Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A New Standard: Amanda Cohen

When I was a young man, which seems like ages ago, I was a student at the High School of Art & Design in New York City.  It was one of those special schools made up of students from every part of the city.  We had to take a test to gain entry, and only about 1/3 of the students who took the test would be accepted.  I was one of the lucky ones.  I say lucky because if I had to go to the high school in my home district, I would have gone with the same kids who were in my junior high school,  and that wasn't appealing to me and I would not have had the good fortune to have met some of the best people I have ever known and am still friends with after 45 years.  What I was really glad about was that I would be in a school where the kids, most of them anyway, were more bohemian and had interest in art and music, unlike the school I came from, which was just a bunch of kids who didn't seem interested in much of anything except hanging out on the street, looking, talking and acting stupid.

Amanda was in my very first homeroom class at Art & Design and sat in the third row third seat and I was in the fourth row 4th seat.  We never really spoke to each other much but she always had a nice disposition.  She always had a smile on her face and I never saw here behave in a way that was off-putting or snotty like some of the girls could be.  After graduation, I didn't see or hear from her until years later when we had one of several high school reunions.  What I would have never guessed is that she had been involved in music, performing on stage and singing in with a group called the Earth Angels, doing songs from the 50's and early 60's.  Now she has released a recording on her own of some of the best known American standards.  

It has been common that many rock and pop vocalists have tackled the Great American songbook, usually in an effort to revive their careers or maybe they really liked the songs and wanted to try their hand at it.  The great standards provide so much material for the instrumentalist and vocalist to showcase how they can take a familiar song and shape and interpret it in a unique way, because these songs never get old.  They have melodies and lyrics that have withstood the test of time, and frankly, if you want to be a great player or singer, you have to know your standards.  

This brings me to Amanda's new recording, A New Standard.  This won't be a typical review, with an analysis of each song and commentary about how she sings it, the arrangements, etc.  All the songs have stood the test of time, so whether or not any of the songs are a particular favorite of yours is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that are they sung like so many other singers have done before? I have to say no, because Amanda has her own voice to sing these songs, and honestly upon listening to this recording, there is no one else I could compare her to, which is really a good thing.  I mean, there are several vocalists I've heard recently that are Billie Holiday clones, and while I do like what they do, it still reminds me of Billie Holiday.  Not a bad one to emulate, but when I hear them sing, I think of Billie Holiday, not the singer doing the song.  When I hear Amanda, I hear Amanda, and that's what I want to hear from any vocalist, themselves.  

Okay you might say, she is a friend of yours and all that, but what has this got to do with a saxophone blog?  Well, the horn arranger for the big band on this recording is Jim Hoke, a veteran sax and harmonica player from Nashville, where Amanda recorded this.  If you don't know who Jim Hoke is, here is a link to his web page:  

His list of accomplishments and who he has played with and for is a mile long. That by itself gives Amanda's recording a lot of credibility. 

As I said, I will not review this recording song by song.  I happen to like it a lot, plain and simple, and so the best thing to do is to is to provide the links where you can hear samples for yourself and then do yourself, me and especially Amanda a favor and download the recording here:  

 Check out these links while you're at it:

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