On Azalea, the extraordinary Bop City debut CD of vocalist LM Pagano, you can discern the influences of those legends she grew up with. And much more: Pagano is a unique song stylist who carries the torch of lyrical interpretation not heard since Carmen McRae, Peggy Lee, Jeri Southern and other jazz giants.
By the time she was twelve years old, she’d learned to play piano and guitar. Within three years, LM was juggling a busy schedule, attending school, working afternoons as a seamstress, and playing the L.A. music venues most nights. LM hooked up with a pianist and started performing in cabaret venues. A quirky success soon followed in no time they were booking dates at clubs in New York and L.A. "All of the jazz I’d been listening to for all those years started banging at the door," she laughs. "I’d want to swing a tune, or I’d want different kinds of chords. I’d get blasted by the cabaret critics: they’d say ‘Ms. Pagano is quite talented, but she should do patter.’ Well, I didn’t want to do patter, I wanted to sing!"
LM started picking up gigs in Los Angeles, and continued to evolve her own singing style and found herself influenced by the two Tony Bennett/Bill Evans duo albums. "The purity of what each did on those albums, together and apart. I was listening to Bill as much as to Tony," she reveals. "Hearing how he played; the freedom. I loved Tony because of his connection to the lyrics. As a singer, I come first from the story; once I’ve got the story in my heart, that’s when I can sing the song. My concentration is on what I’m saying, not how I’m saying it."
Not long after, she was joined by guitarist Larry Koonse, pianist Henry Spurgeon, bassist Kevin Axt, and drummer Kendall Kay for the follow up recording, Azalea. Pagano has been playing with her core trio for 5 years. Spurgeon, is an L.A. based pianist who first cut his teeth playing in Boston and New York, after attending Berklee School of Music and Julliard. Koonse is an extraordinary guitarist from the Los Angeles Jazz Quartet.
In its initial, independent release, Azalea garnered airplay in key markets such as L.A. and Boston, and began to create a buzz in the jazz world. On Azalea, Pagano features Cy Coleman’s world weary "When In Rome," the gentle and gorgeous Bob Dorough composition, "Love Came On Stealthy Fingers," her own seductively moving "Touch Her Soft Lips and Part," and the title track, "Azalea," written by the great Duke Ellington.
It was on KJZZ that legendary jazz promoter Dick LaPalm heard a track from Azalea. His response was immediate he called LM and offered to help her find a label deal. It didn’t take long. "Dick called me and asked, are you sitting down? " LM recalls. I said, "I’m driving." And he said, "Well pull over! I sent your album to Al Schmitt and he wants to sign you. Now!" And LM’s been on cloud 9 ever since.
Schmitt, a seven-time Grammy-winning producer/engineer and co-founder of the Bop City label, applied his handiwork to remixing Azalea. In its new form, every element of performance glistens with subtle sonic shades. On classic titles such as "Until I Met You (Corner Pocket)" and lush rarities like Bob Dorough’s "Love Came on Stealthy Fingers," LM’s singing turns each note and every word into a story, and each song into an experience not soon forgotten.