Smokey Robinson!!! Re: [JPL] Gladys Knight - Say What?

Jae Sinnett jaejazz at
Tue Sep 12 15:22:20 EDT 2006

  Okay we disagree which is fine but one of these differences is that I'm not drawn as easily drawn into embracing musical inadequacies. Mild intonation problems aren't that big a deal to me because it's so prevelant in jazz unfortunately. I love Bob Mintzer for example and he plays flat usually and occasionally sharp. Miles played flat but I love Miles. Betty Carter sang out of tune so much so that even Carmen McRae commented on it. It's when these intonation problems take away from the music where I have issues with. In my opinion Smokey's intonation problems take away from the music and to say that he is swinging harder that Gladys......WITHOUT listening to her disc is a bit premature. Wouldn't you say so? My guess though is that even after you hear it we still won't agree. Your passion though is appreciated from my perspective. 

Mark Shapiro <speaklow at> wrote:

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Jae, you wrote,

"Mark, I'm not sure why you attached your Smokey posting to the one I wrote in about Gladys Knight - particularly when yours had absolutely nothing to do with Gladys Knight."

The connection being that they're singers not usually associated with jazz and both from the same general musical background. Our disagreement is interesting, since I find myself defending what I usually don't - an album by someone without jazz creds and with some tracks not jazz (for example, I'm among those who are LEAST likely to be attracted to a Motown version of "Tea For Two"). However, in this case, I think that Robinson pulls it off gorgeously, as well as, as I mentioned, the album communicates to me at a deep emotional level.

"ONE reason.....he's singing horribly out of tune. In this case it doesn't have as much to do with him not connecting with a tonal center of the song but more to do with his obvious inability to sing musically and comfortably over advanced harmonic structures." 

He's not "horribly" out of tune. Whatever problems with his intonation, I find them easy to forgive. I am quite WILLING to forgive in a case such as this, especially, since generally, I don't pin my estimation on an artist on maintenance of pristine intonation. As far as comfort with the harmony, I hear nothing but his great ease with the songs. In fact, what strikes me is the depth of his understanding - musical and emotional - of these songs.

"Further.....because of this he apparentely doesn't have the ability to "compliment" the chord with "color" tones that would be in line with the harmony that is supporting him. Then throw in that limited range, annoying fast vibrato (particularly when it's out of tune), his struggles with singing in time in spots with the rhythm on some songs and not being able to move the music forward with textural understanding and flare."

The vibrato and falsetto are bound to turn many people away. Even I know don't usually like that kind of singing, but I do in this particular case. Contrary to your estimation, I hear Robinson weaving inside the songs masterfully and with beautiful momentum and panache. My usual taste for singers is very straight ahead, and I usually am not attracted to the more idiosyncratic interpertations. But here, I hear a showman's style to match a deep feeling for the material.

"I'm not sure if he picked the material or his producer but the songs selected work totally against his capable level of singing. This is what's so surprising to me with the Gladys Knight CD. There's simply no comparison - no matter which way you look at it."

I'll listen to the Knight CD a couple more times, but so far she hardly gets to me like Robinson. My impression is that her phrasing is stop-start and and short of the rhythms of those songs. For me, as far as comparing these two albums, Robinson has a much greater jazz and swing sense than does Knight .

Mark Shapiro


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