Acclaimed vocalist Hilary Gardner grew up in Alaska, infatuated with New York City. Her striking recording debut, The Great City, available on Anzic Records, is Gardner's love letter to her adopted hometown, great metropolises everywhere, and the big dreams they represent. The Great City is graceful, intimate and sophisticated, recalling classic records by Peggy Lee, Julie London, and Ella Fitzgerald. The album's program of songs is refreshingly broad, featuring songs both urban and urbane by composers such as Leonard Cohen, Vernon Duke, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, and Nellie McKay, among others. "I wanted to acknowledge the breadth of musical influences in my life while still making a cohesive musical statement," Hilary said. Elaborating on the title track, Hilary added, "I first heard this song sung by a very young Shirley Horn, and it immediately solidified and clarified what this album was going to be about. Funnily (appropriately!) enough, I was on the subway listening on headphones when this song came on for the first time. I had already been picking songs for the album, but as soon as I heard the first 'A' section of 'The Great City,' I knew I'd found the title track and thematic centerpiece of my record."
The Great City was recorded at Systems Two in Brooklyn under the guidance of Grammy-winning producer Eli Wolf, and features musical accompaniment and solos by friends and NYC jazz mainstays, Ehud Asherie (piano), Randy Napoleon (guitar), Elias Bailey (bass), Jerome Jennings (drums), Jason Marshall (saxophone), Tatum Greenblatt (trumpet) and Jon Cowherd (organ).
Hilary opens the recording with the beautifully melancholy, "No One After You", which Hilary first heard on Anjani's Blue Alert during an insomnia filled summer living in Spanish Harlem. "I immediately felt drawn to 'No One After You' because it evoked such strong memories of that time in my life: living uptown and waiting tables while trying to make this music thing happen, getting my heart broken, etc.," said Hilary. In 2010, Hilary was chosen by the Frank Sinatra estate to appear as the live, onstage singer in Tony-award winner Twyla Tharp's Come Fly Away. Backed by a 19-piece big band, Hilary sang solos and duets with Frank Sinatra's voice in a performance hailed by critics as "wonderful" (Huffington Post), "elegant" (USA Today), and "terrific" (The New York Observer). So in a way Frank Sinatra gave Hilary Gardner her first big break, and "Brooklyn Bridge" (Sinatra premiered this Cahn/Styne song in the 1947 film, It Happened In Brooklyn), is Hilary's nod to Ol' Blue Eyes. "Aside from the fact that I immediately fell in love with the charm and sweetness of this song, I also knew I had to tip my proverbial hat to Frank Sinatra on my record." Hilary's bittersweet rendition of "Autumn In New York" is both luxurious and filled with longing. She reinvigorates Vernon Duke's classic standard with understated elegance. "The line, '. . . looking down on the city I hate and adore . . .' gave me goose bumps the first time I heard it, because it's so true. I love how urbane this whole lyric is, and it was really important to me that we recorded both full choruses so the entire lyric would be heard. Vernon Duke! He wrote the music and lyrics for this song in 1937, and I think it's the most elegant summation of the complexity of loving this city. I was so inspired by Billie Holiday's recording of this song, which is stop-you-in-your-tracks perfection. Her interpretation is so incredibly deep and subtle," said Hilary.
Other highlights on The Great City include Hilary's version of "Drunk On The Moon," the late-night ballad by Tom Waits (who Hilary fell in love with at age 12), evoking the original's snapshot of blue smoke curling around neon signs and the beauty of the urban underbelly. "This song is how the city feels after a long night, coming home after a very late gig," commented Hilary; "Sweetheart", inspired by Dan Hicks, and featuring Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet, who Hilary met while playing with Valery Ponomarev's big band together (along with Jason Marshall and Jerome Jennings); "You Came a Long Way From St. Louis" and "(Ah, the Apple Trees) When the World Was Young", both inspired by Anita O'Day; "This Little Town Is Paris," which represents Hilary's knack for finding relatively unknown gems that deserve to be heard. "The composer, Milton Schwartz, is a total mystery! I searched for any information about him, and came up with bupkis. Not even Jonathan Schwartz (legendary WNYC DJ, no relation) had any info. But what a little gem of a tune. A beautiful melody, a charming lyric . . . this is one of my favorite moments on the record," said Hilary.
The album concludes with poise and poignancy on "Manhattan Avenue." Here, supported by Ehud Asherie's virtuosic piano accompaniment, Hilary interprets the gritty, contemporary lyric with sophisticated intimacy. The simple grace of the song's arrangement is a tribute to the telepathic interplay between Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday. That juxtaposition of sensibilities, timeless musicality melded with an in-the-now sentiment, poetically sums up The Great City. "We knew right away that 'Manhattan Avenue' would close the album, especially with the last line: Oh, but dreams come true/on Manhattan Avenue. That's really the message of the album," Hilary says. "This city is complicated, frustrating, and magical, and dreams do come true here. They certainly have for me."
Hilary Gardner performs as a leader throughout New York City, appearing regularly at Birdland, Café Carlyle, Symphony Space, and Jazz at Kitano. She is a frequent soloist with symphonies throughout the United States and has appeared with Connecticut's Ridgefield Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, and New York's Rochester Philharmonic. Multi-platinum recording artist Moby featured Hilary prominently on his 2009 release, Wait For Me (Mute Records/EMI). Most recently Hilary has been touring with the new vocal super-group Duchess, featuring fellow vocalists, and Anzic label-mates Amy Cervini and Melissa Stylianou. The group has just kicked off a three month residency at The 55 Bar, and will be releasing their debut album in early 2015, on Anzic Records.
Hilary Gardner - Upcoming Appearances:
Oct 5 @ Birdland, NYC, CD Release Celebration for The Great City
Featuring Hilary Gardner (vocals), Ehud Asherie (piano), Elias Bailey (bass), Jerome Jennings (drums), Jason Marshall (saxophone)
Oct 2 & 15 and Nov 6 & 19
Duchess Residency @ The 55 Bar, NYC
Featuring Amy Cervini, Melissa Stylianou & Hilary Gardner
Oct 9, sets at 8 & 10 PM
Duchess @ Snug Harbor, New Orleans, LA
With special guests Evan Christopher, Brian Seeger and others!