Amber Weekes

The diner; ah yes, the diner. Weekes’ Luncheonette, located on 155th Street & St. Nicholas Ave. in Harlem, NYC, provided the beginnings/foundation for the musical career of the lady you are about to hear on this recording. . . Simply stated, Amber Weekes is a consummate vocal stylist, having absorbed the influences from the likes of Duke Ellington (who enjoyed fried egg sandwiches at the Weekes’ diner, served up by her father, Aunts, and Uncle); and other giants of the genre, like Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, and Diahann Carroll, among many others.

Having selected several of Southern California’s first-call musicians to work with, Amber displays her remarkable ability to tell a story and paint a musical portrait, using the lyrics of each song as a vehicle to reach you, the listener. Amber and company explore the music and words of an eclectic group of composers/lyricists; from Cole Porter to Oscar Brown, Jr.; from Duke Ellington to Paul Simon; from a popular song written in 1918 (!) to a more contemporary classic by Barry Manilow/Johnny Mercer. Throughout, Amber displays her vocal versatility, including a remarkable way with a ballad.

THE MUSIC:

The set begins with a bright, samba-like collaboration featuring Amber and her vocal coach, the legendary Sue Raney, as they interpret the Newley/Bricusse classic, “Pure Imagination“, from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Justo Almario provides a tasty flute solo, while guitarist Mitchell Long offers just the right, delicate accompaniment. As the song concludes, Amber and Sue hint at what’s to come on this recording. With an augmented band, including strings arranged by Mark Cargill, Amber interprets the Cole Porter standard, “It’s All Right With Me“, from his musical Can Can (1953). Dale Fielder takes a brief but spirited baritone saxophone solo. Amber’s effortless delivery of the lyrics is noteworthy. The tempo slows and features Amber’s way with a ballad. She interprets the Fisher/Segal ode to all-absorbing passion and longing, “When He Makes Music”. Mark’s violin solo echoes the poignancy of the lyrics.

One of Amber’s musical heroes is Oscar Brown, Jr (OBJ). As a young girl, while travelling with her mother and sisters, OBJ’s cautionary tale, “The Snake”, aired on the car radio. Mom directed her daughters to listen carefully to the words. That moment left an indelible mark on the young women. Ah yes, the power of the lyric/story-telling. Note Trevor Ware’s sultry acoustic bass as he sets the tempo and feel, while Scotty Barnhart provides some “slithery” fills. Mom would be proud. The band, led by Keith Fiddmont’s alto saxophone stylings, swings into Sunny Skylar’s “Gotta Be This Or That” (1945). Yes indeed, “Straight-Ahead” is alive and well; Amber channels Ella and Sarah with ease. Amber returns to the OBJ songbook with a moving nod to, arguably, his most heartfelt composition, “Brown Baby”. We all want the best for our children, and Amber, along with some stellar arco bass accompaniment by Trevor, conveys the message as only they can.

The classic, early swing-era tune by Creamer/Layton, “After You’ve Gone” (1918), is given an up-tempo treatment by Amber and the band. Once again, guitarist Mitchell Long takes a tasty mid-song solo . A nostalgic swinger, indeed! A Bossa-Nova-flavored interpretation of the Barry Manilow/Johnny Mercer tune “When October Goes” showcases, yet again, Amber’s way with a lyric (and her bilingual skills!). Mark Cargill’s string arrangement adds a lush backdrop to this timeless composition. As before, Amber shares her love of Oscar Brown, Jr.’s brilliant compositions with this rendition of his devilish “Mr. Kicks”. Throughout, the band swings relentlessly. Once again, Keith Fiddmont’s alto saxophone solo shines. Kudos to to Brian Swartz’s horn arrangements on this and other tunes on this recording date A moving duet by Amber and guest vocalist Mon David brings home the story-telling power of the ballad in the hands of consummate musicians.

Michel Legrand, in collaboration with Alan & Marilyn Bergman, wrote this beautiful song, “The Way He Makes Me Feel”, for the film Yentl (1983). Props are due to Mark Cargill for his stirring string arrangements for this song. Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me)”, with lyrics by Lee Gaines (yes, Gaines wrote the lyrics to Billy Strayhorn’s Take The ‘A’ Train) is taken at a leisurely pace, with Amber at her most sultry. Guest artist Nick Mancini takes a few choruses on vibraphone. This is yet another example of nice ‘n easy swing!

Any eclectic jazz-oriented set has to take a trip to New Orleans. This nod to NOLA is exemplified by Amber and Company’s interpretation of Paul Simon’s “Gone At Last”. An all-star band, including Vince Tividad’s punching sousaphone, and background vocals arranged by Kenny Sara, takes the listener on a trip down Bourbon Street and environs. The date closes with a re-interpretation of the Manilow/Mercer collaboration, When October Goes. Amber Weekes can sing a ballad!

Frankly, Amber can sing, no matter the tempo, style, or feel. …and to think, in a sense, it all started in that little diner on 155th & St Nicholas Avenue, Harlem, NYC.

Chet Hanley 2019

“There are not words to express my thanks to all who made “Pure Imagination” possible! First, to every investor and donor, without your generosity, this could not have happened!

To Producer and Arranger, Trevor Ware: Thank you for being my first “Yes” and being the sinister voice behind “The Snake.” When you’re right, you’re right! Thank for all of your years of music and friendship. Thank you for all of the learning lessons.

To Producer and Arranger Mark Cargill: Thank you for reaching out to me to provide support and creating a wonderful reunion with you, Gabriel “Slam”Nobles and David Jackson; the great insights, encouraging me to “aim high,” and hearing my voice and letting me know that it could sparkle!

To Producer Kenny (Mr. “Who Dat!”) Sara: For bringing together the team that created the perfect sound of New Orleans! This was our first meeting, let it not be the last!!!

To Arrangers Brain Swartz and Mark Justin: Thank you for creating something so special just for me!

To Rich Wenzel, Gregory (“the YOUNG”) Cook, Nolan Shaheed, Harriet Tam, and Dennis Moody: Thank you for pulling all of the sounds together.

To Gregory Cook and Mark Cargill: Thank you for Masterful Mastering!!

To All of the 20 plus musicians who contributed to this project, thank you for your wonderful artistry.

To All of the amazing women who helped me find my own voice and SOUND: Gwendolyn Wyatt, Catherine Hansen, Sue Fink, and most especially, Sue Raney.”

-Amber Weekes