Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Best Jazz Singers You've Never Heard Of...

...or maybe you have, if you live in New Orleans, but I'm assuming (in my vanity) an international readership.

Philip Manuel, Betty Shirley, and George French are people with almost no 'internet' presence whatsoever, yet their rep among discerning listeners here in New Orleans is stellar. More importantly, their reputation among working musicians is such that the best players in town go out of their way to gig with them, even if the money is less than impressive. And that is the most impressive recommendation of all.

"Researching" this entry proved to be an excercize in futility. Searching Youtube (where conventional wisdom has it you can find "almost anything" nowdays) turned up only three entries on Manuel, none of which show him at his best. (This version of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" with drummer Herlin Riley, bassist Roland Guerin, and New Orleans piano guru Larry Sieberth, is about the best of the bunch, even though the tune has been done to death: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8WUddNmriA ). Just about everything I know about the guy comes from either watching him work, or talking to him on the street (when we lived uptown in the 13th Ward, our next door neighbor was one of Manuel's close friends).

I've got a few of Manuel's CDs in my collection (my current favorite is the 2000 release "Love Happened to Me," which contains stellar performances of jazz standards like"Just Squeeze Me" and "If I Were A Bell," as well as pop tunes like Stevie Wonder's ""I Wish" and Sting's "Fragile," and an all star cast of players including trumpeter Nicholas Payton, saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Ellis Marsalis, drummer Adonis Rose, and my good friend Fredrick Sanders on organ) but nothing compares to hearing him live, where the astonishing range and resonance of his voice is compellingly present. My wife Darlene and I caught him this past december 23rd at Snug Harbor (with Sieberth on piano and bassist Chris Severn) and when he hit low notes, the whole room vibrated.

Son of oldschool jazzman Albert "Papa" French and brother of drummer and WWOZ DJ Bob French, I first heard George French as a singer on the now sadly out of print Rounder CD "Mood Indigo," featuring the CAC Jazz Orchestra and singers Germaine Bazzle and the late Johnny Adams. It wasn't until I moved to New Orleans that I found out he was also a bass player. He and Bazzle had a long standing gig every Monday night at Donnas on North Rampart, and lately he's been appearing with a trio at the Ritz Carleton on Canal. French has one solo CD, "It's A Beginning" http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/showoneprod.asp?ProductID=1766 which unfortunately falls rather flat, to my ears. It's got some killer players on it (including New Orlean's unsung hero of the tenor saxophone, Eric Traub) but it's basically a representation of his club set, which tends to be pitched at the tourist trade. French has a gorgeous voice (very Lou Rawls-ish) that sounds good on anything, but tunes like "Sunshine of My Life' and "What A Wonderful World" have, quite frankly, been done to death. French sounds better to me on other people's records, like his brother Bob's "Original Tuxedo Jazz Band"http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/showoneprod.asp?ProductID=1946
particularly his duet with Tricia "Sista Teedy" Boutte (sister of John Boutte, another underappreciated singer) on "Over in the Gloryland." But his best recorded performances are on "Mood Indigo." If you can find a used copy, snap it up.

Betty Shirley I first heard about from bassist Jim Markway, who insisted I come down and catch a gig he was playing with her at the Royal Sonesta a couple of years ago. Once again, Youtube proved slim pickings, with only a WDSU news story on "Women of Jazz" showing up (that's Betty with the long curly hair, and Tulane drum instructor Geoff Clapp with no hair at all) :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1MTkokHKf4 However, unlike French and Manuel, Shirley actually has a website: http://www.bettyshirley.com/

Your best shot at hearing her, short of coming to New Orleans, would be to pick up her CD "Close Your Eyes." :http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/showoneprod.asp?ProductID=5333

Or you could give yourself the best Christmas gift ever; a trip to New Orleans.

Comments on "The Best Jazz Singers You've Never Heard Of..."


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:50 AM) : 

Actually, Teedy is John's niece. John is the youngest brother of Lolette, who is Tricia's mother.


Blogger John Doheny said ... (1:23 PM) : 

Hey Jeff, nice to hear from you.

Thanks for the correction, I can never get the byzantine nature of many family relationships straight in my head (like how Phil Fraser's stepson who got killed a few years back was older than him). My wife Darlene and I were trying to figure out the other night how many sisters John actually has. We couldn't decide if it was five or six. Any idea?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:54 PM) : 

I'm not sure that I have all of these numbers correct, but I do know that Lolet (Tricia's Mom) is the oldest, and John is the youngest. I want to say that there are 12 siblings total, but I could be wrong. I'll call Lolet and ask her.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:25 PM) : 

Ok, just got off the the phone with Lolet. There are 10 siblings. Lolet is the oldest, John is #8. 6 girls, and 4 boys. Singer Lillian is in between John and Lolet in age.


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