What do you make of a romantic ballad that declares, "There's no true love, there's only routine?"
Yeah, nailed it.
Wednesday at the Rochester International Jazz Festival, Tin Pan Alley was just one block from Jazz, with Vilray as your shuttle-bus driver. Just Vilray alone onstage at Geva Theatre Center's Fielding Stage with his electric guitar, explaining how he got into songwriting after leaving his job overseeing a factory, where he had injured a finger. "I sort of realized my days as a person with fingers was limited," Vilray said, "so I'd better take advantage of them while I still have them."
He lives in Brooklyn, but his mind wanders the streets of Paris as the anti-Cole Porter. Vilray said he doesn't buy into Porter's philosophy of birds and bees making love, as Porter claims in "Let's Do It." In Vilray's world, it's "The saddest armadillo, don't cry into his pillow, so why do I?"
Vilray's songs are contemporary vintage. He whistled a verse and explained how songwriters in the old days would write for specific singers: "I wrote this song for Peggy Lee, kind of a later Peggy Lee," he said. "But she's dead, so…"
So he moved on, marveling at the film "Casablanca," and "how many scenes are in a bar where everyone is singing." Then he got some audience participation -- Vilray sang "I'm not ready," the audience responded with "He's not ready" -- and damn if it didn't sound like a "Casablanca" outtake.
"Songwriting is an act of self-tickling," he said.
Through the first show, Vilray's Fender amp hissed like an old 78-rpm record. Did he do that on purpose, just for the effect? Could be: He released a live album last year that was lathe cut direct to vinyl, crackles and all.
Friday's jazz haiku correction
Haikus are traditionally three lines of five, seven and five syllables. Sharp readers noted that the final line of Friday's haiku was seven syllables. So the last line of today's jazz haiku, a tribute to Vilray, and to be read alongside the comforting pop of vinyl, will reflect the fact that you owe me two.
Today's jazz haiku
No need for the moon
Songwriter peers at the heart
And finds that…
More vintage jazz
A few blocks away, at The Montage Music Hall, the concert by Tamar Korn & A Kornucopia was a companion piece to Vilray's performance.
This was a night to recreate a 30s jazz club. Singer Tamar Korn read a poem written by her father when he was 19 years old, and sang Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood."She and her band did an obscure Staples Singers song, "Today Was Tomorrow Yesterday," and Fats Waller's bounding "We the People." Korn's sass was reminiscent of Lee Morse, a popular singer of that era who staged several comebacks over the years, including one after she moved to Rochester in the 1950s. Morse is now buried in Riverside Cemetery.
The word "animated" may not be enough to describe Korn, especially as the show gained momentum. Like Vilray imitating a trombone with pursed lips, Korn mimicked her bandmates on drums, trombone and piano played by Gordon Webster -- who moved here from New York City two years ago.
With shades of Paul Whiteman's dance band of the 20s and 30s, Korn shimmied and spun around the stage with outstretched arms. She owned the room, even dancing like a wind-up toy across the metal barrier at the front of the stage that separates the crowd from the metal bands that usually play The Montage Music Hall.
Backman's state of chaos
While we wait for the state of New York to legalize pot, there are the Nordic bands at Lutheran Church of the Reformation. Often atmospheric in nature, there is something unusual in that air.
Thomas Backman and his quartet rolled through ballads with Backman on tenor sax, and a closing lullaby with him on bass clarinet. And what might be classified as Nordic crime jazz in the midst of a bustling city. Sometimes there were vocals: Josefine Lindstrand's lyrics, which she sang in a hushed, breathy tone, sometimes dirge-like, or with an urgent whisper. Words about climate change – apparently there are no Republicans in Sweden – or a reworked Emily Dickinson poem.
And "Pennsylvania," which the band said was a tribute to our neighbor to the south. Oskar Schönning bowed his electric bass, producing a sternum-rattling mournfulness. Julia Schabbauer rattled her sticks against the side of her drums, producing a sound not unlike someone searching through a kitchen drawer. But soon, as all Nordic bands seem bred to do, the music rose to a crescendo, as though a giant fissure were opening in the earth and swallowing all of Pennsylvania.
And don't worry, Backman promised, New York's turn is coming soon.
Day Seven: Jeff's picks
George Benson's Thursday-night show at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre is sold out.
George Coleman Quartet, 6 and 9 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. B.B. King, Ray Charles, Max Roach, Jimmy Smith, Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus. Just a few of the folks with whom the 84-year-old saxophonist has played and recorded.
Ron Artis II & The Truth, 7 and 8:45 p.m., Squeezer's Stage @ M&T Pavilion. A guitarist and singer-songwriter now living in Hawaii, Artis exudes a positive message with his music. It's soul and funk, but when he slows things down, Artis echoes the vibe of his home in the Pacific.
Soul Stew, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., Jazz Street Stage. Longtime favorites of the fest, the Toronto band offers funk, soul, R&B, reggae and blues. We usually see fest Co-producer Marc Iacona join the band for a number or two.
On Thursday night, I'll be checking out the Austrian pianist and multi-multi instrumentals of David Helbock's Random/Control at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., and Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeymakers at Geva Theatre Center's Fielding Stage, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.