Blues and the Abstract Truth

DownBeat / Zan Stewart
Rapport Magazine
LA Jazz Scene / Scott Yanow

Zan Stewart

Pittson is a gusty, informed… she knows her chord changes

Ah, the eternal questions — among them: ‘What do women want?’ and ‘What makes a singer a jazz singer?’

The latter is more suited to these pages, n’est-ce pas?  What seems to be the most reasonable response is that a jazz singer approaches material the way a jazz instrumentalist does, employing phrasing and diction that personally interprets melodies and lyrics, that shows awareness of harmony, that makes the music move in that unique manner we call swing.  Scat singing is another avenue of expression that sometimes indicates a jazz interpretation, though not always; and offering instrumental numbers vocally is yet another mode.  Singer Suzanne Pittson is a vocalist who offers aspects of jazz singing.

San Francisco-based Pittson puts her cards on the table with the opening “Butch and Butch,” Oliver Nelson’s punchy blues.  After singing her husband Jeff’s crafty lyrics, she starts scatting. The same pattern is followed on “Out of Nowhere,” “You and the Night” and “Love For Sale” (the latter two open with tough, written-out improvisations delivered with verve simultaneously by Pittson and her husband).

A holder of a master’s in piano from San Francisco State University and a vocal teacher at nearby Sonoma State University, Pittson is a gusty, informed scatter on this, her recording debut. She knows her chord changes, and many of her lines, as on “Butch” and “Love for Sale,” have an appealing mix of melodicism and modernity.

Pittson’s jazz-rooted style gives a freshness to her melodic readings, and she takes welcome liberties with the themes of “In Love In Vain,” “My Ship” and others.  Happily, there’s believability in her words.  For sheer vocal prowess, there’s the difficult title track, which Pittson negotiates flawlessly.

The singer, who is one to watch for, gets lots of help from her crew. Jeff Pittson is both a muscular, supportive accompanist and crack soloist.  Harvie Swartz plays lines that ring and Mike Clark offers ace time.  Jack Walrath’s wry humor and general musical grace add unique color.


Suzanne Pittson is an icon in a world of vocal divas.

It is a rare pleasure to hear a vocalist of this caliber and integrity. Suzanne Pittson is an icon in a world of vocal divas. Setting Pittson apart from the others is her sheer dedication to heart and soul through technical accuracy and an uncanny creative ability to find notes where there are none.

“Blues and the Abstract Truth” is a magical recording that every jazz fan should have in his library. This rare recording excels on many levels. The performances, both vocal and instrumental, are impeccably arranged and outrageously good. Choice of material, which is a cross between traditional and original, is blended into one organic whole.

This group plays like a family. There’s a sort of musical breathing that occurs with this unit, allowing each of its members to shine when it’s appropriate. Each member’s creative contributions are a valuable addition to the total creative expression. Harvie Swartz as bassist shines on the entire recording, especially the traditional “Out of Nowhere.” “You and the Night and the Music” is a rousing rendition of this standard that you’ll never forget. Suzanne glides through this work with the ease of a second nature gift.

Husband and pianist Jeff Pittson provides dynamic and colorful support at all the right places and is the perfect collaborator on this harmonious vibration. “Blues and the Abstract Truth,” the title cut, reflects that high level of compositional quality and contains impeccable performances by the bunch. There’s lots of unison and ensemble lines with Suzanne scatting along in her vocally awesome way. “Love For Sale,” the Cole Porter song, is another mind-bender, musically speaking. Jack Walrath’s trumpet infusings add a new dimension of hot to the already blistering fire.

“Blues and the Abstract Truth” is just that, abstract, but not over and out. It’s rooted in blues harmonies, but expressed freely and abstractly. Melodies are skewed, interpolated notes and tones are inserted along with altered and expanded harmonies. A great abstract truth!


Scott Yanow

A masterful scatter. Pittson constantly improvises and her solos are full of
surprises and chancetaking.

After hearing Suzanne Pittson’s Vineland release, two obvious questions come to mind: why was this 1992 recording not put out until late last year and why is the highly appealing Jazz singer not better known?  Pittson, who is based in the Bay area, has a wide range, is able to interpret lyrics with proper sensitivity and is a masterful scatter. Pittson constantly improvises and her solos are full of surprises and chancetaking.

In addition to a few fresh versions of standards (including “My Ship,” “Out of Nowhere” and an eccentric “Love For Sale”), Pittson explores such rarely heard material as Oliver Nelson’s “Butch and Butch” and “Blues and the Abstract Truth” (both of which have been given lyrics by her husband pianist Jeff Pittson), Jerome Kern’s underrated (and rather emotional) “In Love in Vain” and Jimmy Heath’s complex “Gingerbread Boy.” In addition to the pianist, Suzanne Pittson is assisted by trumpeter Jack Walrath (who takes several surprisingly extroverted solos), bassist Harvie Swartz and drummer Mike Clark.

One of the more promising bop-oriented singers, Suzanne Pittson deserves much greater recognition. Highly recommended.