Jeff Hedberg - Chicago jazz singer, trumpet player, educator

Chicago Jazz Music Examiner

In the case of trumpeter and vocalist Jeff Hedberg, you don’t have to wait till next year: he’ll celebrate the release of his intoxicating new CD, Too Darn Hot, with two nights at Andy’s (11 E. Illinois) this weekend, starting at 9:30 both Friday and Saturday.
The album features the ensemble Hedberg calls “C11” (for Chicago Eleven). Together they re-create, with fidelity and precision, selections from several albums that the jazz genius Mel Tormé recorded in the mid-50s. Those discs paired Tormé with master arranger Marty Paich, whose ten-piece “Dek-tette” explored the cool translucency Miles Davis had introduced to jazz with his famous Birth of the Cool tracks.  Responding to the irresistibly swinging Dek-tette arrangements – and putting down his trumpet to focus on singing – Hedberg has blossomed into a coolly powerful, fully swinging artist.
His light, airy tenor has almost exactly the same weight, even the same inflection, as that of Tormé – another Chicago-born tenor, who sounded very much like this in his younger years. Tormé’s voice, which earned him the sobriquet “the Velvet Fog,” quite naturally deepened and darkened with age, and that’s the instrument most people remember today. But those first records with Paich reveal a purity of timbre that Hedberg channels here (though with a bit less of Tormé’s youthful edge).
Hedberg’s band also lives up to its inspiration, reeling off Paich’s writing with exuberance as well as care. Spurred by the streamlined powerglide rhythm section of bassist Joe Policastro and drummer Darren Scorza – and sporting an elite brass section of two trumpets, trombone, tuba, and French horn – Hedberg’s C11 makes these charts sound nearly as fresh as they did six decades ago. And the singer recycles that punch into the crisp, snappy phrasing missing from his previous disc.
The material itself might surprise even those who consider themselves 50s aficionados. Some tunes – the title track, “Too Close For Comfort,” and “Lullaby of Birdland” – remained in Tormé’s book throughout his career, and those won’t surprise anyone. (Hedberg’s scat solo on the latter is a highlight, comparing favorably with Tormé’s own vaunted improvisations.)
But “The Carioca,” “Lulu’s Back In Town,” and “When The Sun Comes Out” have receded from familiarity; hearing them again, and in this context, offers yet another tier of pure satisfaction.
It’s an easy out for writers to say that an artist “leans heavily on the influence” of so-and-so, but “still manages to provide his own interpretation” of classic material, and I can guarantee you’ll see a few reviews like that of this disc.
That’s pretty much nonsense, I’m afraid. Due to his range, and to the fact that he has chosen to cover these very detailed and specific arrangements – in which Tormé’s voice was artfully woven into the horn textures – Hedberg sounds a great deal like Tormé on these tunes. To which I can only ask, “What’s wrong with that?”
At his peak, Tormé was the most artistically accomplished male jazz singer in history: he had perfect intonation, impeccable time, a solid feel for the blues, and an ability to improvise – using actual lyrics as well as scat syllables – matched among vocalists by only Ella Fitzgerald. Anyone who can reference that achievement, without wilting in the comparison, gets my vote; that Hedberg can place himself in the discussion without embarrassment is nothing to shy away from.

Sounds of Timeless Jazz

Nice Work if You Can Get It - Pages of Paich, Vol. 2

 

Jeff Hedberg 

As the follow up release in Jeff Hedberg’s two-volume Pages of Paich project, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Pages of Paich, Vol 2, re-introduces listeners to the infinity of the Great American Songbook. Jeff Hedberg and C11 (Chicago Eleven), a group of Chicago musicians based upon Marty Paich’s Dek-tette, reimagine many of your favorites on this 14-track masterwork of swinging big band music and ballads. Jeff Hedberg’s artistry as a vocalist and trumpeter shines throughout the program as he takes on such classics as “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Hello Young Lovers,” and other great songs arranged by Marty Paich.
 
As with his debut release, Too Darn Hot, Pages of Paich, Vol. 1, many of the songs are derived from several films and Broadway musicals including great renditions of Lerner and Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live” (My Fair Lady) Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,” (a song he wrote for the 1935 film Tophat), “Hello Young Lovers” (The King and I)  and of course George & Ira Gershwin’s “Nice Work, If You Can Get It” (from the movie Damsel In Distress and now a Broadway musical). Hedberg is entertaining  - he swings, he scats, he caresses the lyrics – and is thoroughly involved in the stories behind the songs which makes his sound all the more believable. Overall,  Jeff Hedberg’s renditions of these great songs is a lasting treasure trove of musical experiences that will enrich your appreciation for the pages of Marty Paich.

Downbeat Magazine


The Power of Paich,
DIY-Style
By Ed Enright

For vocalist Jeff Hedberg, seeing his Too Darn Hot project through from conception to completion was
the hardest thing  he’s  ever  done.  It  was  a  more-than-worthwhile  en-
deavor, though—the experience transformed him.

Hedberg and his Chicago-based C11 ensem- ble have recorded two volumes of highly styl- ized music
that has its origins in the 1950s part- nership of arranger Marty Paich and vocalist Mel Tormé.
With instrumentation identical to Paich’s famous Dek-tette, Hedberg’s group re- creates the
arrangements from such classic albums as Mel Torme & The Marty Paich Dek- tette (Bethlehem, 1956;
reissued as Lulu’s Back In Town), which featured the scatting singer in a West Coast ensemble
setting of alto, tenor and baritone sax, trombone, French horn, two trum- pets, tuba, bass, drums
and occasional piano.

Hedberg, 32, doesn’t go so far as to imitate Tormé’s vocals note for note. He prefers to put his
own spin on the material and is more com- fortable with his own interpretations of the lyrics to
standards like “Too Close For Comfort,” “The Lady Is A Tramp,” “Just In Time” and “Lullaby Of
Birdland.” Ultimately, Hedberg says his goal was to preserve the seldom-heard Paich-Tormé
repertoire and move it into the present.

“Mel and Marty aren’t around anymore to present this music,” he says. “Also, the material is not
readily available, so the band is pretty unique; nor are there a lot of active ensembles out there
that use this particular instrumentation.”

Acquiring the Paich arrangements was the first of many challenges Hedberg faced after con- ceiving
the project, which evolved from his stud- ies as a grad student at Northwestern University in 2004
and grew into a full-blown passion. Since the arrangements aren’t part of any pub- lisher’s
catalog, and the Paich estate wasn’t forth- coming with any charts, he had to transcribe some of
the material himself. The rest of the charts were completed with considerable help from Sid Potter,
a semi-retired trumpeter with an expert ear who’s based in Olympia, Wash.
Getting the arrangements in hand was just one of many obstacles that Hedberg—a full-time music
educator based in Villa Park, Ill.—would ultimately overcome. He had to find local musi- cians who
were not only capable of executing the charts properly but were willing to put in the time required
to work up the material in rehearsals and live performances at various Chicago ven- ues. He paid
for studio time out of his own pock- et and spent countless hours mixing each track, listening
meticulously to make sure all of Paich’s instrumental parts were present and balanced— in many
cases more clearly than on the original albums, thanks to 21st century recording tech- nology and the

conscientiousness of engineer/ co-producer Scott Steinman. When Hedberg temporarily lost his main                                                                                                                                         teaching gig, he put everything on hold, only to start back up again once he was rehired.                                                                                                                                                     When money started to run out near the end of the project, he set up an online donation site that brought                                                                                                                                     in the final $2,000 he needed to manufacture the discs. The CD is now available through the website CD Baby,                                                                                                                         and a second volume is due out in mid-2012.

“It’s a whole lot of do-it-yourself,” Hedberg says, reflecting on the process of making Too Darn
Hot a reality as an independent artist and bandleader. “It was a big learning curve—I learned what
it really costs to run a large group. And it was a waiting game. When you’re real- ly excited about
a project, playing that waiting game is really hard.”


Hedberg says he wants to book the C11 ensemble performing the Paich-Tormé reper- toire—as well as
some Paich arrangements done for alto saxophonist Art Pepper—at concerts and festivals. For the
long term, he hopes to get back to recording and performing in the small- group settings of his
earlier vocal work, as rep- resented on his 2004 debut The Summer Knows (BluJazz). “Once I got
these discs in hand and I went back and listened to The Summer Knows and a recording I made before
that, it was nice to hear the progression of going from this singer with a thin, wispy approach to
coming into full voice and working in tandem with all of these instruments coming at me. It blew my
mind.” DB

WDCB Radio

An outstanding homage to Mel Torme and Marty Paich.

Jazz Inside Magazine

Jazz Inside: Could you discuss the development
of your newly released album, Too Darn Hot, the compositions, arrangements, and personnel,
and your experiences in the recording process?

Jeff Hedberg: I discovered this music while working on my Master’s Degree in 2004. I came across
Mel Tormé’s recording ‘Lulu’s Back in Town’ while working on an assignment, and was blown away by
the concept of not always using the voice as a solo instrument but also integrat- ing it into the
ensemble writing. The cool thing about many of the compositions is that while they all come from
the “Great American Song- book,” many of these songs are not terribly well known. Prior to
discovering these arrangements I wouldn’t have really thought to call “All I Need is the Girl,”
“The Carioca,” or “Once in Love with Amy” on a bandstand with a trio or quartet on a gig. Selecting
the personnel for the ensem- ble was a bit daunting. My first priority was to use Chicago-area
based musicians, obviously for local gigs but also any possible recordings. I knew I needed players
that understood the nu- ances and restraint found in Cool Jazz, but also wanted players who could
also bring something unique to the ensemble. I started with finding lead voices (alto sax/trumpet)
that would be a bit on the darker side instead of a big-band oriented sound, which I found in lead
trumpet Joe Lill and saxophonist Rich Moore. Next was to hunt down a tuba player. Since Tuba is not
all that common in jazz, I turned to a veteran jazz bassist in Chicago who also plays tuba, Rich
Armandi.
As for the rhythm section I started with someone I knew had put a lot of hours in listening to Mel
Lewis and the first and only call I made was to Darren Scorza. For a trumpet soloist, I was look-
ing for someone versatile who could stretch out on live gigs and really bring some fire to the band
but was also capable of dialing things down to create a more traditional, laid back, “Cool Jazz”
sound. I found that personality in both trumpeter Nick Drozdoff and saxophonist Rich Moore. While
we originally used two trombones, I quickly realized the timbre of the French Horn was missing as
it was a key voice in making this music unique. I had initially shied away from the French Horn out
of simplicity. It was much eas- ier to find two bone players, one with solid high chops and another
outstanding soloist than it was to initially find a French Hornist with an affinity
for jazz. It wasn’t until I had found
a French Horn player (Lisa Taylor) that I was inspired to start recording
these charts. And, in freeing up that
voice, the band discovered that trombonist Steve Duncan was an absolutely beautiful soloist with an
approach straight out of the genre. This recording project was defi- nitely one of the most
challenging things I’ve ever done, and not just from a singing aspect. So our goal became clear,
ensure that every note that Marty Paich wrote makes it to the listener’s ear and create a 21st
Century documentation of the genius of this music and fill in some
of the grey areas that were left by the recording processes of the 50’s. So we opted for individual
instrument mic-ing and isolated the brass, sax
and rhythm sections to give us a bit more control in the mixing process as opposed to the full band
in a room and dealing with a lot of bleed.

JI: What is it about Marty Paich and his music that inspired you?

JH: It is really Marty Paich’s genius and inven- tive arranging that I found and still find inspir-
ing. His arrangements for those projects he did with Mel are rarely ever follow the “intro – singer
– shout and out” formula. He often writes for a singer as if it is just another voice in an
instrumental ensemble. What I find really inspir-
ing is that his writing introduced me to material that I was previously completely unfamiliar with.
Not only does Marty bring these songs into a whole new light but they sound, even now in 2011, just
as hip as they must have sounded when they were first released in the late 50’s/ early 60’s.

JI: As a trumpet player and vocalist, could you discuss your affinity for Chet Baker?

JH: Well my first reaction to Chet was not a pleasant one. While a senior in high school I picked a
recording called Nightbird on the Ex- celsior label, I believe. I almost laughed at this
recording because it was not what I thought a
trumpet was supposed to sound like, nor was it the type of jazz I was used to hearing since it was
just Chet with piano and bass, no drums. I was fed a fairly regular diet of Maynard, Arturo
Sandoval, Doc Severinsen, and Harry James, so this was a recording I wasn’t ready to digest. Later
I found out that this was his live recorded performance at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. My affinity
for Chet really began with a transcription assignment of his solo on “Autumn Leaves” from the She
Was Too Good To Me album, and I was blown away at his sound, vitality, and me- lodic approach. It
was not until I heard the entire album that I discovered his singing, and began to hear how one was
really an extension of the other. I was also beginning to get into doing some singing as well, and
discovered that our ranges were similar. What I most appreciated about Chet was what he could do
with what some might call limited resources, he didn’t have a huge range, on trumpet or vocals, but
he used all of what he had to make magic.

JI: How does your activity as an educator im- pact your artistry?

JH: It keeps me enthusiastic about music. I teach both at the K-8 level as well as college, and it
is incredibly invigorating to see my stu- dents, regardless of age, get excited about play- ing,
singing, describing, or even analyzing a performance. Teaching in a classroom setting also had a
huge impact on my stage presence. I had not really been terribly comfortable on stage. Performing
was fine as long as there was a horn on my face, but singing and addressing an audi- ence in
between tunes, that was rather awkward for me. I realized that teaching was really just a different
 kind  of  performance,  with  a  tougher
crowd.

 

Sounds of Timeless Jazz

As the debut release in Jeff Hedberg’s two-volume Pages of Paich project, Too Darn Hot re-introduces listeners to the genius of singer Mel Torme and songwriter Marty Paich. As a long-time enthusiast of Torme’s music, Jeff Hedberg formed C11, a group of Chicago musicians based upon Marty Paich’s Dek-tette. They recorded 29 tracks from the Torme-Paich albums using 15 arrangements from several of Torme’s albums. The result is Too Darn Hot, Pages of Paich, Vol. 1, a 15-track program that reveals Hedberg’s artistic integrity as a vocalist and trumpeter. The set opens with “Too Close For Comfort” and continues with Torme’s trademark “Lulu’s Back In Town.” Hedberg sings in clear, unified tones and with the kind of high artistry one would expect from this impressive ensemble of musicians. He swings convincingly on “Something’s Gotta Give” and speeds up the tempo on “The Lady Is A Tramp.” On both of these songs Hedberg’s phrasing and delivery are solid and progress in time with his swinging rhythm and brass sections. The program also revolves around songs from the Great American Songbook, Films, and Broadway musicals including great renditions of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face The Music and Dance,” (a song he wrote for the film Follow the Fleet), “Old Devil Moon” (from Finian’s Rainbow), the title track “Too Darn Hot” (from Cole Porter’s play Kiss Me Kate), and “Fascinating Rhythm” (from Lady Be Good). Throughout the entire set, Hedberg is consistent in his vocalese, scatting and presents a different facet of Torme & Paich’s genius as opposed to approaching the material as an advance on their particular evolutionary scale. Overall Jeff Hedberg’s approach to these songs is rampant with swinging rhythms and the core elements of West Coast Cool style of jazz singings that make these songs such an aural pleasure. Check it out.