Maureen’s Jazz Cellar is a popular multi-faceted club (jazz, classical, cabaret, piano bar, acoustic music and comedy) located in Nyack NY, but the delightfully swinging collection Live at Maureen’s Jazz Cellar by the Tania Grubbs Quintet is lovingly grounded in a musical and personal friendship cultivated for many years on the Pittsburgh jazz scene by Grubbs and renowned jazz and classical singer (and adjunct voice professor at Duquesne University) Maureen Budway, who passed away in 2015.
The venue was launched by Maureen’s brother David Budway (whose stellar piano is featured throughout the 12-track set) and his wife Brianne – and the album, the first in an intended series of live recordings from the venue, was the result of discussions Grubbs had with them. Being released in the heart of a pandemic that has temporarily claimed the live jazz experience, the album truly lets us know what’s been lost for the time being – exciting arrangements, the dazzling spontaneity and synergy between a singer, her quartet (also featuring guitarist Ron Affif, drummer James Johnson and bassist Jeff Grubbs) and the audience. Listening should bring a sense of gratitude and a realization of all we jazz fans sometimes take for granted.
A seductive, effortlessly swinging and emotionally intimate vocal interpreter, Grubbs chose her wildly eclectic, genre-transcendent set list wisely from a vast repertoire of tunes she had mastered over the years. It includes jazz gems by Billy Strayhorn (“A Flower is a Lovesome Thing”), Horace Silver (“Peace”), Charlie Parker (“Ornithology”) and Jimmy Rowles (“The Peacocks”); pop/rock classics by Joni Mitchell (“Love”), Leonard Cohen (“Bird on a Wire”), Neil Young (“Harvest Moon”) and Jimmy Webb (“Wichita Lineman”); and even a haunting Sondheim obscurity (“I Remember”).
When life gets back to normal and we gather to hear live music once again, we should all be looking forward to more incredible live albums recorded at Maureen’s Jazz Cellar – and can only hope they rise to the standard set by the series auspicious launch.