LACEY MAE Album Notes by Scott Yanow Quite often in jazz, one can ascertain an artist's life and personality through his or her music. Listening to Beverly Ritz's impressionistic piano solos on Lacey Mae, it is not surprising to find out that she is soft-spoken, very fond of animals, and loves nature. "My music puts me in the same kind of mood that walking or running in nature does," says Beverly. "It brings me to a level of heightened awareness of beauty and tranquility." Born in Washington D.C, she remembers that her father listened to classical radio while her mother enjoyed the music of Henry Mancini and Andre Previn. Beverly started picking out ideas on the piano from the age of three and was writing songs before she learned to read music. She began classical piano lessons when she was eight, also playing cello in her high school orchestra and teaching herself guitar. She studied veterinary medicine at Michigan State but was drawn back to music. "When I was doing an independent study research project at a drug rehabilitation center, there was a grand piano and I started playing it every day. My aunt visited me, heard me play, and asked why I was not working towards becoming a musician." Although she earned a degree in psychology, she soon went back to school, majoring in music at Santa Monica College. Since then, Beverly has worked in a wide variety of settings, having great affection for the time that she spent performing at the Rowdy Creek Yacht Club (in Smith River, California) during 2005-06. "I had the ultimate freedom to be myself in my music and it built up my self-confidence tremendously." Of her earlier recordings, which include WALK AWAY FROM THE BLUES, SONGS FOR WILDLIFE, TANGO-WHERE DID THE TIME GO, OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, and jazz versions of Christmas songs (A SEASON OF FAITH) and hymns (A SEASON OF HOPE), BY ROWDY CREEK is the one that gained the most attention. Pianists Jessica Williams and George Kahn were among the many who praised this award-winning 2006 album. LACEY MAE consists of Beverly's personal interpretations of six jazz standards and three of her originals. Her picturesque music features original chord voicings which are sometimes quite dense but are always full of heartfelt emotions. Her solos are rhythmic, have a forward momentum, are often cinematic, and could accurately be called poetry without words. They set scenes for one's imagination. The program begins with Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower." "I wanted this arrangement to be unique and reflect me rather than performing it the same way as everyone else. I came up with a few fresh chords that give it a different feel." The same is true of her rendition of "My Favorite Things." Beverly's playing only hints slightly at McCoy Tyner's, and her gentle and melodic treatment is very much her own. "Lacey Mae" is named after one of Beverly's golden retrievers. "I got her two years ago and she has filled a hole in my heart caused from having lost another golden retriever, Gracie Mae, who was with me for 13 years. The music flowed out of me in about ten minutes on the same day that I realized that Lacey Mae was her ideal replacement." This thoughtful and melodic piece sounds like the perfect soundtrack for a frolic in the woods by Beverly and Lacey Mae. Her version of "All Blues" utilizes a descending riff with improvising that is much different than one would expect to hear from Miles Davis and Bill Evans. "I Love You, Phil" is a tribute to guitarist Phil Mack, who was Beverly's music partner for many years. "Phil was a pivotal person in my life and my mentor. He also encouraged me to overcome an injury that sidelined me for a time, making it difficult for me to play piano." "Summertime" has an arrangement developed by Beverly one summer night. "I remember that I was not that happy with the way I had been playing it. I sleep in the room where I record my grand piano, and one night I couldn't fall asleep. It was almost as if my piano was talking to me, saying 'Get up! I have more to tell you.' I did get up and came up with this arrangement." Beverly's version of John Coltrane's "Naima" was originally inspired by guitarist Larry Coryell's treatment although it has grown since that time. "Blues For Phil," another tribute to Phil Mack, has lyrics about how Beverly loves playing with the guitarist, along with a bit of sadness about a planned gig that did not happen. The enjoyable set concludes with Marian McPartland's "Willow Creek." "I heard her play this on Piano Jazz and thought it was the most beautiful song I've heard in my life. I built up the nerve to write to her and she actually sent me back a lead sheet along with a hand-written letter. I was so impressed that she would take the time to do that for someone she did not know." With the release of Lacey Mae, Beverly Ritz looks forward to traveling more extensively, performing at "major league" jazz festivals and clubs across the US and all over the world. Her accessible and haunting style will appeal to many listeners and she has the potential to become a household name for those who love melodic and poetic piano. Scott Yanow is the author of ten jazz books including The Jazz Singers, Bebop, Trumpet Kings, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76.
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