Bobbe Norris And Larry Dunlap
Bobbe Norris and Larry Dunlap bring romance to their music.
Thursday, February 27, 2003
The relationship between an accompanist and a singer can be particularly intimate, a musical pas de deux marked by empathetic interplay and crackling creative energy.
For Bobbe Norris, a husky-voiced jazz vocalist, and Larry Dunlap, a witty, hard swinging pianist, the close connection they established on stage quickly lit a spark off the bandstand. Both were veteran performers when they first started working together in the late-70s, and for the past two decades the Bay Area-based couple has maintained one of the most rewarding musical marriages in jazz. Their dazzling musical repartee will be on display on Saturday at the Jazz & Blues Company.
"We''ve put together a show featuring some old favorites, standards from the American Songbook that are real classics, and some obscure gems that people might not be familiar with," Norris says. "It''s an unabashedly romantic show, what you might want to hear on a magical night with that certain someone."
Norris attained a first class jazz education hanging around Jimbo''s Bop City in San Francisco''s Fillmore District, where she absorbed music ''til dawn sitting in with local players and visiting jazz stars. She started working professionally at 17, and while her parents weren''t keen on her dating, they had no problem with her staying out all night to sing. A stint at the Purple Onion in North Beach, working opposite the Smothers Brothers and Phyllis Diller, put her on the entertainment map, and before long she heard the call of New York.
She made the Big Apple move in the early ''60s, and spent her first few years sitting in with musicians like Wes Montgomery and Joe Williams. Signed to Columbia by legendary talent scout and producer John Hammond, Norris quickly discovered that the label wanted her to forsake her jazz roots to make pop albums.
"I was wearing the flashy gowns, they were trying to turn me into Barbra Streisand," Norris says. "It was a little too much for me. I studied acting and dancing, but I didn''t want to be a movie star. The more I did it, the more unhappy I got, because I had so much pressure. So I came back to San Francisco in 1970 and went back to college to be a music teacher. I had almost graduated and then I met Larry and he got me back singing."
Dunlap was already a veteran player with a diverse resume. He had played keyboards in the popular Bay Area fusion band Listen, gigged with tenor titan Joe Henderson and recorded extensively with the late great Cape Verdean composer Amandio Cabral, who was a longtime Bay Area resident. But was best known as an ace accompanist who had spent several years touring with Cleo Laine. "A lot of musicians don''t like working with singers, but I do", Dunlap says. "I enjoy painting a musical picture behind a singer."
Though Norris and Dunlap recorded a handful of fine albums together in the ''80s, none are now in print. For people who haven''t had the chance to hear Norris perform, it might seem that this refreshingly mature jazz artist appeared, as the title track to her last album suggests, Out of Nowhere.
It''s a breathtaking, self-produced recording that captures Norris smoky contralto surrounded by Dunlap''s urbane arrangements. Exploring standards such as "Star Eyes" and "Only The Lonely," Norris has found a repertoire perfectly suited to her full-throated sensual sound.