Photo: Jessica Lin
1923 was a standout year for many reasons. ‘TIME’ magazine was launched on March 3. ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ starring Lon Chaney was released. Cecil B. DeMille directed his first version of ‘The Ten Commandments.’ Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as president following the death of President Warren Harding. The first home game played at the original Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox occurred. The world’s first portable radio was developed in the US and the Explosion of recordings of African American musicians began including the great Louis Armstrong. It’s a great year to celebrate musically so Jazz Singer Julian Yeo has dedicated an entire album to the music of this period with his latest release titled ‘1923.’
As it says on Julian’s web site, “He sings simply, improvises with subtlety, and always swings while doing justice to the lyrics. Julian Yeo thinks of himself as a retro-jazz vocalist with a “new-old” approach. He sounds like he could have comfortably fit into the 1930s pop/jazz scene, singing with equal skill in a swing or a sweet orchestra, inspired by the relaxed and lightly swinging phrasing of Bing Crosby. Julian Yeo blends old school soul with celebrated qualities of today (and sometimes with a twist).”
Julian has picked a consistently solid assortment of sixteen songs that were all written before 1923 and remain popular to this day. Julian Yeo is a natural singer expressing both deep melancholia and upbeat joy. He creates a jazz-hipster atmosphere on this album that’s difficult to resist. He is a classic crooner, relaxed, laid-back, and easy-going. Crooners typically had soft voices that were well suited to the intimacy of the material and the night clubs they performed in, however Julian’s voice is dramatically powerful as well.
The album opens with ‘You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)’ from 1913 and made popular by Al Jolson and Judy Garland. The style and mood of this opening cut sets the tone for the whole album. You already know you are in for a good time.
Next up is ‘Hello! Ma Baby,’ a Tin Pan Alley song written in 1899. Its chorus is far better known than its verse, as the introductory song in the famous Warner Bros. Cartoon ‘One Froggy Evening’ from 1955, sung by the character Michigan J. Frog while high-stepping in the style of a cakewalk. Julian slows down the tempo and uses his nimblest and most elegant singing style to make this cut his own. Julian has raised the bar with this recording. You can forget the frog’s version.
‘Play a Simple Melody’ a song from the 1914 musical, ‘Watch Your Step,’ with words and music by Irving Berlin follows. Julian duets with himself and the results are remarkable. His breezy and sophisticated vocal style floats over the top of the melody with beautiful harmony. ‘Poor Butterfly’ is one of my favorite songs and Julian lovingly caresses the lyrics of this song first published in 1916.
‘Some of These Days’ published in 1910, and associated with the biggest star at the time, Miss Sophie Tucker is next. The top-drawer songs continue with ‘Baby Face’ made popular by Al Jolson. The addition of the vibraphone brings an ecstatic and effervescent quality. ‘Moonlight Bay’ was published in 1912. It is often sung in a barbershop quartet style. Julian takes this cut and makes it very stylish with his exquisite delivery.
This album is filled with incredible musicianship. Particularly memorable are ‘Ain't We Got Fun’ a popular foxtrot published in 1921 and symbolic of the Roaring Twenties and ‘Pack Up Your Sins and Go To The Devil’ written by Irving Berlin 1922. Julian sings these cuts with spectacular panache.
‘Paper Doll’ was written in 1915. The song has been named one of the Songs of the Century and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Julian’s version actually has a playful sexiness to it. He is able to do the same thing with the chestnut ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket,’ a nursery rhyme first recorded in America in the late nineteenth century and later became a very successful and highly regarded 1938 recording by Ella Fitzgerald. I found myself asking, “Ella who?” Remarkable, as I adore everything Ella!
The album closes with ‘Baby Won't You Please Come Home,’ a blues song from 1919. The first hit version was Bessie Smith's 1923 recording. Julian has made a resplendent recording with his tribute to the music of the Twenties. The natural ease of his singing remains instantly recognizable. Joining Julian on ‘1923’ is his stride pianist and long-term collaborator, Jesse Gelber; Tom Beckham on Vibraphone; and Kevin Dorn on drums and Andrew Hall on bass. They are all top tier musicians.
Julian Yeo has been recording for ten years. ‘1923’ is his eighth release. You should also check out his earlier recordings. They are all well produced. You can hear the growth of a musical artist and his defining style.
To learn more about Julian visit his web site http://www.julianyeo.com/