Macy Chen, vocals with orch. – After 75 Years – Twinz Records SD1101 ****:
An amazing CD—physically, historically and musically. This debut album by Taiwan-born Macy Chen first of all looks entirely different from any commercial jazz CD you have ever seen. It is in the shape of a long bound notebook over eight inches long, with a string fastener at the open end similar to some European packages. It’s black cover with an old 4-cent postage stamp on it is subtitled “From Keelung Harbor to New York City.”
After 75 Years contains ten songs, some in English and some in Chinese. There are originals and classic Chinese songs of the past. Macy Chen has a lovely, sultry voice and the backing is from veteran NYC jazz musicians in fine arrangements. She had been a backup singer for pop stars and a vocal coach in Taiwan and in 2002 left for the U.S. to be a jazz singer in NYC, emulating Sarah Vaughan. There she said she found the two loves of her life: singing jazz in NYC and her present husband.
Chen presents six 1930s-era Shanghai oldies redone with jazz flourishes. She updates them with a modern feminine-positive sensitivity. Then she takes American jazz standards such as “My Only Love” and sings them with just as much swing and in Chinese. There’s plenty of emotional variety in the ten songs—they communicate well whether in Chinese or English.
However the big story behind this album and the “75 Years” business is the tale of a grandfather and granddaughter who never met one another but shared a surprisingly similar life in jazz. Chen’s grandfather, Liu, was born in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation in 1911. He taught himself to play sax, clarinet and violin, and furthered his musical studies in Japan. He then bounced back and forth between Taiwan and Japan, but WWII separated him from his wife and family. He died in Japan in 1964.
The granddaughter, Macy, was taught piano by her mother but was uninterested in classical music, channeling her creativity into popular music. She had only seen photos of her grandfather playing the saxophone and often thought about his decision to give up everything for music. After she had recorded this jazz album she traveled back to Taiwan to learn more about her grandfather. She found music scores he left behind, including a manuscript of “Harlem Nocturne” which she had already included in her “Harlem Fantasia” track on this CD. So the grandfather and granddaughter have been connected thru jazz.
This connection leads to another sort of improvisation: There are six letters printed in the notes—both in English and again in Chinese—supposedly from Liu to Macy, about his life in Taiwan and Japan, the wars, and the coincidence of their both being into jazz. Very affecting. But in addition there is second CD slot in the front of the album of snapshots of Macy, and then five actual envelopes of various sizes stapled into the album between the notes and the actual CD, and each of them has inside reproductions of the actual letters in Chinese! Unless you have a very deep shelf, the CD won’t fit. Lastly there is a large foldout of various music arrangements by Liu, such as “12th Street Rag.” If you turn the album over, both the snapshots and the CD fall out. I can’t imagine any commercial CD having required this much manual insertion work to be ready for the market! What a project!
TrackList: Unrequited Love, Languishing Dreams, The Wandering Songstress, My Only Love, Harlem Fantasia, Suzhou Nocturne, Crazy Weekend, Reminisce, Fly Away, Good Night My Love.
— John Henry
A posthumous release of late career Bill Evans in SACD format adds to the formidable legacy.