Closing in on an incredible 40 years as a recording artist, veteran jazz vocalist Roseanna Vitro’s name appears in large red lettering on the clever artwork adorned cover of the multi-faceted Charlie Parker celebration collection Sing a Song of Bird. Her legendary collaborators, onetime Bird associate Sheila Jordan, scat maestro Marion Cowings and the late great Bob Dorough appear below in smaller black lettering.
But make no mistake, this is less a solo album featuring storied guests than a full on ensemble collaboration – the studio equivalent of one of those live all-star shows where you never know what magic awaits – or who will appear center-stage – next. Vitro’s vision was to bring classic Parker tunes to life in fresh ways via new lyrics and storytelling opportunities created by her ensemble, including her husband and the album’s engineer and producer, Paul Wickliffe. The three vocalists Vitro chose to vibe with are all dear mentors to her – and Jordan is the key through line back to the Bird era, when she sang with Parker and he called her “the singer with the million dollar ears.”
Still hip and spry with her phrasing as she recorded her tracks at age 89, she skips briskly through her solo spotlight “Bird’s Song (Relaxing at Camarillo)” and reflects eloquently on the meaning of Bird’s music on the ballad “Quasimodo.” Vitro and Jordan also engage on a sly dream duet whose scat enhanced lyrics are about Jordan’s history with the saxophonist.
Though Cowing’s powerful baritone on the sultry “Parker’s Mood” and the jaunty “Now’s The Time” are highlights that add playfulness and insight, the emotional core of the set is everything connected to Dorough, who was terminally ill but still in vibrant vocal form while recording his tracks in 2018. Those of a certain age who may know Dorough best from his “Schoolhouse Rock” classic quirky energy he brings to “The Scatter (Red Cross)” (his punchy duet romp with Vitro), his bright and whimsical solo number “Audobon’s New Bluebird (Bluebird)” and “These Foolish Things,” the album’s elegant, thematically appropriate closing ballad also featuring Vitro and Jordan.
Dorough’s passing in 2018 and the pandemic could have been obstacles, but Vitro saw those delays as an opportunity to build on what she had recorded in 2017 and assemble a new ensemble (including Cowings and saxophonist Gary Bartz) to record more and flesh out the Bird party even further. It’s a stunning, epic legacy recording that gives imaginative flight to the timeless magic Parker left us long ago.