Roberta Donnay
Roberta Donnay





Musicians can take on the role of anthropologist, curious about what came before in music and how musicians reflected their world around them. Award-winning vocalist and songwriter Roberta Donnay is that rare species of musician who almost lives in another time, as she and her Prohibition Mob Band exist to revive the Jazz Age of America.

On the heels of their beloved A Little Sugar release comes their second Motéma Music release, Bathtub Gin (January 20) which, like A Little Sugar, mines 1920s gems but also takes the listener on a stroll into the 1930s. A seductive vocalist, Donnay and her band swing mightily with this authentic collection of vintage jazz, blues and swing that introduces listeners to the swing era with its jump-swing rhythmic horn sections and new dances. Donnay also includes four party-rousing shout-chorus originals that evoke and revive the open spirit that birthed jazz.

The petite redhead with the engaging smile has great passion behind her enthusiasm for the Prohibition era and American roots music. Besides the music, one of my favorite things about this music is the spunk it reveals, a survival spirit. The women who sang – and in some cases wrote – these songs are heroic to me. Their attitude and energy is strong, confident, courageous, humorous and vibrant. They’re no pushovers for any man. Women and men alike were wrestling with massive changes in society and the world. Jazz was their freedom music.

On Bathtub Gin, which she co-produced and co-arranged with Sam Bevan, Donnay imbues classic songs with a contemporary verve while also managing to capture the spirit of her musical predecessors and an emerging America. Honoring the tradition of such seminal singers as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Sippie Wallace, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker, Donnay’s spitfire is on display with the raucous original title track that opens the set. “Why Don’t You Do Right” brings out her sassy side some more. “If You Want the Rainbow (You Must Have the Rain),” follows, perhaps summing up Donnay’s artistic and life mantra. “Wake Up and Live” is the answer to recovering from loss and is kicked off by a blazing trumpet call to order. “Just What the Doctor Ordered” pairs Nicolas Bearde’s warm voice with a honeyed vocal by Donnay. “When I Take My Sugar to Tea” evokes a hot New Orleans afternoon. “Shake Sugaree,” another pensive song also about loss, is followed by the original, “Throw Your Heart Over the Fence,” which features her band pleading to let loose. “(We’ve Got To) Put The Sun Back in the Sky” is another playful rebound tune and features catchy vocal harmonizing and soulful piano. “Happy Feet,” which Donnay co-wrote with Bevan and Motéma Music founder and singer/songwriter Jana Herzen, features a chorus of horns and Donnay’s lithe, persuasive voice asking us to get up and dance. A heartbreaking version of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” a 1920’s song made famous by Josephine Baker, is next before Donnay puts her distinctive stamp on the saucy classic, “Kitchen Man.” Another classic, Charlie Chaplin’s original song “Smile,” is treated to a smoky horn opening. Like “Kitchen Man,” the playful original “Horizontal Mambo” captures the double entendres common to the era. The set closes with “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.” Donnay’s voice floats in and out, illuminating not only the pain but also the wistfulness of the song and of the era.

Featured performers on the recording are Donnay’s Prohibition Mob Band: John R. Burr, piano; Sam Bevan, bass; Michael Barsimanto, drums; Rich Armstrong, coronet, trumpet, flugelhorn; Sheldon Brown, saxophones, clarinet; and Wayne Wallace, trombone and also arranger for “Horizontal Mambo.” Guest artists are: Nicolas Bearde and Annie Stocking on vocals; Deszon Claiborne on drums; Danny Grewen on trombone; Steve Malerbi on chromatic harmonica; and the Shout Chorus made up of Rich Armstrong, Sam Bevan, Sheldon Brown, Deszon Claiborne, Danny Grewen and executive producer Eddy Bee.

Bathtub Gin is another significant achievement in Donnay’s colorful and productive career as a producer, performer and songwriter. Always writing, Donnay has had many of her songs selected for multiple TV and film placements and has served as a music supervisor for movies. Also a producer and a journalist, Donnay understands how music can help tell the story of issues and events. Her song “One World,” an ASCAP Composer Award-winning song, was selected as a world-peace anthem for the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations and was the theme for World Aids Day in South Africa.

A longtime resident of the Bay Area, Donnay has been a singer and percussionist with the iconic band Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks since 2005. Her own band, The Prohibition Mob Band, is well known out west and tours frequently.

 Shares Donnay, I’m honored to have the opportunity to record and perform this music, to carry forward a piece of this legacy, and I hope I can inspire others to re-discover this music and the reasons we fell in love with jazz. Jazz was the music of the people and the music of freedom. Now, more than ever, I feel we need the encouragement, wisdom, and the courage to question authority. Time for a new renaissance!



Artist News

January 16, 2015

Vocalist and songwriter Roberta Donnay is joined again by the Prohibition Mob Band [ More ]

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