During my long career as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I had the great joy of performing with some of the greatest classical music singers of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. Jesseye Norman, Mirella Freni, Thomas Quasthoff, Renée Fleming, Kiri Te Kanawa, Ben Heppner, Anne Sophie von Otter, Hildegard Behrens, Kathleen Battle, Barbara Hendricks, Ian Bostridge, Dawn Upshaw, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Frederica von Stade. The list goes on. There is something about the human voice—the first musical instrument—that speaks to all of us. Literally.
As a trombonist, I’m very aware of the connection between the human voice and my instrument. Frank Sinatra famously said that his sense of phrasing was heavily influenced by the trombone playing of Tommy Dorsey. The great bass trombonist George Roberts, “Mr. Bass Trombone,” told me that his sense of phrasing was heavily influenced by the singing of Sinatra.
I have many, many recordings of singers. Classical singers, jazz singers, rock and pop singers, folk singers. Trained and untrained singers, young singers, old singers. During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been listening to a lot of singers from my collection of recordings. Here are four I’ve been enjoying lately that have been a real encouragement to me. Four very different kinds of singers: an opera singer, a Flamenco singer, a folk singer, a pop singer. Beautiful voices—some very smooth, others a bit rough hewn—exceptional musicianship, superb—and sometimes unexpected —accompaniments, and deep, heartfelt messages. Poignant messages of grief and loss but also of hope. And we do need hope. They all seem very timely right now.
Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è il tormento. Guillemette Laurens, voice; Michel Godard, serpent; Fanny Paccoud, violin, Bruno Helstroffer, theorbo; Steve Swallow, bass. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.
Vidalita. Mayte Martín, voice; Katia & Marielle Labèque, piano. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.
Ah! Vita Bella. Lucilla Galeazzi, voice; Michel Godard, tuba; Pino Minafra, trumpet; Jean-Louis Matinier, accordion; Gianluigi Trovesi, clarinet. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.
Paul Simon, American Tune. Paul Simon, voice and guitar; Bobby James, keyboard; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Grady Tate, drums; strings arranged by Del Newman. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.
[Header photo: sunrise over the Sierra Estrella, Arizona, 2012. Photo by Douglas Yeo.]