IZZY GORDON / “My Funny Valentine”
I feel a little weird strongly recommending an artist about whom I know very little. Indeed, although I had a faint idea about the back story, it wasn’t until I did some deep research that I found out enough to write more than a paragraph or two. Beyond what little bit of new information I’ve gleaned, there’s still so very much that’s totally unknown. I have clues and vague impressions but... So, while I acknowledge the depth of my ignorance, I still have to say, I’m really, really impressed by Izzy Gordon.
This is Brazilian music that manages to sound both Brazilian and American (American as in black music produced by African Americans). Her work swings. There is a definite soulfulness plus extremely strong jazz elements. And then there’s her name: Izzy Gordon.
Denise Helena Rocha Gordon was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her mother sang but not professionally, her father was a professional musician. Her brother is a professional musician. Her aunt, Dolores Duran, was a major Brazilian vocalist of the fifties who died at the early age of 29. Izzy’s album, Aos Mestres Com Carinho: Homenagem a Dolores, is a deeply meaningful tribute to Dolores.
So why do I pick “My Funny Valentine,” which features a duet with her brother Tony? Simple. I like it. But beyond liking it, the song was one of Dolores Duran’s features. It confused me when I first heard the album but then I found out that Ella Fitzgerald had praised Dolores’ interpretation as one of the best Ella had ever heard.
And then I found out that Dolores Duran was not only a major league vocalist, she was also a major composer. Had hits. Her first big song was co-written with Tom Jobim, the godhead of Bossa Nova composers. Frank Sinatra even recorded one of her compositions. The deeper I got into it the more fascinating the back story turned out to be.
But what was really mysterious is that I could find virtually no info about Izzy. Not knowing Portuguese was certainly one of my problems but there are usually ways around the language barrier if you really, really want to get some info. Eventually I found an informal autobiographical statement in Portugues, used some internet translation software (it’s far from accurate but at least it gives you a decent idea), and the outline became clear.
Izzy was a late bloomer. She had reared two children before embarking on a singing career. Starting when you’re over thirty is extremely difficult for women because the entertainment industry looks at a woman before deciding whether they really like the way she sounds. Indeed, it’s hard for a woman to get presented to the public if she does have visual appeal and in today’s youth culture, thirty is old.
Then there was the fact that Izzy’s inclined toward jazz, which does not have much cache in the contemporary music marketplace. So, here she comes with an album of songs from the fifties written by her aunt and with one standard on the album. Although it did well in Brazil, there was absolutely no way it was going to make much noise internationally. It wasn’t exotic enough. Izzy wasn’t young enough.
So, here we are at BoL. I’ve been sitting on this one for well over a year. Going back to it from time to time, always enjoying it but never bowled over. It’s not the next new thing. It’s not something completely different. It’s just sweet. A heartfelt homage to a talented family member—one of the numbers even features Izzy’s mother, Denise, who is Dolores Duran’s sister.
Finally, I realized if Izzy’s music can’t get some play at BoL, where will it be noticed? When you realize that you are listening to compositions that are over fifty years old, fitted out in subtle contemporary arrangements that favor the soft and elegant; when you check all the little instrumental touches, especially the guitar work, and don’t forget the excellent use of strings on “Estrada Do Sol”; when you slow down and let the beauty of “Noitre De Paz” wash over you; when you take the time to check the subtle beauty of Izzy’s tender approach to music making, you will realize that what sounds simple is actually elemental elegance. These soothing sounds are actually the rarest of expressions; a sincere gift of love, a vocal caress, a musical embrace.
Izzy Gordon is making love to us when she sings. A mature and patient love, slow paced like cooking red beans all day Monday or making love all night Saturday and half of Sunday morning. Yes, this is music for grown folk, folk who are no longer in a rush to get it on, folk who are eager to take their time enjoying each other’s company.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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