You Are There is Shawnn’s sixth recording and her third for Whaling City Sound. She enjoys the company and support of two distinguished trios. The first six songs are with her regular working trio: Michael Renzi on piano, Dave Zinno on bass and Steve Langone on drums. The second half, recorded earlier on a session at Brooklyn’s revered Systems Two studio, features Kenny Barron on piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Trombonist Steve Davis and trumpeters John Allmark and Joshua Bruneau also add their contributions here.
Overall, the repertoire is split between standards—done in Shawnn’s uniquely tasteful and swinging way, and numbers that are less well known. In both instances, Shawnn makes her interpretations look easy, effortless. This, as most singers know, is quite difficult, but is what serves to separate Shawnn’s work from so many other jazz vocalists. She sets as an example, the example, a prototype, for how to deliver a song credibly, whether it’s an old chestnut or a lesser known gem. Shawnn makes it look easy.
Shawnn recently retired as Adjunct Professor at the Hartt School/Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz in Hartford after 14 years in the classroom. As an educator, she also taught at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. In all three schools, she was a mentor, a role model and a guide to a number of aspiring vocalists.
Shawnn is fortunate to be accompanied by a couple of monster of jazz: Mike Renzi and Kenny Barron. Renzi spent years as music director for Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Freddie Cole, and Sesame Street. He is a master at creating the almost invisible space required to accompany a great singer; you need to be present, strong and beautiful, while at the same time making sure that people barely notice what you are doing. On You Are There, Renzi heightens, rather than takes away from, the focus on the vocalist. He plays ballads, the American songbook, or burning bebop, always just right for the time and place. His duet with Shawnn on “Never Let Me Go” is a perfect example of Renzi’s ability to do precisely what is needed to serve the song in the most efficient and tasteful way possible.
Kenny Barron has earned the respect and attention of appreciative audiences worldwide since his arrival on the scene as a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s band. His exquisite, ever-present touch and effortless rhythmic feel are among the assets he explores in order to create a performance that is somehow both comforting and dazzling.
Nat Reeves is an educator, composer, and bandleader with two recordings as a leader. The late Jackie McLean, Kenny Garrett, Pharoah Sanders and Harold Mabern are just a few of those who’ve chosen Nat to grace their recorded efforts.
Bassist Dave Zinno’s third recording as a leader of Dave Zinno Unisphere has just been released. His versatility and virtuosity have dazzled audiences and bandmates for decades; like the most gifted musicians, Zinno gets better each time he picks up his instrument.
Joe Farnsworth’s recent Time to Swing CD spent nine weeks in the top 10 on the farnswnational radio chart. The session included Kenny Barron and Wynton Marsalis as part of his supporting cast, which is all you need to know about how widely his talent is acknowledged.
Steve Langone is a first call for many coming to Boston. He plays any style, from laid back to free jazz, and is particularly respected for his mastery of Latin rhythms. He has two recordings under his name as a leader.
Now that Shawnn no longer has the scheduling constraints of teaching, she has already started performing along the East Coast. Fans who have followed Shawnn for decades will indeed be pleased to hear this. Recently, one of her long-time musical directors/accompanists, said to her, “Shawnn, I have never heard you sound better than you did tonight.” By the lovely and loving sounds assembled on You Are There, we heartily agree.
—Bob Gulla is a Providence-based writer, author, and editor