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Vocalist Karen Gallinger wasn't having much luck as she explored directions for her fourth CD. Her first idea, a guitar-accompanied project, didn't develop the way she'd hoped. Her love for the music of pianist Bill Evans suggested a theme. After all, the year 2000 marked the 20th anniversary of the troubled pianist's death at the age of 51. But after weeks of searching various sources for lyrics set to the music of the revered trio leader, who was an associate of Miles Davis, she had little to show.
Then her luck changed.
After a disappointing day of collecting what little Evans material she had managed to find and concluding that much more time would be needed, she ventured out that evening to immerse her cares in music at a local Laguna Beach nightspot. There, she was seated at a table with Nenette Evans, the pianist's widow and a resident of Laguna Niguel. Suddenly, Gallinger couldn't believe her luck. "I had no idea that there even was a Bill Evans wife, let alone that she was living nearby. And here I was sitting with her. The universe brought us together that night."
But the impact of that celestial serendipity was not immediately apparent.
"I told her I was researching a tribute album for Bill,and she said something like, 'Yeah, you and everybody else.' I told her about the trouble I was having finding lyrics to his songs. She told me to send her a copy of the album when it was finished."
Before leaving that night, Gallinger gave Evans a copy of her previous CD, "My Foolish Heart." Evans was impressed with what was on the disc.
"I couldn't believe that I hadn't heard of this wonderful singer before," she said. "I was deeply moved by her talent and her interpretations of the music. I immediately wanted to help her with her project."
Gallinger picks up the story. "Nenette called me early the next morning and said, 'Get up, we're going to breakfast.' She brought a bag with a wealth of material and a ton of lyrics."
That exchange produced much of the material that will appear on Gallinger's next recording, "Karen Gallinger, Remembering Bill Evans: A Vocal Tribute," set for release thisspring on Seabreeze Records. Included with several new, Gallinger-penned lyrics will be unrecorded Evans material, including a lyric written by the pianist but never performed. Sunday, in an effort to defray the costs of producing the album, the fruits of that meeting were presented publicly.
During the second set of a three-set performance at the Orange County Musicians Assn. building in Santa Ana, Gallinger sang eight of the 13 songs from the forthcoming album, backed by pianist Tom Zink, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Chris Wabich. In the audience of 100 or so Evans and Gallinger fans was Nenette Evans.
"It's amazing how Karen has reached into the music," Evans said after the performance. "She's so involved; it's as if she bleeds with the music." Nenette Evans, who met the pianist at Howard Rumsey's defunct Redondo Beach jazz club Concerts By the Sea, was married to him in 1973 and is the mother of his son, Evan Evans, 24, a film score producer in Glendale. She is active in educating and supporting other
jazz widows with copyright and estate questions as well as being the administrator of the Evans estate. She was raised in Fullerton, moved east after marrying the pianist and returned to Orange County after his death.
Her memories also play a part in Gallinger's project. The singer introduced her lyric to Evans'never-recorded "Catch the Wind" with the story of Evan Evans, then 5 years old, remarking at his father's funeral that if Dad could only catch the wind, he could breathe. The innocent remark inspired Gallinger to come up with her melancholy verses.
Gallinger, a Carmen McRae-influenced vocalist whose tones remind many of Sarah Vaughan, has an amazing ability to cover boisterous blues and quiet ballads (she sang jazz in her first set Sunday, then the Evans material, and closed with her electric blues band). Well-suited to the sensitivity of the Evans material, she nonetheless imparted strong doses of her good-natured personality in her lyric to one of Evans' more lively tunes, "Funkallero" ("I don't mean to be rude/I'm just feeling Funkallero"). She managed Janice Boria's athletic lyric to Evans bop-paced "Five" with aplomb.
Evans' relationship to his brother Harry, who committed suicide, was the focus of Gallinger's lyric to "Time Remembered," retitled "Dawn Preludes" for Gallinger's CD, on which she performs backed by guitar and cello.
The most insightful piece of the afternoon was "Remembering the Rain," with Evans' lyrics, discovered after his death by his wife. Performed in public for the first time, its tight rhyming pattern and general wit had much in common with the style of Gallinger's writing.
Karen Gallinger and Ron Kobayashi are two of Orange County's most-gallant jazz warriors, playing and singing their hearts out for audiences that are sometimes ignorant, unappreciative or worse. Gallinger plays some 180 dates a year, Kobayashi does even more, about 240. The money's not great, and they see performers with far less talent getting rich. Funny thing, though: They wouldn't have it any other way.
THE SINGER For Karen Gallinger, it's a "spiritual thing," not in a religious sense but rather in the terms of revealing herself through songs.
"Music isn't just syllables and notes," said Gallinger, 46, of San Clemente. "Lyrics are merely empty vessels. You fill them with meaning. "I want something real happening on the stage, I want to live the experience of the song, so that when people come to hear me, it's almost a voyeuristic experience. Mostly, you'll get the truth from me."
Gallinger was born in Venice and grew up in Huntington Beach. Her first instrument was the cello, but as a girl she found herself singing more than playing. "I was addicted to the Fred and Ginger movies," she said. "I could sing and dance all the parts well, as much as a second-grader thinks they can sing and dance!" Those ballad-rich films ultimately served a purpose. "When I started to sing jazz, I discovered that I knew that entire songbook. It's such wonderful stuff." Along the way, Gallinger taught herself guitar and piano, sang in her high school choir and did some musical theater. There were gigs featuring Joan Baez and Bob Dylan numbers.
Indeed, Gallinger, whose rich voice has been a familiar sound at various county venues for years, can be different things to different people. "I have three personas," she said with a laugh. "There's the Jazz Diva, the Blues Mama and the Solo Gir Guitar Player Thing. If somebody sees me, and they know me from another of the personas, they'll say,'Excuse me?!' " Gallinger went to Orange Coast College, rising for early classes after playing late club dates. "I went through the '70s mostly singing rock and things," she remembered. "I dropped out of college to work full time in clubs, and I've been doing it ever since."
Even though her income is augmented by giving private vocal lessons, Gallinger spends most of her time as her "real" self, the jazz singer, the interpreter of great American ballads and lush Latin tunes."I've tried everything. I've pumped gas and been a waitress and worked in a Kmart. A couple of times I walked away from music. It was too frustrating. I was losing my love for it. But I came back, because I can't help myself. This is what I was put here to do." And yes, it can be frustrating. "I'm just arrogant enough to look for something in my audience," she said. "An openness, a willingness to engage in a musical conversation - an involvement. But jazz has kind of become a commodity. More often than not, people will literally come up and ask the band to turn down. It's like, 'Hey, we're trying to talk down here!' "
So despite all the hard work and dedication, why isn't she rich and famous? The answer is a knowing smile. She has thought about this a lot. "I have a certain amount of talent, and I'm pretty good at what I do," she said. "Society's view is that if you have talent and work hard, you will be a 'success.' That's how it works in the corporate world. But it's not that way in the arts. "There are a lot of talented people in the world. The difference between one that makes it and one that doesn't is that somebody in the 'system' takes them in. They'll say, 'I'm going to help you get up here with us. But no one in a position to put me further up the ladder has taken me under their wing." So Gallinger isn't Diana Krall (although she's a fan). But she said it doesn't much matter. "I'm doing everything I can to get into that position, but I don't need lots and lots of money or fame," she said. "The way I define success is working enough to be comfortable and having my voice heard by as many people as want to hear it." Gallinger has two excellent CDs in release- "Live at the Jazz Bakery" and her most-recent, "My Foolish Heart." Both are on the Glendale-based Sea Breeze label, which she describes as a "small, co-op indie," or indepenedant label.
Most people don't realize that artists like Gallinger aren't paid to make records- in fact, it's the opposite. They must raise the money to produce the product, which is then turned over to a distributor. "Basically, I give them a finished product, and they do the manufacturing, packaging and distribution." It's a risky venture, but it has its rewards, Gallinger said. "It's my product, I own it," she said. "I can walk away at any time. I can package and rerelease it. That might not sound like a big deal, but I'm a control freak. Nobody's telling me what I can do or how I can do it. If I was on a major label of even a medium indie, they would own it. I've known singers who've gotten onto a (major) label. They did a project, then the label decided not to release it."
Gallinger's next effort is her most ambitious yet by far. 2000 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of piano great Bill Evans. With full cooperation of Evans' widow, Nanette, and the estate, Gallinger plans to record an album of Evans tunes, including the relatively few that had lyrics to begin with and some instrumentals to which she's added words. Other plans include video and a multimedia stage-show tribute. "It's a huge project but exciting," she said. "I like challenges. It's pretty scary, but I can't stand being bored. Everything I've done up to now has prepared me to do this. "I have to hold onto myself and keep walking straight ahead. There's nothing else to do."
by Bill Kohlhaase,
Before she sang a note, Karen Gallinger had the audience¹s rapt attention at her concert at the Santa Ana Musicians Union auditorium last January, capturing them with a story. The tale involved pianist Bill Evans, one of the giants of jazz, who rose out of the Miles Davis band (Evans is heard on Davis¹ all-time classic Kind of Blue) to become a leading composer and piano expressionist before his death in 1980. Gallinger, a self-made musician who had staged the concert in an attempt to raise funds to finish producing her tribute CD to Evans, told how she¹d been inspired to write the lyrics to "Catch the Wind," an Evans instrumental the pianist never managed to record. "It was at Bill¹s funeral," Gallinger said of the account told to her by Evans¹ widow, Nennette, who lives in Laguna Niguel. "And Evan, Bill and Nenette¹s son, still a young child at that point, wanted to sit in the room with his father alone for a while. When Nenette came back, Evan said to her, "You know, Mom, Dad could still be able to breathe if he could only catch the wind.¹" "That struck me," Gallinger continued. "It was very moving. And from that, I wrote the lyrics."
From there, Gallinger went on to perform the melancholy tune, her characteristic modulations and pacing, something that springs from a jumble of vocal influences and experiences, holding the crowd immersed in song. At the end, the audience was silent for a moment, as if savoring what they¹d just heard, before bursting into a loud, lengthy applause. How Gallinger, a fixture on the OC jazz scene for the past dozen years, came to do a project focused on the late, revered pianist from New Jersey is a story in itself, sprinkled with coincidence, sudden inspiration and chance encounters. "The truth," she says, now that the album, Remembering Bill Evans: A Vocal Tribute, has been released, "is that I wasn¹t all that familiar with Bill¹s music. Sure, I knew some of the standards he did so well "Alice in Wonderland,¹ "Autumn Leaves,¹ "My Foolish Heart.¹ But most of the material I learned while I put the project together."
Gallinger is a SoCal native who grew up in Huntington Beach, singing along with her mother¹s LPs, mostly tunes from Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies and Broadway shows. She taught herself guitar at 15 and is pictured with one in her high school yearbook (Huntington Beach¹s Edison High School, Class of ¹71), looking much the hippie chick.
She worked up her courage playing local clubs as a country-folk singer, appearing with Roy Young¹s Mom and Apple Pie and the band Scooter Canyon (named for its leader¹s love of Scooter Pies). "I was a pop singer," she says, "and the jazzers wouldn¹t even talk to me." The freeze-out ended when she started working in the late-¹80s with pianist Charles Otwell, the former musical director of the Poncho Sanchez band and something of an OC jazz legend. "The people who didn¹t take me seriously started to listen because Charlie was playing keyboards," Gallinger says. "
That gave me instant credibility." As a jazz singer, Gallinger has been heard in a number of local venues over the past decade; her appearance at the Orange County Musicians Association¹s annual fund-raiser in November with pianist Jack Reidling is particularly memorable. She has recorded two albums for the Glendale-based Sea Breeze label, including 1995¹s Live at the Jazz Bakery (recorded at the LA concert space with pianist Reidling and former Bill Evans drummer Joe LaBarbera) and the 1998 standards collection My Foolish Heart. For her third album, Gallinger was intent on working up a concept. "I was in project mode, but the idea I¹d been working on just wasn¹t coming together," she explains. "So I was casting around for alternatives. I was at [drummer] Chris Wabich¹s house and looked down on his coffee table, and there was the music to [Evans¹] ŒMy Bells.¹ I thought, why not do a Bill Evans album? And Chris thought it was a great idea." But after a few weeks of not particularly productive Evans research, Gallinger had only come up with five songs, not enough to do a project, she figured. Then fate intervened. "I went down to [Laguna Beach restaurant] Odessa and was seated at a table with another woman, and someone said, "Karen, have you met Nenette Evans? She¹s Bill Evans¹ widow.¹ After spending the whole day researching Bill Evans, here I was right next to his wife! I didn¹t even know there was a Mrs. Bill Evans, let alone that she lived in Orange County. When I told her I was doing a tribute to her husband, she replied, "Yeah, you and everybody else.¹" Evans did ask Gallinger to send her a copy of the project when it was finished, and almost as an afterthought, Gallinger gave her a copy of My Foolish Heart. The next morning, Gallinger was awakened by an early call. It was Nenette Evans.
"Get up, we¹re going to have breakfast," Gallinger recalls Evans saying. The singer obeyed. At that meeting, Evans brought a bag full of her husband¹s music and said, "Here¹s your project." "Everything I needed was in that bag," Gallinger recalls. "It was if the universe had brought us together." (Portions of Nenette Evans¹ memoirs on her life with the pianist can be read at www.billevans.org.) Besides "Catch the Wind," the new disc contains other Evans tunes for which Gallinger has penned lyrics, including "We Will Meet Again," "Time Remembered (Dawn Prelude)" and "Funkallero." Nenette made the lyric-writing less difficult by supplying the story behind each song. "Most of the lyrics came surprisingly easy to me," Gallinger says. "Funkallero¹ popped into my head almost fully formed while I was out for a walk. And with "Dawn Prelude," I went camping for three days, and the whole time, the song ran through my head like a movie. I just wrote the story for that movie, then condensed it into a lyric." While new lyrics set to Evans¹ songs and a previously unrecorded Evans composition are selling points, it¹s Gallinger¹s treatment of the material that makes the project a success.
While she has been stereotyped as a vivacious performer of good-time material, Gallinger has a subtle, almost understated way with a ballad (check out the title tune of My Foolish Heart for proof). And while some reviewers have compared Gallinger¹s tone with the late Sarah Vaughan¹s, the singer cites Carmen McRae as her principle influence. "I¹ve listened to everybody, but I¹m strongly aware of Carmen," she says. "Her phrasing moved me. There¹s an emotional charge that happens when I hear her sing. I¹ve never consciously emulated anyone, but her influence, her impeccable taste in material, her no-nonsense delivery, her honesty, all of it spoke to me." Gallinger has just returned from appearances at the Kansas City Jazz & Blues Festival and hopes to expand her Bill Evans project into a complete performance based on Evans¹ life, one she can take to schools and concert halls around the country. She dreams of "a large show using multimedia and music to tell the story of his life. My next show [Sunday at downtown Santa Ana¹s DePietro Performance Center] will be a scaled-down version of what it will become. I see this becoming a lifetime project."
Imagine you're a jazz singer looking for some interesting new material. There's always the material in the Great American Songbook, of course. Rarely heard gems, perhaps, from Cole Porter, Jerome Kern or the Gershwins. Or maybe a few off beat Ellington items or some Jon Hendricks scat lyrics. OK, but how about Bill Evans? Most singers, at this point, would take a deep breath and say, "The jazz piano-playing Bill Evans?" well aware that the harmonically lush, melodically soaring music of the gifted artist, who died 20 years ago at age 51, is one of the great, complex expressions of modern jazz. But not exactly the sort of music--with a few exceptions--one immediately associates with lyrical songwriting.
And, to some extent, that's the reaction singer Karen Gallinger had when the notion of doing an entire album of Bill Evans material first came to mind. "I had always been intrigued by his music," said Gallinger, who performs Sunday in Santa Ana. "Piano players would reverently drop his name, so I always had that sense without having ever actually having immersed myself deeply in his music. But I knew it was really challenging, which may have been one of the things that kept me away from it." And that was that until, about a year ago, an oddly serendipitous event took place. Just about the time she was thinking about a possible Evans album, she was introduced to Nenette Evans, the pianist's widow. "I told her I was thinking about doing Evans' tunes on my next album," Gallinger recalled.
"She was, let's say, skeptical, but I gave her my current CD, 'My Foolish Heart.' I guess she liked what she heard, because she called me the next morning and said 'Let's have breakfast.' I met her and she showed up with a bagful of Evans material that essentially contained all my research material." Gallinger added lyrics of her own to four Evans tunes--including her hard-grooving interpretation of his "Funkallero"--but the process took time and effort.
"There were times during the project when I completely despaired of ever actually learning the material," she said. "But when I jumped into the pool of his music, I jumped in deeply, and I just decided to stick with it." And she did. It took six months to complete "Remembering Bill Evans: A Vocal Tribute." The album, on the Sea Breeze label, is now in stores, and will likely generate the sort of superlatives--"immensely talented," "enormous range and quality," "passion and sensitivity"--that have greeted her past efforts. On Sunday, Orange County jazz fans will have the opportunity to experience Gallinger's encounter with Evans live at the Cribb Theater at the DePietro Performance Center. The performance will be the first in what she plans as a "multimedia Evan presentation, with slides, narration and music." "We won't have it all together for this event," she said, "but it'll still be entertaining. We have a few slides of Bill, I'll talk a bit about his life, and the guys [pianist Tom Zink, bassist Larry Steen and drummer Chris Wabich, all of whom are on the album] will do a little presentation of how the piano trio style evolved in the work of Bill and bassist Scott Lafaro.
"Bill being the icon that he is, my goal was to try to make the material more accessible to people who might not know his work, without dumbing down the material to the point where his fans would be offended. Hopefully I've struck a balance."
Has the quest to further illuminate Evan's music tended to obscure Gallinger's musical persona? She is, after all, one of the area's most familiar voices, a vocal teacher and a performer comfortable in everything from blues and jazz to pop and rock. "Well," she said with a laugh, "there were times when I felt as though I was buried in Bill Evans. "But it's been about a year now since I first started absorbing the material, and I do the songs very differently now than I did them then. When I recorded them, they had just gotten into my head, but they're a lot more comfortable now. They're still Bill tunes, but I think I've gotten to the point where I can bring a lot of myself to the material." And Gallinger is beginning to receive the kind of feedback that suggests she is successfully managing the balancebetween introducing Evans to a wider audience while enhancing her own musical expression. "I've had a few people come to me to buy my album," she explains, "and say, 'You know, I've never heard Evans like this before, and I'm going to go out and buy some of his CDs.' Which is exactly what I'd like to have happen. And wouldn't it be nice if it worked the other way around, occasionally, if hearing his music led them to my vocal interpretations? You never know." * * *
The term "labor of love" tends to get a bit over-used, but this really was. And it shows. Orange County-based vocalist Karen Gallinger had long been an admirer of composer/pianist Bill Evans and launched this highly ambitious and personal project to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Evan's death.
Evans, of course, is best remembered for his tender-touch instrumental work, but Gallinger, a robust but sensitive vocalist with an almost superhuman range, wanted to accentuate the work of Evans the songwriter. While Evans wasn't known for catchy "whistle it on the way out of the theater" tunes, his melodies were sensuous, jazzy and romantic. In fact, those adjectives aptly sum up this 13-song collection. Familiar
Evans tunes like "Waltz for Debbie" are beautifully rendered, but there are plenty of surprises. With the cooperation of the pianist's widow, Nenette, Gallinger charted some unknown territory - there is a "new" tune, some Evans lyrics unveiled for the first time, and existing numbers with words added by Gallinger.
The heretofore-unrecorded number is "Catch the Wind," for which the multi-talented Gallinger added plaintive lyrics as a paean to Evans ("You'd be with us if you could catch the wind..."). This is one of the most powerful cuts on the disc, with Gallinger really showing off her pipes. She also added words to the catchy, upbeat "Funkallero," and the result is an extremely hip, fun and sexy ditty. Goose bumps? Try the bittersweet "We Will Meet Again." And don't miss Gallinger's near-operative heights on "Dawn Preludes (Time Remembered)," a number aided immeasurably by cellist miss Hasin.
In fact, Gallinger's accompaniment is superb throughout, with major contributions from pianist Tom Zink and guitarists Larry Koonse and Gannin Arnold in particular. If Gallinger's goal here was to introduce - or reintroduce - the magic of Bill Evans to the jazz public, she has succeeded mightily. This is a top-flight, polished and highly musical effort.