By Jeff Cebulski
Fans of the Great American Songbook—and of the singers that visit it—should be aware of the scheduled concert appearances at PianoForte Studios of singer Josephine Beavers and the Ed Vodicka Quartet on November 1st and 2nd.
Why? Because Ms. Beavers is a revelation, a “rediscovered” singer of standards who will be making a splash early in 2020 with the re-release of Prime Time, an exquisitely produced album that hearkens back to the great orchestral studio recordings of the ’50s and ’60s. Recorded in 1993 at the classic Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, Beavers and a band conducted by Vodicka (including trumpeter Conte Candoli, harmonicist Howard Levy, saxophonist Pete Christlieb, and drummer Larry Bunker) completed fifteen classic songs that were mixed and mastered by the all-time pros Al Schmitt and Larry McMaster.
You can listen to the full album on Beavers’ web site.
As the story goes, Beavers, the daughter of a D.C.-region singer, Laura Joy, was introduced to song performance through her mother’s involvement and singing with people like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Charlie Byrd. Beavers then began her own regional career, working with small groups until life intervened—college, marriage, motherhood.
Deciding her parenting was more important than a professional career, Beavers chose to put her career on hold while raising four children. She still did occasional performances, once before a Basie concert in Chicago and several as a guest with the McDonald’s All-American High School Band, during which she became Ray Kroc’s favorite singer.
During her hiatus from regular performance, she maintained a connection to the keyboardist Vodicka, whose strong connection to Chicago included a stint as organist at Wrigley Field and as music director at the late Bismarck Hotel. Since moving to Los Angeles in the late ’90s, Vodicka has carved a career within the LA jazz scene as a noted arranger and conductor, especially for more classic fare. It apparently was Vodicka’s idea to get Beavers out west to record her marvelous voice in the confines of one of America’s great studios.
Prime Time, as offered on Beavers’ web site, is clearly a relative to the great big band/orchestra albums of the Sinatra/Fitzgerald/Cole era. Lavish and sometimes unpredictably arranged, the 15 songs present Beavers as a singer who could hold her own with ladies like Sarah Vaughn and Rosemary Clooney. She lists her heroes as Ella, Peggy Lee, and Mel Tormé, and she carries her love for classic melodies and adroit delivery within often challenging, but refreshing, arrangements into every song.
These live performances here are part of a coast-to-coast tour that will be interesting in showing how Beavers and Vodicka arrange those masterful studio efforts for a more intimate setting twenty-five years later. But . . . the voice will be the same and should be worth the investigation.
Josephine Beavers and the Vodicka Quartet are scheduled to appear at Piano Forte, 1335 S. Michigan Ave., 2nd Floor, on Friday, November 1, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, November 2, at 7:30 p.m.