Music: Baker and Osabe
VOCALIST MARGIE BAKER WITH MULTI-INSTRUMENTALIST SHOTA OSABE OFFER A BIT OF JAZZ AND MORE
Singer Margie Baker and pianist Shota Osabe have been mainstays of the San Francisco jazz scene for the past 40 years, and now they have finally recorded a duo album, A Bit of Jazz and More..., featuring some of their favorite and most-fan-requested tunes encompassing jazz and popular music classics, Broadway and film themes, a little Brazilian and blues, and one original.
“Our goal wasn’t to break new musical ground here,” Margie explains. “We just wanted to offer solid entertainment, songs people love, done in an enjoyable style, just like what we do in our live shows.”
They met four decades ago in a Japanese restaurant where Shota was performing solo piano music. He was the one who encouraged longtime-music-lover Margie to first take the stage and start singing professionally, and they have performed together regularly ever since. Osabe also appeared in Baker’s band on her first national recording in 2005, Live at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (a two-CD set).
A Bit of Jazz and More... is on CAP Records and is available not only at the company’s website, jazzbeat.com, but also a variety of other on-line sales sites (such as CDbaby.com) and digital download locations (including iTunes.com).
During her career, Baker has performed on-stage singing with accompaniment by Dizzy Gillespie and his band, Erroll Garner, Red Holloway, John Handy, Ritchie Cole, Buddy DeFranco, Bobby Shew, John Heard, Bill Berry, Tee Carson, George Bohanon, Keeter Betts, Peter Washington, Jackie King, Bruce Forman, Mark Naflin, Rodney Jones, Larry Grenadier and Scott Steed. Osabe has released two solo jazz trio recordings -- Happy Coat with Ray Brown and Harold Jones, and Happy Count with James Hughart and Jones. Osabe has performed on-stage with Dizzy Gillespie, Liza Minnelli, Bob Hope, Bobby Vinton, Sonny Stitt and Patti Page.
Margie Baker is known as a first-rate entertainer who always leaves her audiences satisfied. Her style is sassy-but-classy, soulful, spiritual, swingin', bluesy and always heartfelt. At age 73, when many singers are beginning to wind down, Margie is going strong and still thrilling audiences with live shows every week. Shota Osabe, who primarily plays acoustic piano, is also known as an arranger and producer. In addition, he is accomplished on an array of electronic keyboards and synthesizers as well as pedal steel guitar (which he plays on three tunes). Osabe created all of the music (except for two horn solos) on A Bit of Jazz and More...
“Margie and I thought we should have a variety of material on this recording,” explains Osabe, “not just be-bop or bossa nova, but lots of different styles and many crowd pleasers. We have worked together so many years that I knew how she would approach these tunes so we just had fun.”
Just like they mix it up in concert, on their duo album they include five instrumentals that spotlight Osabe’s piano playing and ten songs featuring Baker’s vocals. The first two instrumentals are Grover Washington, Jr.’s “East River Drive” (“I heard guitarist Russ Freeman’s wonderful version so I asked Shota to do a piano-oriented arrangement,” says Margie.) and Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” with Michael O’Neill on sax (he also is a recording artist and has performed many times with Margie in concert). Shota also does instrumental versions of the bluesy Gershwin-influenced “Willow Weep For Me,” the country-flavored 1960 Floyd Cramer hit “Last Date” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Favela.” “‘Last Date’ and ‘Favela’ were two of the very first tunes I ever heard Shota play,” remembers Baker, “so I thought it was about time he recorded them because they show how versatile he is.”
For Margie’s vocal tunes, she selected personal favorites. “Two of the songs that have always gotten lots of requests at my shows are ‘Georgia on My Mind’ -- how can you not like what Ray Charles brought to that piece -- and ‘The Days of Wine & Roses’ -- I have always loved Henry Mancini’s music and Johnny Mercer’s lyrics, two of the best,” Baker states. “At Last,” which became Etta James’ signature song, was chosen because of the tune’s popularity and because of Baker’s personal connection with Etta (“We were in high school in San Francisco at the same time and knew each other because we were both good friends with Sugarpie Santos.”). Margie shows what she can do with the blues on “Drown in My Own Tears” (“When I was ten-years-old I heard Lulu Reed sing it and from then on I always loved blues tunes that deviated from the standard structure by adding in a bridge.”). Baker also sings the Italian tune “Estate,” the pop song “One Hundred Ways” (“the Quincy Jones/James Ingram recording is played at lots of weddings”), and the Jobim composition “Useless Landscape” (inspired by Morgana King’s version).
But Baker’s most personal selections are “I Got a Name” (popularized by Jim Croce in the Seventies) which she re-works as “I Got a Dream,” Charles Aznavour’s “Yesterday When I Was Young” (“it’s perfect for me since I am in the winter of my years, and the lyrics contain such great messages”), and Margie’s original “Dizstory” (a mini-biography of her friend and mentor Dizzy Gillespie. She first saw Dizzy perform in 1947, met him three years later and became friends in 1959 while attending the Monterey Jazz Festival. Gillespie often had Margie join him on-stage whether it was in San Francisco (at the Great American Music Hall), Oakland (at Yoshi's), New York City (at the Village Gate) or in Tokyo. To help capture Gillespie’s spirit on the tune, Baker and Osabe brought in trumpet player Fred Berry (Louis Bellson, Count Basie’s Orchestra, Hubert Laws).
Born dirt-poor in a country shack in the “piney woods” of East Texas, Margie went on to get her Doctorate Degree in education. For three decades she held down two jobs San Francisco school district administrator and professional singer while raising a family. She performed two nights a week in the Bay Area, but during summer breaks she toured all over the world to New York City, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Russia. Now Dr. Baker is a retired educator, but still very active as a singer.
Margie grew up listening to a wide mix of jazz, big band, blues and church music (“soft spirituals and shout-it-out gospels”). Although she enjoyed singing along to records and at intimate gatherings all her life, Margie didn't begin singing professionally until 1973. One night a musician friend coaxed her on-stage at the San Francisco Hilton to sing one song. Conrad and Baron Hilton were in the audience and immediately offered her a job which led Margie to perform at Hilton Hotels for 20 years. Top Bay Area guitarists such as Jackie King and Bruce Forman would sometimes sit in with Margie and her band. She was regularly introduced to the many stars attending her shows including Bill Cosby, Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett (who sketched her portrait while she was onstage) and Elizabeth Taylor. One year she received both the "Outstanding Jazz/Blues Vocalist Award" and the "Entertainer of the Year Award" from the San Francisco Council of Entertainment. During the Eighties Baker also became a regular performer at the nearby prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival. In addition, Mark Naflin, pianist for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, often asked Margie to sing with his band at blues festivals.
Shota Osabe was born in Japan right after World War II, heard Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman albums as a child, sat on his mother’s lap and copied her piano playing at age five, and learned about jazz piano from his aunt who entertained at American G.I. camps. Shota learned to play sax in middle school and was playing professionally in Tokyo jazz clubs when he was 17-years-old. Soon after that he switched to playing piano and began making regular appearances on popular Japanese television shows. But he says, “I loved country music too -- George Jones, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price -- anything with pedal steel guitar in it, so I learned to play lap steel and later pedal steel.” Shota moved to the United States in 1968 (although he re-visits Japan twice a year for performances). He worked with Kenny Rogers arranging and producing a commercial. Shota also was invited to play pedal steel guitar with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. On Osabe’s first solo album, he covered his favorite standards in his own style. “I had always admired recordings with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown, so working with Ray was an incredible thrill.” On his second recording, Shota worked with bassist James Hughart (Joe Pass, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra). On both albums the drummer was Harold Jones (Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan). Another highlight for Osabe was playing live with one of his favorite jazz musicians, Sonny Stitt. Regarding Margie Baker, Shota says, “She has been like my musical mother and mentor. She taught me many stories behind the music. She’s real.”
“For this album,” Margie says, “I chose music I deeply love. All of it has been immensely popular at our concerts. I wanted the album to be completely full of appealing songs. I tried to sing from the heart and put a bit of my soul into each tune.”