By the early 90s I had a few songs recorded by other singers, but wasn’t performing much. I was ready to start working on something completely different, so in 1994 I started learning some new songs for a project I had wanted to do for a long time, a Billie Holiday collection in the cool jazz mode.
I had done some sessions with stellar guitarist Ron Thompson, a talented multi-instrumentalist who played bass, banjo and guitar and had a wonderful Django band named Gypsalero. We had worked on some of my tunes, and in January of 1993 we got together with bassist Brent Gubbels to record a handful of demos.
Wanting to put together a fully-fledged band, I asked Ron to act as bandleader, and in no time we had a wonderful group called Hogan Sings Holiday, with Ron and Brent, Miles Black on piano, drummer Craig Scott, and Tom Keenlyside on saxophone and clarinet.
I wanted to sound as close to Billie’s early recordings as possible, and this band nailed it right on the head. With very little rehearsal time, working from Ron’s excellent charts, we started gigging at the Glass Slipper. It was run by volunteers and had a full P.A. and a grand piano on site. It was a dream come true to get to play there, and we all got so much pleasure out of the repertoire that things just seemed to fall into place right from the very first performance. Aside from the Slipper, we also played quite a few gigs at some jazz clubs in town, my favourite being Hogan’s Alley on Main Street. Good times!
We recorded 12 songs over two sessions in 1994 at a studio belonging to Rick Kilburn, with Rick in the producer’s chair. The sessions went incredibly smoothly, most songs being finished in one take. All I had to do was go back a week or so later and record my vocals. It was one of the easiest times I’ve ever had in the studio, and everyone had so much fun. It seems it was just meant to be.
No experiments for Alison Hogan. She sticks with the basics, the gospel of jazz singing as preached by Miss Billie Holiday. Most of the songs come from the early part of Holiday’s career and Hogan’s singing does a remarkable job of evoking her. She doesn’t directly imitate her style but the distinctive near-tuneless lilt and wonderfully understated sense of rhythm are eerily present. Occasionally the facade slips and Hogan sings in her own voice, a stronger and more enveloping instrument with its mature sense of yearning. The musical accompaniment, very much in the style of early Holiday, is excellent with Tom Keenlyside’s robust tenor, Ron Thompson’s pretty guitar and Miles Black’s lightly swinging piano all contributing. The fragile beauty and optimistic joy of Billie Holiday’s early records is nicely captured on this CD.
Jerome Wilson Cadence February 1996