People make fun of lounge singers, as some of them can fall into elevator/easy listening mode: you know, the kind of music best suited as background noise. That doesn’t seem to be the case at the lobby of historic St. Paul Hotel in Saint Paul, Minnesota, as evidenced by the album “Jazz In The Lobby Bar,” the album featuring JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske. She is on vocals and piano, he is on bass. The album is near perfection – jazzy, breezy, contemplative even. I am especially taken by Funk – she has an appealing bedroom coquettish voice, kind of like a modern Blossom Dearie – it’s instantly unique, recognizable, and intimate. She herself does the arrangements for these songs, and they are wonderful, making songs like “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “The Very Thought Of You” sound fresher than Minnesotan snow, And major props to her for singing my favorite Cy Coleman song, “You Fascinate Me So. ” While it’s not good as my beloved Peggy Lee’s version, it does justice to the song. And she is versatile as well, bringing a melancholic country twang to “Anything You Ask.” Sometimes the Blossom influence can be a bit uncanny (such as in “Tea For Two’) but any reservations about that can be overcomed by a touching “Over The Rainbow.” I mean, anyone who can sing that and make me listen is primo in my book. if I were even anywhere near St. Paul’s Hotel right now, I’d be rushing to that lobby, but listening to this album is the next best thing.
What really draws the audience is the superb musicianship of these artists. JoAnn Funk is perhaps our answer to Diana Krall - a first class pianist who happens to also have a first-class voice which she uses to cover a wide range of material, from the classics of the Great American Songbook to Brazilian, contemporary blues, pop and even country writers -- George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Blossom Dearie, Peggy Lee, Waylon Jennings, Leonard Cohen. JoAnn defies comparison-- she has hints of many but the sum is uniquely JoAnn. Bassist Jeff Brueske is an ideal foil.
It was a wonderful evening! Thank you so much for sharing your marvelous talent and the talent of your musician friends. It was all terrific!
Just when you think you never want to hear another version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” along comes jazz singer and pianist JoAnn Funk with one so idiomatic and enchanting that it seems like a brand-new song. Her voice, her arrangements, and her timing are sui generis, and she has the ideal musical partner in bassist Jeff Brueske.
The CD is named for the place they have performed most Fridays and Saturdays for the past seven years, the elegant lobby of the Saint Paul Hotel. Guests on the CD are Richard Kriehn on violin and mandolin, Nathan Norman on drums and Pete Whitman on sax. Together they turn a lot of old standards – “Moon River,” “Tea for Two,” “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” “Someone to Watch Over Me” – into songs that are suddenly interesting again.
JoAnn Funk has been a fixture at The Saint Paul Hotel for seven years, so it’s fitting that she titled her latest CD with bassist Jeff Brueske “Jazz in The Lobby Bar”. She’s an accomplished pianist and a chameleonic vocalist. She can offer several different voices on the same song. She’s partial to a girlish coquette (the Marilyn Monroe evoking “Someone to Watch Over Me”) and a breathy balladeer (the country tinged “Anything You Ask”). But she’s at her best with her more sophisticated vocals on “You Fascinate Me So”.
We thoroughly enjoyed the music last night. The music "sent me", ala the Sam Cook song in the 1950's. It was a time of excellent musicianship and a time of wonderful musical moments!
The Lobby Bar, notes JoAnn, "re-creates a New York-style club" within downtown St. Paul's historic and elegant Saint Paul Hotel. The second recording of the Funk/Brueske partnership does not recreate the first, although both include a broad sampling of the music heard nearly every weekend. A significant difference here is the emphasis on the duet arrangements of piano/voice and bass on the new recording, adding drummer Nathan Norman to just two of thirteen tracks, and violinist Richard Kriehn and saxophonist Pete Whitman to one each.
JoAnn notes that she chose "the tunes people react to, tunes that are witty and have a bit of attitude. It's how I approach the gig, too, I mix it up." That "attitude" -- underlying many of these songs but particularly "You Fascinate Me So" and "I Get a Kick Out of You" -- is one of the ingredients that separates these arrangements from more typical renditions of the same tunes. Another, perhaps more significant, is JoAnn's fresh approach to pacing and phrasing, and particularly her use of space-- rarely where the listener expects.
Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" provides a leisurely opener, JoAnn's phrasing somewhat reminiscent of Diana Krall with bigger spaces, and her piano mirrors the shape of her vocal lines. Brueske's bass solo here -- and indeed throughout-- suggests another vocal chorus, while the piano/bass duo is simply luscious. A few well -placed minor notes give the ending a wistful feel, a tactic typical of many of these tracks. JoAnn draw next from Mose Allison on the sarcastic "Don't Worry 'Bout a Thing," and proves to be a master of blues and storytelling herself-- not an imitator, but she does the living legend justice on both piano and voice. (Like Krall and Karrin Allyson, JoAnn's piano chops alone could carry her career.) Brueske's walking bass keeps it moving and his solo moves with a bluesy bounce.
Both the Cole Porter and the Gershwins are represented with two great standards apiece. Brueske launches "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" with a melodic solo, followed by JoAnn's sparsely supported opening lyric. It's slowly paced with a very subtle swing; every thought and syllable is given its due, its luxurious time. Piano lines thicken into cascading chords. More lively, "I Get a Kick Out of You" adds clickety percussion from Nathan Norman who ultimately provides a rattling swing that morphs into a Latinized vamp. The melody won't be found in the instrumentals here-- and JoAnn flies just fine on her own.
The first of the two George and Ira Gershwin covers, "Someone to Watch Over Me" is paced very slowly, suggesting a gently poking wit that belies the lyric. Guest Pete Whitman adds commentary on tenor sax. "Our Love Is Here to Stay" is more straight-forward, a light swinger graced by Brueske's opening bowed solo. Of the other Songbook classics, "Tea for Two" is given a coquettish lilt, and once JoAnn gets into the heart of the song, the pace is dangerously slow, the spaces wide, and the hesitations flirtatiously placed. Another song that risks overexposure,
JoAnn's rendition of "Over the Rainbow" is as wistful as one can imagine, enlivened by her slightly jagged phrasing. Jeff provides a sweet bass vamp introducing "I'm Glad There Is You" Cy Coleman's "You Fascinate Me So" rises above the term "standard," thanks in part to Nathan Norman's engaging brushwork, setting the stage for that little bit of "attitude." The musical conversation between piano/bass and drums, and the devilish lilt of the vocal lines really does feel "like a powder keg about to blow." JoAnn can annihilate with her soft fire.
JoAnn can sing bebop, too. Taking Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" a bit slower than the usual, she sings the first verse with just bass, hands off the keyboard, a duet that recalls Sheila Jordan and Cameron Brown. After coming in on piano, JoAnn adds some stride-like embellishments before turning the spotlight onto Brueske; the emphasis goes back to voice and bass on the final chorus.
The most surprising track is the Waylon Jennings/Billie Jo Shaver beauty, "Anything You Ask," featuring Richard Kriehn on mandolin and violin, which fit perfectly into the country vibe. And so does JoAnn, sounding like the best of country's songbirds on this slow, meandering arrangements. Her high, breathy voice seems born to country melodies and lyrics.
The once over-done pop classic, Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer's "Moon River" is not often covered by jazz singers. Brueske's arco accompaniment and solo add to the flow of the river, and the duo provides a soft caress of an ending.
Jazz in the Lobby Bar should engage audiences for years to come-- whether listening on personal audio equipment or in the comfy live setting of the Saint Paul Hotel, which just might be the best-kept jazz secret in the country. Although surely a recording, and talent, at this level can't hide for long. Nor should it.
Your show was fantastic tonight!
"Funk and Brueske tackle the songs of Nat King Cole, Blossom Dearie, Dan Penn, Madeline Peyroux and more with aplomb, taste, and imagination"
JoAnn Funk's sultry voice and jazz-cabaret piano stylings will again grace the St. Paul Hotel's Lobby Bar on Sept. 1. Before that, she's devoting an evening nearby, at The Artist's Quarter with her show: Give Him the Ooh lala, dedicated to the songs of cabaret legend Blossom Dearie, who wowed audiences in London and New York with tunes like "My Gentleman Friend," "I'm Hip" and "Peel Me a Grape." Dearie died at 84 in 2009. "She has a dry wit that's delicious," Funk says. "I love the songs she chooses.
JoAnn Funk doesn’t sing a song as much as she whispers it in your ear. Sometimes her voice is silky and warm; sometimes it’s hot; sometimes it tickles. She’s part Blossom Dearie, part Dusty Springfield, a bit Nellie McKay, a hint of Norah Jones, a dash of Stacey Kent, a splash of Diana Krall (like a smoky Scotch on ice), yet somehow all those references to other singers with breathy voices fade the more you listen to JoAnn.
At first you can’t help wondering, “Who does she sound like?” and then you realize—she sounds like herself. It’s what we want from every singer.
Since 2008, she and bassist Jeff Brueske have had a regular weekend gig at the elegant Lobby Bar in the historic Saint Paul Hotel. In her liner notes, she thanks the hotel staff for “giving us a chance to incubate jazz in the Lobby Bar, where so many of these arrangements originated.” Good things can happen when artists have the chance to play together in the same place for a long period of time.
Pick Yourself Up is a mix of familiar standards (the title track, “Girl from Ipanema,” “If I Had You,” “Two Sleepy People”) and songs heard less often. The Gershwins’ “He Loves She Loves” (also covered by Stacey Kent, whose version is more straightforward) features deep, rich arco notes on Brueske’s bass and soft brushes from Nathan Norman, whose sensitive, expressive drums throughout make this a trio recording.
Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” was done a few years back by Madeleine Peyroux; JoAnn’s version is more inventive and seems truer to the spirit of Cohen’s original, while not sounding at all like it. Her musical pas de deux with trumpeter Greg Lewis (in his only appearance on the CD) is playful and unexpected.
Like many women jazz singers, JoAnn accompanies herself on the piano, and you realize as you listen to Pick Yourself Up how nice that must be for a singer, how ideal, to have a piano player who gives you exactly what you want.
“If I Had You” begins as a spare, sensuous bass-and-voice duet; when JoAnn adds piano , it’s delicate and understated. She sings Jobim’s “Triste” in Portuguese, planting one foot firmly in the Brazilian tradition of spacious, relaxed singing, then lets her piano lead. Jeff and Nathan both shine. "Triste" is the CD's longest track and it’s delightful.
The arrangements are out-of-the-ordinary; all are by JoAnn. “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” experiments with rhythms before settling into an easy swing. (Although, once you’ve heard it, you can detect the melody in Norman’s opening drums.) “What Is There to Say” begins with a bit of arco bass before turning into a song of pure bliss (“The dream I’ve been seeking has, practically speaking, come true… I knew in a moment contentment and home meant just you”).
In a nod to Dearie (and probably Maurice Chevalier as well), JoAnn delivers a sassy, upbeat “Moonlight Saving Time.” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Two Sleepy People” is the perfect ending, especially if you listen to Pick Yourself Up late at night, which I highly recommend.
Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” is a centerpiece, featuring a marvelous duel between JoAnn and Jeff, dark and sinewy accents from Greg Lewis’s swampy trumpet, and the rhythmic, clicky sways of Nathan Norman.
It would not be a JoAnn Funk gig without some Blossom Dearie and the choice here is surely one of the most delightful "There Ought to Be a Moonlight Savings Time", full of swing all around. It's a voice that easily slides into sultry reverie to close the set with Hoagy Carmichael's "Two Sleepy People".
Her light-as-air interpretation breezes through a Nat King Cole favorite, “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” … the instrumental component really shines here, particularly Jeff Brueske’s swinging bass. And it’s Brueske’s solo intro and accompaniment that gild the duet track, “If I Had You,” with JoAnn vocally at her most coquettish, instrumentally at her most delicate.
The two Jobim tracks offer engaging interpretations, with “The Girl From Ipanema” reminding me most of Mina Agossi in JoAnn’s reimagining of phrasing that risks an X-rating; “Triste” (sung in Portuguese) is a soft envelope that wraps the listener in a tropical sunset.
Hotel lobby pianist/singers don’t need to be aural wallpaper. Case in point is “Pick Yourself Up” by JoAnn Funk, ensconced at the Saint Paul Hotel on most Friday and Saturday nights. At times, her breathy, girlish voice can be almost cartoonishly dramatic (think Blossom Dearie). Her voice sounds more natural when she swings on “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” or yearns on “If I Had You.” As a pianist, the Twin Cities veteran plays with style and verve, ably supported by bassist Jeff Brueske and drummer Nathan Norman.
..she brings her soft, sultry pipes to the music...emphasizing the notes and lyrics beautifully. The song "Dance me to the end of love", dances her words with well arranged instrumentals from Jeff Brueske, Nathan Norman, and Greg Lewis. A romantic feel is felt all over the album...songs like "When I grow too old to dream", "If I had you", and "Moonlight saving time" all make you feel like it's 11 pm and sitting in the front row at the jazz club she's playing that night.
...JoAnn's style is Diana Krall meets Julie London meets Blossom Dearie...a great selection of jazz treasures and fine songs. You'll dig her!
One of the most elegant spots in the city, the Saint Paul Hotel's Lobby Bar's gig belongs to equally elegant and classy pianist/vocalist JoAnn Funk and her usual partner, bassist Jeff Brueske. Sip wine, order from an extensive bar menu, and just sit back and enjoy music far more sophisticated than what one generally finds in similar settings--Blosssom Dearie is a favorite
Looking for a big-city vibe in downtown St. Paul? Check the Lobby Bar at the Saint Paul Hotel. JoAnn Funk says it's a special place to perform. "Whenever I say I am playing there, people say, 'Oh, I love the Saint Paul Hotel!," Funk said. Built in 1910 by the same architects who designed Grand Central Station in New York City, it's often compared to its brethren in the Big Apple. The classically trained pianist is just as likely to play something by Nat King Cole as she is to play Hank Williams or James Taylor. "There is really no one in the Twin Cities who is doing what we are doing on a regular basis."
"This Twin Cities jazz pianist swings. She occasionally sings too, in a funky style. WIth her combo she keeps this mostly instrumental session lively …"