The Versatility of Jazz Songstress Roseanna Vitro
|singer Roseanna Vitro returns to town to perform 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, (John Abbott / October 28, 2013)|
Too long absent from the Hartford jazz scene, the savvy, deeply expressive singer Roseanna Vitro returned to town recently as part of Dan Blow’s popular jazz and cabaret series at Hartford’s Japanalia Eiko. She sang with her band that collaborated with her on her Grammy-nominated album, “The Music of Randy Newman.”
Versatility is one of Vitro’s key trademarks as shown by her three acclaimed, special project albums. Imaginative and deeply thought out, they’re homages to such diverse artists as Randy Newman; Ray Charles on “Catchin’ Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles” and Bill Evans on “Conviction: Thoughts of Bill Evans.” And in that same Vitro vein of versatility and variety, she’s ventured into wide-ranging, yet quite accessible explorations with one of her more frequent, favorite and finest collaborators, the great pianist Kenny Werner.
Some years back, Vitro, a native of Hot Springs, Ark., who grew up in rural Texarkana, Ark., converted local fans into Roseannaphiles with her appearances here, much as she has since charmed the international jazz community with her warm signature style. Hers is a perfect blend of Northern cool and Big Apple sophistication, mixed with a straight-shot of plain, old-fashioned Southern comfort.
Part of what accounts for Vitro’s versatility and open-minded approach to a wide variety of music and composers is that right from her earliest childhood days in the poor, rural South, she was surrounded in her family circle by all kinds of music.
“My mother and her family, who came from around Nashville, Ark., all sang. One of her brothers made gospel records when he was young with his wife, and two other brothers sang. Everybody sang, primarily gospel and country. So I heard a lot of that, and I had the gene for music right from when I was a little girl. I knew from when I was four that I was going to be a singer, and that was it,” Vitro says by phone from Flower Mound, Tex., a Dallas suburb where she was visiting family before flying off to her next gig in New Orleans.
“I just remember my mother with her beautiful alto voice singing all the time. She’s a jukebox. And at 87, she’s still leading a little choir in Ft. Worth. We always laugh when we say she has a direct line to Jesus. Anybody who wants to talk to Him can just go through my mother,” she says, recalling a childhood blessed with Biblical amounts of both sacred and secular sounds.
On the paternal side, for example, her colorful father’s musical passion ran in far different, more worldly directions.
“My father, John Vitro — the Vitro brothers came from Calabria, Italy — was a totally different entity. My parents were such an interesting pair because he was into Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Italian opera. It was like having Tony Soprano marry Loretta Lynn. Just imagine, my Dad had a personality like a mix of W.C. Fields and Rodney Dangerfield. He was a gambler and owned a nightclub called the Flamingo in Hot Springs, Ark. He was handsome and very Dean Martinish,” she says.
This birthright exposure to gospel, country, opera, pop, Dino and Frank, eventually led Vitro to blues, soul, R&B, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, rock, and other styles — all except jazz —- that caught her always wide-open ears and mind.
“I was well-rounded. In school, as I progressed, I sang in every possible situation. I sang in madrigal groups, in all-state choirs, in church, the VFW and in competitions singing Beatles’ songs. I studied theater music. I sang art songs in German, French and Italian,” she recalls.
Billed as the Vitro Sisters in their early teens, Roseanna and a sister began singing in local clubs, digging into hoedown songs like “Jambalaya” or celebrating their pop potpourri on live radio in Nashville, Ark.
Vitro has recorded a dozen critically acclaimed albums and toured the world as a premier vocalist, clinician, teacher and international roving jazz ambassador in the grand tradition of such global, good-will, jazz evangelist/diplomats as Louis Armstrong and Dave Brubeck.
A Jazz Ambassador
Articulate, diplomatic but also quite irreverently funny and down-to-earth, Vitro has served as an official U.S. Jazz ambassador for the U.S. State Department, The Kennedy Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center; performed with a legion of jazz heavyweights including Oscar Peterson, Joe Lovano and Fred Hersch; toured with Lionel Hampton (an early gig after arriving as a young hopeful in the jazz jungle of New York City); and recorded with comedian/songwriter/pianist and super jazz advocate Steve Allen.
Besides her world travels as a diplomat, performer, teacher and perennial student who studied classical Indian vocal techniques in Mumbai, she’s appeared at all of Manhattan‘s major jazz clubs — from The Blue Note to Birdland and the Village Vanguard.
Vitro sings with flawless intonation, pitch-perfect flowing lines and the ability to make the meaning of a song’s lyrics resonate. She exudes plenty of soul and exuberant delight in the storytelling elements of every song she sings.
When she moved to Houston and at age 21, Vitro forever converted to jazz as the one true faith.
“Once I fell in love with jazz, I never looked back,” she says of her lifetime marriage to the art.
Expect the unexpected from Jazz Singer Roseanna Vitro
DOWNBEAT -August – 2011 * * * * 1/2 Roseanna Vitro — The Music of Randy Newman — Motéma Music 63
When one considers songwriters whose canons might be interpreted by jazz singers, Randy Newman is quite the dark horse. His appeal is not in intriguing chord changes, harmonic possibilities or a rich melodic approach, but in a distinctive lyrical content. By turns witty, melancholy, ironic, satirical or sardonic–Newman is a wry observer of American life. The simplicity with which he tells stories –stating little and implicating more –marks him as a practicing master of musical Americana.
Singer Roseanna Vitro has her way with ten Newman originals, from his Warner Brothers period to the present. (He had a lengthy track record as an eclectic songsmith before he recorded in 1970.) She’s a passionate, expressive singer whose emotional streak never overrides her musicality. Nor do her musical flights interfere with the story of a song. “Sail Away”– a slaver’s advertisement –is sung with heartfelt sincerity, making it all the more laden with historic and social implication. She’s very effective on ballads and laments: her poignancy on “Everytime It Rains” and the haunting “In Germany Before the War: are near heartbreaking.
Vitro’s also a swinger and she expertly romps on a ripping “Last Night,” bossa treatments of “If I Didn’t Have You” and “Baltimore,” and the blues-tinged “Mama Told Me Not To Come.” Her soulful alto connects beautifully with Newman’s great feel for Southern music forms. Pianist Mark Soskin, away from his Sonny Rollins’ sideman role, accompanies effectively throughout, and Sara Caswell’s emotionally charged violin provides a sympathetic foil for Vitro. This album is awfully good. –Kirk Silsbee
“Roseanna Vitro “The Randy Newman Project” Vitro, always a fascinating jazz singer, expands her horizons with her new CD, in which she explores the far-ranging, emotionally diverse musical catalog of Randy Newman. It’s a remarkable album, and the live performance of its selections should make for a compelling musical evening. ” The International Music Review – Don Heckman http://irom.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/picks-of-the-week-june-14-%E2%80%93-19/
Love the Tylers review: http://thetylergang.blogspot.com/search?q=roseanna+vitro
Thank you to Robert Bush for your fine review of our concert at The Saville Theater for KSDS in San Diego on 9/20 in the San Diego Reader–
Read it on my blog and check out the photo’s : http://jazziam.blogspot.com/
Check out Andrew Gilbert’s article on Roseanna and The Music of Randy Newman in “The Berkeley Side” September 2011
Check out a new http://www.AllaboutJazz spotlight and free track of ‘Sail Away’ track at: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/showcase.php?id=1043
http://www.muzikreviews.com/reviews.php?ID=1623 ••••1/2 Donny Harvey MuzikReviews.com”From her sultry low end to her belting high notes, her delivery is right on time. Even more impressive, her ‘scat’ vocalizing is as perfect as any instrumental solo on the album, such as the piano and violin work on “Last Night I Had a Dream.” She’s a great jazz singer who brings a lot of heart to her craft. ”
Check out the latest reviews of “The Music of Randy Newman” in All About Jazz, The Jazz Page, All Music Guide, Metro Weekly, and PR Movie News! http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/7599966.html (Roseanna Vitro inspired by Legends) Houston Chronicle
Roseanna Vitro: The Music Of Randy Newman (2011)
Published: May 18, 2011
With Randy Newman‘s long-awaited Songbook Vol. 2 (Nonesuch, 2011) and vocalist Roseanna Vitro’s album-length salute to his music hitting stores a week apart, it would seem that it’s time for revived interest in all things Newman. While the singer/songwriter’s release is a solo journey through his own catalog, Vitro’s album presents ten of his pieces dressed in newly tailored arrangements from pianist Mark Soskin.
Vitro touches on material from throughout Newman’s storied career, but she tends to avoid the music that highlights his wry sense of humor and intentionally smarmy delivery in favor of narratives of all shapes and sizes. Some pieces receive radical facelifts (“Last Night I Had A Dream”) that brighten up the music and change the overall impression of the work, while others retain their original essence and are simply tweaked to fit this ensemble and genre of music (“Sail Away”).
While loyal fans of Newman’s music will likely know every tune on the program, from early-career landmarks (“Sail Away”) to latter-day songs of love and loss (“Losing You”), those uninitiated in the cult of his compositions will probably favor the two pieces from Pixar films. Vitro does a fine job on both, with “If I Didn’t Have You,” Newman’s Academy Award-winning number from Monsters, Inc. (2001) re-imagined as bossa-to-samba journey, and “I Will Go Sailing No More,” from Toy Story (1995), performed in an appropriately understated manner.
Violinist Sara Caswell is, with the exception of Soskin and Vitro herself, the most important part of this package. She crafts elegant lines (“Sail Away”), sizzles over some Brazilian beats (“If I Didn’t Have You”), marries sweeping gestures of sound with sadness and sunshine (“Losing You”), provides understated counterpoint, and helps to define the overall ensemble sound on this record.
Vitro is a storyteller nonpareil and a fine vocalist, with a voice that can comfortably go from tender (“Losing You”) to sassy (“Mama Told Me Not To Come Home), and her skills help to elevate the large majority of these pieces to great artistic heights. While the album does contain a misstep or two, like a take on “Baltimore” that lacks the necessary despair and seems to be draped in the wrong aural fabric, this has little do with Vitro’s vocals. The Music Of Randy Newman deserves to be heard, not only for its unique arrangements and finely crafted performances, but for the beauty and wonder that Vitro injects into the works of an American icon.
Track Listing: Last Night I Had A Dream; Sail Away; If I Didn’t Have You; Everytime It Rains; Baltimore; In Germany Before The War; Mama Told Me Not To Come Home; I WIll Go Sailing No More; Feels Like Home; Losing You.
Personnel: Roseanna Vitro: vocals; Mark Soskin: piano; Sara Caswell: violin; Dean Johnson: bass; Tim Horner: drums (1-5, 7-10); Jamey Haddad: drums, percussion (1, 2, 5, 6); Steve Cardenas: guitar (1, 2, 5, 6).
Record Label: Motema Music | Style: Vocal
Sail Away – The Randy Newman Project
Singer Roseanna Vitro has had great success with her strikingly soulful tributes to Ray Charles (1997’s Catchin’Some Rays) and Bill Evans (2001’s Conviction, Thoughts of Bill Evans). Her collection of radically re-imagined Randy Newman originals like “Last Night I Had a Dream,” “In Germany Before the War” and “Sail Away” provides sterling arrangements by pianist Mark Soskin and stirring performances by violinist Sara Caswell. Another triumph by the bluesy Jazz Ambassador from Texarkana.
Bill Milkowski JazzTimes, Modern Drummer, Guitar Player, Bass Player, Jazziz.
New Review; Live Performance “Sailing Away … to Lake George (Roseanna Vitro, Mark Soskin) “
Full House for American Jazz
|Roseanna Vitro and members of Jazz I Am band during the concert.|
On April 22, the Jazz I Am band, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, performed a standing-room only concert at the Opera and Ballet Theater in Astana. Earlier in the day, the members of the band, led by vocalist Roseanna Vitro, had conducted master classes at the Astana’s Music Academy. The concert was very well received by the horde of Astana jazz fans that filled every seat in the auditorium and spilled out into the aisles.
The Delirium Blues Project
” With her silken yet powerful pipes, Vitro ignites titles such as “ Half Moon, “ Jon Hendrick’s “ Blue” and Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” …(with) Vitro’s scorched- earth readings…(these) rise to the level of widescreen classics.
Ken Micallef Downbeat 2008
“Live at the Kennedy Center” top Jazz Albums of 2006 – IAJE Journal-Herb Wong -2007
“Vitro is a real Jazz singer in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald. She understands the tradition of “scat’, (her scat-improvisation reminds me of Clark Terry and Leon Thomas). But she never looses sight of the sense and content of her songs. Stephen Richter, Fono Forum – Germany – 5 stars – 2006
“This Washington performance is full of vitality and risk, yet avoids falling into the trap of jumping through hoops. With the pianist Kenny Werner leading a thoroughbred trio, the high point is a searching version of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.” Vitro isn’t the first jazz singer to be tempted by it, but this is the definitive version.
The Times of London – Clive Davis – 02/06
“Highly respected vocalist/educator Roseanna Vitro’s art equates to untainted class. With jazz piano great Kenny Werner and a crack rhythm section blazing forth, Ms Vitro’s impeccable diction, depth and sensitivity strikes a distinct chord here.” (Live at the Kennedy Center cd.) E-Jazz.com Glen Astarita – 2006 Highly recommended
“Vitro’s voice is an extraordinarily versatile instrument. Her rendering of Randy Newman’s touching “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” for example, displayed a dark, honeyed sound, simmering with just enough edge to emphasize the song’s enigmatic lyrics.” Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times – 02/07
“A first rate improviser…determined to use her voice with the same musical breath and density with which instrumentalists use their horns..” Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times
“She brings a hothouse sensuality to her music.” – Neil Tesser, Chicago Reader
“ A Resolute jazz singer with sure pitch and diverse repertoire…” Gary Giddins, Village Voice
“Vitro knows well the tricks of the jazz trade. She improvises, embellishes melodies, scats and most of all, swings…” James T. Jones IV, USA Today
“A pure and sultry voice…” – Mike Joyce, Washington Post
“[Roseanna Vitro is] arguably the most under-appreciated American song stylist on the contemporary jazz scene.”
“[She] knows how to woo and win an audience.”
Christopher Louden – JazzTimes Magazine 2006
Daily Star-International Herald Tribune: (from Roseanna’s set at the Beirut Festival on behalf of the American Embassy with Hilton Ruiz) “Vitro was a hit, (her) vocal range is reminiscent of one of her heroines, the legendary Sarah Vaughn… The inspired and very beautiful Vitro at front, is a vision that famous black and white jazz photos are made of. Her creative vocalese, her scatting and her presence are wondrous, and her calm affectionate rapport with the audience persuade you she shouldn’t stop.” – Ramsey Short, October 2003
Jazz Times: “(Vitro) sings like a velvet gauntlet, the smoky atmospherics of Morgana King, veiling the harder realities of a Carmen McRae.” – Fred Bouchard.
“(Vitro) has a tone and exuberance not unlike Nancy Wilson at her best.” – Ken Franckling.
Jazziz Magazine: “With a vibrant, full-bodied voice that dances in a passionate embrace with the melody, Vitro is a natural, riding the rich tones and languid elegance of the album’s 13 selections with a comfortable, confident voice.” – Wayne Saroyan. “With a voice the equal of Maureen McGovern’s and a sultry, quasi-Brazilian sensibility, Vitro is a very hot property.” – Wayne Lee.
USA Today: “Roseanna can sing rings around half the vocalists you can name. Her warm, confident clarity of tone is immediately noticeable, but most startling is her boldness of phrasing…” -Neil Tesser. “Vitro sounds like a jazzed-up Barbara Streisand. Both have pure, powerful pop voices. However, Vitro knows well the tricks of the jazz trade. She improvises, embellishes melodies, scats and most of all swings – fast.” –James T. Jones IV.
The Jazz Heritage Review (on Catchin’ Some Rays): During the past decade, Roseanna Vitro has been one of the most consistently stimulating of all jazz singers. Her soulful delivery and appealing improvising skills have been featured on a variety of recordings, but none more intriguing than this project. Tackling a dozen songs associated with the “Genius of Soul” Ray Charles (including some hits and a few under recognized gems), Vitro does the songs her own way, paying tribute to Charles’ delivery while giving each tune fresh interpretations. Joined by pianist-arranger Ken Werner, a top rhythm section, a few horns (including David “Fathead” Newman on tenor) and an occasional string section, Roseanna Vitro digs into such numbers as “Unchain My Heart,” “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’,” “One Mint Julep” and “You Don’t Know Me” in memorable fashion. – Scott Yanow
Miami Herald: “She is a jazz singer of formidable skill, and on Reaching For The Moon, she employs those skills with the touch of a master. She plays with meter, flirts with dissonance, bends notes into intriguing new shapes… she manages to make all of it sound as natural and effortless as breathing. Vitro’s voice is moist and inviting, as seductive as parted lips or a bedroom door left slightly ajar. Remember the name. Roseanna Vitro is one to watch.” –Leonard Pitts, Jr.
The Denver Post: “Roseanna Vitro sings jazz like she means it, the way Anita O’Day used to wail. …she understands lyrics, knows how to caress a melody and, most of all, swings like mad. Imagine Barbara Streisand as a jazz singer or Rosemary Clooney with a three octave range. Until I heard (her), I thought the most promising newcomer was Cassandra Wilson.” -Jeff Bradley.
All Music Guide To Jazz: “Although underrated, Roseanna Vitro’s versatility, sense of swing and highly appealing voice have made her on of the most consistantly interesting jazz singers of the 1990’s. She deserves much greater recognition.” – Scott Yanow.
Washington Post: “She shapes phrases like a horn player, infusing some words with rhythmic vitality and softly attenuation others, while never losing sight of the composers’ intentions. (She is) no slouch as a scat singer … a pure and sultry voice…she sang and scatted effortlessly, displaying the harmonic ease and rhythmic vitality of a veteran reed player…”-Mike Joyce.
New Jersey Star Ledger:”Vitro brings her own brand of passion and dramatically energized vocals to this material, making the album (Passion Dance) one of the best by a younger singer to come along this decade.” “Vitro has all the attributes of the greatest jazz singers; superb musicianship, indefatigable swing, the ability to improvise with clarity and wit, the inclination to take artistic chances and a flair for finding rare and unusual material.”-George Kanzler.
Los Angeles Times: “…one of the most gifted singers… a first rate improviser… determined to use her voice with the same musical breath and density with which instrumentalists use their horns… a performer that may well play a prominent role in the 1990’s.” – Don Heckman.
Chicago Reader: “Vitro sometimes sounds as if she could physically move the stage – reaching down for something slow and sultry, she brings a hothouse sensuality to her music. She has a hearty, slicing, no-nonsense voice and though she never loses track of the words, she thinks like a musician, specifically a hornman.” -Neil Tesser.
Village Voice: “A resolute jazz singer with sure pitch and diverse repertoire…” -Gary Giddens.
The Buffalo News: “(She is) a young singer of spirit and agility who seems to enthrall and enchant just about everyone who hears her.” –Jeff Simon
New York Daily News: “Roseanna Vitro is a super vocalist who… has the rare ability of being able to walk the delicate balance between the diverse worlds of cabaret and jazz, succeeding at both.” -Hugh Wyatt
New York Post: “… she displayed a big, warm voice, well controlled. Steady, true intonation. A sense of phrase and a concern for the weight and texture of the lyric. Roseanna sang with simple eloquence.. a fine singer, with exceptional vocal equipment.” -Richard M. Sudhalter
Baltimore Sun: “Vitro’s chief characteristic is a silky-smooth voice that is equally at home with slow and thoughtful songs, fast paced belters and most anything in between. In a word, Vitro and this album are dynamite.” –Kelly Gilbert
Cleveland Plain Dealer:”Whatever the genre, it’s all jazz when it comes out of Vitro’s mouth. Her contralto is supple and penetrating … Her voice melds the velour sadness of a Morgana King With the plain-spoken determination of a Carmen McRae. but what sets her apart is her phrasing: Fearless, elastic, it’s so free that even the most familiar tune takes on new shapes and meanings.” –Carlo Wolff
Downbeat: “…she has the unrelenting scatability of Ella Fitzgerald, the pristine elegance of Sarah Vaughan, the blues-bucket gutsiness of Aretha Franklin, and her distinct, clear voice.” – Michael G. Nastos
CNNfn.com / Palm Beach Post: “Roseanna Vitro is a top-notch New York jazz singer who should have a higher national profile. This tribute to pianist Bill Evans, using lyrics set to his music, highlights her strengths: intelligent taste, impeccable phrasing and a vocal arsenal that spans from scatty to bluesy to bell-like clarity. Vitro is another stylish jazzer whom Ken Burns overlooked. Don’t make the same mistake.” – Larry Aydlette
L.A. Jazz Scene: “…Roseanna Vitro’s interpretaions of a dozen Evans songs are particularly successful because her voice is lovely, flexible, quite expressive and features a fairly wide range. Vitro is heard in prime form throughtout the consistently inspired set. (She)always seems to know when it is best to improvise (she is a fine scatter) and when it is most fitting to stick close to the melodies and lyrics.” ***1/2 Highly recommended – Scott Yanow
The Star Ledger: “On Conviction, Thoughts of Bill Evans, Vitro meets the challenge. The album is very Evans in spirit, featuring (on different tracks) three pianists influenced by his style and approach: Fred Hersch, Mark soskin and Allan Farnham. Vitro approaches such songs as “Remembering The Rain,” “In April” “Letter To Evan” and “Only Child” with delicacy and grace, her restrained tone making the awkward (for a singer) intervals and leaps sound natural. This is a superior album of superior songs. **** Four stars – George Kanzler
allaboutJazz.com: “…if you can get past the first tune “My Bells” without hitting your compact disc player’s repeat button, each subsequent piece should provide continual delight as this newly released production translates into one of the most charismatic tributes of the year. Featuring ex-“Bill Evans Trio” bassist, Eddie Gomez, pianist Fred Hersch and others, Ms. Vitro effortlessly sings through a series of often irresistible story-lines along with brief interludes consisting of sanguine harmonies and melodious scat vocalise atop the band’s cheery demeanor. Thus, Roseanna Vitro’s homage to an influential jazz master, looms as a sterling and ebulliently produced effort, earmarked by her unyielding convictions set to song! Highly recommended. – Glenn Astarita