Jane Scheckter • I’ll Take Romance

Jane Scheckter • I'll Take RomanceSome records you really can judge by their cover. Take the latest release by Jane Scheckter, for instance. There’s a picture of Jane on the front, which is apt because it’s a vocal jazz album and you’ll hear a lot of her. Pianist Ted Firth, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Peter Grant are also mentioned—you’ll hear plenty of them, too. The album is called I’ll Take Romance and, as one might expect, it’s a collection of romantic jazz songs—both ballads and dance numbers. You might be expecting a big “but” here, but there isn’t one. What you see is pretty much what you get. (Not a criticism.)

Scheckter is a veteran of the New York City jazz scene, winner of a Bistro Award and five-times nominee for a MAC Award (both which recognise top cabaret talent). She has been singing since she was in grade school, wowing audiences at top New York venues including Birdland, the Metropolitan Room, the Iridium, and Lincoln Center Jazz at Rose Hall. (Fun fact: she’s also a musical theatre actress and a successful fashion designer.)

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The award-winning vocalist has released four albums between 1988 and 2012, all of which eschew the stock standards for lesser-heard classics. I’ll Take Romance is no exception: one might expect it to open with a well-worn ballad by Ella, Etta or Nina—“Dancing Cheek to Cheek,” “At Last,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me” or something—but you’ll find no such thing. Instead you get “Love I Hear,” taken from Stephen Sondhiem’s score to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Things continue on this less-traveled route, with Bart Howard’s “I’ll Be Easy to Find” and then the title track (a jazz waltz), taken from Oscar Hammerstein II’s score to the 1937 film of the same name. All three are softly swinging, offering perhaps the best dancing opportunities of the whole album. (The rest is pretty much slow and steady.) All the arrangements are laid back, sitting somewhere between swing and cool jazz, but there’s a variety of styles on show: “A Beautiful Friendship” has a bossa nova flavor, while “My Foolish Heart” is more of a classic torch song, for instance.

Scheckter’s voice is, in a word, nice. I fear that may be damning with faint praise, but I can’t really think of a more apt descriptor. It isn’t especially dynamic, nor is it possessed of any peculiar characteristic to make me crave more of it. I recently reviewed two albums by ladies of a similar vintage, Masumi Ormandi and Betty Bryant. Both possess unique tones, perhaps in part products of their advanced years, which have stuck in my mind ever since—I’m not quite sure I’ll remember Scheckter’s voice as clearly in a month’s time.

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Scheckter makes me think of a female Chet Baker, whose mellow, even-tempered tones stand out against the typically bombastic style of many male jazz singers. When a woman takes the same approach, I fear that it doesn’t make for such a memorable performance. That being said, I did compliment Darden Purcell on a voice which was “quietly competent” without being especially memorable, so consistency demands that I don’t deduct points for that.

Firth’s contribution could reasonably be called a masterclass in piano accompaniment, ranging from bluesy noodling to virtuosic solos, taking in the full keyboard at breakneck speed. That said, several of his efforts end exactly the same way: bassy chord, long arpeggio, and a trill in the upper register. This tickled me somewhat, as he’s clearly a pianist possessed of great skill and imagination.

The real strength of this record—and Scheckter’s entire discography, in fact—is that she isn’t just rehashing the same old tired standards that countless other divas have done. That said, my personal highlights on I’ll Take Romance were both songs I’d heard before: “I’m Gonna Lock My Heart” and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”: one solid toe tapper and one beautiful ballad, both very nicely produced. Overall production value is great too, with the bass sounding solid even on my car’s less-than-superb speakers. In summary, there’s more to recommend this record than not, so check it out on Schecker’s Bandcamp now.

Dave Doyle is a swing dancer, dance teacher, and journalist based in Gloucestershire, England. Write him at [email protected]. Find him on Twitter @DaveDoyleComms.

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