Georgie Fame

Go Jazz

English singer-organist-songwriter Georgie Fame hit the American pop charts in the mid-’60s with “Yeh Yeh” and “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde,” but at heart he’s always been a jazzer. In 1966, hip soubrette Blossom Dearie even wrote a song in praise of his talents (“London Bridge is falling down/Pop songs I hear with suspicion/But now at last I’m glad to meet/A sweet lovin’, real good musician”). For more than three decades, he’s straddled the pop/jazz fence, producing and accompanying Van Morrison on a hard-swinging 1995 live CD, and, last year, releasing two first-rate but virtually unnoticed solo albums, Name Droppin’ and Walking Wounded. Poet in New York, Fame’s latest and best jazz-oriented CD, should win him long-overdue recognition. Backed by a top-notch Manhattan jazz quartet—pianist David Hazeltine, saxophonist Bob Malach, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Louis Hayes—Fame takes on an imaginative, demanding repertoire. He scores with a trio of familiar hipster classics (“Lush Life,” “Doodlin’,” and “Symphony Sid”), but the album’s highlights are fresh vocal interpretations of jazz compositions. Fame supplies sensitive lyrics for a trio of instrumental pieces by the great bebop composer-arranger Tadd Dameron (“That’s the Way It Goes,” “Accentuate the Bass,” and the haunting “On a Misty Night”). He also sets words to three Chet Baker improvisations on standards—the Gershwins’ “But Not for Me,” Rodgers and Hart’s “Do It the Hard Way,” and the Burke-Van Heusen “It Could Happen to You”—and contributes two of his own songs, “Tuned In to You,” (a tribute to saxophonist Benny Golson) and “Declaration of My Love.” With a remarkable vocal range and a rock-steady sense of swing that belie his 57 years, Fame is easily the peer of his American counterparts Mark Murphy and Kurt Elling. Consistently creative and filled with delightful surprises, Poet in New York stands out from the current pack of sound-alike jazz-singer CDs. —Joel E. Siegel