Lorraine Feather brings family tradition to Jazz and Blues Co.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Lorraine Feather’s name goes a long way toward explaining an upbringing steeped in music. Not her surname, mind you, which comes courtesy of her father, the late, legendary jazz critic and songwriter Leonard Feather. No, I’m talking about her given monikers, Billie Jane Lee Lorraine, which were bestowed upon her in honor of 1) her godmother Billie Holiday, 2) her mother Jane, who was a jazz singer around New York when she and Leonard met, 3) Jane’s former roommate Peggy Lee, and 4) the song “Sweet Lorraine.”
An accomplished singer who has carved out a successful career as a lyricist for all occasions, Feather performs a program of her original pieces at the Jazz and Blues Company on Saturday accompanied by the superlative pianist Shelly Berg.
The duo first teamed up when she was performing songs from her 2001 album New York City Drag, which showcases Feather’s lyrics for Fats Waller compositions. When New York City-based piano great Dick Hyman wasn’t available for gigs—he’s one of a handful of players versed in the demanding, heavily syncopated Harlem stride school that formed the bedrock of Waller’s style—she contacted Berg. He wasn’t a stride expert, but Berg was game for the challenge, and they’ve been working together ever since.
“It took him a long time to get the stride thing down,” Feather says from her home in Half Moon Bay. “But he’s such a great player, and now he kills the stride numbers. For this show, I’m going to range far and wide. I’ve put out four albums in the last five years, and I’ll be doing pieces from all of them.”
If Feather talks like a prolific writer, it’s because her output is in fact staggering. She writes songs for various animated series, films, television shows and specials. Songs with her lyrics have been recorded by an international array of artists, including Patti Austin, Phyllis Hyman, Brazilian pop star Djavan, David Benoit, Kenny Rankin, Tom Scott, Diane Schuur and Dame Cleo Laine. Given her father’s reputation as one of jazz’s preeminent critics, it’s easy to forget that Feather is a second-generation songwriter who grew up watching her dad toil over tunes.
“He was an avid songwriter his whole life,” Feather says. “In fact, he made more money writing songs than writing columns and books. And he was very supportive of my efforts.”
Feather didn’t set out to go into the family business. As a child she took piano lessons from the Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis, but neglected to practice. She moved to New York City at 18 to break into acting, but when her drama career hit the doldrums she found more work as a singer, and ended up performing with acts as diverse as Grand Funk Railroad and Petula Clark. She had her most widespread success with the pop/jazz vocal group Full Swing, which is when she realized she had a gift for crafting lyrics.
“Richard Perry, a swing music fanatic, was our producer, and I found out he wanted to do some songs based on old swing pieces,” Feather says. “I ended up writing a lyric for the Horace Henderson tune ‘Big John Special,’ that was used in the film Swing Shift. I look back on those lyrics and there are things I would change, but I could feel I had a knack for it.”
LORRAINE FEATHER AND SHELLY BERG perform 7:30pm on Saturday, Jan. 20, at The Jazz & Blues Company, The Eastwood Building, San Carlos and Fifth, Carmel. 624-6432.