With Vocal Music for Dancing Back in Vogue, It’s a Big Season for Hannah Gill

Even though Gill is 26, I’ve been hearing her around New York for a few years now, both live and on recordings. She has her debut album out, and also features prominently with The Hot Toddies Jazz Band.

Martina DaSylva
Hannah Gill. Martina DaSylva

Hannah Gill
‘Everybody Loves a Lover’
Turtle Bay Records

The Hot Toddies Jazz Band
‘The Hot Toddies Jazz Band’
Prohibition Productions
At Somewhere/Nowhere Most Wednesdays

Have you ever looked at Frank Sinatra’s first “solo” record? To be specific, I mean the actual original 78 RPM disc of the first single he made on his own, without Harry James or Tommy Dorsey. There’s a curious word under the title: “Vocadance.”  

During the swing era, records for dancing were almost invariably made by big bands; the singer, when present, was secondary. Then, in the early 1940s, RCA launched a series of discs that featured vocalists front and center, but in special arrangements tailored more for dancing than listening. The Vocadance series included mostly big band singers in solo outings: Bea Wain, Dinah Shore, Sinatra, and others.

In a sense, you could argue that this notion was the germination of what later became Sinatra’s “Swingin’ Lover” concept, which he expanded and perfected into all of his uptempo albums, particularly in the 1950s.

Without necessarily thinking about it, the new Hot Jazz has rediscovered the concept of vocal music for dancing. There’s been a renaissance of contemporary swing singers who use this as their musical model: Molly Ryan, Martina DaSylva, Tatiana Eva-Marie, Sweet Megg, Tamara Korn, Elizabeth Bougerol, and the Hot Sardines, to name just a few.

This season marks a major debut for Hannah Gill, whom I’ve been hearing around New York for a few years now, though she’s only 26. She has sung, both live and on recordings, with such 21st century swing-centric bandleaders as guitarist Glenn Crytzer and drummer Patrick Soluri — who features Ms. Gill on four tracks of his new album with his band, the Hot Toddies. 

Trumpeter/arranger Danny Jonokuchi, in addition to including her on “I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So” on his own current big band album (reviewed in these pages), wrote the arrangements for all 11 tracks on Ms. Gill’s new debut album, “Everybody Loves a Lover.”

This is an exceptionally well-packaged album, with a cover illustration that looks like a 1950s Esquire cartoon and a photo of Ms. Gill, with her red hair in a green sweater against a red background.  The preponderance of red and green looks makes me think of an early two-strip technicolor movie musical.  

The music inside is equally colorful: Mr. Jonokuchi’s arrangements have a way of sounding so spontaneous, even organic, that you don’t even realize the seven musicians are playing from charts. Her sound is bright and sunny and mostly upbeat, and she easily tackles a mix of songs from different eras and sources, bouncing back and forth between the two-beat idiom of the 1920s and the solid 4/4 swing style of the ’30s and ’40s.  

That she touches upon three iconic female singers who were all friends of mine — Annette Hanshaw (“Moonlight Savings Time”), Kay Starr (“You Were Only Fooling”), and Doris Day (“Put ‘Em In A Box,” “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” and “Everybody Loves A Lover”) — makes me feel vindicated, but also, I confess, rather old.

The title song, “Everybody Loves A Lover,” is a surprise, a 1958 Day hit that sounds more like Brill Building pop than a jazz standard. Ms. Gill’s treatment is essentially that of a New Orleans street parade, with drummer Ben Zweig laying down a shuffle beat and pianist Gordon Webster making like Professor Longhair. Still, she follows in Doris’s pumps by replicating a contrapuntal second vocal via overdubbing. 

There’s also an undeservedly obscure tune from the Ella Fitzgerald songbook, the 1940 “I Fell In Love With A Dream” — as well as Fitzgerald’s 1936 “When I Get Low I Get High” with the Hot Toddies — and also one well known to Nat King Cole fans, “This Will Make You Laugh.”  

Two of the more melancholy songs here, coincidentally, are both about leaves: the minor “Lullaby Of The Leaves” is atmospheric and moody, while on “Autumn Leaves,” shadowed by Sam Chase’s trombone and Greg Ruggerio’s guitar, she sounds like someone trying to force herself to smile in the face of heartbreak.

Ms. Gill is also well-spotlighted on four tracks on the Hot Toddies Jazz Band’s self-titled debut album, including Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller’s R&B classic “Kansas City.”Here, supported by wailing trumpet from Alphonso Horne and a guitar solo by Justin Poindexter, she shows us that she also has remarkable chops for the blues.  

The Hot Toddies also offer the best chance to hear Ms. Gill live, in that she sings with them most Wednesdays in Chelsea at Somewhere/Nowhere. The Hot Toddies album is also highly recommended for the singing of Queen Esther on three tracks and standout violinist Gabe Terracciano on “I Wanna Be Like You,” declaiming in no uncertain terms that he wants to be like Louis Prima.

Between her own album and the appearances with The Hot Toddies, Hannah Gill has truly arrived. There’s no law against dancing and listening at the same time.

The New York Sun

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