REVIEWS / OUT OF THE HUB: THE MUSIC OF FREDDIE HUBBARD
The New York City Jazz Record (October 2010)
Her voice is a high and sweet soprano. She can scat like nobody’s business. There’s some kinship with the sound of Diane Schuur but warmer. She credits John Coltrane, Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan as her influences, but like all genuinely innovative musicians, Suzanne Pittson’s creativity, musicianship and improvisational skills are off and away on their own, ably demonstrated in the company of her fine band. Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard, Pittson’s third recording, salutes one of her musical heroes and mentors. One cannot speak of Hubbard and his technically virtuosic trumpeting and composing without mentioning his participation in two seminal 1960 classics, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and, shortly thereafter, Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth. The latter was saluted by and the title of Pittson’s first recording.
The opener, “Our Own” (based on “Gibraltar”), a Hubbard tune with Catherine Whitney lyrics, gets things off at a swinging pace. Sounding a bit like a vocalese cousin to the Annie Ross of the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross days, Pittson is light and fun as trumpeter Jeremy Pelt swings behind her husband Jeff Pittson’s sharp company on piano, solid have-a-goodtime music. Another Hubbard tune is the meditative “Up Jumped Spring”, with characteristically beautiful lyrics by the late Abbey Lincoln. The swinging is at a gentler pace, with Pittson’s piano and Willie Jones III’s brushes making for empathetic company. Pittson sings her own lyrics to Hubbard’s “Like A Byrd” (“Byrd Like”) and “We’re Having a Crisis” (“Crisis”), appealingly scatting, floating, soaring and speeding along. Her fun with the music is clear, irresistible and still further evidence that we have a fresh new jazzbird to celebrate.
L.A. Jazz Scene (March 2011)
by Scott Yanow
Suzanne Pittson, a fine vocalist who is a superior scat singer, is based in New York. On Out Of The Hub, she performs eight Freddie Hubbard compositions and three other songs that the late great trumpeter had recorded. For five of the numbers she (and often her husband keyboardist Jeff Pittson) wrote new lyrics, two of which include vocalese based on Hubbard's recorded solos. Using an all-star group (Jeff Pittson, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Willie Jones III. and, on five of the songs, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and Steve Wilson on alto and soprano), Suzanne Pittson holds her own with her illustrious sidemen and does Hubbard's music justice. To sing such tunes as “Gibraltar,” “One Of Another Kind” and “Crisis” is not an easy task, but she makes it sound natural, swinging all the way and improvising within Hubbard's style. Highly recommended and available from www.suzannepittson.com.
All About Jazz (March 2011)
By Wilbert Sostre
The vocalese and scatting tradition is alive and well in singer Suzanne Pittson. With “Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard,” Pittson continues to establish herself as one of the best singers on today’s jazz scene.
Out of the Hub includes tunes written by or associated with trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard, with Pittson writing or co-writing five lyrics, which Hubbard approved just three months before his passing in 2008.
To honor Hubbard, Pittson recruited a group of extraordinaire musicians, including trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and bassist John Patitucci, who add – along with saxophonist Steve Wilson and the rest of Pittson’s quintet – dazzling improvisations throughout.
More than just a singer, Suzanne Pittson is a jazz musician. With a fluid phrasing and stunning tone, Pittson uses her voice as another instrument, improvising and playing with the melodies. Pittson’s striking sense of melody and amazing vocal range allow her to express a vast palette of colors and txtures on swinging tracks like “True Vision,” “You’re My Everything” and “We’re Having a Crisis,” and on ballads including “Bright Sun,” “Moment to Moment” and “Betcha by Golly, Wow!” Following in the steps of the great Ella Fitzgerald, Pittson is also a master of the scatting technique, as shown on “Our Own” and “Out of the Hub.”
All the arrangements are by pianist/husband Jeff Pittson, and the cover design is a creation of their son Evan, who also wrote the lyrics to “Out of the Hub.”
Jazz Inside New York
By Bob Gish
Some controversy exists over just what makes a jazz vocalist. Listen to Suzanne Pittson and you’ll know. So it’s a perfect match for her to make a recording devoted exclusively to the compositions of the inimitable jazz composer and musician Freddie Hubbard. Pittson does his songs up royally and the musicians on the project are up to the task too, delivering first rate performances on every track.
Jeremy Pelt’s trumpet points the way with great unison lines with Pittson. The other Pittson, husband Jeff on piano, lives up to the standards of their shared names—and their mutual love of jazz.
Suzanne Pittson more or less fell in love with jazz as a teenager when she first heard Freddie Hubbard play with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. That was an imprint to last a lifetime, taking Ms. Pittson through classical training and a graduate degree in music but always leading her back to jazz and the yearning to perform as a jazz vocalist. Her homage here to Hubbard is an extension of years of transcribing and singing Hubbard’s songs and harmonies.
All eleven tracks live up to the genius and expected quality associated with Hubbard and his legacy. You can’t just spontaneously sing the songs heard on this recording, and still get the lyrics out of your mouth in an intelligible way. Improvisation is another matter and its here in grand order – Pittson’s scatting growing out of her understanding of theory and the piano.
“Out of the Hub,” the title track is a tour de force, full of all the runs and riffs of a joyful jazz ride. The same goes for “Up Jumped Spring,” a personal favorite of this writer’s. But then who’s to choose, all of the songs here, as conceived and arranged, sung and played are the stuff to blow you away—much in the same way Pittson was blown away when she first heard Hubbard when she was a teenager.
Every musician, of whatever persuasion, can point to that special time when they knew music would be a large if not the controlling part of their life. Maybe it’s listening to Johnny Smith at Eddie’s Lounge in Colorado Springs those many years back which seem as fresh and recent as yesterday, if not this morning. Each person provides their own lyrics and memory of of melody.
So there’s an extra benefit to this CD, and that’s empathizing with Pittson’s inspiration and motivation for Hubbard as a hero. One could do no better than the result, only a partial culmination, heard in Pittson’s beautiful vocals. Check out “Bright Sun” a poignant account of every artist’s, especially jazz artists’ compulsion for epic quest.
JazzTimes (March 2011)
Two albums ago, for her recording debut, vocalist Suzanne Pittson shaped an appropriately abstract tribut to Oliver nelson’s essential The Blues and the Abstract Truth. By association, she also honored one of her foremost jazz heroes, Freddie Hubbard. Now Pittson, whose intervening project was a penetrating Coltrane exploration, is back with a full-length salute to Hubbard.
In June 2008, Pittson and her husband pianist-arranger Jeff Pittson, visited Hubbard and asked permission to record five of his compositions, refitted with their lyrics. That September, Hubbard approved their request. Three months later he dies, making this initiative all the more significant. To paint vocal canvases that match the power and glory of Hubbard’s work is a tall – some would say insurmountable order. Pittson’s ability to rise fearlessly to the challenge goes beyond mere vocal legerdemain, revealing soul-deep creative empathy. While it takes a true Hubbard connoisseur to fully grasp the profundity of Pittson’s homage, it only requires a working pair of ears to appreciate her effervescent transformation of “Gibraltar” into “Our Own,” or the cunning way in which she narrows the spectrum of “Crisis” to focus specifically on romantic tumult or the unimpeded gaiety of her “Up Jumped Spring.”
Of course, none of this magic is achieved single-handedly. In addition to her husband, Pittson is surrounded with equally sapient disciples, including trumpeter/flugelhornist Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Willie Jones III.
Pasatiempo (March 2011)
By Paul Weideman
Suzanne Pittson grew up listening to jazz and loved singing Freddie Hubbard’s solos. Her tribute CD opens with his composition “Our Own (Gibraltar)” and a bright intro courtesy of soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Willie Jones III. Pittson is just reckless enough with her intonation and rhythmic attack (shades of Flora Purim), works satisfyingly with and without vibrato, and is a killer scat artist. The song also offers swell solos by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and pianist Jeff Pittson, the singer’s husband. On “Out of the Hub (One of Another Kind),” Jeff Pittson creates a romantic wash of piano strings, Patitucci sets up a bouncier beat, Wilson burns, and the singer paints with lyrics penned by her son, Evan Pittson. She and her husband sought out Hubbard at a New York jazz club in June 2008 (six months before the jazz veteran died at age 70) to get his blessing on this and four other songs on which the Pittsons innovated lyrics. She remembers trumpeter Booker Little on “Bright Sun,” performing the Hubbard song – “He played with scalar exhilaration/pushing past the last generation” – with her beautifully jazz voice and phrasing and a vocalese segment based on Hubbard’s solo from 1962’s Hub-Tones. Her voice is a virtual horn on “True Visions (True Colors).” All in all, it’s really cool vocal and instrumental jazz.
Jazz Weekly (September, 2011)
By George W. Harris
This is the kind of record I like: take a songbook (in this case, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s) and do it with a completely different instrument, in this case with the soothing voice of Suzanne Pittson. Oh, sure, she allows some room for Jeremy Pelt’s trumpet (good call!), as well as Steve Wilson’s saxes, but for the most part she just lets it ride with the rhythm team of Jeff Pittson/p, John Patitucci/b and Willi Jones III/dr for literally lyrical takes of “Byrd Like,” “Lament For Booker” (done in vocalese) and “Up Jumped Spring.” The two horns provide excellent framework on an exciting “Gibraltar” and assertive “Crisis” with Pittson executing the tricky course with grace and clarity. A fitting tribute to not only the great late trumpeter, but to the art of singing.
JAZZIZ — Sing a Song of Freddie: Suzanne Pittson pays
vocal tribute to an integral influence. (Spring 2011)
As a graduate student at San Francisco State University in the 1970s, vocalist Suzanne Pittson set aside her dreams of becoming a classical pianist when she developed hand problems. But the classical world’s loss was the jazz world’s gain, as she refocused on the improvisor’s art.
Not that she was a stranger to the genre. Her family had listened to jazz while she was growing up. And when Pittson chose to devote herself to jazz, she thought back to an artist whose music she had fallen in love with years before: Freddie Hubbard. The trumpeter and composer, whose songs she vocally interprets on her album Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard (Vineland), provided the perfect point of entry.
“I just wanted to learn the jazz language,” recalls Pittson of her initial foray into the world of improvisational music. “I couldn’t seem to make the switch as a pianist, so it made sense to start singing. I started writing out solos, and Freddie’s recordings were among the first that I was interested in. HIs harmonic concept and his language as a soloist have always intrigued me. He was so strong as a soloist, you could almost say he had no peers. I’d go to hear him and was always blown away.”
“Byrdlike” was one of the first Hubbard originals she tackled , its degree of difficulty establishing a high standard for what would follow. “That set my goal, which was to learn how to sing the jazz language like a horn,” she reflects. “I was studying how approached different chords, and what he did was very complex.”
Now teaching jazz-vocal studies at the City College of New York, Pittson never forgot her crucial, early influence. Her fascination with Hubbard, who died in late 2008, is reflected in the lovingly rendered and stylistically expansive survey of his music on Out of the Hub. The CD features husband Jeff Pittson’s arrangements and keyboards, along with an A-list band, comprising trumpeter and flugelhorn player Jeremy Pelt, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Willie Jones III.
Out of the Hub comes more than a decade after Pittson first experimented with singing the works of another jazz giant on Resolution: A Remembrance of John Coltrane. With the Hubbard project, however, the singer was able to meet the source of her inspiration. Visiting the trumpeter at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, Pittson obtained his blessing to add lyrics to tunes such as “Crisis,” “The Melting Pot” and the aforementioned “Byrdlike.” Contributions by Jeff and their 18-year-old son, Evan, made it truly a family effort. With no prompting, violist and bassist Evan simply presented his mother with lyrics to the title tune, based on Hubbard’s “One of Another Kind.”
Organizing the recording session before she had to return to classroom in the fall of 2008—and before her dream bandmates scattered—created some last-minute drama. Although Hubbard had been flattered by the singer’s attention, he still harbored some doubts.
“Jeremy Pelt told me that Freddie had actually called him to find out more about me.” Pittson say “And he said, “I don’t see how a singer is going to be able to do my music!” Pittson had previously sent several sets of her lyrics, but he hadn’t responded. Then, a week before the scheduled recording date, he asked to hear a demo of her singing the tunes. That prompted a mad scramble to lay down barebones, home-studio versions of several pieces and get them in the trumpeter’s hands.
“Two weeks later, Freddie approved our lyrics,” she remembers with a tinge of remorse. “He said that he looked forward to hearing it, but he passed away on December 29th, before that was possible. He was a mentor, and it was a great honor to me that he approved of and was enthusiastic about what I was doing.”
JAZZIZ (Spring 2011)
Although he’s considered one of jazz’s greatest trumpeters, Freddie Hubbard is not generally viewed as a composer or as one whose songs are often sung. He had success with “Up Jumped Spring,” and “Little Sunflower,” but, otherwise, his originals have tended to remain challenging instrumentals.
Vocalist Suzanne Pittson, who considers Hubbard one of her most important influences, met the trumpeter in 2008 (a few months before he died) and gained permission to record several of his songs with new lyrics written by her and/or her husband, pianist Jeff Pittson. Out of the Hub features the singer, Jeff Pittson and an all-star group: bassist John Patitucci, drummer Willie Jones III, and on five of the 11 songs, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and saxophonist Steve Wilson.
Three of the performances are jazz or pop standards that Hubbard recorded (“You’re My Everything.” “Moment to Moment,” and Betcha By Golly, Wow!”). Of the eight originals by the trumpeter, six have lyrics by Suzanne, Jeff and/or son Evan Pittson. While “Up Jumped Spring,” which utilizes Abbey Lincoln’s lyrics, is both joyful and conventional, many of the other songs — “Our Own (Gibraltar), “Out of the Hub (One of Another Kind)” and “We’re Having a Crisis (Crisis)” — are not easy to sing. Yet Pittson makes her interpretations sound fairly effortless, both in her often up-tempo melody statements and her scat-filled improvisations.
Sprinkled throughout are notable solos by Pelt, whose playing hints at both the sound and ideas of Hubbard; by the ever-inventive Wilson, who alternates between alto and soprano saxes; and by Patitucci and Jeff Pittson. But the star of the session is Suzanne Pittson. Her voice is particularly lovely on the ballads, even while navigating the complex and haunting vocals of “Bright Sun (Lament for Booker).”
During an era when jazz singers struggle to find fresh repertoire, Suzanne Pittson offers an appealing option with these “new” Freddie Hubbard songs.