A set of sophisticated reinterpretations of 20th century standards from writers as diverse as Cole Porter and Randy Newman.
The arrangements encompass energetic swing and soulful balladry while embracing a range of styles from gospel and hip hop to bossa nova and even Motown-inflected pop. Coolly updated show tunes rub shoulders with radically altered 60s pop favourites.
Mark’s debut recording takes a fresh look at classics of the great American songbook.
The Way I Am is produced by BBC Jazz Award Winner Anita Wardell and features some of Britain’s finest instrumentalists including Robin Aspland, Barry Green, Jeremy Brown, Steve Brown and Tristan Mailliot.
Mark Jennett offers up a fresh tenor voice on Everybody Says Don’t. Here he takes 14 mostly un-worn songs by well-worn composers … and approaches them in a way that grabs your attention to the lyrics and [makes you] believe in his delivery.
His often theatrical style is, at times, similar to Andy Bey, and one becomes very aware of words and storylines. This is a singer who makes things he approaches matter. Even though his treatment of a song like You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught is upbeat and celebratory, the juxtaposition of the lyrics with the music, takes away from neither. Nicely backed by a capable quintet, this is a stylist to watch for.
London-based singer Mark Jennett has released a new CD and he knows and shows that a flame kept low for a slow-burning fire can be more effective than the dramatic, fiery, attention-grabbing vocalizing many prefer. It takes talent and focus to be mellow and yet mesmerizing. Mark takes the tempo and drama in low gear, but never sounds dispassionate or too offhand.
With his spare approach, ever open to subtle shifts in emphasis and taking liberties with notes, he is often more the actor-interpreter than the Broadway-beamed grandstander. A quiet confidence informs his stance and phrasing, with vulnerability perhaps cloaked in a jazz man’s hip assuredness. While he doesn’t use a lot of vocal heft at all, or showiness, there’s no doubt of his inherent musicality and grasp of the material. There’s a respect implied and an understanding when he and his arranger go into uncharted waters. Jennett and Geoff Gascoyne, the arranger-producer-band member (bass, organ, synthesizer and glockenspiel) have the rare ability of making songs sound in the moment and owned, without the whiff of gimmicks.
The impressive band, which gets some generous-length instrumental time slots on the 14 tracks where vocalist Mark powerfully – sorry, gently—makes his mark quite quickly and comes back for the finish. Keyboardist Rob Barron, trumpeter Martin Shaw, drummer Sebastian de Krom and sax/flute man Andy Panayi make for an ensemble that works well together and separately. Moods set are intensified or expanded with the instrumental breaks that don’t feel like “breaks” from the established moods and attitudes. Most tracks are longer than four minutes, so there’s a no-rush, no-hurry feel. Plenty of time, but no time to be bored. It’s engaging. Even at his cooler jazz turns, there is always something going on, something at stake, when this singer is digging into material. Like his first album, 2009’s The Way I Am, this offering has representation by Cole Porter (“Just One of Those Things”), Cy Coleman (“There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”), Randy Newman (“Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear”) and Rodgers & Hammerstein (“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”).
Purists who don’t like their show tunes and contexts shaken up much may raise eyebrows and even bristle when all musical shackles are shorn. Gypsy’s “Some People” has more grit than unbridled rage and bravura. He includes discarded sections found in Sondheim’s book of lyrics, “Finishing the Hat,” like “Some people can sit around, under glass ’til they’re underground.” It may not be the clear-eyed 100% determination we think of with this number, but the judgments and rejecting of expectations are there in spades. And I pick up some sad worry that adds its own drama. Somewhat similarly, Sweet Charity’s “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” rebellion is strengthened by its weakness—maybe this is as good as it gets, will he succeed and find something better? Mark won’t go down without a fight. “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here” from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever becomes surprisingly hip. And while it may seem sacrilegious to scat-sing during “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” South Pacific’s specifically intense philosophizing about prejudice, there’s still some attitude in there that kind of works. Certainly this album is full of surprises.
Pop songs suit Jennett as well. Sung back to back, Bacharach/David ’60s items avoid the trap of the seductive melodies hijacking the meaning of the words: “Are You There (with Another Boy [Girl])” shows some insecurities and sorrows and the tainted-as-male-chauvinist “Wives and Lovers” led to a lengthy disclaimer and theorizing on his website. I miss some of the expected light playfulness in Randy Newman’s quirky “Simon Smith and His Dancing Bear,” but I enjoy the clarity and ease of the vocals and like hearing bass and piano exploring it. Atypically sustained notes on the final word of the lyric here and on “On Slow Boat to China” (Frank Loesser) show that the guy has more vocal power than his clipped style betrayed. The “Boat” ride is choppier and more assertively rhythmic than I’d want for the loneliness and insecurity this number can have in a more mature setting. But its details and embellishments somewhat make up for the bulk of the treatment being less sympathetic. However, Paul Simon’s “Train in the Distance” captures a bittersweet pensiveness that makes it an album highlight.
Clearly Mark Jennett is not a cookie-cutter vocalist. With eclectic material, he still makes it all sound like he’s living in the skin of each song. And he has that very rare ability to make a song you know by heart still touch your heart and seem to reveal new facets in a new light.
Jazz Rag Magazine
Mark Jennett is a singer of considerable ability, refreshingly original in his treatment of items from the Great American Songbook (Sondheim, Bacharach, Gershwin, Porter et al) as part of a fine band with intriguing arrangements by Geoff Gascoyne. But most intriguing of all is Jennett’s ability to act as a sixth instrumentalist, improvising over and around the chord sequences in a manner that brings to mind Mark Murphy.
Consider Are You There (With Another Boy); Jennett glides in over a gentle backdrop from piano, bass and drums, nimbly negotiating chord changes with great aplomb. Wives and Lovers is taken uptempo, with Jennett unafraid to take liberties with the phrasing to great effect, and fine solos from Andy Panayi (tenor) and Rob Barron (piano).
Jennett’s total confidence is shown on How Long Has This Been Going On, when the vocals are on a par with the instrumentals with Jennett seemingly walking a tightrope but always ending on the correct note. It’s the total confidence that Jennett has in his improvisations that make these performances – Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here is a joy, whilst Oh, Look At Me Now has Jennett dueting with Geoff Gascoyne’s bass, displaying such musical confidence.
To echo There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This, on this standout performance, I really can’t imagine what that might be. Five stars, as they once used to write.
From the syncopated electric piano riff that gently propels ‘Are You There (With Another Boy) forward, to the slinky, head-nodding take on ‘How Long Has This Been Going On’, to the pared down voice, bass and drums interpretation of ‘Oh, Look At Me Now’, Geoff Gascoyne’s arrangements are first rate.
Kicking off with the adrenalized title track, taken from the Sondheim musical Anyone Can Whistle, this hugely enjoyable 14-track collection from vocalist Mark Jennett presents a mix of standards, show tunes and pop classics. From the syncopated electric piano riff that gently propels Are You There (With Another Boy) forward, to the slinky, head-nodding take on How Long Has This Been Going On, to the pared down voice, bass and drums interpretation of Oh, Look At Me Now, Geoff Gascoyne’s arrangements are first rate.
A second Bacharach/David song, Wives and Lovers, takes on an entirely different character recast in a grooving 5/4, while Jennett’s storytelling strengths come to the fore in Some People (from the Sondheim/Styne musical Gypsy). A typically inventive reworking of Frank Loesser’s Slow Boat To China brings the album to an exuberant close. Throughout, Jennett’s understated approach is enhanced by the warm, expertly balanced recording (take a bow Derek Nash).
All About Jazz
On Everybody Says Don’t, his second album, London-based singer Mark Jennett joins a bunch of top flight instrumentalists, including producer Geoff Gascoyne, on a collection that takes in an impressive array of songs, composers and moods. Great songs, interpreted with style.
Jennett opens up with Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t,” taken at speed. Gascoyne’s acoustic bass and Sebastian De Krom’s drums move the song forward with swing and precision, Jennett’s vocal is suitably emphatic and Rob Barron’s swift and percussive piano solo is all-too-brief.
The pace drops for a ballad reading of Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things”: sadly, a little too slowly to retain interest, but it’s a brief drop in quality. Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got To Be Taught” follows on: a bright, up-tempo, rendition that sparkles with energy. Andy Panayi solos on tenor and flute; Hammerstein’s lyrics have a very contemporary message; it’s a fine ensemble performance. “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” gets a stripped-back, blues accompaniment (Barron’s outstanding again, this time on electric keyboards), Jennett trading the optimism of the Sweet Charity version for something less hopeful.
On Joe Bushkin and John DeVries’ “Oh, Look At Me Now” accompaniment is supplied by Gascoyne, on acoustic bass, and De Krom, sparingly but once again with swing. Jennett responds with one of his best performances. Two Bacharach and David songs, beautifully performed, offer stark lyrical contrasts. Jennett captures the singer’s suspicion and anxiety on “Are You There (With Another Boy)”—the tale still resonates, even if internet streaming might now replace the radio. The melody of “Wives And Lovers”—performed here in 5/4—is still gorgeous, but reminders to the wives to look their best to keep their husbands from straying (“men will be men” after all) don’t sit comfortably today even if David may have been less than serious.
Two of the finest songs could be said to come from the New American Songbook. For Paul Simon’s “Train In The Distance” Jennett is tender and romantic. Gascoyne adds a touch of glockenspiel to Randy Newman’s “Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear,” highlighting the song’s odd, fairytale, storyline. Jennett sings with such honest acceptance of the tale that it’s not hard to imagine the vocalist wandering into London’s finest establishments alongside his hirsute (and potentially fierce) companion.
Altogether, Everybody Says Don’t stands as a fine showcase for songwriting, music production and performance. Jennett is a singer who understands and immerses himself in the stories the songs are telling: it’s a talent that shines through on this enjoyable album.
Bruce Lindsay, All About Jazz, 1st Sept 2014, allaboutjazz.com
Singer Mark Jennett has been a fixture on the London Jazz circuit for a while. Writer and singer Tamsin Collison interviewed him about his route into jazz, his influences, and his forthcoming album ‘Everybody Says Don’t (Release date September 15th, launch September 16th).
Tamsin Collison: Mark, writing about your new album, Ian Shaw describes you as a singer “who sideswipes the deluge of post Sinatra crooners – yet homage to the great swinging vocal tradition is ever present.” How much have you been influenced by the American Swing tradition?
Mark Jennett: My Mum listened to music a lot and my two favourites when I was little were Frank Sinatra and Dusty Springfield. Mum had the EP of ‘Songs for Swingin’ Lovers’ and I learned ‘It Happened in Monterey’ note for note from the record. I loved Sinatra’s phrasing and I guess I learned from him that you don’t have to be confined to the original notes and phrases of a song, although it was a while before I could put a name to that and call it jazz. I think what I loved about Dusty was how she always told a story and that there was always so much honest emotion in her singing.
TC: Any other key influences?
MJ: Anybody who sings in their own voice, who doesn’t fake it. I loved Julie Andrews as a child, I think because she was so unaffected, and I was also an Aretha Franklin fan. I particularly loved the background harmonies on her records. My childhood ambition was to be a backing singer for Aretha, or better yet, for Gladys Knight. I really, really wanted to be a Pip. The first instrumentalist who struck a real chord with me was Dexter Gordon.
TC: So how did you move from aspiring soul diva into jazz fan?
MJ: I loved music, but at school I just couldn’t find anybody to play it with! I was into pop, soul and American swing, but everyone else was in punk bands. Much later, I began attending jazz courses at the City Lit. I think all the years of listening to Frank & Co had given me a stronger technical foundation than I realised and I found that things like responding to what an instrumentalist plays – and that they will also respond to your choices – felt very natural. Then I went on some intensive residential course where I finally found other people to play with and things took off from there.
TC: When did you start to perform in public?
MJ: I started out on the open mic circuit, which is absolutely terrifying. I have the greatest respect for anyone who does that – it takes real guts. Then, ignorance being bliss, I managed to blag my way into a playing gig at the Vortex pretty early on.
TC: How did your first album come about?
MJ: Things were starting to happen in terms of gigs when I suddenly got seriously ill and had to stop performing for a while. While I was recuperating, Anita Wardell suggested that I try putting an album together which she would produced. That album, The Way I Am, was a quite a learning curve. We had the basic arrangement ideas and then the band fleshed them out in the studio as we recorded. We only had one properly formal arrangement – pianist Rob Barron set Paper Moon for me. I loved that but it’s only now that I’ve had the opportunity to do another album entirely composed of tailor-made arrangements.
TC: Which leads us neatly onto ‘Everybody Says Don’t.’ Tell us a bit about this new release.
MJ: Everybody Says Don’t came about as a result of my meeting Geoff Gascoyne who, as well as being a great bass player, is a brilliant arranger. Like me, Geoff is influenced by a huge range of musical styles, and I knew he had done a couple of albums featuring jazz arrangements of pop tunes. Originally I just asked him to arrange a couple of songs I was struggling to put together myself but, when we started work, it was clear that we had a lot in common musically (and that I could learn a lot from him!) and we decided to develop an album of new arrangements together. We both have very eclectic musical tastes, so the tracklist combines songs that come from the fields of pop, soul and musical theatre as well as American standards. We have tried to take familiar songs and invite people to maybe think about them a bit differently.
TC: Some examples of those familiar songs?
MJ: Quite a few: while some people see Wives and Lovers as just patronising and sexist, I’ve always thought it’s more of a ‘be-careful-what-you-wish-for’ song – maybe Hal David was thinking of all those unhappy wives we now see in ‘Mad Men’ – so now it’s in 5/4 with some wonderfully dark harmonies. We’d both separately had the idea of doing Just One of Those Things as a ballad. Geoff reharmonised it brilliantly and, for a change, it now comes from the viewpoint of the person being dumped rather than the dumper. You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught from South Pacific has important things to say about how prejudice develops and I think bringing out the prettiness of the tune somehow makes the message starker. It’s amazing how a new arrangement can transform the interpretation of a familiar song.
TC: Did you have a concept for this album?
Mark Jennett: Originally, it was just a personal take, musically and emotionally, on some songs that I feel very close to. However, reviewing the final tracklist, I realised that a lot of them question whether people should need or have to conform – and to whose rules – which is something I feel quite strongly about.
Tamsin Collison: Thanks, Mark. A pleasure chatting to you and best of luck with the launch.
London Jazz News,18th August 2014 www.londonjazznews.com
Another peek ahead to an early autumn release, this from jazz singer Mark Jennett with his band of bassist Geoff Gascoyne, pianist Rob Barron, drummer Sebastiaan de Krom, trumpeter Martin Shaw, and saxophonist/flautist Andy Panayi.
Opening with the Stephen Sondheim title track a song that featured in the second act of the 1960s musical social satire Anyone Can Whistle the horns riffing energetically against the up-tempo vocal line. Jennett has a soft light voice with good diction that compares a little to Ian Shaw’s sound and there’s plenty of mobility in his jazz referencing beyond his show sound. The Bacharach/David element of the album (Are You There (With Another Boy) and Wives and Lovers) is where Jennett emerges best, the band responding especially well to Gascoyne’s quite superb arrangement of Wives and Lovers. Barron’s stealthy opening to Some People sets the atmosphere of the song very strongly, and Jennett develops a nuanced hesitancy in his interpretation to match.
Juxtaposed against the gospelly chords of There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This Jennett easing into the song, later How Long Has This Been Going On moves a little bit too much into the laidback cabaret domain despite the fresh little shuffle from de Krom at the beginning, but Jennett is more convincing on Cole Porter’s Just One of Those Things one of the more serious interpretations on the album.
Jennett folds in songs by Paul Simon, Jimmy Webb, and Randy Newman to sit with the jazzier Great American Songbook treatments, the Simon song Train in the Distance particularly coming off well. I wasn’t so keen on the overly syncopated Slow Boat to China at the end however Jennett is worth discovering, and there’s plenty of interest to enjoy provided by both singer and band.
By Stephen Graham, 5th July 2014, Marlbank
Reviews for the way I am
‘A lovely collection of standards’ is how Ian Shaw refers to this album, and he’s spot on, as usual: give or take the odd Randy Newman song and a closing blues (Willie Dixon’s ‘Little Red Rooster’), this is exactly what talented debutant singer Mark Jennett serves up on this lively and consistently listenable album.
Jennett is not one of those intensely emotional singers who wear their bleeding hearts on their sleeves; he is, rather, of the Ella school, relying on faultless diction and interpretative intelligence to get the lyrics across (and his choice of standards, it must be said, is impeccable in this regard: ‘Day In Day Out’, ‘I’ll Take Romance’, ‘Too Marvellous for Words’, ‘You Go to My Head’, ‘Easy to Love’ have seldom received more sensitive treatments, their every word made to count, their every internal rhyme subtly emphasised, their wry humour and wit skilfully drawn from them).
Given Jennett’s pleasingly informal but technically assured delivery, songs such as ‘The Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ and ‘The Song is You’ reveal felicities custom may have staled for some listeners, and overall, with Robin Aspland/Barry Green (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass) and Steve Brown/Tristan Mailliot (drums) providing impeccable support, this is a wholly likeable and assured album.
Chris Parker, Vortex Jazz
A bright debut… He delivers on a convincing set of standards with his supple turn of phrase assisted by the lively comping of pianist Robin Aspland and others.
Rooted in an easy high baritone, his smiling, rhythmic style stands out and there is an intelligence in his approach to standards. Accompanied by some of the country’s best musicians there are some nice arrangements here, particularly Willie Dixon’s ‘Little Red Rooster’.
A warm, clear voice… the lyrics shine through beautifully. Fine work by the backing musicians.
The Pink Paper
Mark Jennett is a welcome addition to the small roster of that rare beast, the male jazz singer. On this, his new album, The Way I Am, Mark has assembled a first rate team of Brit players and with the guidance of the very fine Anita Wardell as producer, turned out a lovely collection of standards. His clear voice is well suited to Mercer, Arlen and Porter and on Randy Newman’s I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore and the Willie Dixon song Little Red Rooster he shows us his soulful, bluesy side.
When I listen to classic jazz songs I want to hear the melody, the lyric, the wit, the sadness, the joy, the love, the irony and the sensuality.
I want to hear it all, sung with a voice that sings and a band that swings. A band that gives a singer space, and rips into solos giving the whole set drama and dynamic range. Telling me the tale in a personal way.
I want to close my eyes and imagine they are in the room with me, or I am in some intimate place near the band lost in the Music, a glass of good wine in my hand and good company by my side.
The Way I Am delivers this to me. Mark has all this with warmth and tenderness and a smile you can almost touch, simmering just below the surface on songs such as Too Marvellous, The Surrey With The Fringe On Top and naturally, I’m All Smiles.
From the opening tenderness of Day In Day Out to the louche Little Red Rooster through Its Only A Paper Moon taken away from the four on the floor swing, giving it a lightness of touch… this debut recording from Mark Jennett is a treasure.
Great debut album, great band and great arrangements! Mark has a clarity of tone and diction that make for effortless listening, and many jealous Jazz singers!
Great choice of songs, fantastic backing musicians and a vocalist on his way to a great career.
Mark Jennett is an asset to the jazz world and has arrived at the right time. The Way I Am is a winner.
David Mossman, founder of The Vortex Jazz Club