Joyce of Jive” in his lively vocal banter with Pramuk on the opening track; Sheila Jordan, who proves here, with her alluring version of Horace Sliver’s “Peace,” that, as Scott Yanow once wrote, she is still “one of the most consistently creative of all jazz singers” not to mention that, as Charlie Parker used to say, “she has million dollar ears;” and Annie Ross, who, according to Rex Reed, personifies “a master class in how to sing jazz inside out, upside and down.”
( Ross touchingly sings her NEA Jazz Master’s acceptance song “Music is Forever” by Russ Freeman for which she wrote lyrics that eulogize the many lost greats of jazz.)
Providing instrumental support to this incredible compendium of vocal prowess are four musicians who are more than up to the task. Pianist Steve Schmidt, a close friend of London’s from Cincinnati, played for many years with Murphy at the Blue Wisp in Cincinnati as well as on the road. Bassist Sean Smith also played with Murphy for many years, and is the composer of the gorgeous “Song for the Geese,” the title tune of a 1980’s Mark Murphy record, which Murphy says was one of his favorites of his career (and for which he wrote the lyrics.) Drummer Steve Williams worked with Shirley Horn, (Murphy’s favorite singer), for 30 years, and percussionist Steven Kroon, well versed in the art of rhythmically supporting singers, has performed with such vocal icons as Luther Vandross and Aretha Franklin. In addition to this strong cast of players, bassist Cameron Brown, who counts Sheila Jordan among his mentors, and guitarist Roni Ben Hur, make guest appearances on the album.
The repertoire on The Royal Bopsters Project spans three generations of swinging songwriting, brought into the present day by additional lyrics from various members of the ensemble, and by inventive arrangements primarily by Meader and Pramuk. The 1940’s are represented by a swinging quartet version of Annie Ross and David Ball’s “Let’s Fly,” (with a brand new vocalese chorus composed and lyricised by London, who also sings lead), as well as by Charlie Parker’s “Chasin’ the Bird”, updated here to “Bird Chasin’” – also featuring fresh lyrics by London. On “Bird Chasin’,” Murphy reanimates the beat generation with an energetic reading from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Tribute is paid to the 1950s with such standards as Branislaw Kaper’s “Invitation” and Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues,” as well as the quartet’s creative new rendition of “Basheer’s Dream” by Gigi Gryce. The 1960s represent via Bob Dorough’s “Nothing Like You,” and a vocalese version of Roger Kellaway’s “Step Right Up,” for which Holli Ross wrote new lyrics. Penned in the 1970s is Murphy’s vocalese version of Freddie Hubbard’s bop-funk classic, “Red Clay.” Murphy’s lyrics first appeared on his 1975 Muse album Mark Murphy Sings, and appear again here with a vigorous and fresh new take. Another Muse release, 1981’s Bop for Kerouac, which many consider to be Murphy’s greatest recording, featured Murphy’s vocalese take on Miles Davis’ “Boplicity;” here the ‘Royal Bopsters’ harmonically propel this classic into the new century, with new lyrics again contributed by Holli Ross. Noted author James Gavin provides the liner notes.
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