"Introducing Julie Benko"
Street Date: October 20, 2017
Joining Benko on her 11-track debut "Introducing Julie Benko" is co-producer, arranger, and frequent musical partner Jason Yeager on piano, Danny Weller on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums. The album also features trumpeter Andy Warren, clarinetist Dan Levinson, trombonist Walter Harris, tenor saxophonist Andrew Mulherkar, guitarist Vinny Raniolo, violinist Jason Anick, bandoneónist JP Jofre, and cellist Alon Bisk. “Introducing Julie Benko” demonstrates that the young vocalist, composer, and producer offers many musical riches in the jazz idiom and beyond, in addition to her prowess as a Broadway performer.
When Julie Benko ambled into a Starbucks café in New York City’s Herald Square and struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to her, she could never have anticipated the collaborations both personal and musical that would follow. The man was jazz pianist/composer and Berklee College of Music faculty member Jason Yeager, and the two began to make music together. After informal sessions of Great American Songbook standards and Joni Mitchell gems, the two artists developed their own duo cabaret act entitled “Blame It On Our Youth,” performed in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Their professional collaboration evolved into a personal romance. Now, coming full circle, they have teamed up to record Ms. Benko’s debut jazz album.
As a child, Ms. Benko would watch classic movie-musicals with her mother and listen to the music of Ella Fitzgerald and other jazz greats with her father. An accomplished singer and actress, Ms. Benko explores the cross-section of these two early influences: jazz and musical theater. Specifically, she is fascinated by songs from the musical theater canon that did not manage to make the elusive “crossover” leap into jazz. Thus, Ms. Benko performs a swinging “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof (in which Ms. Benko recently appeared on Broadway), featuring Dan Levinson on a klezmer-style clarinet. She also explores two songs from Johnny Mercer’s movie-musical Seven Brides For Seven Brothers — “Lonesome Polecat” and “Wonderful, Wonderful Day” get dramatically and excitingly reinterpreted.
The jazz standards included on Ms. Benko’s album have received impressive and lively arrangements by Mr. Yeager. “Love For Sale,” performed as a melancholy tango and featuring Jason Anick on violin and JP Jofre on bandoneón, evocatively captures the cynicism and sadness of the world’s oldest profession. “I Love Paris” utilizes the exuberant and contrapuntal New Orleans-style three-horn front line (featuring standout performances by guitarist Vinny Raniolo, trumpeter Andy Warren, trombonist Walter Harris, and clarinetist Dan Levinson) to express the joy of love. “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” gets a bossa nova treatment—with sublime saxophone commentary from Andrew Mulherkar—to express the wistfulness of the lyric. Fred Hersch’s contemporary art song “A Wish” features an intimate trio arrangement with voice, piano, and cello (lyrically delivered by Alon Bisk). Ms. Benko also covers the folk-rock classic “Leaving On a Jet Plane” in an introspective, contemporary jazz setting, accompanied by the album’s stalwart rhythm section of Mr. Yeager on piano, Danny Weller on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums. This John Denver classic reminds her of the many times she has left loved ones at home in order to pursue her passion of performing.
Benko’s original compositions, which emerge from the tradition of the Great American Songbook, are often responses to current events. She wrote “Tomorrow Is A Day For You” as a celebration following the US Supreme Court decisions defending same-sex marriage, and “Here We Go Again” was a response to the troubling and seemingly endless political campaigns of 2016. On the other hand, the poignant album-closer, “Always”, which is fittingly performed as a cozy duo with Mr. Yeager, is a love song written soon after the two became a couple.
With the help of her co-producer and partner Jason Yeager and the impressive line-up heard on this debut release, Julie Benko emerges as a diverse and innovative jazz and musical theater vocalist, composer, and producer.
"The thing about early Streisand that shot a twenty something to the stratosphere of song stylists in the '60's was her extraordinary skill in "acting" a song. This is a tradition the comes from the Yiddish stage and permeated Broadway musicals. Benko is in that tradition." Read the full review here.
GEORGE W. HARRIS
"Julie Benko has a sweet gypsy flair to her voice, and uses it well on this flexible release." Read the full feature here.
C. MICHAEL BAILEY
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Brimming with a fresh creativity and youthful vitality, Introducing Julie Benko indeed introduces us to something...and someone special." Read the full feature here.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"Her touching rendition of the moody ballad “A Wish”, with lyrics by Winstone, is only one of 11 standout performances on her recently released debut Introducing Julie Benko." Check out the full feature here.
"The resulting 11 tracks display Benko’s gifts as an actor and singer, as she breathes new life into old tunes such as I Love Paris and Leaving on a Jet Plane." Read the full feature here.