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Collaboration with Cole Porter takes pianist back 70 years

| Sunday, Aug. 22, 2004

Stride piano ace Tom Roberts is back from a trip through time, where he did some recording with Cole Porter.

The North Side keyboard wiz, who works about as steadily in New York City as he does here, just recorded two tracks with the famous composer -- or his voice at any rate.

The job spans 70 years, as Porter's vocals were recorded in 1934. The technology of 2004, however, made it possible to clean up and equalize the voice enough that the current musicians could play along.

The result has Roberts joining Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the period swing band, to accompany Porter on "Anything Goes" and "You're the Top."

The two songs are on the recording "Bluebird Presents 'It's De-Lovely,'" an album released in conjunction with the film "De-Lovely" starring Kevin Kline.

The songs with Roberts are the only two vocal selections on an album featuring performers from Sonny Rollins to Roy Rogers doing Porter tunes.

Modern electronics can't cure everything, though.

"His timing wasn't right on," Roberts says about working with Porter. "He was, shall we say, a little flexible in the way he sung, so you have to sit there with the cans (earphones) on and try to follow along."

Making a return

Guitarist Mark Elf calls his new album "Glad to Be Back" because he's happy to be alive.

"I'm counting my lucky stars," says the Long Island jazz star who has played at the James Street Restaurant on the North Side several times. "I really dodged the bullet."

Elf, 54, is a masterful player with an uncanny speed that lets him be a true bebop disciple. The new album, a three-star effort, shows that clearly.

But he was out of the scene for about a year after he had kidney surgery in December 2002 and then was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2003.

But he was back working on the new album in November and has written two instructional texts for the Mel Bay educational book label. He even has returned to gigging. A little of it, at least.

"I'm not doing as much of it, just because I don't want to mess with all the hassles," he says.

It's nice being able to sidestep those problems. He and I have talked many times about the difficulties of selling a jazz career: marketing albums, lining up club dates, dealing with crowds who aren't too interested in the music.

Once at the James Street club, he irked several regulars by chastising them for being loud.

He doesn't sound unhappy at limiting his club dates to places where attention is more expected.

But he doesn't sound like he's going to slow down much more.

"I'm gonna keep doing this if I can," he says.

Album reviews

  • "4 Robin" (AAM Records), Dwayne Dolphin. Playing his guitar-like piccolo bass, Dolphin shows a more pop-oriented side to his playing. But the album has Miles Davis classics as well as "People Make the World Go Round." He is joined by a current lineup of Pittsburgh jazz stalwarts on this delightful outing. Three stars (out of four)

  • "Live at MCG With Special Guest Kurt Elling" (MCG Jazz), Bob Mintzer Big Band. This live album recorded at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side is a good display of the Mintzer band, but the presence of Elling on three cuts lifts it even beyond that. Three stars

  • "Coral" (Columbia), David Sanchez. The saxophonist proves he is one of the best in jazz on this collection of tunes by composers including Antonio Carlos Jobim and Hector Villa-Lobos. He is backed up by a combo and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in a release that straddles jazz and classical. Three and 1/2 stars

  • "Saxophone Summit" (Telarc Jazz), Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman. The tunes are not memorable, and one, "A Gathering of Spirits," actually is annoying in its free-form noise. But the play of these three sax giants is marvelous. Three stars

  • "Centerpiece" (Origin), Giacomo Gates. Singer Gates surrounds himself with great sidemen, but he is clearly is the biggest reason for the success of this album. His neo-hipster singing is sometimes almost satiric, but his voice and phrasing are consistently excellent on tunes such as the title track and "How High the Moon/Ornithology." Three stars

  • "Nightfall" (Naim), Charlie Haden and John Taylor; and "Land of the Sun" (Verve), Haden and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Bassist Haden and pianists Taylor and Rubalcaba take two vastly different approaches to jazz. The bassist and Rubalcaba perform small-group Latin jazz with people such as sax star Joe Lovano. Haden and Taylor perform mostly originals, but have one by British composer William Walton. Three stars for each

  • "Haiku" (Marsalis Music), Joey Calderazzo. This pianist has moved from talented sideman to creative trio leader to, now, remarkable solo artist. He does good versions of songs by others, but is most impressive on his own originals, such as "Bri's Dance" and "Chopin." Three stars

  • "The Nearness of You" (Banister), Nicole Henry. This singer shows why songs become standards. Because they are great, that's why. With a fine trio backing her, Henry cruises easily through familiar songs that just don't seem dated. Three stars

    DVD reviews

  • "In Concert" (J.L.P. Productions), Jean Luc Ponty. The violinist always has given his driving jazz a distinct voice. While the music is stylistically similar to that of the past, the tunes are fresh and fun. This concert recorded in Warsaw is a lively outing that is reflective of his work. It also is available on CD. Three stars (out of four)

  • "Rosemary Clooney: Girl Singer" (Concord), Rosemary Clooney. This disc blends performances from the singer's TV show in 1956-57 with observations from people such as her brother and sister and singer Michael Feinstein. Not only is it a good sampling of her marvelous voice, but an interesting sample of TV in the early days. Two and 1/2 stars

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