February 28, 2014
In an art form awash with ingenues and shiny singers newly minted from music school, Ellen Robinson’s straight-from-the-heart performance is a breath of fresh air. She delivers loads of presence and offers a wide range of first-rate material exploring a program laden with unexpected treasures. Moving easily from an Irving Berlin standard, to a Joni Mitchell tune, to a Mose Alison blues, she also displays impressive skills as a songwriter infusing hard-won wisdom into her original tunes. With her latest CD Don’t Wait Too Long, she makes a convincing case for the value of life experience as a template for reimagining American Songbook standards and more contemporary fare. Ellen sings with a deceptively unadorned style, eschewing vocal acrobatics and scat solos in favor of close attention to sinuous melodies and emotionally insightful phrasing. She distills the essence of each song and demonstrates an understanding of connectivity that is palpable in live performances with her sympatico band who display the same understanding of what musical artistry is all about. It’s the work of an artist with a clear, heartfelt vision, exquisite taste, and lovely voice that lingers in your ear long after the music has finished. Featuring Murray Low on piano, Kristen Strom on saxophone, Sam Bevan on bass and David Rokeach on drums.
Vocalist, composer, educator and choral director Ellen Robinson released her debut jazz album On My Way To You in 2001 and emerged as a stand-out on the Bay Area’s burgeoning jazz vocal scene. She followed up with 2006′s Mercy! an album gleaned from performances in Berkeley and San Francisco between 2001-2005. With her 2012 CD Don’t Wait Too Long she offers an object lesson in music’s transformative power, a power that she both embodies and transmits. Ellen has performed to packed houses in the Bay Area such as Yoshi’s, Freight and Salvage, Piedmont Piano Company, Jazz at the Chimes, the Sound Room and Savanna Jazz. She has also enjoyed collaborations with many talented Bay Area jazz musicians, including pianists Ken French and Ben Flint; bass players John Wiitala and John Shifflett; reed players Charles McNeal, Kristen Strom and Harvey Wainapel; and drummers Jeff Mars, Dan Foltz and Bud Spangler. A gifted educator who teaches at the Jazzschool in Berkeley and the Community Music Center in San Francisco, Ellen directs several vocal programs and ensembles, including a musical theater workshop at the acclaimed senior theatre company Stagebridge and The Anything Goes Chorus, a community chorus that has given public performances and free concerts at retirement homes, homeless shelters, prisons and half-way houses since the early 1980s. Ellen’s tireless efforts as an educator and cultural activist were recognized in 2011 with a prestigious Jefferson Award. She doesn’t see much separation between her work in the classroom or on stage. “As a teacher I feel like I’m a performer, and as a performer I feel like a teacher. I want people to be entertained and I want them to feel different after they’ve heard my music.” ellenrobinson.com