Libby York | Dreamland (Jan 2023)

Libby York grew up in Chicago, in a family that loved music. Her father sang from time to time with the big bands that came through town, he played the piano just like her mother. Her house was filled with recordings of Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and other Great American Songbook performers.

Although she was imbued with music from an early age, she began her singing career at the age of 35. York left Chicago in the early 1970s to attend American University in Washington, D.C., where she met her ex-husband. They both met a professional chef, and the three of them decided to open the first fine-dining restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Because the area was a summer resort, they closed the restaurant for the winter and spent their free time in Key West, Florida.

It was there that she became interested in music and began traveling to New York City to enjoy the jazz scene and start singing with local musicians. After a few years, her interest in music grew as she became disenchanted with the daily grind of running the restaurant. The partners eventually sold the business, and York and her husband separated. She moved to New York where she lived for 15 years and became part of the city’s vibrant music scene.

She joined a professional jazz workshop where she learned the basics to become a professional singer with Abbey Lincoln. York spent many years in New York as the featured vocalist for an eight-piece big band called Swing Street and began recording in 1999. She returned to Chicago in 2014 after the death of her longtime partner, drummer Greg Sergo, and today he divides his time between Chicago, New York, Key West and Paris.

Over a career she has recorded and performed across the country and around the world with the likes of John Di Martino, Warren Vaché, Billy Drummond, Russell Malone, Frank Wess, Renee Rosnes and many more.

“Dreamland” is York’s fifth album as leader and producer. They precede it, “Memoir” (2014), “Here with You” (2008), “Sunday in New York” (2003) and “Blue Gardenia” (1999).

York has chosen three A-list musicians: guitarist Randy Napoleon has toured and performed with Benny Green, The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Michael Bublé, Bill Charlap, Natalie Cole, Monty Alexander and John Pizzarelli. He also spent 13 years with Freddy Cole; bassist Rodney Whitaker who performed for seven years with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He has also worked with Jimmy Heath, Eric Reed, Cyrus Chestnut, Vanessa Rubin, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall and many others and Keith Hall who has worked with Wycliffe Gordon, Sir Roland Hanna, Michael Phillip Mossman, New York Voices, Janis Siegel, Luciana Souza and Terrell Stafford, among others.

“DreamLand” was born from York’s chance meeting with guitarist Randy Napoleon, who was accompanying Freddie Cole at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase.

The record opens with the elegant “Hit The Road To Dreamland” by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, from which it took the album’s title. The theme evokes the mood of York itself and many other artists (and non-artists) during the pandemic.

York has a great ability to reach the emotional core of a song and she shows it to us in “Estrada Branca (This Happy Madness)” by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, a song that follows the same melodic and soft line as the previous one. guitarist Napoleon and bassist Whitaker accompany York, wrapping up his silky voice and marking their own paths at times.

Richard Rodgers and Lorez Hart’s “Mountain Greenery” is a nod to his beloved nature, where his faster pace doesn’t interfere with York’s innate elegance.

York first heard “Cloudy Morning” sung by Peggy Lee. Even as a lesser-known standard, it’s still appealing in York’s voice.

From Abbey Lincoln, one of her references, with whom she studied and spent time outside of class, she chooses the well-known “Throw it Away” which deals with the ancient Chinese text I-Ching. First song on the album where the drummer Hall participates. York is a great songwriter.

York likes to mix songs that convey different moods, which is why he includes the upbeat “Rhode Island is Famous for You” by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz.

Two songs followed by Rosemary Clooney, one of her greatest influences: “Still On The Road” and “When October Goes”, the latter by Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer. She makes very good versions of both, applying the right degree of nostalgia and emotion.

In “Moon Ray” York shows us her sensual side, with Hall back on drums, as occurs in the next track on the album, “An Occasional Man” by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, a song sung by Abbey Lincoln at the time. and that York interprets perfectly.

The nostalgic “Something Cool” envelops us in a delicate atmosphere with Napoleon’s beautiful guitar.

The album closes with “It’s Love”, with the four musicians accompanying York, and once again the change of mood is served.

York articulates crisply, conveys intimacy, and makes each song feel like she’s telling a story about her own life.

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