An Elegant Lady In Red
When vocalist Claudette Stone sings a ballad, the presentation and
emotion seem so real and strong that the images remain long after the song
ends. She has the remarkable ability to draw an audience into her song with
a message that is individual and compelling. During a love ballad you know she
means only you, and you’re glad. Whatever the lyrics, the subtlety and
sincerity of her style bring them to life, sets a mood, and includes the
listener in the story.
Singing in the Coconut Grove room during a Saturday venue at the L.A.
Sweet and Hot Music Festival, she made that cavernous room seem smaller and
intimate. Her appearance was striking. Decked out in all red from her
ever-present hat down to her red jewelry, dress, and shoes, this elegant
vocalist simply knocked the audience out, even before she sang. The most
frequently used adjective at the festival to describe Claudette, by both
musicians and fans, was "classy."
Singing with husband Dick Johnson’s Mardi Gras Band, there were lighter
moments as well. They poked fun at themselves in duets of their originals
"Senior Blues," humorously lamenting the foibles of growing older, and
"Drivers," a married couple’s funny complaints about each other’s abilities
behind the wheel. The Mardi Gras Band consisted of leader Johnson, on
trumpet and flugelhorn; Ed Schmalz, reeds; Brad Hammett, trombone; Tom Shove,
piano; Charlie Robinson, guitar; Mickey Bennett, bass, and Ron Jones, drums.
Claudette also occasionally accompanied herself on piano. Johnson put the
Sacramento based band together in 1984 in an attempt to widen the appeal of
jazz. He wanted to open the borders, so to speak, by including just a bit of
swing, blues, and other music to entice new fans in to hear and learn to
enjoy jazz. The band plays from arrangements that show their musicianship on
instrumentals and enhance their prized vocalist.
The wide scope of tunes included Claudette’s vocals on "The Nearness of
You," "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," an upbeat "Bill Bailey," and starting
straight on "Why Don’t You Do Right?" but ending it as a novelty number,
with husband Johnson joining in with modified and personalized lyrics, to the
amusement of fans familiar with
the pair and their lives.
Claudette Stone, always great, excels with intimate accompaniment of just
a few musicians. Her magnificent voice and delicate presentation are what I
want to hear, unclouded by too much support or distraction. A case in point
was "Guess Who I Saw Today," with only guitar and bass backing the vocal.
This moving song, a heart wrenching tale of a loving wife accidentally
discovering her husband’s indiscretion, comes to a startling climax with the
last three words, surprising a very quiet, attentive audience. Eyes and
cheeks in the audience were still drying from this emotional song when
Claudette sang the song associated with her that much of the audience came to
hear, "When October Goes." It was sung magnificently, with very effective
flugelhorn accent by Johnson. The beauty of the presentation, music and
lyrical content of this jewel by Johnny Mercer and Barry Manilow, left the
audience without any remaining dry Kleenex.
I didn’t want this set to end.
THE NEW JUKEBOX CD
review by Cam Miller in The American Rag
Anyone with a sense of humor, appreciates a band’s daring-do and recognizes talent when he hears it, is in for a regal treat. Put another way, the Mardi Gras Band’s venture into pure Western and rockabilly (a combination of Western and R&B) with vocalist Claudette Stone and guitarist Charlie Robinson in the vanguard, is a hoot!
Trad jazz? Anything but. Jazz in any form? It all depends on your point of view. Music you can tap your toe to, hum along with, and enjoy? Sure thing.
As the album title implies, the disc offers a look back at tunes you could have found a few years ago on juke boxes in any bar or restaurant – just as long as the joint was mainly a hang-out for the boots and saddle set. Because other than for two standards, more than a few of the remaining selections come straight from the corral.
For the most part, it’s a Claudette and Charlie show with leader Dick Johnson’s splendid band serving as caddy although trombonist Brad Hammett, reedmen Ed Schmalz and Howard Dudune and piano man Tom Shove contribute splendid solos.
The pairing of Stone and Robinson is a marvelous match if for no other reason than they are having a tone of fun. And their send-up – aided and abetted by Johnson – of the olf Red Engle and His Natural Seven cornball version of "Temptation" with Stone’s dead-on impression of Jo Stafford is a perfect example.
Stone and Robinson share the mike on some songs while on others they go it alone. And while most of us are well aware of Stone’s stature in the jazz community, fewer are on to the fact that Robinson is one helluva guitar player and a splendid arranger.
The program is peppered with selections like "Steel Guitar Rag," "Johnny B Good," "Jack To A King" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" along with the rough and tumble "Going to Kansas City," and a couple of other spoofs, "Stuck In Lodi" and "Drivers," a pacan to lousy drivers penned by Stone.
The singer also takes over the piano on two selections, "Hey, Good Lookin" and "Old Time Rock And Roll" and turns sentimental on "Stairway To The Stars" and kicks the tempo on "That Old Black Magic." And although the two standards showcase Stone’s compelling way with the mainstream songs, for me, they simply don’t fit into the Country-Western-rockabilly package. Better to have left them out.
REVIEW OF THE MARDI GRAS BAND
"THE AMERICAN RAG" AUGUST, 2000
A most pleasant surprise came from the presentations of Dick Johnson’s Mardi Gras Band and his vocalist/wife Claudette Stone.
It’s hard to describe this band, except to say they are fun to listen to, they all play very well, Dick Johnson is very funny and has written some very enjoyable and entertaining original songs which he sings both as solos and with Claudette Stone.
Those of you who have had the pleasure of hearing Claudette sing will, I’m certain, agree with me when I say there is one word that best describes her singing:
Artistic, Beguiling, Crafted, Delightful, Enchanting, Full-bodied, Graceful, Haunting, In-tune, Jam-&-Jelly-Sweet, Kaleidoscopic, Luscious, Melodic, Natural, Object d’Art, Palpitating, Quintessential, Radiant, Sacramental, Tantalizing, Unambiguous, Variegated, Warm, X-citing, Yogurty-smooth, Z-very-best – take your pick. She’s got them all.
(quoted from Don Jones' review in the American Rag’s August
SACRAMENTO BEE OCTOBER 20, 1999
R. E. Graswich
Sacto Bee October 20, 1999
Songbird: The late-night air crew at KXJZ (88.9 FM) is going nuts over a new record from local singer Claudette Stone – with good reason. The CD is called "Yesterdays." Stone’s voice on 13 jazz standards is phenomenal, a cross between Astrud Gilberto and Anita Baker, with backing from Dick Johnson’s Mardi Gras Band. KXJZ management has been worried about the station "fading into the woodwork." Well, playing Stone’s songs should change that misconception…..
Grass valley union sept.2,1999
Chasing Rainbows; Claudette Stone
by Cam Miller
Claudette Stone is a classy lady with an elegant singing voice who’s never sounded better than she does on her new recording with Dick Johnson’s Mardi Gras Band.
Stone has been singing with the MGB since 1989, and during that time the disciple of Sarah Vaughan has honed her skills to the point that you’re inclined to expect the best when she takes a song and makes it her own.
Although she handles up tempo tunes deftly – check out her steaming version of Ellington’s "Take the ‘A’ Train" and the torrid take of "The Lady Is a Tramp" with a brief but impressive scat chorus – Stone comes across with even greater conviction when she essays a ballad.
And there are several cuts on the recording that deserve special attention. One is the opening track, "I’m Always Chasing Rainbows" with superb support by pianist Tom Shove. Others include a gorgeous "Misty" that also showcases Brad Hammett’s warm trombone; a passionate reading of "all the Things You Are" with guitarist Charlie Robinson providing a mellow cushion; and a reprise of "When October Goes," which appears on Stone’s earlier compact disc, "Claudette."
While recording is mainly a "Claudette" caper, "Charlie’s Blues" is an instrumental that puts Robinson in the driver’s seat, although he gets plenty of help from others in the rhythm section. And Stone wisely allows plenty of space for others to shine on the numbers she sings.
Special kudos go to arrangers Dick Johnson also a fine trumpeter; and Bob Thompson who wrote the nifty charts. And for those who value such things "and I, for one, do" Rich O’ Day’s liner notes are what all liner notes should be – informative and insightful.
The Elk Grove Citizen
Staff Writer Nan Mahon
May 15, 2000
Jazz fans who say there are no longer any singers with the grace and style they grew to love in the 1950s and ‘60s have not heard Claudette Stone.
The local jazz gem has a new CD titles "Yesterdays" that will capture the imagination of those who still prowl through the music store racks looking for something new with an old sound. Stone’s style is mellow with a touch of sophistication, with clarity of lyrics and an easy swing. Backed by her husband Dick Johnson’s Mardi Gras Band, Stone accompanies herself on piano while Charlie Robinson plays a soft background guitar.
Stone starts off with Billy Holiday’s "God Bless the Child" in a blue note, bounces with Rogers and Hart’s "You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To," and converts the old Willie Nelson tune "Crazy" from classic country to pure jazz. No easy feat. The under-rated Warren and Gorden song "The More I See You’ is done swing style and brings a smile as you listen.
But most interesting is the way Stone combines jazz and rock, starting with Jerome Kern’s "Yesterdays" then sliding into "Yesterday" by Lennon and McCartney.
If you must compare Stone’s style, she has the comfortable edge that Carmen McRae once gave to the jazz scene. But, make no mistake, she has a way of her own, putting her heart into an old classic like "What’s New."
The popular Dick Johnson band is a mainstay on the Sacramento Music Scene, but Stone featured on her own is able to take her listeners back to the days when jazz singers had an intimate, moody style that kept an audience hushed so they could hear every word.
IN THE AMERICAN RAG
Cam Miller from the North County Times
"Yesterdays" Claudette Stone, SCS Records
When Claudette Stone nails a song, it stays nailed. Her diction, phrasing, range and taste are on the money. The only thing she lacks at this stage of her career is to get the kind of exposure a vocalist with her talent deserves. Working with husband Dick Johnson’s Mardi Gras Band on the jazz festival circuit has produced a large following for the Sacramento vocalist, but festivals have their limitations. Perhaps Stone’s "Yesterdays" will open doors to national audiences. As well it should.
The recording is essentially a collection of ballads, some played straight-ahead, others infused with Latin overtones. And for support, Stone turns to Johnson’s full seven-piece group occasionally, but more often than not she is accompanied by the fine Mardi Gras rhythm section guitarist Charlie Robinson, pianist Tom Shove, bassist Mickey Bennett and drummer Ron Jones. And on three selections, Stone, a corking good pianist, too, takes Shove’s place at the keyboard.
Her program, for the most part, is made up of standards from the "Great American Songbook," beginning with a poignant , god Bless the Child," long associated with Billie Holiday, and coming to a close with the upbeat "The More I see You." The rest of the classic collection that features Johnson’s beautiful charts includes "Besame Mucho," "One Note Samba," "Wave" and "The Girl From Ipanema," which becomes "The Boy From Ipanema," all from the latin side of the house and all in the gifted Robinson’s wheelhouse. Other noteworthy entries: a stunning take of "Where is Love," which finds Stone accompanying herself; a lilting "You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To," with a tasty muted trumpet chorus by Johnson; and a warm reading of "My Funny Valentine" with Stone again working at the keyboard and trombonist Brad Hammett again scoring big time, and a lush take of the title track that’s a medley of Jerome Kern’s "Yesterdays" and John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s "Yesterday".
Finally, Stone, who has played around with the c-w genre on at least one previous recording, takes a run at "Crazy," the old Patsy Cline favorite. And let it be know the late Western singer would be downright pleased with the tenderness Stone treats Cline’s personal anthem.
In Short, if you like songs sung the way they should be, then this recording belongs in your library.
For orders or information: Dick Johnson, 2141 Perkins Way, Sacramento, CA 95818; or call (916) 446-6427.
The band has been in business since leader Dick Johnson, a veteran of the big band era as well as the Spike Jones Organization, organized it in 1984. Musically, the spectrum goes from traditional jazz to show tunes, hilarious comedy routines, blues, swing, and even some country western.
In addition to the great skill and range of the groups musicians, it offers the marvelous vocal talent of one of the best singers in the business, Claudette Stone.
Here is a vocalist whose smooth elegant voice and style adapts to soulful blues, tender ballads, or an up-tempo tune such as her popular "The Lady Is a Tramp."
The Mardi Gras Band with Claudette Stone is continually sought after by music enthusiasts with the result that they have been regular performers at most of the major jazz festivals
The Los Angeles Sweet and Hot Music Festival; The Sacramento Jazz Jubilee; The Mammoth Lake Jazz Festival; The Sun Valley Swing n Dixie Music Festival; as well as scores of others such as those at Lake Havasu; Redding; Pismo Beach; Victoria, B.C.; as well as in Europe. In addition, the Band is in constant demand for private parties and community activities.
The leader, Dick Johnson, a fine musician/arranger and comedy writer, knows how to put successful entertainment together.
The musicians are similarly well steeped in musical experience and skill so that each one of them individually qualifies as a top player. And just as you think the band is playing a great jazz number they will suddenly switch into one of their fantastic comedy routines.
Claudette Stone, in addition to being recognized by jazz critics as being well on her way to being a jazz legend as a vocalist, is equally at home playing jazz piano. She can emulate keyboard greats such as Fats Waller, Errol Garner, and many othersyet is ultimately pure Claudette Stone. Her piano playing is featured on several of the band's current CDs including, ITS MAGIC; CLAUDETTE BABY; CHASING RAINBOWS and her latest release, now in the running for the year 2000 GRAMMY AWARDS, YESTERDAYS
Her most popular vocal tracts include "When October Goes", "A Hundred Years From Today", "Unforgettable", "Guess Who I Saw Today", "It Had to Be You", "Misty", "Summertime", "As Time Goes By". In addition to performances on her featured discs, she sings and plays piano on the many recordings made by the Mardi Gras Band such as Jazz Gets a Bum Rap; Voice Mail 911; Senior Blues; and their latest CD release, Juke Box. If you want great music combined with stellar entertainment, check out the Mardi Gras Band. They are available, affordable and above all, a class act.