Late Bloomin’ Jazzman
Late Bloomin’ Jazzman is the 20th album for singer-songwriter/jazz vocalist Mark Winker and the fourth we have covered on these pages since 2018. Two of them were in collaboration with other artists – 2018’s Eastern Standard Time with Cheryl Bentyne, and 2021’s Old Friends with David Benoit. 2019’s I’m With You was a tribute to the songs of Bobby Troup. Yet, all were produced by Barbara Brighton (his eighth with her) and many of the accompanying musicians were consistent as well. Late Bloomin’ Jazzman though represents a slight departure as it is more personal and more weighted toward originals, with Winker having penned eight of these dozen tunes. This is primarily the writing of an artist that recognizes the gifts and drawbacks of aging. Musically, he shares his love for George Gershwin and the song of Rio as well as film noir and the soundtracks for such. On a deeply personal note, he writes about losing his husband, finding love again, and about a friend suffering from Alzheimer’s. While Winkler is consistently laid-back smooth and maybe too smooth for some, his resonant tones and phrasing are just right for these heartfelt tunes.
The musicians are a familiar cast, top L.A. session musicians: pianists David Benoit, Jamieson Trotter, Rich Eames, and Jon Mayer; bassists John Clayton and Gabe Davis; drummers Christian Euman and Clayton Cameron, guitarist Grant Geissman, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeters Brian Swartz and Nolan Shaheed; and percussionist Kevin Winard.
Winkler sets the mood with Bob Sheppard’s tenor and David Benoit’s piano swinging through John Clayton’s arrangement of Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Few vocalists have the gift of relaxed swing as Winkler. He never overdoes it; he just settles in comfortably. He then takes on a Michael Franks tune, a vocalist he has often been compared to, in “Don’t Be Blue” buoyed by animated guitar from Geissman and bright B3 from Trotter. These two upbeat covers set an uplifting tone for the album, which quickly unfolds into a diverse set of emotions beginning with his nod to film noir in his own “When All The Lights in the Sign Worked.” This is a Trotter arrangement that reads as score to late night black and white movies and faintly echoes some of West Coast jazz poets such as the late Ken Nordine. Solos from trumpeter Swartz and tenorist Sheppard add to that coolness.
The title track was co-written with Eli Brueggman, who also arranged the tune about America’s fascination with younger artists while relegating the masters to the bookshelves. Again, Swartz sets the vibe for the tune with an emotive solo, as guitarist Geismann follows suit. “In Another Way” is the most personal of any with Winkler singing beautifully in this melancholy, lush ballad about the loss of his husband five years ago and then finding love again. He lightens the mood with his nod to the music of Rio in “Bossa Nova Days,” apparently written in a dream where he imagines a time machine and going back to the city. The music for “Before You Leave” was written by composer and pianist Jon Mayer who plays as tenderly as Winkler delivers his own lyrics in this sublime love song featuring just a piano trio with bassist Davis and drummer Cameron.
Trotter teams with Winkler on the confessional “Old Enough,” about the wisdom that comes with aging, as he reminisces on the young writers that penned most of the Great American Songbook. It swings with strong contributions from Trotter and Geismann. As the one with Power of Attorney for his friend suffering through Alzheimer’s, Winkler introduces “Marlena’s Memories” with the mournful flugelhorn of Shaheed and proceeds to deliver detailed lyrics that attest to his closeness to her. Mixed in between are Winkler’s takes on a couple of standards, so integral to his style that they flow naturally for “Old Devil Moon” and “I Always Had a Thing for You.” He then closes the album in bookend fashion in his original ballad, “If Only Gershwin Had Lived,” speculating on what the iconic musician would have accomplished had he lived another twenty years.
If this is not Winkler’s strongest album, it’s by far the strongest, certainly the most emotional of the four we’ve covered on these pages as it best presents Winkler the lyricist while reminding us that he is an adept interpreter as well.
- Jim Hynes