Carol Sudhalter

Shades of Carol

Alfamusic Studio - RAI Trade 2005

 Carol Sudhalter, sax and flute; Andrea Tarozzi, piano; Guido Giacomini, bass; Vittorio Sicbaldi, drums; Oliver Berney, trumpet; Martha J. and Myrna Lake, vocals; Tore Spano, piano; Lucio Falco, bass; Jack Davis, trombone; Bill Gerhardt, piano; Dave Ruffels, bass; Tootsie Bean, drums; Linda Presgrave, piano; W. Lin, bass; B. Martone, bass; R. Stone, guitar; G. Petropoulos, L. Moses, S. Gluzband, A. Bavota, G. Gonzalez, trumpets; J. Davis, N. Mayland, W. Frazier, trombones; L. Caputo, S. Bielski, saxes
 In our first featured article, we thought it would be appropriate to call attention to a recently issued album by Carol Sudhalter, Shades of Carol.

 I first heard saxophonist, Carol Sudhalter, one spring afternoon when I walked into a Jazz eatery in New York City's West Village. A tall, slender woman with short, curly, dark hair and an angular profile was playing a sultry blues on a tenor saxophone. The music was steady, dark, and pensive, the tone reminiscent of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, yet she played each tune with her own original figures. This was Carol Sudhalter. I knew, right away, that she was the real thing.

With the possible exception of Ned Otter, I can't think of a veteran reed player more underappreciated and more talented than Carol Sudhalter. Like Ned, she eschews the hard-edged intellectual style of playing that ignores an emotional connection with the listener, and she favors elevating the melody line using personal style to carve out a swinging sense of musical beauty.

A Boston native, Carol Sudhalter, was born into a musical family and played piano as a child, attended Smith College as a flute major, and was the first to be graduated with a degree in Jazz studies. She wanted to pursue a career as a Jazz musician at a very difficult time in Jazz history.

"I came out of that time when in the sixties it was a lot harder to be a woman in Jazz. I had to struggle with getting respect and encouragement. Everyone was bonding, but with me they usually wanted a date," she explains.

The sudden death of her father, when she was thirty-two years old prompted her to learn the saxophone. Later she mastered the baritone and alto. According to Sudhalter, the baritone engenders her feminine side while the tenor lets her express her masculine side. "I never dreamed there were so many facets to a person," she remarks.

She left Boston in 1978 and came to New York City. By the mideighties she had started her own big band, the Astoria Big Band, and began playing a weekly Sunday brunch engagement at NYC Cajun Restaurant.

Shades of Carol is her latest CD, and the title aptly conveys the many facets of her playing. It is a compilation of four different recordings produced by Alfamusic Studio - RAI Trade of Rome Italy. Sudhalter came to the attention of Alfamusic Studios during one of her many tours to Italy. When the opportunity to record became available, she was ready to record with her regular quartet from Rome and recorded four songs at Alfamusic Studios. A year earlier, in 2004, she made a recording with a group of musicians from Milano, Italy.

Two other sessions were made in the United States and feature Sudhalter's Astoria Big Band as well as her sextet. The late Charli Camilleri wrote most arrangements for the Astoria Big Band. He arranged a lot of baritone music specifically for Sudhalter.

"He was like Duke, " she explains. "He wrote for different members of the band and featured a lot of baritone." Sudhalter's baritone sax, an instrument less favored as a solo instrument these days, brings to mind the great solos of baritonist Cecil Payne.

Shades of Carol is filled with timeless standards such as "Slow Boat to China," "Lotus Blossom," and "A Weaver of Dreams." It also features Cedar Walton's "Firm Roots" and Tad Dameron's "Soultrane." It also includes original compositions including two of Carol's own, "Dry" and "It's Time." There are three vocal selections and a composition by female composer Bernice Petkere entitled, "Lullaby of the Leaves." Ms. Petkere's composition serves as a perfect vehicle for Sudhalter's dark and powerful baritone.

In V. Young's "A Weaver of Dreams" Carol's tenor playing is so heartfelt it is as if she takes you into her arms and rocks you to sleep while placing kisses upon your forehead.

In "Soultrane" Sudhalter plays flute. The piece begins and ends slow but with double-time middle. Her flute is sweet and daring. In the introspective composition by Bill Gerhardt, her flute takes on a mystical tone.

Sudhalter's original ballad, "It's Time," is an exquisite tune filled with a transporting melody and sweeping harmonies. Her tenor's mood is lush and lyrical, but it is her enduring baritone solo on Loesser's "Slow Boat to China" that has these reviewers cheering. This song is a timeless, nearly forgotten gem, and Sudhalter's baritone strikes a perfect balance between languorous and smoky blues. Sudhalter attributes her lyrical influence to Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. One can hear their influence in her phrasing.

With the exception of the vocal selections, Shades of Carol is a beautifully constructed CD filled with rich and textured music. Some might say that Sudhalter doesn't break new ground in her album. Indeed, she is not an innovator for innovation sake. Instead she has refined her aesthetics into an integrated, beautiful sound that is more timeless than of a particular time. More about recognizable human emotion than abstract theory and more about taste than fashion.

Her performance is outstanding and deserves attention. In Shades of Carol Sudhalter reveals to us her sincerity and respect for the tradition of Jazz. She is an honest musician whose integrity resonates in every phrase. One can expect that she will attract an enthusiastic audience searching for music born out of the great Jazz tradition.

 By Ayana Lowe and George Chieffet

  Back to Contents Page
Jazz Now Interactive

Copyright Jazz Now, April 2006 edition, all rights reserved