31 August 2007

Remembering Gregory

The evening after last Sunday's raucous celebration for Charlie Parker, I stopped by a smaller memorial for another Kansas City artist who passed on, the singer Gregory Hickman-Williams.

Gregory passed last year on August 26th after 23 weeks in the hospital, awaiting a heart transplant. He entered the hospital a week before a release party for his CD "Passages."

"Passages" is a remarkable document of an incredibly talented artist. Here is a great natural voice that received excellent training (both in the U.S. and Europe) yet never lost the pure joy of singing. Here was a trained singer who could "get off the page" and improvise the blues. The CD shows off Gregory's mastery of not only straight-ahead jazz singing but also Latin and spirituals.

The selections are also full of telling references to the heart. Jon Bauer, Gregory's partner and the album's producer, says that ironically the repertoire was picked out two years earlier, before they had any hint of Gregory's condition.

Here's one of my favorite cuts from the CD, a beautiful and spare treatment of Luis Bonfa's Manha De Carnaval, backed by Danny Embrey on guitar and Stan Kessler on trumpet.

"Passages" is available through iTunes or at CD Baby.

I first heard about Gregory through the tireless enterprise of His Bagness at There Stands the Glass. A few months later I started to work on what I thought would be a short radio feature, but has since grown into a documentary. More news on that front as it develops.

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