Maryann Sullivan – Songstress


Maryann Sullivan and her Sousetet - Coffee Time

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Coffee Time
Maryann Sullivan and her SouseTet
01. Rock Me To Sleep
02. Not My Guy
03. I Love The Way You're Breaking My Heart
04. Swing Brother, Swing
05. Undecided
06. My Sugar Is So Refined
07. Mean To Me
08. Miser's Serenede
09. Why Don't You Do Right?
10. Coffee Time
11. Huh? Uh Huh!

Sound Samples are in MP3 Format

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Review by Andrea Canter, The Jazz Police

In Her Other Voice: "Coffee Time" With Maryann Sullivan Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor "I get a lot of joy doing this. When I’m up there singing, I’m just happy. That’s what I hope this shows." – Maryann Sullivan

Although she played in the school band and heard the recordings of Louis Armstrong, the Dukes of Dixieland and Frank Sinatra throughout her childhood, Maryann Sullivan initially wanted to be a veterinarian. But the prospects of a lot of math courses "scared me away," and soon she was on a somewhat jagged path toward a career in music. Today, Twin Cities jazz fans know her voice well – as host of the Jazz Corner and Local Corner shows on KBEM Radio and a frequent "voice over" performer. And many also associate her with husband/saxophonist/bandleader Doug Haining and now their sons, fledgling jazzmen Trevor and Preston Haining. But she can sing, too. And Maryann has a shiny new CD to introduce the community to her "other voice."

That in 2012 she would be in a studio to record Coffee Time never occurred to Maryann when she enrolled at Augsburg College as a saxophone student, or when she studied broadcasting a few years later at the Brown Institute. She was not thinking of a singing career when she began doing voice-over work, or when, a few years ago, she jokingly told her husband that she should sing in his band, the Twin Cities Seven. She was not envisioning singing in public, let alone making a recording, when she sought voice lessons with Vicky Mountain at the MacPhail Center for Music. "I would sing around the house," she recalls, "but then I started to think, ‘I would really like to try that. So I will go learn how.’ …And there wasn’t any ah-ah moment. "It was gradual," she explains. "One of the benefits I got first was for my voice-over work. The singing exercises really helped my speaking voice. And then I discovered my [higher] Blossom Dearie voice…Then I started to think, could I do that? Then when you have your first couple times out, when you sit-in with somebody and it’s a total disaster, and you survive to sing another day, you think – Okay! That was fun! And then you get hooked."

Maryann’s first forays onto the bandstand were as "Maxine Sousé". "I wanted to separate my radio self from my singing self, because it was new, because I was not—still am not—recognized as a singer by any means. But I am recognized as somebody who is on the radio. So I really wanted to separate that for a while. I have a friend who always calls me Maxine because there is Maxine Sullivan, a famous singer. And Sousé is from a W.C. Fields movie; I am a big WC Fields fan. So that was the name and it was just fun at first." Then, at about the time she was working on the CD, friends convinced her to use her own name, and vocalist Maryann Sullivan went public. "And then," says Maryann, "a CD came out from [New York-based vocalist] Marianne Solivan – and I thought, I should have stayed Maxine Sousé! She’s an excellent singer!"

Coffee Time (2012)

Coffee Time evolved as naturally as Maryann’s singing career. "I have been fortunate in that I hang out with some of the best musicians, so I have been spoiled from the beginning, sitting in with some of the best players, and I also have a love for the tunes that you don’t hear that often. So as I started gathering tunes that I would like to do, I started thinking about players and arrangements and it just evolved." Pal/guitarist Reynold Philpsek took her into Stymie’s Place to record the instrumental tracks, and she wanted Matthew Zimmerman of Wild Sound to record the vocals. An old classmate from kindergarten, "Matthew had worked with me before, in Vicky Mountain’s class we went in to record, and he knew how to mic my voice…. And I picked monstrous tunes that are not easy!" Those tunes include several from the Peggy Lee songbook, a pair associated with Fred Astaire, and some personal favorites from Benny Carter, Charlie Shavers, Count Basie, Chris Connor and more. No surprise, the band bears the name Haining more than once—husband Doug on saxophone and clarient, older son Trevor on drums, and younger son Preston on bass on one track. They are joined by Doug’s fellow Wolverine Rick Carlson on piano, Matt Peterson on bass, Philipsek on guitar, and Denny Malmberg on accordion. "I can’t explain in words what it is like to get up and sing with a group like this," says Maryann. "And I come from the other side of things--I have been around these guys since I was in high school. And that was kind of odd. There’s always been a division between players and singers. So I was fortunate that, when I stepped out in front of the microphone, I knew the list of things that the guys hated and what they wanted you to do." While one might expect her broad music background to have been an advantage, Maryann notes that "it has been a big hindrance for me. Because I think too much. Whereas a lot of people can just get up and sing the song, I’m analyzing it and hearing what’s going on. I struggle with that. It makes me wish I had started [singing] earlier."

But she’s singing now, and it’s Coffee Time, the name and title track of the CD, that allows Maryann to answer affirmatively when someone asks the KBEM personality if she sings. Despite her protest that she over-analyzes the music, there’s nothing analytical about these 11 tracks – rather, this is a recording of sheer delight, delight for listeners’ ears and obvious delight for the musicians in the studio. And if singing is still new to Maryann, she nevertheless comes across as a seasoned performer with a relaxed swing and a lot of sparkle in that voice. No less engaging is the song list itself, mostly tunes that are less familiar if not downright obscure. But each song is special to Maryann.

She opens with Benny Carter’s "Rock Me to Sleep," from husband Doug’s book for the Twin Cities Seven. "I heard June Christy do a version of it, recorded in ‘68, and it has just always been one of my favorites," notes Maryann. It’s a terrific start, the vocals swaying "too and fro," Haining adding a lacey alto solo, and bassist Matt Peterson setting a gentle pace. The singer’s subtle sarcasm coats Fred Astaire’s "Not My Guy." "Actually it was not a hit for him but it was played overseas and was very popular…I took some liberties with the lyric – ‘not my girl,’ I changed that and put a funkier beat behind it." Astaire, she notes, was a good stride pianist, and no doubt would have approved of Rick Carlson’s touch.

"I Love the Way You’re Breaking My Heart" is the first of several tunes associated with Peggy Lee, "one of my singing heroes," notes Maryann. "I like the sass in the lyric – ‘I love the way you’re breaking my heart.’" Haining’s clarinet and Philipsek’s guitar, buoyed by Peterson’s bass, elevate the arrangement to a sweet hot club swing; Maryann presents that lyric with just enough sass to sidestep self pity. Walter Bishop’s "Swing Brother Swing" is one of the most familiar tracks here, a hit for Billie Holiday and Count Basie, and "deceptively simple," notes Maryann. "When you are only on two or three notes, it can be very challenging." And of course, "That was my dream, I wanted to sing with the swing band!" Dream became reality, never more apparent than on this track as Maryann gets into the groove with Philipsek, with Peterson and Trevor Haining feeding off Doug Haining’s alto solo.

Maryann learned Charlie Shavers "Undecided" in high school. "My brother’s a trumpet player who played with the original Wolverines Classic Jazz Orchestra and they did that tune. I heard it and it just stuck with me." This arrangement is probably more laid back than the Wolverines’ rendition but the swing is strong and steady from both singer and band. Peggy Lee as well as Johnny Mercer are associated with the comic lyric of "My Sugar Is So Refined." Denny Malmberg joins in on accordion here; Maryann’s deliberate, rhythmic storytelling and sweet tone only add to the tongue-in-cheek humor. The band picks up the usual pace on the standard "Mean to Me." Says Maryann, "I’ve heard a lot of people do it at a slower tempo. I just really wanted to let it go. Let it swing." Philipsek keeps the pace brisk and Haining again takes an energetic spin on clarinet, while Maryann just "lets it go."

A big hit for Chris Conner, "Miser’s Serenade (Mad Miser Man)" is otherwise a much-neglected Tin Pan Alley jewel that gave Maryann an opportunity for a bit of social commentary. "Reynold Philipsek’s on guitar and he’s kind of a gypsy, and it works really well. It’s sort of politically motivated. It’s from the 30s and how a propos to today, ‘gimme gimme gimme—that’s the misers serenade!’ So that’s my political statement." Doug Haining’s tenor sax simply snarls over Philipsek’s steady rhythm; the guitarist takes a dancing solo as well, and you half-expect a vaudeville act to follow with Maryann the songful narrator. "Why Don’t You Do Right" was an early hit for Peggy Lee and remains one of her most familiar songs. Here Trevor Haining pounds out a swinging intro followed by dad’s soulful clarinet, all setting the stage for one of Maryann’s most engaging interpretations, as well as strong contributions from Peterson and Philipsek.

The title track comes from the 1945 film Yolanda and the Thief, scored by Harry Warren and a dance number for Fred Astaire. "You can find it on YouTube," says Maryann. "The dance floor, the way its painted, is very cool. The dancers are dancing in five and the song is in four, so it’s very interesting. I found the song through Natalie Cole. She has it on one of her albums. And it was a song that Tony Bennett had introduced to her. Denny Malmberg plays accordion and it’s one of my favorites on there." The accordion, the rhythmic sway from Peterson and Trevor Haining, adds a slight hint of tango (Fred would have loved it!), while Maryann adds a bit of flirtation to her invitation for a "cup of java."

The closing track will leave you smiling. "You find songs in the strangest places," says Maryann of Slim Galliard’s "Huh? Uh Huh!". "There was a little [Danish] movie on the internet called Bloody Olive. A little murder mystery. Ten minutes long, this song was the opening credit done by Slim Galliard and Doug heard it. He said ‘You should watch this…this is something you should do, it would really fit you.’ I really like Slim. The original has the ‘Uh Huh’ on it. Rick made it more of a Fats Waller thing." Preston Haining joins his family on bass here; Maryann’s vocals invite mischief, and Doug and Rick insert their growling accents perfectly.

Few newbies in the world of jazz singing come to their recording debut with Maryann Sullivan’s extensive exposure to the music. And while she points out the pitfalls of "knowing too much," one can’t help but hear the advantages of a singer who brings a lot more than a nice voice to the party. Coffee Time does not offer any ground-breaking innovation, but rather a lot of charm, well-considered arrangements, and a band that obviously enjoys their interaction. And a performer who, though new to her "singing voice," finds joy in every note. That’s what we hear when it’s Coffee Time.


Other Reviews
Here is a review of Maryann's singing by Patti, the owner at the Wine Market in Excelsior, Minnesota, following a performance by Maryann:
"Wine Republic's first Friday night music guest artist during our wine tasting was Maryann Sullivan and Corner Jazz, a delightful, classy and talented duo. Playing great jazz classics that no doubt engaged our customers as everyone was humming or singing along and later came up to me and said how wonderful the music was."