Veteran songstress Sandy Stewart joins her son, jazz pianist Bill Charlap for a trip down memory lane in her new album from Ghostlight Records, Something to Remember. Their performances of this program of classics from the Great American Songbook, interspersed with a few lesser-known pieces, are indeed something worth remembering.
Minimalist arrangements accompanied by solo piano put the burden of selling the song on the vocalist. Stewart is a singer who can handle the spotlight. She is a pro who knows great songs need emotional honesty and attention to detail, not pyrotechnics. She sings with a clarity of diction and phrasing, a purity that honors every word of a lyric. It is always truth to the lyric that defines her interpretation. And although she is more often than not singing songs we have all heard many times before, she manages to make them her own.
Close your eyes and picture her standing next to a piano on a small cabaret stage in a smoke filled club, surrounded by drink laden tables. Listen as she works her way through haunting versions of “Where or When,” “I Thought About You,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and even “When You Wish Upon a Star,” great songs that will never grow old in the hands of a great singer. Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer—she makes it her business to work with the best. For variety she throws in an uptempo tune here and there—“The Best Thing for You,” “Isn’t This a Lovely Day?”—but it is the soft ballad, almost torchy, that is her wheelhouse.
Her vocals are spot-on, and Charlap, a force in his own right, makes sure to stay out of her way. While he sticks in a solo or two every once in a while, the focus is always on the singer. So, for instance, he does some interesting solo work on “Two for the Road” and “I Was Telling Him About You,” two of the tunes heard less often, but for most of the album’s 15 songs, he stays in the background. “I Was Telling Him About You,” it turns out, was co-written by one Moose Charlap, Stewart’s husband and the pianist’s father.
For those of us old enough to have these songs locked in our DNA, there are lovely memories in this album. For the youngsters out there, there are lovely memories to be made.