Monday, June 18, 2012

The Art of Vocalese Pt. 1 Or How I Got Twisted (Chappell Holt)

In 1961 when I was 10, my father was stationed on Treasure Island, SF, as the Protestant base chaplain, we lived a half hour east in Pleasant Hill. My family was deeply afraid of popular entertainment so I was not allowed to listen to much radio. We watched only selective TV. I managed, however, to find detours around these restrictions. One day, the radio quietly on with the bedroom door shut, a song came on that utterly captivated me. A woman was singing music I had never heard, didn’t know what it was, who she was or how to find her again. 

Fast forward to 1973. I was living in Sebastopol, Ca, playing folk music and working at the local music store, People’s Music (see Dave’s Raves). An intriguing album came into the 50 cent used rack, “The Best of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross,” with clever cover art of a cool cat silhouetted against the night sky. I took it home and there it was, the mysterious song from my childhood, “Twisted.” The lyric was by Annie Ross, words set to the tenor sax instrumental by Wardell Gray (recording with the Al Haig Quartet). Annie first recorded the song “Twisted” in 1952 on the album “King Pleasure Sings.” Hearing Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross was a revelation, a brilliant uniting of jazz music with hipper than hip lyric poetry, street wisdom, wit, sex, philosophy, up-to-the-minute 50’s psychology, and spirituality. 

Strangely, the next year (1974), Joni Mitchell released her ground-breaking album “Court & Spark” and there it was again. In Sheila Weller’s “Girls Like Us,” the dishy bios of Carole King, Carly Simon, and Joni, she reports Joni was hospitalized after an attempted suicide over her affair with Jackson Browne. Her song “Trouble Child” segues into “Twisted.” The conjoined songs tell the tale. 

For years I performed “Twisted,” educating folks to the fact that Annie wrote it, not Joni. The fun of doing this song was partly its obscurity. No one else I knew was doing it, but later it became something of a standard for jazz singers. When Dave and I were together doing our originals, jazz standards and other vocalese songs; we dropped “Twisted” as a regular piece. It had lost its uniqueness as a choice in a singer’s repertoire.
- Chappell Holt

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