Two girl groups

My wife’s mixed chorus gave its spring concert this weekend and performed Randall Thompson’s Choose Something Like a Star. This is an exquisite, choke-up beautiful, number that I had first heard performed as SSAA, but it seems that SATB arrangement is the original, and the piece has been rearranged so that women’s groups can enjoy it too.  Revising a paper last night, I teed up a Spotify station from a Patrick Saussois song and after a while,  along came a cut from Christine Tassan et les Imposteures that brought work to a stop.  This is a Montréal quartet in the middle of widespread revival of the “gypsy” jazz form that traces back to Django Reinhardt and has popped up all in the usual, and some unlikely, places with some really fine musicians.  A gang of Scots that call themselves Havana Swing, for example, and the Canadian group The Lost Fingers.  The jazz manouche  crowd likes to blur the boundaries, cover songs from all over, and bring in straight-ahead jazz musicians, and people like Peter Beets and David Langlois are happy to jam with Dorado Schmitt at Birdland every year or so.
But I digress, even from the threadlike theme of this post.  Tassan’s quartet combines drop-dead instrumental chops with a really good set of pipes, and they have the kind of radiant delight performing that illuminates the most watchable baseball players, like Willie Mays and Dustin Pedroia. Women jazz musicians have always been scarce except for “the ladies who sing with the band” that Fats dissed; someone like Deanna Bogart consequently has to be two of them (tenor sax too, indeed three, if you count vocals).  This group is mainly instrumental; the rhythm guitarist, bass player and fiddler mostly sing as backup for Tassan, like the golden-era rock and roll girl groups, though they have some fine four-part riffs.  They have three CDs out, two on Spotify; the latest one doesn’t seem to be available in the US.  Come on, Amazon!
Listening to them I was reminded of what may be the best ever, the Quarteto em Cy, four sisters who have recorded and performed, alone and with the top Brazilian talent, over four decades.  They’ll probably be back in the next samba post. Listening to them is a time machine that will remind you of voice qualities impossible to discern in the mechanized, processed popular music of today, stuff like, um, intonation and rhythm…and ensemble, hoo boy.  This is really difficult harmony, and only works if the singers are in complete control and together.  No melismatic shopping around for a note here, either; they’re very exposed, and punch every one.  One of my favorite cuts on the linked album is the charming Loura ou Morena, about a guy who can’t decide if he likes blondes or brunettes more, that Tassan’s Les Blondes reminded me of in tone.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

6 thoughts on “Two girl groups”

  1. I'm omitting singers and including only people whose CDs I happen to have. (What we have here is mostly pianists. But that's mostly what I have in my collection.)

    Marian McPartland. Geri Allen. Regina Carter. Terri Lynn Carrington. Alice Coltrane. Eliane Elias. Candy Dulfer. Kit McClure Band (a big band, all female). Maria Schneider. Matana Roberts. Barbara Dennerlein. Diana Krall. Jennifer Leitham. Tine Asmundsen,

    I'd go look to see if I got everyone, but that's a start for anyone who's interested.

      pretty thin pickings when you take out the singers. I couldn't find a horn player or percussionist I knew of in the list (I'd add Paula Robison on the strength of her two choro CDs, though). WRT pianists: I saw Arturo Sandoval sit down at the piano during a concert once, saying "when I was a kid, I always wanted to play piano, but my father wouldn't let me. He said piano was only for women." I guess Valdes greatgrandpère had a different idea, fortunately.

      1. Yeah, it's not as big a group as I'd like, but it's there. Dulfer and Roberts play sax; Carter is a cellist; Leitham and Asmundsen are bassists…Dennerlein plays the Hammond B3…

  2. Renee Rosnes, Tia Fuller, Anat Cohen, Helen Sung, Chantal Gagne, Leslie Pintchik, Jessica Williams, Joanne Brackeen, Jensen sisters, Grace Kelly, Lynne Arriale

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