Bluer than velvet: The Prysock Project
Many thanks to JAZZIZ magazine for this 2-page feature review spread in its Summer 2018 issue, on male jazz vocalists, Kurt Elling, Allan Harris and myself, along with a sidebar review for the re-release of Midnight Mood by the master, the late Mark Murphy, reprinted here. Thanks to Bob Weinberg for his reviews and takes on all four of us. —EJD
BOB WEINBERG — JAZZIZ magazine
Allan Harris, E. J. Decker and Kurt Elling offer three views of a man and a microphone.
The fraternity of enduring male jazz voices is a fairly selective one. It encompasses singers who straddled the line between jazz and blues, like Big Joe Turner and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, and others who had a foot in jazz and another in the pop world, like Billy Eckstine or Al Hibbler, whose roots were in the big bands of the 1930s and ’40s. Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra could lay claim to jazz and pop bona fides, as could Joe Williams and Johnny Hartman. And then there were innovators like Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson, who honed a method to incorporate the breathless excitement of bebop into their singing, an approach that was labeled “vocalese.”
Allan Harris also fits into more than one of these categories, his selection of material covering jazz standards, blues, rock, R&B and even cowboy music, during his 20-plus-year career. Anticipating Jefferson’s centennial in August, Harris salutes the late singer on his most ambitious jazz recording yet, The Genius of Eddie Jefferson (Resilience Music Alliance). Harris had dipped a toe into the Jefferson songbook with his read of “I’ve Got the Blues” — Jefferson’s take on Lester Young’s “Lester Leaps In” — on his 2015 release Black Bar Jukebox, and tackled the late lyricist’s best-known work, “Moody’s Mood for Love,” on his 2016 follow-up Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better. But Genius represents Harris’ first full immersion into Jefferson’s signature style of singing lyrics to instrumental solos from classic jazz tunes.
As usual, the Brooklyn-based singer displays impeccable taste, selecting illustrative examples of Jefferson’s deft wordcraft. And while he’s frequently fulfilled the role of balladeer and blues singer, Harris more than rises to the challenges of this tongue-tangling material. Dig his dexterous rip through “Dexter Digs In” or his breath-defying leap into “Billie’s Bounce,” as he versifies the quicksilver solos of Dexter Gordon and Charlie Parker, respectively. He’s aided in this task by an accommodating rhythm section of pianist Eric Reed, bassist George DeLancey and drummer Willie Jones III, and spurred on by the twin saxophones of tenorist Ralph Moore and altoist Richie Cole. As a close associate of Jefferson’s — he was with him on the early morning that he was gunned down outside a club in Detroit in 1979 — Cole provided Harris with plenty of insight and encouragement.
Jefferson clearly communicated affection and esteem for jazz artists who had indelibly stamped the genre with their highly personalized voices. He defended Miles Davis’ surly indifference toward audiences with his lyrics to “So What?”; paid loving homage to Coleman Hawkins with his lyric to “Body and Soul”; and saluted Pres’ lyrical take on “It’s Only a Paper Moon” with “Lester’s Trip to the Moon,” all of which Harris explores here. On “Body and Soul,” Harris makes the most of his smoky, expressive instrument, accompanied solely by Reed’s elegant piano. Jefferson’s hipness extended to hard bop and soul jazz, too — he appropriated Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine” and Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie” and “Filthy McNasty,” all of which provide exciting highlights of Harris’ album, as well.
While Jefferson seems eternally cool, passing time and changing tastes have somewhat obscured the legacy of balladeer Arthur Prysock. Following the example of Eckstine, Prysock worked his mellow baritone magic on some of the most romantic songs imaginable. His mature style is evident from early recordings with Buddy Johnson’s big band in the 1940s, although his artistry ripened throughout a long career that survived rock and roll and disco. Now, vocalist E.J. Decker brings renewed attention to Prysock with his recording Bluer Than Velvet (Candela), a collection of songs associated with the singer, who died in 1997.
The son of a baritone big-band singer himself, Decker certainly possesses the timbre necessary for such an undertaking. His reads of Prysock staples such as “Autumn in New York” and “(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance” connect with the underlying emotions of the material, even if some of his phrasing seems a bit forced — as compared to Prysock’s easy manner. The singer truly hits the sweet spot on swinging renditions of songbook staples “What a Difference a Day Made” and “On the Street Where You Live,” and he sounds quite at home on blues numbers such as “You Had Better Change Your Ways” and “It’s Too Late (Baby Too Late).”
Throughout, Decker receives excellent support from pianist Les Kurtz, bassist Saadi Zain and drummer Tom Melito. Baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, guitarist Chris Bergson and trombonist Elizabeth Frascoia all make outstanding contributions, as well.
Among the most gifted vocalists of his generation, Kurt Elling embodies the best of what Jefferson and Prysock had to offer, consistently displaying an ability to plumb a song’s musical and textural depths. With a range as vast as the Himalayas, the Chicago-born singer can engage in vocal gymnastics and deliver a lyric with devastating emotional force. Those skills are in abundance on The Questions (OKeh), Elling’s most recent album exploring existential queries, affairs of the heart and what could be construed as political matters with equal passion.
Even when he swings and misses, as on a read of Bob Dylan’s timeless “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” you have to applaud his chutzpah. Elling’s emotional plaint, which begins a cappella, runs counter to Dylan’s world-weary delivery, at times overwhelming the lyric. With lines such as “I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children,” Dylan understood that a hard sell was unnecessary. As were backing musicians — Dylan originally performed it unaccompanied on acoustic guitar. And as good as they are, Elling’s bandmates add a surfacy sheen that seems out-of-synch with the song’s intent.
Elling’s much more successful on Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” his remarkable instrument going from hushed and intimate to soaring and inspirational. Like “Hard Rain,” the song resonates with current times as it explores what it means to be American. Elling delivers goosebumps in abundance as he takes flight on the bridge, capturing the dreamlike out-of-body imagery that takes him floating past the Statue of Liberty.
The singer may have left divinity school before completing his master’s, but he continues to examine the Big Issues. Life and love, death and what comes next are poetically vetted on songs such as “A Happy Thought,” on which Elling sets Franz Wright’s verse to music composed by the set’s pianist, Stu Mindeman; and on a poignant cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Washing of the Water.” And, providing an album highlight, Elling sings self-penned lyrics to Jaco Pastorius’ lilting “Three Views of a Secret.” Taking his inspiration from the 13th-century romantic poet Rumi, he concludes that what might all culminate in a “cosmic swan dive” is worth enduring when true love is the reward.
SHARIF ABDUS-SALAAM — Jazz Alternatives, live interview, WKCR 89.9FM, NYC:
Fifty minutes of conversation and music in-studio with baritone E.J. Decker
C. MICHAEL BAILEY — All About Jazz
“Exceptional. One of the year’s best!”
"First, Arthur Prysock. Arthur Prysock was one of those artists who straddled the jazz and R&B genres who, while gaining attention, never became a household word except to those listening closely, like vocalist E.J. Decker, who effectively pays homage to this unsung hero on Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project. Prysock began his career in 1944 with the Buddy Johnson Band, and then, going solo in 1952, after initially signing with Decca Records as a younger version of Billy Eckstine or a more R&B version of Johnny Hartman, with whom he is most closely compared. Prysock was noted for his deep and quietly virile baritone voice and unique vocal delivery. So perfect is E.J. Decker’s voice for this project, Decker had been encouraged by the late Mark Murphy (yes, THAT one) to pursue this project.
Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project is a generously appointed release consisting of 14 songs associated with Prysock. Decker's vocal delivery here is so unique and idiosyncratic that its immediate identifiability emerges as its most potent charm. Decker croons these songs over a piano-guitar quartet augmented by the superb baritone saxophone of the most sublime Claire Daly and the trombone of Elizabeth Frascoia: low reeds and brass to complement the low register of Decker's delivery. 'What A Difference A Day Made,' 'When I Fall In Love,' and 'On The Street Where You Live' all bare the marks of a carefully developed voice. An excellent recording by any measure."
JOE DIMINO — NEON Jazz, Kansas City, MO
"Welcome to a new edition of the Neon Jazz Interview Series, with Jazz Baritone E.J. Decker. E.J. speaks briefly with Neon Jazz, from his home just off Broadway in NYC, about his 2018 CD, Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project — and delves into his background, his music and his life…"
DEBBIE BURKE — Debbie Burke: Jazz Author blog
"A Cloak of Passion with Baritone E.J. Decker —
Oozing with insinuation and dripping with testosterone, the smoldering voice of baritone E.J. Decker is something unusual these days. Many excellent tenor singers make the jazz circuit, but to intentionally and prematurely train one’s naturally bari voice to stretch even further into sub-woofer territory and do it with class and sass requires a rare talent.
A devotee of the great low voices, one in particular has held Decker’s fancy more than the rest: Arthur Prysock. Decker has devoted a whole lot of research and love into his latest project, a CD called Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project, released this April. Whether shadowed beautifully by a hot and sultry trombone or a passionate bari sax, Decker gives songs like '(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance' or 'Since I Fell For You' new spark and more than a hint of lust."
To see E.J.'s full, in-depth Q&A with Debbie Burke — click here!
Claudia Russell — KSDS-FM Public Radio 88.3, San Diego, CA
"When we talk about ‘classic’ jazz, I think what we really mean is timeless jazz. Music that not only endures for decades, but remains relevant. This is where E.J. Decker comes in. With Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project, he goes deep into the timeless sound of Arthur Prysock, carefully choosing a repertoire that is at once classic and fresh. The Prysock Project breathes life into songs that have obviously made a lasting impression on this vocalist.
Having been fortunate enough to watch this recording project move from concept to final tracks, I’ve been reminded of the determination and commitment it takes to be an artist, to have a desire to honor a legacy, and to jump in on your own to make it happen. I’ve listened to it again and again, each time hearing another nuance, another nod, another moment of appreciation for the groundwork laid by an often under-sung classic singer. And I hear compassion, heartache, and humor in this music. This is why it’s worthy of your time…"
RAUL de GAMA — Jazz da Gama blog
"The Bluer Than Velvet in the title of this disc could just as easily apply to E.J. Decker and the naturally svelte baritone that he brings to this long-overdue homage to the legendary vocalist Arthur Prysock. Mr. Decker’s sassy articulation (as in 'Why Can’t You Behave?') brings monumental swagger to music that Mr. Prysock turned into the stuff of myth and it is in this repertoire that Mr. Decker establishes his own singular mastery with buttery gravitas and sheer elegance, conjuring all things exquisite about the Prysock insouciance in a volcanic mix that is moistened and heated up with Mr. Decker’s voice and the deep diving horns of Claire Daly and Elizabeth Frascoia that whisper their seduction alone and together through the repertoire.
This melding together of voice and baritone saxophone, with the trombone often mimicking human voice-like growls and smears is a master-stroke in the production of this music and both Miss Daly and Miss Frascoia (the interminable, swooning notes of her solo on '(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance' are unforgettable) pull off their roles in the music with beckoning aplomb. But also in the mix is Chris Bergson’s guitar that wails with elemental blues in 'It’s Too Late (Baby Too Late)' as he boogies down and dirty with Les Kurtz’s honky-tonk pianism. Bassist Saadi Zain holds things together with his magnificent tonal colours and his rolling thunder glued together with more thunder and lightning from Tom Melito’s drums making this a truly great ensemble that knows when to shine in the spotlight and when to recede into the shadows and let Mr. Decker enjoy his splendid moment in the glinting lights.
But make no mistake this this hour and a quarter is E.J. Decker’s in all its crepuscular glory. The manner in which he makes the narrative of 'When You Walked in the Room' unfold is one of the most masterful executions of vocalastics you will ever hear on record. And be warned, you will need many a moment to let the hair, raised on the nape of your neck, settle down again. It is not therefore hyperbole to suggest that there could hardly be a finer exhibition of vocal genius since Billy Eckstine – or indeed Mr. Prysock, for that matter – made love to the lyrics of a song. And this is undeniably what Mr. Decker does to the music, as he does together with bassist Saadi Zain on 'When I Fall in Love,' the latter putting the finishing touches on the seduction with short, masterful phrases con arco to sign on and sign off on the song.
And finally it’s refreshing to find an iconic ballad delivered with a tad more effervescence than was written into it by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe ('On The Street Where You LIve'). Some of that zip is poured into the beautiful arrogance of 'I Could Write a Book' as well. Throughout it all, though, Mr. Decker never loses sight of his original intention, which was to glorify Arthur Prysock. And while it bears mention (again) that someone did, it’s unlikely than anyone will do so with such mastery of vocal music as E.J. Decker does, as he puts the icing on the proverbial cake with '(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance' – and then again with 'September in the Rain.'
Track list – 1: You Had Better Change Your Ways; 2: Autumn In New York; 3: What A Difference A Day Made; 4: Blue Velvet; 5: Why Can’t You Behave; 6: Since I Fell For You; 7: It’s Too Late (Baby Too Late); 8: When You Walked In The Room; 9: He Loves And She Loves; 10: When I Fall In Love; 11: On The Street Where You Live; 12: I Could Write A Book; 13: (I Don’t Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance; 14: September In The Rain
Personnel – E.J. Decker: vocals; Claire Daly: baritone saxophone (2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12);
Elizabeth Frascoia: trombone (4, 5, 7, 13); Les Kurtz: piano; Chris Bergson: guitar;
Saadi Zain: bass; Tom Melito: drums
Released – 2018 / Label – Candela Records"
KEN FRANCKLING — Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes blog
"Singer E.J. Decker’s newest CD pays tribute to the late, great jazz storyteller Arthur Prysock. Bluer Than Velvet includes 11 hit tunes that Prysock recorded during his career from the mid-1940s through the 1970s, including 'Blue Velvet,' 'A Ghost of a Chance,' 'September in the Rain' and 'Since I Fell For You.' Decker added three more tunes that Prysock never recorded, but have the same feel as the late baritone’s material. They are Cole Porter’s 'Why Can’t You Behave,' the Gershwin Brothers’ 'He Loves and She Loves,' and Lerner and Loewe’s 'On The Street Where You Live.' With superb backing from baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, guitarist Chris Bergson, trombonist Elizabeth Frascoia, pianist Les Kurtz, bassist Saadi Zain and drummer Tom Melito, New Yorker Decker has carved out his own space in today’s jazz vocal genre – while also underscoring Prysock’s important contributions."
GEORGE HARRIS — Jazz Weekly
"Vocalist E.J. Decker does a well overdue tribute to molasses-toned singer Arthur Prysock on this wonderfully hip album. He is backed by a supporting team of Claire Daly/bs, Chris Bergson/g, Les Kurtz/p, Elizabeth Frascoia/tb, Saadi Zain/b and Tom Melito/dr, covering the waterfront of moods and grooves.
Decker oozes like Elmer’s Glue with Daly and Bergson on 'Autumn In New York,' slinking on the bluesy 'You Had Better Change Your Ways' and hiply hiccupping with Daly on 'What A Difference A Day Made.' Some late-night crooning with Frascoia on the pop ballad 'Blue Velvet' is a delight, while he growls to Melito’s rumble on 'Why Can’t You Behave?' Late-night sepia colors are in full hue with Zain’s bass for 'On The Street Where You Live' and Decker digs deep into sub-tones with Zain’s bowed bass on 'When I Fall In Love.' This album is thicker and sweeter than sorghum molasses, and just as tasty. Grab it and dig in!"
JAY GREENE — WDCB-FM, Chicago, IL
"A very cool release!"
GENO THACKARA — All About Jazz
Rating: **** 4 Stars (out of 5)
"E. J. Decker probably could write a book if they asked him — his shaping influences and history of musical collaborations (not to mention social activism) would make it a fascinating one indeed — but it would be so much nicer to hear him sing it. A voice smooth as, well, velvet (pardon the obvious simile) lets him put a rich soulful stamp on anything from that Great American Songbook to classic rock or folk. For this long-in-coming labor of love, though, it's all about shining a light on the oft-overlooked Arthur Prysock: a dim smoky blue light, of course, preferably accompanied by a dry martini.
Bluer Than Velvet should do a service in nudging more listeners to remember or discover Prysock's R&B croon, though Decker's similarly cozy deep baritone lets this affair stand most appealingly on its own. The set consists of classic standards mellowed like a well-aged whiskey, unspooling at the easy pace of a wee-hours lounge set to ease the crowd through last call and last drinks. Most were Prysock staples, though Decker also throws in a couple others he never recorded — a lightly jaunty 'On the Street Where You Live,' making one album highlight—which still fit the program like a glove.
As Decker's drawl ekes the life and love out of each syllable, the band lightly swings in a style just as tasteful to match. Enticing trombone and baritone sax complement his low register with smooth shades of cabaret and blues; they and the dreamy piano and rhythm section could have stepped straight out of a lush Blue Note session from the 1950s. The themes lean on the wistful side—note the choice of 'What a Difference a Day Made,' featuring the song's mature side alongside a couple autumnal titles — yet there's a fair share of smiles too. Whatever the song or the mood, count on Decker to deliver it in a way all his own.
Track Listing: You Had Better Change Your Ways; Autumn in New York; What a Difference a Day Made; Blue Velvet; Why Can't You Behave?; Since I Fell for You; It's Too Late (Baby Too Late); When You Walked In the Room; He Loves and She Loves; When I Fall in Love; On the Street Where You Live; I Could Write a Book; (I Don't Stand) A Ghost of a Chance; September in the Rain.
Personnel: E.J. Decker: vocals; Claire Daly: baritone sax; Chris Bergson: guitar; Les Kurtz: piano; Elizabeth Frascoia: trombone; Saadi Zain: bass; Tom Melito: drums."
D. OSCAR GROOMES — O's Place Jazz Newsletter, Charlotte, NC
"O's Notes: E.J. Decker has rich baritone vocals that soothe the soul and set the foundation for his blues-based classics. Claire Daly (baritone sax), Chris Bergson (g) and Elizabeth Frascoia (tb) provide strong accompaniment on tunes like 'What A Difference A Day Made.' Les Kurtz tickles the ivory, with bassist Saadi Zain and drummer Tom Melito rounding out the rhythm section. We also liked 'It's Too Late (Baby Too Late),' with good support from Bergson. This program recreates the songs of Arthur Prysock, a rarely celebrated but formidable R&B legend of the 1960s. Decker’s arrangements are fresh, crisp and appreciable."
CHRIS SPECTOR — Midwest Record, Lake Zurich, IL
"A white boy whose father was replaced by Sinatra in the Dorsey band found out that those classy, black baritone vocalists had something going on. After hearing Arthur Prysock bring the class, the die was cast. Hitting it out of the park here in the classiest of ways, Decker isn’t aping Prysock so much as he is following in his footsteps. One of the class acts of the past, this is a smoking way to make sure he’s not forgotten."
MARY FOSTER CONKLIN — A Broad Spectrum, WFDU-FM, Teaneck, NJ
"E.J. Decker, Bluer Than Velvet, a tribute to Arthur Prysock. Long overdue. And it's a wonderful band. As I was listening to it, I was going, 'Who is on trombone?' I know that Claire Daly is on baritone sax because Claire plays with E.J. quite a bit. On trombone, Elizabeth Frascoia. Really lovely. And the rest of the band — not too shabby: Chris Bergson on guitar, Saadi Zain on bass, Tom Melito on drums and Les Kurtz on piano, and Claire — not bad! And tasty vocals — you gotta go for it! Bluer Than Velvet. And tell 'em I sent you!"
DAVID KENNEY — Everything Old Is New Again, WBAI-FM, New York, NY
"E.J. Decker, Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project. This just arrived on my desk this week, and I was looking forward to it for quite some time. He is "An Errand Boy for Rhythm"! Sit back and listen to his brand new release."
THIERRY GIARD — CultureJazz magazine, Saint-Nicolas-de-Coutances, France
"Vous excuserez la comparaison mais ce vocaliste américain m’a fait tout de suite penser à Eddy Mitchell, le vétéran frenchie... La comparaison n’a rien d’infamant remarquez. Sans doute le timbre assez grave d’une voix qu’E.J. Decker sait mettre en valeur dans le cadre d’une formation robuste. Si, comme moi, vous ne connaissez pas encore ce vocaliste qui n’est pourtant plus un gamin, écoutez ce disque en hommage au vocaliste Arthur Prysock (1924 ou 1929–1997).
E. J. Decker : voix / Claire Daly : saxophone baryton / Elizabeth Frascoia : trombone / Les Kurtz : piano / Chris Bergson : guitare / Saadi Zain : basse / Tom Melito : batterie"
"You'll excuse the comparison but this American vocalist made me immediately think of Eddy Mitchell, the veteran Frenchie... The comparison is nothing bad, you see -- probably that rather serious timbre of a voice that E.J. Decker knows how to highlight as part of a robust training. If, like me, you do not yet know this vocalist, who is no longer a kid, listen to this record in homage to vocalist Arthur Prysock (1924 or 1929–1997).
E. J. Decker: vocals / Claire Daly: baritone saxophone / Elizabeth Frascoia: trombone / Les Kurtz: piano / Chris Bergson: guitar / Saadi Zain: bass / Tom Melito: drums"
JACK FREIDEN — The Vocal Sound of Jazz, WHRV-FM, Norfolk, VA
"A new voice making itself heard on tonight's Vocal Sound of Jazz; it belongs to a gentleman named E.J. Decker — he's out of the New York City area — I think he has two previous albums out; this new one is called Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project, a reference to Arthur Prysock. And E.J. Decker very much has a vocal resemblance, not only to Prysock, but to Johnny Hartman and Billy Eckstine."
JOE LANG — Other Views, Jersey Jazz, Journal of the New Jersey Jazz Society, Summit, NJ
"There have been several deep baritone vocalists who have left a lasting impression on the world of pop/jazz vocalizing, Billy Eckstine, Johnny Hartman and Arthur Prysock, the most noted among them. E. J. DECKER was exposed to Prysock during his formative years, and when he turned his performing attention from folk and rock to jazz, he felt the influence of Prysock deeply. Bluer Than Velvet (Candela 9942) is his tribute to Prysock. Backed by Claire Daly on baritone sax, Elizabeth Frascoia
on trombone, Les Kurtz on piano, Chris Bergson on guitar, Saadi Zain on bass and Tom Melito on drums, Decker presents a 14-song program featuring songs like “Autumn in New York,” “Blue Velvet,” “Since I Fell for You,” “When You Walked in the Room” and “I Could Write a Book” that were recorded by Prysock, as well as “Why Can’t You Behave?” “He Loves and She Loves” and “On the Street Where You Live,” non-Prysock tunes that Decker has included, singing in a manner inspired by Prysock. Decker has a rich voice that captures much of the Prysock sound, but his interpretive powers lack some of the depth of feeling that Prysock evoked. Still, he has produced a fitting tribute to the singer whose singing has stuck with Decker through all phases of his career."
A Job of Work (Tales of the Great Recession)
"… Your CD is wonderful, and you have a great sounding voice. Reminds me of an Elvis jazz sound, but you're definitely an original. You certainly are my taste! I just love your sound and it's relatively rare. I always loved Elvis's sound. You have a jazz sound, though—but some of the same sounds with that deep voice. Just great."
—Sheila Jordan, NEA Jazz Master, jazz vocalist
Rating: ***** 5 Stars (out of 5)
"…Blends the old and new, and [comes] straight from the heart, [with] real empathy. ... At the same time, your presentation [is] classic. Your take on "Street Of Dreams" is one of the very best I've heard, and "Cottage For Sale" was heartbreaking. It literally brought me to tears … your delivery of that song was devastating … an incredibly moving performance! Music which obviously comes from the heart. That's an increasingly rare thing in this day and age."
—John Segers, WUCF-FM, Orlando, FL
"Sit back and listen to this!"
—David Kenney, Everything Old Is New Again, WBAI-FM, New York, NY
"What a treat. He has [a] voice that has the smoothness of the late Barry White. But, unlike Barry, we are hit with the raspiness of a mountain lion. Check it out."
—John Shelton Ivany, TOP 21 Magazine, National News Bureau, Capitola, CA
"The more I listen to it, the more [I like it]. … the entire recording is all about what's going on with the recession, and I think it certainly has a story to tell in this day and age, especially lately."
—Janine Santana, Party 934 & KUVO-FM, Boulder, CO
Rating: **** 4 Stars (out of 5) — "E. J. has a wonderfully smooth baritone vocal tone that is most suitable for the blues. Decker self-characterizes it as "low notes for low times"! The 'low times' he refers to are our debilitating recession. There are twelve classic covers that are perfectly fitting today. 'Cottage For Sale,' 'Born To Lose' and 'Everything I Have Is Yours' are a few in a set that has something that will resonate with every listener. Decker delivers each tune with a warm, passionate, punch..."
—D. Oscar Groomes, O's Place Jazz Magazine
"Here is the new album by E. J. Decker, a veteran singer from New York who follows the old school tradition of Billy Eckstine and Johnny Hartman. You can amply feel the weight of his long career in his rich baritone and swinging vocals. ... Primarily backed up by a piano trio with added baritone sax and trombone on select pieces, this is a generous display of Decker’s talent, including his own arrangements on all tracks. Solos from the band members are also worthy of listening. Nice album!"
—Shigeyo Hyodo, Jazz Page, Tokyo, Japan
"A well thought out and beautifully arranged CD."
—Elliott Ames, WVOX, White Plains, NY
"Liner notes writer Bobby 'The Jazz Mind' Jackson has it perfectly encircled when he notes that E. J. Decker's work is a matter of 'easy-going unpretentiousness…[with] the common touch…[and] an immediate likability,' because that's exactly the way I felt upon hearing the very first cut, a great do-up of an obscure Tom Paxton gem, 'A Job Of Work.' Why did he choose to cover Tom's piece? I suspect for the same reason as Paxton: E. J.'s a prole and has the generosity of mind to empathize with the [honest] sentiments of others just trying to get by.
Decker seems like the kinda cat who works in a steel mill, a cabinetry factory, maybe even a mine, and puts in a hard day's work, then heads home to knock back a beer, throw on an LP, and sing along. ... It might be that often lower-register voice, distantly mindful of Paul Robeson, or it might be the unavoidably masculine atmosphere he can't help but occupy (again that honesty: ya gotta be what ya are), or perhaps it's the metropolitan Humanism that pervades his work.
Whatever it is, it fascinates because it melds the common with the exotic, in a perfect cross of the urban mundane alongside an aesthetic that refuses to die and blow away, to occupy a ghost land. Instead, it waits patiently and then recurs whenever someone like Decker finally comes along. 'Born to Lose' is perhaps the most perfect example. Delivered in honky-tonk parlance, think of it as the version that came from Texas and a jazzed-up hipster Willie Nelson, instead of Georgia and Ray Charles..."
—Mark S. Tucker, FAME (Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange), Peterborough, NH
"It is a work of art! Great job..."
—Linda Yohn, WEMU-FM, Ypsilanti, MI
"I'm proud of him. That's good stuff!"
—James Janisse, KEBN Radio, Los Angeles, CA
"The stories you tell through these songs are wonderful... your writing is something special."
—Eric Cohen, WAER Radio, Syracuse, NY
"[Saxophonist] Claire Daly and the rest of the backing bunch take these songs that hinge quite a bit on the various depressions this country has gone through and make them sound like '30s cartoon music, putting Decker's [voice] into an interesting setting. Recording once a decade or so, Decker takes steps to make it count and stand out as well. A wild set of quiet fire that has 'after hours' written all over it, but it gives you this strange feeling that 'after hours' starts around 6 a.m. Certainly a set to keep in mind when you want to encounter something completely different."
—Chris Spector, Midwest Record, Lake Zurich, IL
"He has a rich voice, for sure!"
—Slim, The Slim & Him Show, WRCU-FM, Hamilton, NY
"Thank you Ronen Kahali [radio host of 'The Jazz Business' from Holon, Israel], for putting the next track on to me... It's an album called A JOB OF WORK, by E. J. Decker. Never heard of him; vocalist. When I first heard it, I wasn't sure. But, after about three plays, it's really growing on me."
—Ray Porter, UK Jazz Radio, Ipswich, Suffolk, England, UK
"The new release by E. J. Decker..., 'Lush Life'... He did a pretty good job on that, I think. For any singer, it takes a lot of courage to sing that song."
—Rick Tozier, WMEA-FM, Bangor, ME
—Tony Soley, 10RADIO & TONE-FM, Devon, England, UK
While The City Sleeps...
"It’s so nice to finally hear someone who knows what they’re doing!”
—Laurel Watson, Jazz vocalist (Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Sonny Stitt)
"I'm telling you, man, this cat can SING!"
—Johnny "Tasty" Parker, Trumpet (Count Basie)
Rating: **** 4 Stars (out of 5) – "E. J. Decker has a strong voice touched by that of Billy Eckstine, although he has his own sound. While Decker mostly sings the lyrics and themes of the dozen songs fairly straight (although with swing), his quintet adds a strong jazz content to the music. ... Highlights include 'While The City Sleeps,' 'Tenderly,' 'Since I Met You Baby' and 'You Don't Know Me.'"
—Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
"I have had the perception of late that the current Jazz vocal field was dominated by women, but males appear to be holding their own in the genre. ...
E. J. Decker sings in a deep baritone voice while being accompanied by an up-tempo quintet on While the City Sleeps... (Candela EJ9265). His presentation is lush, and his songs have a tinge of brash elegance. Decker has a way of presenting his tunes using dynamic flair, and he commands attention through his direct and forceful delivery. He seems to prefer singing lesser-exposed standards, and he displays a bold stroke of authority on each of them. He also composed one of the program's ballads where his low voice effectively stretches and holds the notes. Decker keeps the melody line always in sight, but he does have a knack for accentuating phrases and word endings to give uniqueness to his performance. He occasionally dips into the Elvis Presley deep throated, rolled-word approach, but he is able to carry it off without seeming imitative.
The band, consisting of trumpeter [Randy] Sandke and tenor player [Bob] Kindred in front of the [Les] Kurtz, [Dave] Hofstra, [Tom] Melito piano trio, plays with incisive strokes in keeping with the pace set by Decker and his strong voice. They are able to get brassy and overt without diminishing Decker's role. The band stretches out with choruses of swinging music during the vocal breaks, filling in all the spaces with full-bodied blowing. Even with all its strength, the band does not steal any of the thunder of Decker. When he re-enters, he is in full charge, giving a fruity flavor to each tune. Decker sings many romantic tunes, but he does not come across as a sentimental romantic. There is just too much punch in his style to make that association. Nevertheless, he is a solid entertainer."
—Frank Rubolino, Cadence Magazine
"Among the high points on this album are his rich, baritone voice, a similarly rich knowledge of the jazz vocabulary, and the consistently solid performances of the instrumentalists.
One is first struck by Mr. Decker's rich baritone voice. It reminds the listener of Johnny Hartman, Billy Eckstine and so many great crooners of the past. His tone is resonant, his articulation immaculate. Mr. Decker's vocal inflection shows a clear understanding of the lyrics for each of his selections.
Similarly, he evidences a rich and far-reaching vocabulary of jazz and jazz influences. It is obvious, from the tune selection upward, that Mr. Decker is aware of the roots of this idiom. From "Tenderly" to "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" to "Sea Cruise," he offers a thorough presentation of his knowledge of the phraseology of the genre. For instance, on "It's Just a Matter of Time," a down-home blues selection, he uses all the slides, smears, growls and inflection of a true blues-man. From this extreme, to the other; on "Sea Cruise" (not generally thought of as a jazz song) he is equally familiar with appropriate devices, inflections and style. Mr. Decker does a wonderful job in synthesizing the jazz lexicon into his own luxurious style. ...
His voice is easy to listen to, and could become a favorite for anyone looking for a gratifying experience within the male vocal arena. Also, his knowledge of jazz is quite clearly expansive."
—Scott Gotschall, JAZZ IMPROV Magazine
On 4/15: "I can honestly say your CD blew me away. I did not know what to expect. ... But right from the first song, title cut, I knew I had a winner in my hands. I love your voice and while one has to always compare voices to other known singers, you have your own sound. I guess singers like Eckstine, Williams and Prysock have something in common with you, and that is clear diction and the ability to blend well with the band and make your vocal another 'instrument.' Lots of great interplay with Bob Kindred [tenor saxophone], whom I had never heard of, but is a fine sax player. I am very familiar with Randy Sandke [trumpet]. I will give it plenty of air time."
On 4/27: "Isn't E.J.'s CD mighty fine! I didn't know he was so tall, 6'4" or 6'5"—that is where he gets that wonderful baritone voice. I highly recommend this CD! Randy Sandke, on trumpet, is great but the whole band smokes. I had never heard of Bob Kindred, the tenor sax player, but, man, he can play that '40s Ben Webster-style horn. After repeated listens, I put this CD in the 'must have' category. It is one of those CDs that always puts you in a good mood."
On 5/18: "I had a call the other night when I played 'Since I Met You Baby,' from a woman who said he sounded a little like Elvis. I guess she was talking about the sexy way he sings on this song."
—Craig Turner, 52nd St. Jazz, WPNE, Green Bay, WI
"Thanks. I really enjoy it for my shows. Great standards and your originals are nice too."
—Joe Kelley, WVOF, New London, CT
On 4/27: "I am listening to your CD now, and enjoying it. I revel in the experience of hearing new people and what they're up to—especially male pop / jazz singers."
On 5/19: "I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as we did. It was fun and relaxing. I had a great time. Keep me posted as to your gigs, etc. I would love to catch you some time."
—John Hammel, WNTI, Hackettstown, NJ
"Your CD sounds superb..."
—Randy Sandke, Trumpet (Dick Hyman, Benny Goodman, Ken Peplowski, Mel Torme)
On 5/10: "I am jazz journalist and jazz producer on the Lithuanian State Radio where we broadcast jazz music on three radio programs ... It is really surprisingly wonderful record. Very melodic, relaxed music with excellent musicians."
On 6/28: "Indeed, I already played some tunes from your CD and plan to play more later. The songs played are 'While the City Sleeps,' 'Tenderly' and '(We're) Strangers Now.' The reaction of listeners was very positive, they mentioned your unique voice and melodism. Thank you again for your brilliant CD and songs you sing."
—Remigijus Leipus, Lithuanian Radio-1 jazz programme (LR-1)
"Right now I'm enjoying your beautiful and swinging album. And I'll for sure include it in my radio report. I also played with Bob Kindred—at jam sessions in Oslo! (I'm a trombone player also.)"
—Erling Wicklund, Norwegian Jazz Radio, NRK—Norsk Rikskringkasting