Love Is Here To Stay is the sort of album that major labels just don’t make anymore. In recent years, projects such as these have more often than not become the provenance of boutique labels such as Audiophile and DRG, whose catalogues are largely devoted to standards as performed by top-shelf cabaret vocalists like Sandy Stewart. In fact, not since the 60s and the Columbia album collaborations of Eileen Farrell and André Previn has the pop or jazz division of a major label actively undertaken a major release devoted to piano-vocal art song interpretations of the American Popular Standard repertoire. This is that sort of album.
Interestingly, Sandy Stewart has two titles on boutique labels, and were it not for the fact that her collaborator here, Bill Charlap, is a Blue Note artist and one of the great jazz pianists of our time, a small cabaret label is precisely where we would expect Stewart to remain. That this album is enjoying a wider release is as much a testament to the growing importance of pianist Charlap as it is to the high caliber of their work together. That Charlap is also Stewart’s son might be an interesting footnote, were it not that the sensitivity of that relationship is precisely what makes this project so special.
The songbook is meticulously selected and lovingly performed here by both Stewart and Charlap, and reads like a primer on the best in twentieth century songwriting: Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers, Berlin, and Arlen, all of whom are necessary components in any scholarly overview. But the addition of later, more recherché names such as June Carroll, Rod McKuen, and Moose Charlap (husband and father of the two performers here) opens the program up to a broader canvas, one that displays the exquisite taste these two performing artists possess.
Over the last few years Bill Charlap’s trio with Kenny Washington and Peter Washington has released brilliant album after brilliant album. Together they are the state-of-the-art, and probably the greatest working trio in jazz. However, Charlap’s sensitivity toward vocal music in general and good songwriting in particular, likely comes from earlier childhood influences. His father (renowned songwriter Moose Charlap) and mother (vocalist Sandy Stewart) both raised him well, with the right sounds around the house and the right amount of encouragement in his musical training. Going on to a career in music, Bill was a natural as a vocal accompanist; with sensitivity ingrained, "bred-in" to his playing.
What we hear in "Love Is Here To Stay" is not only the playing of one of the best accompanists in the field supporting a superior singer of standards, but that of a son who listens as his mother speaks, the good son who allows his mom to make the first move, make her point, and have the last word. It’s truly a remarkable thing whenever this sort of musical relationship evolves, but the case of Charlap, there quite simply is no choice in the matter - he is pointedly the best individual to be accompanying this particular singer.
For her part, Sandy Stewart has matured into an extremely sensitive vocalist and interpreter. Those of us with recollections of her many appearances on US network television of the early 60s, and those who actually possess a copy of her sole Colpix album "My Coloring Book" may remember a pleasant-faced girl with an attractive smile and a pretty enough voice. But as is often the case with singers, interpretive greatness often comes later than with other instruments in the field. A good amount of life experience is necessary before lyrics of depth start to resonate and ring true. Some 40 years later, Stewart has lived and loved, and it shows in the savvy way she works this repertoire. Stewart has achieved a remarkable level of truth in her performance.
The voice itself has held up exceptionally well. On this disc, Stewart’s tone is pleasingly warm, her breath control surprisingly well maintained, and the intonation, though pitch perfect, sounds authentic as opposed to computer enhanced -- unlike the vast majority of vocal releases of the past couple years. This is no small point, as the advent of auto-tune has stripped the emotional depth and artistry out of many a vocal album so far, and there appears to be no end in sight. Sandy Stewart, Bill Charlap and producer Joel Moss have together crafted a recording that sounds clean and accurate, but also truthful.
Though not a "Bill Charlap Trio" album, "Love Is Here To Stay" is a superb example of classic pop, jazz, and cabaret vocalizing, as well as a musicians guide on how to accompany a soloist of any kind. "Love Is Here To Stay" is a delight and a worthy addition to any CD collection.