Susie Deane

The songs on Time's a Dancer have been with me all my life, or they’ve come to me at different times as little gifts from friends. Either way, these songs are part of my life’s soundtrack. Each is special in its own way. One of the best things about recording a jazz album such as this is the way the musicians improvise and suggest changes to the charts. Sometimes someone has an inspiration, and other times it’s because the band is looking for an answer to a unforeseen challenge. Even though I wrote the arrangements and had the last word, it was the musicians who shaped the finished songs.

Thelonious Monk first recorded the song Straight No Chaser in 1951, but he recorded it again at various times, eventually releasing the album named Straight No Chaser in 1967. In 1988, Sally Swisher wrote lyrics for it: “… He knew the answer, that time’s a Dancer. He knew you can’t pack up the moment and take it with you on the road so now is the time… ”

I love Sally Swisher’s lyrics. I’d been told for years that I should make an album, but performing and other projects kept putting it off until Liza Constable gave me one last push. So now is the time.

Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive is a Johnny Mercer song I’ve known since I was about twelve years old, and first heard it on a ten-inch Capitol label vinyl record called Johnny Mercer Sings.

In Meet Me Where They Play the Blues, the lyrics are strung together in such a playful way, but I especially like how evocative they are to me. It feels great to sing a line like: “…they linger ‘til dawn, while the trumpets blare on, hopin’ you’ll happen this way.”

A guy came up to me at the Augusta Heritage Festival years ago and said, “Hey, you’re from Poughkeepsie, right? Listen to this.” Then he played There’s A Fella Waiting in Poughkeepsie for me on the tape deck in his car. Some of my jazz friends and I were pretty sure it had to be a contemporary song, because of its odd form; we had no idea at the time that it was written by Arlen and Mercer in 1944. By the way, it’s from Here Come the Waves, the same movie as Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive. It was a role reversal joke with Bing Crosby in an apron, and Betty Hutton in a uniform. That’s what fooled us into thinking it was modern and feminist.

I love the way the words are put together in Black Coffee, and I love the melody and flavor— lots of cream, but no sugar. The song is so good that I can almost forgive the sexist sentiment.

The tune to Benjamin came to me in my sleep, and I woke to learn that Benjamin Hollman had been born. So what else would I call this bossa?

When I asked Peter Davis to play saxophone on this album, he told me he didn’t think he could do it. “I haven’t been playing sax lately,” he said. I asked if he would play clarinet instead, and he agreed. Later on he asked me to transpose Benjamin into the key of E (a tough horn key) so he could play it where I originally wrote it, the concert key of G. I told him I would be happy to raise it to Ab to make it a good horn key, but he said he wanted to play it the way it was written. He showed up for the session with the sax and he nailed it, in the original key, on that sax he hadn’t been playing!

I’ve wanted to sing Lazy Afternoon for a very long time, and Vinnie spent some real time making an arrangement for piano and bass. We didn’t think we had time to record Lazy Afternoon at the end of the session. Sam was scheduled to leave, but he offered to stick around for another ten minutes or so. After a couple of false starts, we’d finished the track in one take.

I sing Lazy Afternoon every time I feel the heat on summer days as I harvest vegetables at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project.

Peter Davis and I trade “fours” in Up a Lazy River. It’s a conversation in four-measure bites between the scatting voice and the saxophone. Part of what I loved about this is the synergy that always happens between Peter and me when we perform together live. This track also gave me the chance to be the way I am in front of an audience, I often change the words and sing directly to someone in the audience or comment on what’s going on at that moment.

Pete Redmond and I like to sing harmony together in songs like Until I Met You (Corner Pocket) and Jitterbug Waltz, because of the way our voices blend.

For Jitterbug Waltz (“We’re dead on our feet and it’s hours since we’ve eaten but what can you do?”) I wrote the countermelody for trombone, originally to be played behind the vocal melody, but it was Alex Ferguson’s idea to put it in the first half instead of against the singing. Then we decided we shouldn’t come in with bass and guitar till part way through. The new arrangement allows the song to quietly grow, and each section builds to the next. Thanks, Alex.

—Susie, April 2010

baby piano