photo by Lori Kramer
photo by Cheryl Gerber
Love and Other Difficulties
While experiencing covid lock down in New Orleans Carmela wrote and recorded her seventh project "Love and Other Difficulties" an exploration of the many aspects of love.
The thirteen tracks are comprised of six original songs of Carmela's and three collaborations with pianist and composer Oscar Rossignoli. There are also three standard covers and a cover of New Orleans singer songwriter Paul Sanchez.
The standards chosen were Cole Porter's "So In Love" with it's tango-esque arrangement and it's sense of longing, Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" his love song to flowers, and Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" another beautiful song of longing
Inspired By New Orleans, Vocalist Carmela Rappazzo Continually Hones Her Style And Songs
by: STEVE HOCHMAN
“I try really hard as a writer to write light and airy songs,” says jazz singer and songwriter Carmela Rappazzo.
Rappazzo is trying to identify the thread that connects the songs on her new album. There are nine originals, interspersed with three from the American songbook (the wistful Hoagie Carmichael/Johnny Mercer tune “Skylark,” Cole Porter’s heart-as-captive “So In Love” and Billy Strayhorn’s openly romantic “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing”). And rounding it off is the loss-imbued “Empty Chair” by Paul Sanchez, the first musician friend she made in New Orleans upon her arrival six years ago.
But frankly, the album title does the job: Love & Other Difficulties, the phrase borrowed from an anthology of the emotionally rich prose and poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.
There is a certain breeziness to the performances with Rappazzo backed by a tight jazz-club trio of pianist Oscar Rossignoli, bassist Martin Masakowski and drummer Doug Belote. There’s even a playfulness to it all, with the relentless bugs-as-metaphor of her frisky “Cicadas” and the push-pull of “Keep Your Distance.” Here and there it calls to mind 20th-century cabaret greats Annie Ross and Blossom Dearie, both known for their mix of melancholy and mirth, and both of whom Rappazzo saw numerous times in her formative youth while living in Manhattan.
Still, her self-analysis is on point.
“I love love songs,” she says. “But love is really complex and difficult. It can be a little dark.”
She laughs, pausing for a second in a Zoom chat from her Gentilly home.
“I’m a really normal person,” she stresses. “You know, I’ve been married to the same person [musician Mark Carroll] for 31 years. And before that I was very happy alone. But for some reason I have this kind of dark sensibility when it comes to love songs.”
And that, she says, helps explain how she connected with New Orleans and its music, how she, well, fell in love with it on first sight.
“The shadow here is long and intense,” she says, noting the city’s vibrant, but also troubled history and nature. “And you’re drawn to it. I’m drawn to it. There’s something we need to discover about ourselves, our inner nature, that New Orleans brings out in us. We get to act it out in the streets and it gets acted out for us in the [music] clubs. Even the trad-jazz people, there’s an intensity and a heart and a soulfulness. It’s exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. And I’ve never been anywhere that has that other than New Orleans.”
Of course, she had some other help connecting as well, firstly Mr. Sanchez. It happened shortly after she and Carroll moved to town after living in Los Angeles and New York (she worked in music, theater and film in both), New Mexico (where they did a stint farming outside of Santa Fe, with surprising success) and New York again. Rappazzo’s close friend from Los Angeles, casting director Jane Jenkins, was in town working on a Rob Reiner movie and insisted that Rappazzo accompany to her to an event at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. There, Jenkins introduced her to Sanchez.
“He said to me, ‘Oh, you’re a singer. You work in jazz. Meet me at the Columns on Tuesday and I’ll introduce you to [pianist] John Rankin and you’ll sit in,’” she says. “And I’m looking at him like, ‘Who is this guy?’ But now I’m obligated. I expect him not to show up, but I go to the Columns and he’s there with [writer and collaborator] Colman DeKay. I don’t know these guys from Adam. He introduces me to John Rankin on the break and says, ‘John, this is Carmela’—it’s taken him a few years to get my last name—‘and she’s going to sit in with you.’ Not, ‘Can she sit in with you?’ But, ‘She’s going to sit in with you.’ I was blown away by it.”
It shouldn’t have been a total surprise. A similar thing precipitated their move in the first place. Living in New York had been exhausting, without the exhilaration.
“The gigs were awful, and it was expensive,” she says. “And Mark wasn’t getting any work at all. So, for his birthday I gave him an airline ticket to New Orleans and said, ‘Go have a vision quest.’ A friend of his picked him up, the only person we knew who lived here at the time, and said, ‘I have a guitar for you in the back. We’re going to do a gig.’ And he called me up that night and said, ‘We’re moving to New Orleans.’”
He didn’t have to twist her arm. They’d planned to move to New Orleans in 2005, “but this hurricane happened.” When the move did come, a decade later, she felt at home quickly, the lure of that shadow and of the birthplace of her beloved jazz holding a strong appeal. Still, New Orleans can be tough on newcomers trying to make their way in the sometimes-insular music scene, especially newcomers who don’t really do “New Orleans” music. But with Sanchez opening the door, she found the city welcoming.
“How lucky am I to have my first friend here to be Paul Sanchez,” she says.
A second crucial right-place-right-time meeting happened shortly after that, when she was at an art fair in Palmer Park.
“My ear got pulled in the park,” she says of music she heard coming from a little tent.
Following her ear, she found bassist James Singleton, whom she’d met already, anchoring a group of young players. In particular, her attention was grabbed by pianist Oscar Rossignoli, the Honduran native who, after studying at LSU, had only recently moved to New Orleans himself. Rossignoli, who in the time since has become one of the most-prized players in town, working with John Boutté and releasing his own acclaimed solo album this year, is also not a “New Orleans” musician, per se—not a Professor Longhair/James Booker acolyte. But his playing immediately resonated with Rappazzo, reminding her of some key pianists with whom she had sung, notably Jon Mayer (“not the rocker,” she stresses) and Mike Melvoin (the late L.A. veteran with too many credits to highlight, as well as the father of Wendy, of Wendy & Lisa and Prince’s Revolution fame).
“Singing with Mike was like singing in church,” she says. “I got to work with incredible people. So, when I heard Oscar, I walked up to him and said, ‘I need your number.’ And I started looking for gigs because now I know I could play modern jazz, straight-ahead jazz here with somebody.”
Soon she was playing in various restaurants and bars, including a steady Sunday night slot at the French Quarter hotel Maison Dupuy for a stretch. Mostly she’d sing the American Songbook standards but would also work in originals along the way.
“At Maison Dupuy, that’s what I would do,” she says. “I would do three standards, one Carmela, three standards, one Carmela.”
On albums, she’d already transitioned from the standards-heavy early releases to the all-originals Myths and Legends, made in her New Mexico years. The latter, she says, was met with some rough reactions, but also bolstered her resolve, and settling into the New Orleans world boosted her confidence as three years ago she made Howlin’ at the Moon, with just one cover, the Tin Pan Alley-era “Lullaby of the Leaves” alongside eight originals. For that one, she did shoot for a more-New Orleans-style sound, with local stalwarts Gerald T. Watkins Jr. on drums, Mark McGrain on trombone and Steve Glenn on tuba, among those joining her and Rossignoli.
“It’s a really odd record,” she says. “And I had a really good time with it because I got to use a horn section and it has that New Orleans kind of style.”
For Love & Other Difficulties though, she focused on her own musical history and strengths, enhanced by Rossignoli’s Latin-jazz acumen, particularly on three songs he co-wrote with her. His playing meshed perfectly with her style, honed from her obsession from an early age with classic female jazz singers. She mentions Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day, and particularly those two evoked in some of the new album’s performances, Ross and Dearie. She’d even met O’Day, Ross and Dearie and once got to open for Ross in New York.
“I was so awestruck,” she says. “I walked into her dressing room, and I didn’t know what to say to her, aside from, ‘Oh, by the way, I worship you.’ Her innovation, her timing, her ideas. And here she was! She was playing in the Metropolitan Room every Tuesday and I would be dragging everybody I knew who could go with me.”
She credits co-producer Barbara Manocherian, a friend who also produces Broadway shows, for pushing her to bring that all up front on the new album. Rappazzo wasn’t even sure she would make another record after Howlin’ at the Moon, but Manocherian urged her to move forward, and to do it her way.
“She had heard some of what I was writing and said, ‘I’m only going to help you if you make this your record,’ because she really likes my writing,” she says.
And more is on the way.
“I don’t have any delusions of grandeur about my writing,” she says. “But I do love writing. I have four new tunes sitting on my piano downstairs.”
LADY TUNES…Carmela Rappazzo: Love and Other Difficulties
by George W. Harris • January 6, 2022 •
Under the direction of pianist Oscar Rossignoli, vocalist and composer Carmela Rappazzo continues to create a strong songbook of her own, also supported by bassist Martin Masakowski and drummer Doug Belote. There are a couple of covers, including an impressionistically rich read of BillY Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” and a tango-like dramatic take of Cole Porter’s “So In Love” and a clear and conversational “Skylark”. She produces on her own a cleverly Monkish “Keep Your Distance” a soulfully pulsed “Heartbeat” guided by Masakowski and a effluently poetic “Cicadas”. Her voice and delivery is quite personal, making you feel like you’re having a musical dialogue with her. It’s an easy listen.
Howlin' At The Moon
Buffa's New Orleans
Carrollton Station, NOLA
New Orleans Jazz Museum
BK Historical House
Chickie Wah Wah
French Quarter Fest
w/Paul Sanchez & The Rolling Road Show
Jazz Fest w/Paul Sanchez &The Rolling Roadshow
Chickie Wah Wah
New Orleans Jazz Museum
New Orleans Museum of Art
St. Alphonsus Arts Space
Snug Harbor NOLA
Benefit for Covenant House
Marigny Opera House NOLA
Maison Dupuy NOLA
The Columns NOLA
Museum Hill Cafe
Santa Fe, N.M.
Triad Theater NYC
London Jazz Platform UK
Metropolitan Room NYC
Little Gem Saloon
New Orleans, La.
New Orleans, La.
New York, N.Y.
New York, N.Y.
Santa Fe, N.M.
Carmela Rappazzo's sixth release "Howlin' At The Moon" is now available on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby and Louisiana Music Factory.
Recorded in New Orleans at The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music with the help of superb local musicians and arrangers, this album is heavily influenced by the sounds and sights that make The Crescent City what it is.
The eight original songs written by Carmela and cover of "Lullaby Of The Leaves" written by Joe Young and Bernice Petkere range the spectrum from Second Line to the Blues and everything in between.
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Reviews for "Howlin' At The Moon"
"The songs themselves are short story-poems, telling tales of voyeurism (“Keyhole”), loss (“State of Grace”) and revenge (“Revenge”). Rappazzo showcases her talent for the written word with crystal-clear enunciation and no excessive flourishes. She sticks to the script lyrically but takes liberties with melody, singing around notes almost as often as she hits them. This technique is not immediately pleasing to the ear, but it makes for moments of tension, surprise and rare beauty, the kind only a blue note can evoke."
Raphael Helfand OffBeat Magazine
"Throughout this album Carmela draws on her huge wellspring of influences, from her New York background where she grew up in, ‘a rather large and crazy Sicillian family’ (her own words) with her father and 5 uncles being swing musicians, her theatrical connections, her Los Angeles big band experiences and her love of New Orleans where she now lives and imbibes the music like a sponge. This album is one of different colours, hues and tones. It has heartache, love and overall a deep, deep affection and understanding of the music that is jazz- influenced and the listening is so enjoyable. There are a lot of ear worms and little riffs which stick in the mind, yet there is enough textural depth and complexity to make the listening both interesting and connective. It is a sure bet the listener cannot but sing along or tap the feet to many of the songs and the lyrics in nearly every case are crystal clear. But then, Carmela, as she says herself, ‘loves to spin a good story – and she does."
Sammy Stein Jazz In Europe
"Carmela Rappazzo's a little different than most contemporary jazz singers. First of all, she writes most of her own material. Her lyrics have that quick yet conversational tone that sometimes borders on something you might hear in a Sondheim musical, a rush of words that cuts through the melody and provides you with an additional dense plot to consider.
So much of jazz is focused on supplying personal emotions to lyrics that hundreds have sung before, but in this case you have an expressive, intelligent singer who is also an expressive, intelligent songwriter who is telling you about her life in a truly unique way. "
.Marc Phillips The Vinyl Anachronist
'Vocalist Carmella Rappazzo shows impressive flexibility and emotional range on this collection of originals plus one. Her voice has an attractive growl that she uses instead of vibrato, and it works well in adding emphasis as she teams with a wide ranging team of Oscar Rossignoli/p, Jasen Weaver/b, Gerald T. Watkins Jr/dr, Mahmoud Chouki/lutar, Pete Snell/g and a mix of horns, percussionists and background vocalists used as extra seasoning.
She’s crystal clear yet still quirky over the military drums of “Genie in a Bottle” and luminously tells stories by the campfire on “Keyhole.” Her attractive groan works well with Rossignol on the nourish “Rush of Heat” and with Chouki during the mystical “State of Grace” and the dimly lit haunted “Haunted” while showing her swing chops as she swaggers on “Howlin’ At The Moon.” Musical moods and shadows galore'
"Howlin’ At The Moon rolls like a beautiful, topsy turvy jazz travelogue of Carmela’s fascinating life, which has found her living in New York, Los Angeles, New Mexico and now the Crescent City, which she pays sprightly homage to via the album’s centerpiece, the wildly rambunctious, stomping parade tune “Howlin’ At the Moon.”"
"Carmela’s vocal intro to “Rush of Heat” may deceive you into thinking it’s “just another croon”, but I can tell you right now, this SWINGS with life well-lived; when the sax kicks in at the 1:35 mark, you’ll think you’re in one of those late-night “cellar clubs”, like I used to hang out in during the ’60’s.
Of the nine tunes offered up for your hip jazz vocal enjoyment, though, it is the 5:55 “Haunted” that’s my personal favorite… the voice/piano interaction on this song is superb; definitely one of the most memorable jazz ballads I’ve listened to (yet) in 2018."
Myths and Legends
Available on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby...
"Myths and Legends" is Carmela's fifth album. This album contains nine original songsof difficult women, love gone wrong and the dreams and spirit within us all...
REVIEWS FOR "MYTHS AND LEGENDS"
"New York-based vocalist has carved out an impressive career delivering impressive releases that have featured familiar jazz standards. Her last album featured a single original, and it came out so successfully that this time around she’s upped the ante by including all of her own work, save for the closing reading of Ellington’s “Azure,” which sounds all her own anyway. The mood of the album is reminiscent of early Tom Waits, sort of late night after hours at the local lounge, with Rappazzo weaving stories about women who’ve fallen between the cracks, their dreams and spirits that have been dashed, darted and woken up. Fronting a in the mood to be blue-d team of Pete Snell/g, Jack Maeby/B3, Richard Eames/p, Armando Compean/b, Lee Spath/dr and an occasional selection of voices and horns, Rappazzo uses her husky and earthy voice to weave warnings about vixens on “A Story of a Story” and getting some blues from the local VFW on a juke jointy “Second Story.” She can sound both around-the-block streetwise and vulnerable with acoustic guitar on “Love Make a Fool of Me” as well as getting fun and frisky on the roller coaster ride “Mercury in Retrograde.”If you want some familiar flavors served on a new blue plate, check out this Friday Night Special." George W. Harris JAZZ WEEKLY MAGAZINE
Released in 2007, a unique take on stright ahead covers with a sprinkling of new originals.
'Vocalist Carmela Rappazzo's fourth release finds her leading a
jazz quintet featuring Pete Snell (g), Armando Compean (b) and
Lee Spath (dr) through a program of jazz standards and clever
originals. The band itself is Beale Street bluesy, and accompanies Ms
Rappazzo swingingly through faithful versions of tunes like "Old Black
Magic" and "Let's Fall in Love"."Miss You" has her mourning
over the mood created by Coco Trivisonno's bandoneon; "Ask
Coral" has Rappazzo acting sly and witty over the snappy rhythms, and
"Pandora" finds her in a convincing foreboding mood. A disc of all
originals could prove to be something quite formidable from this
-George W. Harris, Jazz Weekly
The Girl Who Dreams Out Loud
New Jazz Standards by familiar and upcoming artisits, with songs by Hirth Martinez, Danald Fagen and Carmela. These tunes cover a wide range of styles that will please the straight ahead Jazz listener, as well as Samba and Bossa Nova lovers.