It's a time honored tradition for jazz artists to make instrumental versions of pop songs. Most of the music listening public recognizes the tunes of the Gershwin brothers as jazz songs even though George and Ira Gershwin wrote many of them for Broadway shows. Of course, the Gershwins were greatly influenced by jazz music, as were many of the lyricists and composers of the Great American Songbook era. The conversation between creators of popular song and jazz musicians served to promote and enliven both genres. Jazz fans got exposed to pop tunes of Broadway and films and the fans of popular music, the stage and silver screen got exposed to jazz. This combined to make jazz the popular music of the pre-rock and roll era.
Rock, soul, country and hip-hop have long supplanted jazz in terms of popularity. Many traditional jazz players ignored the songs of the rock era - a situation that has slowly started to change in recent years. That left the ground open to the contemporary (or smooth jazz) artists to try their hands at interpreting music from the post-rock canon. Hard core jazz fans often found those efforts unsatisfying even though many R&B fans ate them up. Part of the problem for jazz fans (and a major attraction for R&B fans) is that the songs often sounded like pop tunes that they covered. There was rarely any improvisation or musical conversation among the individual players. That too has begun to change as a new generation of contemporary jazz players like Alexander Boynton Jr. emerge.
Boynton takes his crack at Tony, Toni, Tone's "It Never Rains in Southern California" on his latest CD Doo Bee Doo Bop. The album sports two versions of the song. One is a shorter, traditional contemporary jazz take on a R&B song, and the other is a version that features the musicians engaging in a open jam session. Boynton calls on each of his sidemen to improvise on the melody, and the listener gets some pretty creative soloing and a lively conversation between the players.
Despite interesting covers like "It Never Rains," Doo Bee Doo Bop is an album that consists primarily of original songs. And on those tunes Boynton showcases an ease in merging accessible R&B and funk based songs in which the players have open range to engage and display their jazz chops. Those tracks include guest musicians who will be instantly recognizable to fans of contemporary jazz and R&B. The guest list includes pianist Jeff Lorber, trumpeter Rick Braun, and vocalist Phil Perry. The funky "Beyond the Gate" features an energetic give and take between a Harmon-muted trumpet and a piano. Bassist Boynton lays down a funky rhythm that allows his sidemen to create on the song "Kate." The haunting melody on "Movie Bass Song," features a lovely intermingling of a flute with an acoustic guitar.
Boynton, a business owner and entertainment industry veteran, knows enough about the business side of the industry to understand that a tune like "It Never Rains in Southern California" will be the track most likely to get the attention of fans and music executives. Yet, there is plenty of material on this well-balanced album that is worth a listen. Recommended
By Howard Dukes