"When organ jazz was in full bloom, the hierarchy of the jazz community looked down its collective nose at it...But real people loved it, people who dig going to a joint on a Friday or Saturday, have a little taste, and have a good time." —Producer Joel Dorn, from the liner notes
Ever since vocalist Janis Siegel co-founded The Manhattan Transfer over three decades ago, listeners, fellow musicians and critics have marveled at her inventive phrasing and richly expressive voice. Siegel has gone on to win nine Grammys and earn tremendous respect in both jazz and pop circles.
Friday Night Special, an album that combines Siegel's shimmering vocals with an unusual selection of songs and an outstanding organ/tenor band. Friday Night Special is her second solo project for Telarc and seventh solo outing overall.
Produced by Joel Dorn, Friday Night Special runs the gamut from soul-jazz and bluesy grooves a la Jack McDuff to funky R&B and romantic ballads. Opening with Bill Eaton's inventive arrangement of the Bill Withers' tune "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh, Made Me Cry," an expertly crafted example of vocal jazz, Siegel approaches lesser known, imaginatively arranged material in a subtle, yet powerful manner. She works her magic on Cy Coleman's "My, How The Time Goes By" and Johnny Hartman's hit "I Just Dropped By to Say Hello." The singer recasts Billy Myles' "My Love Is" and the moody pop nugget "Let It Be Me." Among the album's many appealing performances are singular interpretations of Harold Arlen's "Ill Wind," Eddie Arnold's "You Don't Know Me," and Rodgers and Hart's "There's a Small Hotel." Friday Night Special closes with Dinah Washington's "Make Me A Present of You" and the Erroll Garner classic "Misty."
"We're calling the album Friday Night Special because the organ/tenor sound evokes a late night, last set, soulful jazz feel, like going out on a Friday night with your paycheck in your pocket," says Siegel. "The sound of the organ/tenor combination is infectious, and we tried to recreate that atmosphere in the studio. The players were fantastic and they gelled as a unit amazingly quickly. There was a lot of listening, a lot of laughing and a lot of Virgil's BBQ."
Siegel and Dorn chose musicians who would best create the loose, after-hours feel they envisioned for the project. Joey DeFrancesco, an important force in the revival of the Hammond B-3, draws from his native Philadelphia's rich jazz-organ heritage, while saxophonist Houston Person merits special praise. "Houston is a great tenor player," says Siegel. "I've always admired his intimate, sensitive work with Etta Jones." The band also features Manhattan Transfer alumnus, drummer Buddy Williams and guitarist Peter Bernstein. Russell Malone adds his elegant, yet understated guitar work to two numbers.
There can be little doubt about Friday Night Special's unique appeal to jazz diehards and fans of The Manhattan Transfer. Dedicated to the spirit of one-of-a-kind actress, comedienne and musician Frances Faye, Siegel's new album simmers with a mature, sophisticated energy and will be eagerly anticipated by anyone who has followed her career.
A driving force behind The Manhattan Transfer, Janis Siegel is an uncompromising artist, a gifted arranger, a gourmet cook and a busy mother. The Brooklyn-born singer has also built a remarkable solo career, beginning with 1982's Experiment in White, continuing with 1987's Grammy-nominated At Home, two collaborations with pianist Fred Hersch and 1999's The Tender Trap.
Siegel's 2002 Telarc debut, I Wish You Love, put a jazzy spin on pop hits from the Brill Building era, including Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Go Away Little Boy," Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's "Just a Little Lovin'" and Pat Ballard's "Mr. Sandman." It also focused on jazz vocal tunes that crossed over to the pop charts during the late '50s and early '60s, such as Nancy Wilson's version of "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over," Dakota Staton's "The Late Late Show" and Etta Jones's "Don't Go to Strangers."