Marc Pompe

"He dreamed it was music he had to play....he dreamed when he played, he would play his way," sings Marc Pompe on the title cut of Monk's Dream. And he means it. It's been almost 50 years since he and best friend/mentor, legendary saxophonist Bob Centano dreamed about doing a big band recording together back in days of the "Taylor Street Little Italy" neighborhood of Chicago. Joining them was arranger/writer/trumpet player (and future Basie Band member), Bobby Ojeda. Over the years, the project remained a work in progress. But after the recent passing of Bob Centano, Pompe and Ojeda knew it was time to fulfill the dream in his honor. Monk's Dream is an exquisite dream that has finally come true.

In this stunning recording, Marc Pompe blazes a trail through romance, adventure, lost and found love, passion and hope––and does it all with unbridled joy. Among the wittiest and most versatile performers in today's world of jazz, the seasoned singer/pianist/lyricist/composer and all-around cool guy showcases his amazing tapestry of vocal virtuosity in front of an 11-piece band of Chicago jazz all-stars. With wonderful and appealing arrangements by Ojeda, we are treated to an eclectic and colorful selection of bebop, ballads, bossa novas and burning swing. Driven by a great rhythm section, and powered by the ensemble work and inspired solos of an elite eight-man horn section, Ojeda has created the perfect platform for Marc's innovative and highly stylized vocals. Ranging from quirky, high energy phrasing to lush, heart-melting tenderness, Pompe makes every song his own.

Among the standouts on the album are "Estaté," a sultry bossa nova which Marc sings in Italian; "My Chicago," by the late Joe Vessia, with newly updated and highly entertaining lyrics by Pompe; "The Music Goes Round and Round," a 1930s hit given an adventurous new life by Bobby's high-energy arrangement and Marc's intense and humorous vocal. The songs that have an especially profound and emotional impact are the two Monk cuts. "Ask Me Now" is a showcase for Pompe's ability to deliver a reflective lyric over an incredibly dense harmonic landscape. "Monk's Dream" features Marc's punchy-yet-soulful phrasing, along with his super-articulated reading of the lyrics. The song has a rhythmic drive and melodic angularity that tells a mini biography of Monk's life and approach to music, one which very much mirrors Pompe's own.

This album is an instant Chicago classic. Everyone shines. Bobby Ojeda's great arrangements, the top-notch band, and the sonic talents of engineer Steve Yates have all combined to deliver Marc Pompe's long-time dream of a Taylor Street reunion. Monk's Dream is indeed a dream come true.

Marc Pompe has been active in the Chicago jazz scene for many years, singing his unique brand of swinging jazz in a countless number of settings, but the Monk’s Dream project is particularly special. “This CD was conceived by band leader and baritone sax player Bob Centano, who passed away in 2011,” says Pompe. “Centano, trumpeterarranger Bob Ojeda and I grew up together on Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood. We met in our early teens and hung out at Centano?s pad, where we listened to records by the big bands, and artists like Monk, Bird, and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. This is when I first realized I wanted to sing jazz, scat and vocalize.”

With Bob Ojeda providing the arrangements and the trumpet solos for an 11-piece All-Star band, this CD project continued after Bob Centano’s passing. The result is Pompe’s definitive recording, one in which he sounds consistently inspired by Ojeda’s charts and the musicians? solos. “These are some of the greatest players in town,” says Pompe, “and Ojeda’s writing is so seamless, pure and effortless. This recording was really a pleasure to make.”

Monk’s Dream starts with “The Music Goes Round and Round.” This mid-1930s hit gets the program off to a happy and swinging start. “It’s a great song that never gets played,” Pompe says. “No one has heard of this tune for 50 years!” Pompe has a chance to do some solid scatting while Ojeda takes a rewarding trumpet solo. “Stranger in Paradise,” originally a show tune, is usually performed as a ballad. On this version, Pompe shows that the song can actually swing, and Nick Schneider plays a nicely crafted bass solo.

Pompe demonstrates his fine ballad singing with "In the Still of the Night," a Cole Porter song that has a colorful arrangement by Ojeda and some wistful trombone playing by Bill Porter. "This is Cole Porter with a Latin feel,” Pompe explains. "It’s a treasure of a tune, almost operatic.”

Next is a pair of Monk tunes that are not sung often but which Pompe knows very well. "I've dug Monk since I was 15,” Pompe adds. "Ask Me Now” is a pretty ballad with a set of lyrics that are poetic without being obvious. Next, Pompe effortlessly handles the unusual structure and melody of "Monk's Dream,” really digging into the words. Greg Fishman contributes adventurous tenor solos to both of the Monk tunes.

"I have been studying Italian for a long time," says Pompe, "so singing ?Estaté? was a challenge that I wanted to take on." This Latin tune by Bruno Martino and Bruno Brighetti receives a warm and sparkling treatment—which also includes a beautiful piano solo from Dennis Luxion.

"My Chicago," a song by the late Joe Vessia, was recorded by Pompe back in 1985 with the composer's lyrics. For this new project, Pompe wrote new lyrics, mentioning many of Chicago's iconic places in a version that will particularly delight those who love the city. Jerry DiMuzio keeps the momentum flowing with his baritone sax solo.

Pompe does a heartfelt interpretation of Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood," and is in prime form on Cy Coleman's medium-tempo "I've Got Your Number," which features a baritone sax solo by Bill Overton.

This CD is the latest of accomplishments in Pompe's productive musical career. He started singing when he was four years old, participated in many local talent shows, and studied piano. His first engagement was singing at a tavern when he was 15—at least until it was discovered how young he was. "When I was 20, I started seriously playing gigs as a singer-pianist," recalls Pompe. "At that time there were hundreds of piano bars on Rush Street. I knew that was how I wanted to make my living— and that is what I did forever after."

During the mid-?60s, Pompe lived in New York, where he gigged at Jilly?s, one of Frank Sinatra?s main hangouts. Additionally, he performed across the East Coast and internationally, including Toronto and the Virgin Islands. After New York, he moved on to Pittsburgh before returning to Chicago in 1975. "That?s how Chicago is," Pompe declares. " You can?t ever really leave it."

Monk?s Dream is Marc?s seventh CD. These days his enthusiasm remains high, his singing abilities are at their prime, and the joy and passion in his voice make Monk?s Dream an impressive tribute to the vision of Bob Centano.

~ Scott Yanow, author of 11 books including The Jazz Singers, Swing, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76

I fell in love with Marc Pompe the first moment I heard him. I was a teenager, just starting to play gigs, when a mutual friend, the great pianist Pat Manago, brought me to a club to meet Marc and hear for myself what a real jazz singer/pianist was “supposed to sound like.” It was just some little Chicago suburban bar, but to me, it was as though I’d walked into Jazz at the Philharmonic. I sat mesmerized as Marc sang and played a variety of wildly inventive jazz standards, and then ended the set with a scorching ballad I hadn’t heard before-“My One and Only Love.” That did it. At that moment I became a star struck fan, just like I am now, years later. Whether I’m listening to his recordings or playing piano for him, I am always star struck by Marc Pompe.

Since that first encounter, I have watched with awe and pleasure as Marc continues to develop and expand his skills as an ever-evolving singer, pianist, songwriter and performer. Marc has become more than just a song stylist with an intensely appealing voice who can swing standards and sing jazz tunes: he is a bebop-driven vocal interpreter of the kinds of expert melody lines and harmonic phrasing that a great saxophonist would create. When Marc scats solo choruses, those solos are transcribable works of art for any instrument.

And yet he is also one of the most contemplative and compassionate musicians I know. His warm and intense interpretation of ballads offers an up-close and personal look into his innermost thoughts and feelings. With his powerfully beautiful voice and expressive sound, Marc is a master of conveying the most tender emotions, joyful or sad, with quietly smoldering passion.

In both his singing and his composition, Marc can take you on a magical trip from blazing bebop to melancholy yearning that is so smooth you don’t know what hit you. He can adapt material to his own quirky-scatty delivery of a complex jazz tune, and then, just as quickly, change course and completely melt your heart with a haunting ballad of lost love. He is not afraid to go out on a limb with adventurous musical explorations, yet all the while keeping it thoughtful and poignant.

Marc is also one of the wittiest people I know. His talent for injecting his offbeat sense of humor into his music allows him to have fun with lyrics and phrasing continually raising the bar of creative singing to a high and very entertaining level.

An all-star cast of close friends and frequent musical collaborators is featured on Everyone But Me, with abundant solo space for each player. A jazz pianist himself, Marc knows how to communicate his ideas on a wide variety of moods and styles, and it is obvious that all of these empathetic artists have been thinking alike for a long time.

Drummer RUSTY JONES, famous in his own right for his work with such jazz stars as George Shearing and Marian McPartland, delivers his usual high-energy performance and patented chops-ish wizardry, terrific solos and trading, and (in my opinion) his “perfect spot in the universe” time feel.

Bassist NICK TOUNTAS, about whom I have always said “knows exactly what to do when” in terms of time feel, mood, texture, (plus making note choices that flatter the all-important pianist’s left hand), navigates beautifully through the arrangements with satisfying long, low notes, as well as taking plenty of excellent solos. Together, Nick and Rusty reprise their long-time popular role as Chicago’s favorite rhythm section.

El Paso guitarist CURT WARREN, who has played and recorded with this Chicago group many times over the years, fits perfectly into the mood of the project. His performance on the beautiful voice/guitar duo rendition of “Darn That Dream” is among the standouts.

Special guest saxophonist GREG FISHMAN makes an exuberant showing on the opening cut of the album, “The Touch of Your Lips.” Playing with fire and energy, he does his usual terrific work of harmonically nailing all the perfect notes with his elegant sound and his hot, intelligent phrasing. Although he is featured on just one track, he makes the most of it with his inspired and inspiring solos and fills—a great way to set the tone for the album.

Featured on piano is legendary jazz musician and accompanist to the stars, LARRY NOVAK. I’ve heard Larry play for many years, both live and on recordings, and I think this is one of his most remarkable performances. It is a foregone conclusion that he is a monster of technique, but his playing here goes way beyond that. Just his piano work behind and during Marc’s vocals alone qualifies for a serious clinic on how to play the perfect piano fill. His clever rhythmic comping and ingeniously complex right-hand lines are right in sync with Marc’s edgy style. While this kind of adventurous accompaniment may not be for the faint of heart, it is ideal for Marc, who always likes taking it to the next level. Then there are Larry’s solos, which are breathtaking in their composition and execution. While his intimate take on the softer, sweeter ballads are luxurious, his high-energy, neo-blusey, intellectual solos on the faster swing tunes and bossa novas are thrilling.

The affectionate camaraderie between Marc and the band is what allows the essence of Marc’s “down-to-earth hip” factor to shine through on every cut on the album. This is especially evident when Mark is the composer. His warm and wonderfully offbeat original, “Old Chari,” is simultaneously a dizzying jazz piece and a sentimental tale. Singing bebopishly about a favorite old chair that has been relegated to the curb to be given away, Marc refers to this as “the is-ness of being.” (And the song sounds exactly that way!)

On a clever bossa nova arrangement of pianist George Cable’s tune, “I Told You So,” Marc has written a set of lyrics that are positive and inspirational. Marc advises you to “follow your star—be who you are—live and learn, or crash and burn.” If you don’t he warns, you’ll be the guy “who can’t overcome being down in the mouth, when your dreams unravel and travel south.”

Among other standouts are Marc’s rapid-fire delivery of the obscure Stanley Cornfield lyrics to Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation,” which showcases the band’s aggressive, straight-ahead playing and Marc’s acrobatic yet articulate vocalese. Take note of his well-executed opening chorus of flawless “a cappella” scatting.

Tad Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” gets a special treatment which includes the rarely-heard verse; played as a slow bossa nova with an interesting bass/piano unison figure, Marc and the band set a mood of romantic intrigue.

The Bob Dorough classic, “Devil May Care,” is an intense guitar-trio burner, with Marc making the most of the message that living dangerously is cool.

Marc’s voice/piano duos with Novak on Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” and the Gordon Jenkins standard, “This is All I Ask,” are intimate works of art.

The title song, “Everyone But Me,” is one of those obscure, wonderful ballads that has been somehow overlooked, and has finally found a home on this recording. The melancholy lyrics by dinger/songwriter Ron Boustead are expressed perfectly by Marc’s tender, wistful exploration of longing and loneliness. The music, written by saxophonist Gordon Brisker, is beautifully enhanced by Novak’s delicate solo piano backing.

What could be wilder than the famous girls-dancing-on-the-airplane-wings scenes from the 1933 movie, Flying Down to Rio? Answer: Marc Pompe’s vocal version on this CD. Marc has taken a Fred Astaire song that was popular almost eighty years ago and makes it sound like it is written tomorrow.

Redesigned as a contemporary samba, “flying Down to Rio” opens with a long, bright intro, featuring Tountas’ melodic bass solo jam over Jones’ patented bossa/samba/jazzy drums. The pair never looks back and only gets more intense as the song continues to build steam. After Novak’s piano joins the interplay with a cool rhythmic segue, Marc comes flying in like a supersonic jet. His vocal is appropriately on fire as he twists and turns the acrobatic melody and tasty re-harmonies into his signature scatty/funny/expressive story about the joys of exploring Rio de Janeiro. Novak’s blazing piano fills and solo are equally airborne and constantly dazzling.

The band drops out to feature Rusty’s extended and jaw-dropping drum solo, which sounds like there are at least five drummers and percussionists playing. At the height of all this, the infamous Jones cowbell makes its entrance, and the solo reaches a fever pitch. Marc bursts into the last chorus to enthusiastically talk more about the Brazilian ladies and rhythms. He holds the last “Rio de Janeirooooo” note for a long time, ending it in his smoothed-out tone and sensual vibrato. What follows is an extended samba tag of breathless, soaring energy, with the band happily fading out of the final song of the album as though a troop of colorful samba dancers has left the carnival parade.

On Everyone But Me, marc Pompe has time-capsuled all the raw energy of his hot be-bop youth and it’s accompanying romantic innocence, and has blended it into this new, finely tuned tapestry of refreshingly sophisticated material. With an approach that pays respect to his neo-savvy look at life and love, Marc has chosen the best songs to sing and the best musicians to play them. There is no missing the fact that Marc is a total original—a “singer’s singer” who appeals to everyone; a Renaissance Man with a romantic heart, a philosopher’s mind, and a jazz musician’s soul.

--Judy Roberts

Judy Roberts, named “Chicago’s Favorite Jazz Woman” b the Chicago Tribune, is a Grammy-nominated pianist/vocalist/recording artist and a columnist for Chicago Jazz Magazine.