“There are relatively few contemporary female vocalists who evoke Peggy Lee, at least not genuinely. Suzanna Smith, new to recording, but a seasoned pro who has been honing her artistry in and around the Bay Area for over a decade, numbers among that rare ilk. That Smith sounds like Lee — slightly breathy and warmly sensual with a hint of huskiness — is undeniable, but the parallels extend much further. Lee’s ability to not just caress a ballad but smother it in mink has seldom been matched. She was also a sage swinger — never too much, never too little — as well as a first-rate songwriter. Smith checks all those boxes.” — Christopher Louden, Jazz Times.
In a special performance, vocalist Suzanna Smith and The Peggy Lee Project pay tribute to Peggy Lee’s first collaboration with pianist George Shearing — the album ‘Beauty and the Beat.’ In the intimate venue of Musically Minded Academy, located in the Rockridge area of Oakland, Suzanna is joined by pianist Lee Bloom, bassist Sam Bevan, and drummer Jon Arkin.
Peggy Lee and George Shearing, both at Capitol Records, were brought together for the first time in 1959 to perform and record a concert during the Second National Disc Jockey Convention at the Americana Hotel in Miami. It was from this concert that the album ‘Beauty and the Beat’ emerged. George Shearing recalled “The whole industry was there, all the main record companies, so this gave us a built-in audience response. In fact, it was an incredible audience and the whole atmosphere of the album was charged because of that.” Lee and Shearing had just been up for 48 hours planning the concert and were exhausted, and yet the album captures Peggy at her very best — vocally brilliant, stylistically shining, swinging on the upbeat numbers, heart-tugging and intimate on the ballads. And Shearing at the peak of his form, too.
Peggy Lee (born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota in 1920) was a prolific songwriter throughout her 6-decade career. She received 12 Grammy nominations, 3 Grammies and she also received “The Pied Piper Award” from The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); “The Presidents Award,” from the Songwriters’ Guild of America; “The Ella Award,” from the Society of Singers for Lifetime Achievement; and the “Living Legacy Award,” from the Women’s International Center. Also bestowed on her was The Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). In 1999, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Her collaborators included Harold Arlen, Sonny Burke, Cy Coleman, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Johnny Mandel, Marian McPartland, Lalo Schifrin and Victor Young. She is regarded as one of the most influential popular singers of all time, being cited as an influence by diverse artists such as Petula Clark, Paul McCartney, Bette Midler, Madonna, Shirley Horn, Dusty Springfield and k.d. lang. Peggy Lee was also an accomplished actress, received an Academy Award nomination and wrote music for films, in addition to concept albums that encompassed poetry, jazz, chamber pop, and art songs.
For much of the 1950s and early 1960s, George Shearing led one of the most popular jazz combos on the planet with his unique quintet sound, derived from a combination of piano, vibraphone, electric guitar, bass, and drums. Shearing would play in a style he called “locked hands,” which he picked up and refined from Milt Buckner’s early-’40s work with the Lionel Hampton band, as well as Glenn Miller’s sax section and the Nat King Cole Trio. He would state the melody on the piano with closely knit, harmonized block chords, with the vibes and guitar tripling the melody in unison. As a composer, Shearing was best known for his uniquely constructed bop standard “Lullaby of Birdland,” as well as “Conception” and “Consternation.” His style reflects the influences of the great boogie-woogie pianists and classical players, as well as those of Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, and Bud Powell — and fellow pianists long admire his light, refined touch. His work with vocalists includes recordings with Nancy Wilson, Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee while at Capitol Records and years later he enjoyed a renaissance at Concord that included acclaimed albums with vocalists Ernestine Anderson and Mel Tormé.
In the spirit of Peggy Lee and George Shearing’s intense collaboration on arrangements for the 1959 Disc Jockey Convention, Suzanna Smith has collaborated closely with pianist Lee Bloom to lovingly revisit and re-present the material from ‘Beauty and the Beat.’ Working in admiration of the arrangements, they aim to extend the songs into new musical territories.
The San Francisco Examiner calls Suzanna Smith “a jazz singer with sass and style to spare.” Suzanna has been featured three times on KCSM’s ‘In The Moment,’ she founded and led an open mic at the now-shuttered Savanna Jazz in San Francisco for several years, and, she is a creative force behind The Sound Room in Oakland. Past appearances include The Mendocino Music Festival, The Rrazz Room, The Jazzschool, The Sound Room, The Freight & Salvage, Savanna Jazz, Anna’s Jazz Island, Kelly’s of Alameda, The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay and The Firehouse Arts Theater, among other venues.
In 2013, Suzanna released her debut recording, ‘Halfway Between Heaven And Love,’ to widespread critical acclaim on her own label, Ink Pen Records. In addition to her sage treatments of standards, the debut showcases Suzanna’s talent for crafting successful original compositions and new lyrics to instrumental songs. Seven of the 13 songs on the album were composed by Smith and pianist Michael Coleman. She also wrote original lyrics for three jazz instrumentals: Tadd Dameron’s “Lady Bird,” Miles Davis’ “Half Nelson,” and Dexter Gordon’s “Soy Califa.” Standards such as “Hooray For Love” and “Alone Together” round out the album, which she produced in collaboration with veteran Bay Area jazz singer Kitty Margolis. Suzanna says that writing her own songs was inspired in part by the great example of Peggy Lee as an extremely prolific composer.
Suzanna’s influences include Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, Shirley Horn and Peggy Lee. Contemporary influences include jazz vocalists (as well as friends and mentors) Karrin Allyson and Kitty Margolis and her partner, the esteemed jazz vocalist Kenny Washington.
With her golden tone, innate sense of swing, and irresistible charm, Suzanna first debuted The Peggy Lee Project at Musically Minded Academy, in 2013. She returns with her loving and greatly researched tribute to one of music’s great icons and composers, Peggy Lee, this time with an emphasis on the wonderful music from ‘Beauty and the Beat.’