Laughing At Life Duchess featuring Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou
Label: Anzic Records, LLC
Album including Album cover
- 1Swing Brother Swing03:11
- 2On the Sunny Side of the Street03:49
- 3Laughing at Life06:08
- 4Everybody Loves My Baby03:14
- 5Stars Fell on Alabama04:27
- 6Give Him the Ooh La La03:43
- 7Where Would You Be Without Me03:07
- 8Creole Love Call05:59
- 9Hallelujah I Love Her (Him) So03:30
- 10Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye05:02
- 11Strip Polka03:07
- 12Here’s to the Losers04:57
- 13We’ll Meet Again02:58
- 14Dawn (Bonus Track)02:07
Info for Laughing At Life
Duchess – the trio featuring rising-star New York singers Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner & Melissa Stylianou – has won hearts far and wide with its insouciant swing, sweet-toned harmonies and a stage presence that has proved irresistible to audiences from coast to coast, across Canada and even in Israel. In the words of The New Yorker, these virtuoso entertainers “traffic in delight,” as they channel the inspiration of vintage vocal trios into a fun-loving package that feels utterly up-to-date. Reviewing Duchess’s 2015 eponymous debut album, DownBeat declared the trio “a beacon of jovial esprit,” with Time Out New York praising the disc as “playful… elegant… winning.” Now Duchess presents its second album: Laughing at Life, to be released by Anzic Records on February 10, 2017. The track list includes beloved songs by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles, as well as lesser-known numbers given the infectious Duchess spin.
Produced, like the trio’s debut album, by arranger Oded-Lev Ari, Laughing at Life pairs Duchess with an ace New York band: pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Jared Schonig, plus saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Jesse Lewis. There are two guest stars: Anat Cohen (clarinet) and Wycliffe Gordon (trombone and vocals). Highlights of Laughing at Life include a finger-snapping take on the Billie Holiday/Count Basie number “Swing Brother Swing!” The band grooves beautifully behind the singers in “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” while Cole Porter’s ballad “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” comes to life thanks to the purity of the Duchess vocal weave. And the trio presents the previously unrecorded “Dawn,” a mellifluous song co-written decades ago by Vet Boswell, youngest of 1930s close-harmony trio the Boswell Sisters of New Orleans, a key historic muse for Duchess.
Laughing at Life also includes a nod to the Andrews Sisters in Johnny Mercer’s “Strip Polka,” with a burlesque-worthy sax solo by Lederer. Cohen threads curlicues of clarinet through “Everybody Loves My Baby” (a popular feature for the Boswell Sisters in 1932), and Gordon contributes textured trombone and voice to his ravishing arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call.” There are solo spots for each of the Duchess ladies, with Cervini taking the lead on Cole Porter’s sweetly risqué “Give Him the Oo La La,” Stylianou on Broadway-via-Carmen McRae number “Where Would You Be Without Me?” and Gardner on Peggy Lee’s customization of an iconic Ray Charles tune as “Hallelujah, I Love Him So.” The bonus track for the vinyl edition of Laughing at Life is “Goin’ Home,” Lev-Ari’s hushed arrangement of the spirituals-inspired melody from Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony.
Michael Cabe, piano
Matt Aronoff, bass
Jared Schonig, drums
Jesse Lewis, guitar (Except 2, 4, 5, 8, 12)
Jeff Lederer, tenor saxophone (1, 3, 11, 12)
Anat Cohen, clarinet (4, 13)
Wycliffe Gordon, trombone, vocal (5, 8)
Recorded May 26, June 4 & 14, 2016 at Sear Sound, New York NY
Engineered by Chris Allen
Mixed by Brian Montgomery
Mastered by Mark Wilder, Battery Studios, New York, NY
A close-harmony vocal trio blending the classic and the contemporary, Duchess--Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou--has rightly earned a reputation for beautiful singing and big fun onstage. The New York City-based threesome debuted on record with the eponymous Duchess (Anzic Records) in 2015. Featuring arrangements by producer/Anzic co-founder Oded Lev-Ari, the album channeled the 1930s inspiration of the virtuosic Boswell Sisters into a wonderfully entertaining package, brimming with sure-footed swing, sweet-toned harmony, and ever-insouciant charm.
The trio’s sophomore album, Laughing at Life (Anzic Records), also produced and arranged by Lev-Ari, was released in 2017. The album featured thoughtful renderings of venerable jazz standards as well as playful reimaginings of novelty songs made famous by the Boswell and Andrews Sisters. Rave reviews ensued, including Downbeat Magazine’s declaration, “For a good time, call Duchess.” Never ones to rest on their laurels, Duchess released a holiday EP, Harmony for the Holidays, in 2018, and their much-anticipated live album is slated for release in 2020.
New Orleans’ Boswell Sisters, whose pioneering close-harmony trio records for Brunswick in the 1930s remain prized in the jazz canon, are the historic muses for the Duchess sound and approach. “The Boswell Sisters were such originals,” Hilary explains. “This kind of music got more conservative a decade later in the 1940s, with the Andrews Sisters taking the vocal trio format more mainstream, although they were swinging and super-tight in their own way. But the Boswell Sisters had a kind of instrumental approach to harmony singing, and there was a wildness to what they did, with abrupt tempo changes, crazy harmonies and ensemble scatting as if they were singing from one brain. We love them. That said, we’re not doing re-creations at all. Our voices, personalities and 21st-century sensibilities help impart individuality to what we’re doing. We’re making these songs our own, naturally.”
Melissa recalls how Duchess initially got together: “Hilary and I had each sung with Amy in various situations, developing a real rapport with her. Back in 2013, the three of us teamed up for the first time to sing some Boswell Sisters and Andrew Sisters charts at the 55 Bar, and it went over amazingly well.”
Amy points out that it was her husband, producer/arranger Oded Lev-Ari, who suggested that the three women sing together, adding: “It went so well when we sang those stock Boswell Sisters and Andrew Sisters charts, that Oded was inspired to write custom arrangements for us. His arrangements are tailored for our voices, with this playful, imaginative correspondence between the history of this sort of music and our individual, contemporary sensibilities.”
As “Charlie” to their “Angels,” Lev-Ari has honed his arranging for Duchess, armed with the group’s ever-increasing rapport. “There is a tradition in big-band composition – particularly with Duke Ellington – that emphasizes writing for the individual playing the instrument, not necessarily for the instrument itself,” the producer says. “Getting to know the three voices and their range of colors has allowed me to do that with Duchess. I can hear what a specific note would sound like when Melissa sings it versus Amy or Hilary. They’re so in tune with one another that it allows us to explore and experiment even while maintaining that great sound and vibe.”
In the intervening years since their first 55 bar gig, Duchess has performed at major festivals and esteemed jazz clubs throughout the United States (Monterey Jazz Festival, Rochester Jazz Festival, Saratoga Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center), Canada (Toronto Jazz Festival, Ottawa Jazz Festival), Europe (Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival), and Israel (Jerusalem Jazz Festival). In 2017, Duchess performed at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, singing the music of the Andrews Sisters for Taylor’s seminal piece, “Company B.” The trio’s collaboration with the Paul Taylor Dance Company continues with a run of shows at Lincoln Center this fall.
About the magical stage rapport among the three singers, Amy adds: “The chemistry with the three of us was special from the beginning – the sort of chemistry you can’t predict and which doesn’t happen very often. Duchess is all about combining swinging with fun. There can be a fine line between entertaining and schtick, but we take care to fall on the right side of that. It’s serious fun, in that we take the music seriously but not ourselves.”
And Melissa shares a story about one of the best responses to the Duchess sound and sensibility: “It was from a musician, a vibes player who had a set after us at the 55 Bar. He came up to us and said, ‘You know, the audience doesn’t realize how difficult what you’re doing really is. They’re having too good of a time’.”
This album contains no booklet.