There’s something new from chanteuse Debbie Duncan. The First Lady of Twin Cities jazz has released I Thought About You, the initial offering under her deal with FS Music. Kicked off with the October 22-23 weekend of release events at the famed Dakota in downtown Minneapolis and the esteemed French Press Jazz Café in lowertown St. Paul, the album was eagerly awaited by aficionados who have come to be absolutely enthralled with the divine Ms. D. She previously released Live at the Dakota (1993), It Must Be Christmas (1995) and Travelin’ at the Speed of Love (2002), all on the Igmod label and all brisk-selling gems.
The new album contains another basketful of listening pleasure – from classic to obscure to original. You have Rodgers and Hart’s “Little Girl Blue” and “It Never Entered My Mind,” Lerner and Loewe’s “On the Street Where You Live,” Thelonius Monk’s “Round Midnight,” “Traveling at the Speed of Love” written by Duncan and Beth Yeshaya, Oscar Brown, Jr.’s “Sleepin’,” Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate On You,” the Gordon Parks ballad “Don’t Misunderstand,” “Poor Butterfly” by John Golden and Raymond Hubbell, plus the title cut by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer. All the music is arranged by Adi Yeshaya, who does triple duty as co-producer and pianist. The rest of the ensemble is Gordy Johnson and Kevin Clements alternating on bass, Phil Hey and Nathan Norman alternating on drums, Pete Whiteman on sax and Dave Jensen on trumpet.
The collection is culled from a list of tunes Debbie has wanted to do for a very long time. “I believe each song makes me think about different changes I have gone through in my life,” she told Insight News. “The Oscar Brown, Jr. tune, for instance, that takes me back to spending time bonding with my Dad when I was eleven, sitting around listening to jazz with him, and also playing his records when he wasn’t around and I wasn’t supposed to be messing with his records. ‘Round Midnight’ makes me think of listening to Carman McCrae doing Dizzy G’s version of the song, and feeling like it needed to be passed on down to a new generation of listeners and musicians. Things like that, they all have little personal meanings for me.” She adds, “I felt wonderful about the finished project. I think each CD I do always a bit better than the last one at least I try with the help of others. You should listen and tell me what you think. I think it just makes you want to sit and listen to it, every cut kind of pulls you in.”
At the helm was Rich Leone, executive producing at St. Paul’s premier outfit FS (Fuzzy Slippers) Studio. Leone, who had fine time producing the album, attests, “Debbie was great to work with in the studio. She has a great sense of where a song needs to go during the recording process. We would do three passes on any particular tune and could use any one of them for a final. What a professional. [And this album] represents Debbie very well as a jazz singer. She is so versatile and we could have gone in a lot of different directions but really wanted to focus this project into a great vocal jazz showcase in the spirit of Sarah Vaughn and Carmen McRae. I believed we achieved that through our song selection and arrangements that let Debbie’s voice be the central focus of every track as it should be.”
Her representation, LL Enterprises, certainly seems to be doing it right: the Twin Cities legend just came back from wowing crowds in, of all places, Italy. How was it? “A beautiful experience,” she states. “The people were so gracious, they just opened up their musical hearts to you. They were completely into the music and went out of their way to let you know how much they enjoyed it. They so appreciate the arts in Europe. We did ten concerts in ten smaller cities and regions, areas were they wouldn’t generally get the chance to hear this music in a concert setting. And the audiences were awesome. I can’t wait to go back to Europe again. I always enjoy the great people and audiences. I also realize how young we are as a country; [there’s] so much history there. For instance, we played in a theater that was built in the 17th century and they kept everything just as it is with the exception of adding electricity. It was absolutely beautiful — the detail, the paintings and the carvings, the paintings on the ceiling and the chandeliers, you had to see it to drink it all in. I felt blessed to have been given the chance to perform there.”
Up next, says Leon, is a national release for 2006 with PR and radio promotion (details are currently being worked out). Check more information at www.debbieduncanjazz.com.