New American Songbook Project
Saturday July 21st
Open Embrace House Concert Series, Palo Alto
Monday Oct 1st
This group features daring arrangements and re-constructions of jazz, pop, and folk standards made famous by vocalists such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Astrud Gilberto, Graham Nash, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Cat Stevens.
1) "It Might As Well Be Spring" [up-tempo swing] 1:43
hear the iconic recording
2) "Satisfaction"[jazz waltz/double-time swing/funk] 2:32
(K. Richards/M. Jagger)
hear the original recording
3) "Witchcraft" [funk ballad] 2:37
(C. Leigh/C. Coleman)
hear the iconic recording
4) "Blue Skies" [funk ballad] 1:27
(K. Goss/B. Murphy/S. Vaughn)
hear the iconic recording
5) "Angel Eyes" ['Coltrane swing'] 3:14
(M. Dennis, E. Brent)
hear the iconic recording
Last week we were treated to a concert from "The New American Songbook Project" by a group of supremely talented musicians. Our audience appreciated the innovative arrangements by keyboardist Michael Smolens and the stellar vocals of Rocio Guitard. We look forward to their next engagement at our concert series.
—Norman Landsberg (Piedmont Piano Concert Series presenter/arranger/recording artist)
The arrangements show an astonishing (and consistently high) level of creativity that flow from Michael, who is also a magician at the piano. I was in awe of the musicianship on display from each member of the group, and of the many ways they weave their contributions together to create a mesmerizing sound.
—Barry Warren (legendary jazz lyricist)
What a great band. Burning solos and killer vocals!
— Mario Guarneri (Jazz In The Neighborhood founder & artistic director)
I hear dozens of jazz groups a year at Hillside,
and the New American Songbook Project
was tremendous fun ! I loved hearing
the band bring Michael's cunning and
sometimes poignant arrangements to life.
In fact, every time he plays at our venue,
he brings in a completely different band !
—Bruce Koball, Berkeley Hillside Club Concert Series
host & musical director
The New American Songbook Project did a terrific job of introducing jazz to the residents of St. Paul's Towers—
a most enjoyable experience.
The band was so in-sync with each other from
beginning to end, lead by the very creative,
multi-talented Michael Smolens.
Jazz vocalist Rocio Guitard's voice wrapped around
those songs ike a smooth velvet glove.
She not only sings beautifully, she makes you believe
she really feels what she is singing !
This quintet is on our calendar for next year,
by popular demand.
— Marilyn Kosinski, Concert & Music Coordinator
St. Paul's Towers, Oakland
Michael's performance here at the Hillside Concerts in Berkeley was extraordinary! All of the players are quite accomplished—the sax player was just amazing. What I found most compelling is how tight the group is, and how well the re-treatment of these old tunes (most of which I knew) turned out to be. I would encourage anyone who is into jazz or pop music from the 60's to hear this group!
—Robert Cowart (host of Hillside Concerts in Berkeley)
"The group’s use of dynamics was very effective,
and this gave space for each soloist
to build their solos slowly,
often starting with just a hint of an idea,
and then gradually building up the drama.
Each musician, whether carrying
the main melody or improvising,
demonstrated a deep understanding
and feel for each song.
And while the blend between
the saxophonist and vocalist
was wonderful, the overall interplay
between the band members
I look forward to hearing more from
this terrific group."
—Dan Willis (pro saxophonist/flutist)
Last night's concert with the New American Songbook Project was truly amazing, and very entertaining...
—Armen Arm (visiting Armenian jazz trumpet player)
The band's rhythm section is wonderfully flexible,
while the sax player [on all 3 saxes] did a fabulous job
of interacting with the vocalist's improvisations.
Michael's arrangements of "For No One" and
"Lady Of The Island" are quintessential,
with their unique harmonies and melodic variations. "Unchain My Heart" is a true show stopper!
—Michael Greenfield (pro bassist)
The band has developed near telepathic communication between players, allowing for unpredictable excursions and vivid storytelling by their vocalist. Each tune drawing its own color as the sax (soprano/alto/tenor), bass (acoustic/fretless & fretted electric), and keyboard (piano/electric piano) are heard in a myriad of different combinations. Rarely do audiences experience the bass, drums, and voice as equally featured soloists. And still rarer to hear a vocalist improvise lyrics on-the-spot, doubling blistering saxophone lines, and singing floating bi-tonal melodies. The band's few original songs appear fully disguised as impostors from another era...
In Michael's own words, "The idea behind this group is to see how far I can take well-known jazz, pop, and traditional folk songs from their original source while keeping them vibrant and emotionally relevant to listeners. It's my only group that doesn't feature my writing exclusively, but each song becomes in a sense a 'song within a song'. By the time they've heard "Girl With The Whole Step" (a complete re-telling of 'Girl From Ipanema' clothed as a study in whole-steps) or Mick Jagger's "Satisfaction" (skating along in three different grooves), they've taken quite a ride. When people hear what we do to songs that they are very familiar with, they are universally excited and really trust us..."
history of performances
Cafe Pink House, Saratoga
Saturday May 13th
Copperfield's Bookstore, Novato
Saturday June 3rd
St. Paul's Towers, Oakland
Piedmont Piano Series, Oakland
House Concert, Second Sight Studio
Saturday September 27th
Stoneridge Creek, Pleasanton
Friday October 4th
The Hillside Club Concert Series, Berkeley
Piedmont Piano Company, Oakland
at Second Sight Music Studio, Berkeley
Cabrillo Elementary School, Fremont
Warm Springs Elementary School, Fremont
Private Event, Fremont
Concerts in the Park
Bread and Roses Benefit
Second Sight Music Studio, Berkeley
Rocio Guitard (vocals)
Born in Germany, and raised in Madrid, Rocio Guitard has been sharing her infectious spirit through music since she could barely walk. Since moving to the Bay Area in 1998, Guitard has released three CDs of her own and contributed to countless others. Equally comfortable singing jazz as she is with rock, pop, latin, soul or world music, Guitard has been called "a powerhouse, one who has a wide range, a beautiful voice, and the intuitive ability to be a major jazz singer." (Scott Yanow, author of ten books including The Jazz Singers, Swing, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76)
Michael Smolens (piano/keyboard/arrangements)
Michael Smolens has been accompanying and arranging for many leading Bay Area vocalists, including: Raz Kennedy, David Worm, Bryan Dyer, Ernie Shelton, Rhiannon, Shea Breaux-Wells, Katy Stephan, Biaja Solomon, Karen Blixt, along with Pragmavision recording and touring icon, Claudia Schmidt. His original works have been recorded by Stefon Harris (vibes), Paul McCandless & Gene Burkert (reeds/flutes), Zakir Hussain (tabla), and has been commissioned by Meet The Composer, Bernard Osher Foundation, the Occidental Choir, Unity Church, and numerous artists in the Bay Area and New York.
He leads a wide variety of jazz, classical, and international ensembles including:
The BABKAS Duo, trios (Bal du Kor, BRISAS do BRASIL, NUVO Chamber Trio), quintets (earPlay Jazzquintet, New American Songbook Project), and large ensembles (KRIYA Octet, 10-person vocal MIRABAI ENSEMBLE).
Alex Murzyn (soprano/alto/tenor saxophones)
Alex Murzyn has been a major saxophone/flute/clarinet force in the Bay Area for well over a decade. His versatility and passion has lead him to play with leading artists in traditional and contemporary jazz, soul, rock, funk, and different flavors of Latin. His music was shaped in part through his private studies with jazz legends Dave Liebman and Jerry Bergonzi at the Berklee College of Music. Further studies included work with symphonic teachers on flute and clarinet. Alex has chosen to return this gift in the form of his private, workshop, and school teaching throughout the Bay Area. Mr. Muryzn has performed with jazz greats Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Arturo Sandoval, Ben Vereen, the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, and Sammy Davis Jr.; jazz-fusion artists Ray Obiedo, Russ Ferrante (of the Yellowjackets), and legendary bassist Stanley Clark; and pop favorites the Temptations, the O'Jays, and Huey Lewis and the News (with whom he toured). Alex has released three CDs as a leader under the Kamei and Monarch labels. (His recording with the Machete Ensemble was nominated for a Grammy in 2003). He can also be heard on recordings with local luminaries Pete Escovedo, Rebecca Mauleon, Mark Little, Mike Vax Big Band and Benny Rietveld.
Fred Randolph (acoustic/fretless & fretted electric basses)
Fred Randolph is one of the busiest bassists and teachers on the Bay Area scene with a versatile skill set that has brought him work with leading vocalists such as Claudia Villela, Kim Nalley, Melanie O'Reilly, Deborah Winters, Stephanie Bruce, Tony Lindsay, Kenny Washington, Nicholas Bearde, Scotty Wright, and countless others. As a leader he has released two CDs—"Learning Curve" and "New Day"—and performs frequently with his own group, "The Fred Randolph Quintet." Fred also is an integral part of Michael's KRIYA and earPlay ensembles.
Greg Wyser-Pratte (drums)
Greg Wyser-Pratte found his true voice as a drummer only after he was enrolled in college as a trumpet performance major. But he has quickly taken root as a go-to drummer on the live scene as well as making big waves with film and television credits with Dan Cray Trio. With over 20 full-length album credits, and appearances at Jazz Festivals throughout the world, his playing has been heard with vocalists Marc Courtney, Charenee Wade, Judy Roberts, and Paula West along with instrumentalists Von Freeman, Eric Reed, John Campbell, Ira Sullivan, and Christian Tanburr. His experience as composer and arranger comes through all of his beautifully sculpted drum solos.