My father gave a speech for several different events that was entitled “There Really Was a Camelot.” In the speech, he talked about how the “Sugar Hill” section of Harlem was a magical place and how his parents, Wilfred and Nettie Weekes owners of “Weekes' Luncheonette,” which was located at 155 th and St. Nicholas Avenue, were its king and queen. “’Round Midnight – Re-imagined” is my celebration of the fairytale that Daddy made New York become in my heart and mind, and, with vignettes set (primarily) on a Summer night in New York, the listener gets a peek into the mostly imaginary lives of a few in “the city that never sleeps.”
My father gave a speech for several different events that was entitled “There Really Was a Camelot.” In the speech, he talked about how the “Sugar Hill” section of Harlem was a magical place and how his parents, Wilfred and Nettie Weekes owners of “Weekes’ Luncheonette,” which was located at 155th and St. Nicholas Avenue, were its king and queen. “’Round Midnight – Re-imagined” is my celebration of the fairytale that Daddy made New York become in my heart and mind, and, with vignettes set (primarily) on a Summer night in New York, the listener gets a peek into the mostly imaginary lives of a few in “the city that never sleeps.”
HAZEL’S HIPS starts the album as an acknowledgment of my real-life family history celebrating my grandparents’ diner as well as the romance that bloomed there when a young Sidney Poitier set his eyes upon my Aunt Dolores, who was waiting tables there.
– The romance was significant enough to be mentioned in Mr. Poitier’s first memoir “This Life,” where he speaks of the restaurant, and names each of my aunts by name. My Aunt Dolores, who became his fiancee, is described as “The Angel of the Luncheonette.” (They never married, because my grandmother did not approve of the marriage, because she was afraid that my aunt, who was attending Hunter Collage at the time, would forever have to support a “struggling actor.”)
SUMMER SAMBA Now that dinner is done, a young woman spends the evening with the new man in her life. She is excited and giddy with its newness and skips through her wish list of qualities hopefully wonders if this is “The One.”
CRISTO REDENTOR/I WANT JESUS TO WALK WITH ME On this same summer night, someone strolling finds himself in the massive shadow of St. John The Divine, and moved by its majesty, history, and symbolism, he is spontaneously moved into evening prayer.
SISTERMOON/SUMMERTIME On this moonlit night, Downtown, in Battery Park, we find another soul gazing upon the “Lights of the River Hudson” (a poem written by my father at 16 when riding on the Staten Island Ferry with his then girlfriend Gypsy Marpessa Dawn Menor – perhaps best known for her role in “Black Orpheus – Really! It’s true!). Our character in this scene contemplates the complexity of his romance and the yearning for his loved one.
MY ROMANCE It’s quiet time for one mature loving couple. They have slipped away from the sounds of The City to celebrate their special need for only each other.
DON’T YOU FEEL MY LEG A group of buddies are out for a night on the town and find themselves in a nightclub where they are in the presence of a sassy blues singer who entices them with the lyric.
THE BAR SUITE (As a young man, my father was a singer, who idolized Frank Sinatra, and “The (Gal) That Got Away” was his favorite to sing.) This trio of songs is a tribute to my father, and is ideally intended to be played back-to-back.
The Bar Suite introduces the listener to the primary character of the album. Unlike the others in the story, when we meet her, it’s the middle of this summer day. She has driven into to town to drown her sorrows from afternoon until the middle of the night.
ONE FOR MY BABY
THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY
LOVERS The Streets of New York are empty, and a giddy couple is skipping down Park Avenue and find everything around them shiny and bright.
‘ROUND MIDNIGHT “In the wee small hours, ” back in her Long Island home, our lady from “The Bar Suite” has one final lament. While heartbroken, she’s not completely undone, and so, she sings this siren song hoping, that her lover will return.
MORE THAN YOU KNOW The last cut, the listener gets to pick the scene. Is this a newly engaged couple? Did our Lady from Long Island hear a key in her door? You decide.
My father attended The High School of Music and Art where he sang and played the trombone. After graduating from Manhattan College, he was drafted into the United States Army. While stationed in Germany as a draftsman, he also sang. He was offered a recording contract, which he declined. He went on to become an aerospace engineer, and became the first Black Deputy County Counsel and the first Assistant County Counsel in the County of Los Angeles.
My father died 4 years ago. I miss him a lot! Framing the album in this way gave me another chance to celebrate him.
Martin Edward Weekes
6/6/33 – 11/26/16
“These are my paternal grandparents, “Nettie” and Wilfred Weekes. Owners of “Weekes’ Luncheonette””
‘ROUND MIDNIGHT RE-IMAGINED
Executive Producer: Amber Weekes
Produced by: Mark Cargill
Recorded at: CCI MEDIA STUDIO, Torrance, CA
Remixed & Engineered by: Gregory Cook and Mark Cargill
Re-mastered by Gregory Cook
Round Midnight Re-Imagined Produced and Re-Orchestrated
by Mark Cargill at CCI MEDIA STUDIO
Cover Photography: Yvonne Davis
Interior Photography: Ed Gandara and Ashleigh Kahn
CD Art: ON Graphics Design, Cover Art: Jeff Oliver
- HAZEL’S HIPS 2:33
- SUMMER SAMBA 4:27
- CRISTO REDENTOR / I WANT JESUS TO WALK WITH ME 5:02
- SISTERMOON/SUMMERTIME 5:05
- MY ROMANCE 3:28
- DON’T YOU FEEL MY LEG 3:14
THE BAR SUITE:
- SOMETHING COOL 5:11
- ONE FOR MY BABY 3:50
- THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY 4:31
- LOVERS 4:00
- ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT 4:58
- MORE THAN YOU KNOW 5:49
Listen to samples
ROUND MIDNIGHT – RE-IMAGINED This Recording is a fabulous showcase of vocal artistry by Amber Weekes who is one those about whom neither enough nor too much can be said. She is bluesy, sensual, sassy, jazzy and spiritual.
‘Round Midnight – Re-Imagined is her celebration of a story as told to her by her father, Martin Edward Weekes, of her family’s history in New York during The Harlem Renaissance and it has become a fairytale in her heart and mind.
Amber proceeds to take us through a series of romantic vignettes that are set in a summer night in New York. She has arrayed the order of these tunes to tell the story that lives in her heart. From the Blues of “Hazel’s Hips” and “Don’t You Feel My Leg”, to the gentle flow of “Summer Samba” and the utter spirituality of Cristo Redentor/I Want Jesus To Walk With Me”. Songs that are magnificently performed by Amber and she is aided and abetted by the never intrusive but always there, strings that are arranged and conducted by Mark Cargill, and he does some of the best arrangements of anyone on the scene.
She has a particular reverence for ballads and she is masterful in her renditions of Sistermoon/Summertime”, “My Romance”, “Something Cool” and “The Man That Got Away”. Of particular note for me is the way she walks “One For My Baby” from a ballad into the Blues and back out again. You’ve got to love that kind of talent.
Amber is as Jazzy in “Lovers” as she is classic in her unique take on the Title track “’Round Midnight” (not the easiest song to sing).”More Than You Know” is the epilogue to the story. She pulls it off in a way that made have to catch my breath at the end. This is what has always been, to me, what is so attractive about her vocal dexterity. No matter how familiar that you think you are with material, she comes at it in a way you least expect. Mr. Weekes is smiling down from heaven. Amber has done it again.
James Janisse – The Gentleman of Jazz
Host of the “Wonderful World of Jazz” on www.kjmjradio.com
‘Round Midnight – Re-imagined Located in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem at the corner of 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, Weekes Luncheonette was a neighborhood institution in the middle decades of the last century. More than a dependable all-night eatery for the striving and upwardly mobile denizens of Sugar Hill (like owners Wilfred Weekes, who hailed from Barbados, and his wife, Jamaican-born Nettie), the cafe was a social hub that attracted folks of all stripes at a time when locals included some of the world’s most famous and influential artists.
Amber Weekes grew up hearing stories about her grandparents’ luncheonette from her father and his sisters, who often worked the counter in the decade after World War II. The family enterprise often manifested the African-American genius that was woven into the neighborhood fabric, serving as a stage when Sugar Hill grooved to a soundtrack that reverberates no less brilliantly today.
“It was a place where the community gathered, and you had all these amazing, creative people all together in Harlem,” says Weekes, a poised and incisive jazz vocalist with infuses every song she touches with her ebullient spirit. “Duke Ellington lived around the corner and would come by for a bite in the wee hours after a show. Lena Horne and Sonny Rollins lived in a building nearby. Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte were just starting their careers and they came by to eat all the time.”
More than a collection of songs, ‘Round Midnight – Re-imagined is Weekes’ musical portrait of that luminous moment, filtered through her family’s memories. Working closely with a stellar cast of Los Angeles jazz players and producer, arranger, and conductor Mark Cargill, she sets the scene and fills it with vivid characters, evoking the looks, inner lives, and personalities that could be found in Weekes Luncheonette and its environs. The journey commences on a warm summer night, inspired by the glittering Gotham fairytale that her late father, Martin Weekes, conjured with his stories.
The album opens with a rollicking arrangement of Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Hazel’s Hips,” delivered by Weekes with a knowing wink. Her sly performance is dedicated to the thwarted romance between then-unknown Sidney Poitier and her Aunt Dolores, who was waitressing at the Luncheonette when they met. Engaged but never married due to Nettie Weekes’ disapproval—“She was afraid that my aunt, who was attending Hunter College at the time, would forever have to support a struggling actor,” Amber says—Poitier mentioned Dolores and her sisters in his 1980 memoir This Life, describing her as “The Angel of the Luncheonette.”
That irresistible family tale gives way to a wider focus with the bossa nova standard “Summer Samba,” a sensuous arrangement that captures the tingling excitement of a new romance. From earthy pleasure to sacred promise, Weekes glides through the neighborhood to contemplate the Cathedral of St. John The Divine, an imposing Harlem landmark. In a dedication to her mother, Weekes offers up a sublime prayer in the form of pianist Duke Pearson’s “Cristo Redentor” and the Negro spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me.” That’s guitar legend Phil Upchurch offering a sorrowful benediction.
Weekes’ gift for developing thematic medleys is another thread running through the album, with Sting’s winsome “Sister Moon” pairing artfully with the beloved Porgy & Bess lullaby “Summertime” (effectively arranged by pianist Bob Remstein). The bittersweet medley takes us Downtown, catching a young couple in Battery Park, gazing upon the “lights of the River Hudson.” Weekes borrows the line and the moment from a poem written by her father at 16 while riding on the Staten Island Ferry with then-girlfriend Marpessa Dawn (who gained international fame as Eurydice in the Academy Award-winning 1959 film Black Orpheus).
Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance” and the classic blues “Don’t You Feel My Leg” (a song immortalized by New Orleans great Blue Lu Barker) aren’t a medley, but they offer a yin/yang perspective on the pursuit of pleasure. The former is an intimate duet with pianist Eddy Olivieri celebrating the quiet intensity of a cocooning couple. Cargill’s supple string arrangement accentuates Weekes’ lustrous, swooning vocals, much as Dwayne Benjamin’s trombone provides a lusty counterpoint to her lowdown vocals on the latter track, which takes us to a smoky club where a blues singer regales a group of buddies out on the town.
The album’s emotional centerpiece is The Bar Suite, a bibulous tryptic inspired by her father’s love of Frank Sinatra. The three songs introduce Weekes’ primary character, catching up to her in the middle of a warm summer day as she wanders into a bar for “Something Cool.” Weekes possesses a lovely sound, warm and fine-grained in every register, but her deft navigation of the piercing narrative makes it clear that she’s also a captivating musical storyteller.
A seamless segue into what Sinatra called the ultimate saloon song, “One For My Baby,” goes down like smooth whisky, setting up “The Man Who Got Away,” a song that Weekes’ father sang so often (as “The Gal Who Got Away,” a la Ol’ Blue Eyes) that it’s almost a tangible part of her childhood.
The album closes with a series of vignettes. A giddy couple saunters down Park Avenue in Natalie Cole’s “Lovers,” delighting in each other’s company. Our sad friend from The Bar Suite wobbles back to her Long Island digs for a lonely, late-night reverie with “Round Midnight” while hoping for a reunion with her lover. Olivieri accompanies Weekes as the curtain closes with a besotted duet on the 1929 standard “More Than You Know,” offering the denouement of your choice. “Is this a newly engaged couple?” Weekes says. “Did our Lady from Long Island hear a key in her door? You decide.”
She may leave the last choice in the hands of her listeners, but Weekes is fully in command throughout the album. Her most ambitious project yet, Round Midnight – Re-imagined is the work of an artist with a powerful vision and the creative resources to bring it vibrantly to life. She recorded the skeleton of the album some 15 years ago when it was essentially a calling card for festivals and venues. It was only during the pandemic that she and Cargill decided the time was ripe to fully flesh out the concept, expanding the arrangements with strings. The result is a document of an unforgettable time and place by a singular artist.
A singer from earliest childhood, Weekes grew up in a home suffused with music. In addition to being a fine singer who idolized Sinatra, her father was a trombonist. Her mother also possessed a highly musical ear. “They both wanted us to pay attention to the lyrics and would make us sit down and really listen,” she recalls. “I was a kid, but the stories meant something to me.”
Early on she studied with the esteemed jazz pianist/arranger Phil Moore and his wife, vocalist Jeanne Moore (now Jeanne Pisano). A devotee of the American Songbook, Weekes was also drawn to more contemporary material, forging a particularly strong bond with the music of Oscar Brown Jr. Under the wing of the great, but often overlooked LA jazz vocalist Sue Raney, she developed her own sound.
Weekes has made a name for herself on the talent-laden Southland jazz scene in recent years with riveting performances and her critically hailed 2019 debut album Pure Imagination. She quickly followed up in 2020 with the tasty holiday album The Gathering. Unwilling to let the pandemic keep her down, she felt the time was right to fully realize her vision for ‘Round Midnight, thus the project was Reimagined. Summoning the resilient spirit of an era that can feel like a distant world, the album is “a gift of love and music and healing,” from an artist who brings that glorious past into our uncertain future.
Andrew Gilbert is a Berkeley-based music writer who covers jazz for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and KQED.