“Swings with wit
and verve, brimming with the joyous flair of a Wynton
Kelly or Errol Garner…Stiles succeeds magnificently
on Love Call,” writes Bill Milkowski. “Joan
reinvents our beloved American Songbook with her orchestrations…She’s
quite an American treasure,” writes George M.
Carroll. Love Call is “a superb CD that swings
so hard and with such clarity,” finds Leslie Gourse.
On her debut CD, Love Call (Zoho), pianist/arranger/composer
JOAN STILES leads an all-star octet in beautiful and
swinging performances of her provocative reinterpretations
of standards and jazz classics. Her outstanding
ensemble includes Frank Wess, Jerry Dodgion, Joe Temperley,
Warren Vache, Wayne Goodman, Benny Powell, John Webber
and Gregory Hutchinson with very special guest, Clark
As a teenager, although her two favorite records were
by Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, she sang and played
in pop music groups and in college, studied classical
piano. But Jazz was never far from her heart and
she pursued her interest in the music while at the same
time earning two masters’ degrees, completing
her coursework toward her doctorate—and raising
One rainy evening en route to a concert of Duke Ellington's
Black, Brown and Beige, Joan slipped on a cellar door
and suffered multiple fractures of her left wrist. Following
surgery and a long recuperative process, her commitment
to Jazz was strengthened and in the early ‘90’s,
she began to work regularly in NY area clubs. She has
since performed at Birdland and The Blue Note and was
featured at the Kool-Knowledge Conference at theInstituteofJazz
Today, when not performing, Joan is an active Jazz educator.
She is a member of the full-time Jazz Faculty of Manhattan
School of Music, where she is the Coordinator of the
Jazz Keyboard classes and also teaches in the New School
University Jazz Program.
In addition to focusing on her own work, a key element
of Joan's musical life is her involvement with Jazz
great, Mary Lou Williams. Joan has given lecture/demonstrations
entitled "Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings
the Band" and has been re-arranging and performing
her music in the ongoing concert series "Mostly
Mary Lou" with ensembles that have included Warren
Vache, Jerry Dodgion, and Lewis Nash.
A recent concert review of Joan with her quintet featuring
Steve Wilson and Jeremy Pelt found that “in this
age of Jazz soloist-as star, Stiles is a skilled musical
architect, dedicated to the craft of balance and dynamics,
of blend and boldness and being the boss in the best
possible way. She is more than just a graceful interpreter
of Mary Lou, Duke and Monk; her playing illuminated
the masterpieces she made her own.”
---- Liner Notes From 'Love Call' ----
For her debut outing as a leader, pianist-composer-arranger
Joan Stiles wanted to create a relaxed, loosely swinging
vibe in the studio with a carefully chosen group of
respected players on the New York scene. Assembling
a dream band whose collective ensemble experience includes
big band stints with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Thad
Jones/Mel Lewis, Benny Goodman and the Lincoln Center
Jazz Orchestra, Stiles filters well-known standards
through her own unique sensibilities with provocative
reharmonizations, skillful voicings and an unerring
sense of swing.
With the help of revered jazz elders Frank Wess and
Clark Terry along with a crack ensemble including Jerry
Dodgion on alto sax, Joe Temperley on bariton sax, Warren
Vache on trumpet, Wayne Goodman and Benny Powell on
trombones, John Webber on bass and Gregory Hutchinson
on drums, Stiles succeeds magnificently on Love Call,
a collection of extrapolations on standards for solo
piano, piano trio, quartet, septet, octet and nonet.
"All are great ensemble players, all have a beautiful,
natural sound and can play with powerful lyricism and
swing" says the Brooklyn native and Manhattan resident.
"I wrote for the musician's individual sounds,
revamping tunes I had been playing with a trio and putting
together some new things as well. I was thinking the
way a playwright would, writing for certain actors--or
Ellington and Strayhorn imagining certain tonal colors
from their instrumentalists. "
The fact that the session was recorded live to 2-track
in the studio without any of the players wearing headphones
adds to the remarkably relaxed, gig-like feeling of
Love Call. " I wanted an ensemble sound in which
musicians were really playing together, great players
sitting right next to each other with no headphones--listening
and blending. And there was no option of going back
and changing any solos--or even mixing. A different
aesthetic is created when you know that 'this is it.'"
Love Call was conceived with an ear towards variety--two
intimate solo piano interpretations of Billy Strayhorn
tunes and two swinging piano trio numbers are sandwiched
in between the more ambitious "little big band"
arrangements. Opening with an easy swinging original
blues for octet, "Spherical," Stiles quickly
establishes her connection to Monk in the quirky piano
figures and dissonant horn lines. Vache solos brilliantly
before Wess steps in sideways with a sly statement of
his own, eventually succumbing to the powerful lure
of the blues in his artfully developed solo. Stiles’
own solo, which opens with some playful right-hand statements,
stays true to the spirit of Monk and the thematic structure.
Stiles' impressionistic piano intro to "When I
Fall In Love" segues to a hauntingly beautiful
arrangement for septet, full of moving lines between
the horns and gorgeous reharmonizations that unfold
at a deliberate pace. "This arrangement was probably
more influenced by Alban Berg than by jazz," she
explains. "The horn parts were conceived like a
string quartet with new chord progressions developing
out of the individual melodic lines. And for me, Jerry's
beautiful solo is one of the high points of the record.
Right before Jerry's solo, there's a quote from Tristan
and Isolde (Wagner) and the descending lines evoke what
a friend called a 'very adult vision of love."
An octet treatment of Clifford Brown’s hard bop
anthem "Daahoud" has Stiles punching up an
implied Afro-Cuban undercurrent while giving baritone
ace Temperley plenty of room to wail. This Horace Silver/Art
Blakey influenced arrangement features the piano doubling
and playing in tenths above the bass line played by
The startling chamber-like rendition of Duke Ellington’s
"Creole Love Call," arranged for a quartet
of piano, trumpet, bass clarinet and alto sax, is an
excellent showcase for Clark Terry’s muted trumpet
and blues-drenched plunger solo. The beloved jazz legend
returns for a superb performance on "Surrey with
the Fringe on Top," conveying the epitome of relaxed,
soulful expression against the tension of Stiles’
vigorous comping. Her Monkish bass vamp evokes the sounds
of the horses pulling the surrey. "This is a tune
that I’ve played in a trio," she says. "I
never heard him actually play the tune, but since I'd
heard him quote the opening lick, I thought of this
as a feature for Clark."
On her trio rendition of "Tea for Two," Stiles
opens with a rhapsodic intro before yielding to a bristling
romp full of metric modulations and surprising twists.
Her solo piano take on Strayhorn’s melancholy
"Blood Count" is suitably dark and introspective
while her solo extrapolation on "Take The 'A' Train"
swings with wit and verve. And on a jauntily swinging
trio rendition of the Frank Loesser standard "I’ve
Never Been in Love Before," she is brimming with
the joyous flair of a Wynton Kelly or Erroll Garner.
Stiles' lush nonet arrangement of Gershwin’s mournful
"My Man’s Gone Now" from Porgy and Bess
stands as an arranging triumph of this session. "I
was familiar with the Miles Davis-Gil Evans version
but I went back to the Gershwin score," she explains.
"There's hardly any improvisation here. The ending
section with Jerry's soprano sax glissandi is a variation
on the soprano line in the operatic version."
The set closes on an invigorating note with a sextet
version of Lerner & Lowe’s "Almost Like
Being in Love." Everybody gets a taste on this
briskly swinging vehicle. Wess opens with a knowing,
well-paced tenor solo. Vache follows with a crackling
trumpet solo of his own, Dodgion offers some pungent
bounce on alto sax and Stiles kicks in with a deft touch
on piano. They each engage in spirited exchanges of
fours with drummer Hutchinson before putting the exclamation
point on this buoyant closer.
Stiles, who continues to teach in the New School Jazz
program and at Manhattan School of Music, currently
performs around New York in a duo setting with saxophonist-flutist
Steve Wilson. For her ongoing "Mostly Mary Lou"
concert series, she arranges and performs the music
of jazz great, Mary Lou Williams. Recent concerts have
included Jeremy Pelt, Steve Wilson, Dennis Irwin and
Lewis Nash. These separate projects may indeed be documented
for future release. As for now, enjoy her fully realized
maiden voyage, Love Call.