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Anna Danes – What’s on Your Playlist?

Jazzed Magazine • March 2018What's on Your Playlist? • March 21, 2018

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It’s fair to say that there are few former lawyers and stay-at-home moms who, at the age of 43, decide to upend their lives and attempt to become a singer, author, producer, and speaker – and even fewer who succeed at such a transformation.

But Anna Danes’ life has never followed a normal path.

After fleeing communist Poland with her family while still a child, Danes’ settled in Ottawa, Canada, where she eventually joined a Polish church choir. While in her teens, Anna first fell in love with jazz – a passion that became a lifelong pursuit.

After graduating college, Danes practiced law for three years before following her future husband to Southern California. It was there that she met pianist/keyboardist/composer Larry White, who became her mentor.

In addition to a successful recording and performing career, Danes produces private and public events, as well as the Jazz On Cedros concert series in San Diego. She is also an active philanthropist, particularly focused on causes that support women, children, and the arts, and sits on the board of the San Diego Symphony. Twice Anna has performed “The National Anthem” at Opening Day of the Del Mar Racetrack, to audiences of roughly 50,000 people.

Anna Danes’ most recent album, Find Your Wings, debuted at #1 on the iTunes jazz chart and charted on both the Billboard Traditional Jazz and Jazz Albums lists.

1. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis ArmstrongElla and Louis Again

This was one of the first jazz albums I’ve ever heard. I was in pre-law, working in retail and the owner of the store, a jazz fan, would play it – and four others – over and over again. I resisted jazz at first. Then I just let it all in. There was no turning away from the warmth and tenderness of Ella’s vocals.  Louis’ playfulness and masterful ease disarmed me. But the two of them together, it was clear that there was a deep respect and a profound rapport that only two real musician friends could show in a recording. I love this double album very much and I still return to it on a cloudy day.

2. Billie HolidayThe Lady Sings

The first time I heard Billie sing I was frankly mesmerized and a little perplexed. That haunting and unique voice, now in its mature stage in this work, was filled with so much heartache and ever so delicate nuance of emotion. She never had to “raise her voice” – her range was perfect for what she needed to tell and her voice always sounded like a tearful whisper shared over a cocktail. She was forlorn and battered, her voice naturally quivery – and yet it was all so beautiful. Whenever I hear the song “Don’t Explain”… come on, I’m stopped in my tracks. And I can see her tears.

3. Buena Vista Social ClubBuena Vista Social Club

This was a breakthrough album in many ways for my generation, which was raised without Cuba or its music. We didn’t know what was going on musically behind that iron curtain and here comes this album to America, and it was a warm ray of sunshine – and a glimpse into a forgotten world. Listening to these lost greats of Cuba, you were reminded that the human spirit cannot be squashed and, even in difficult times, the music not only kept playing, but it also kept the stories and folklore of the Cubans vibrant and alive.  It was wonderful to see the BVSC project develop and grow after the release of this album and receive the accolades it deserved outside of its place of origin.

4. Linda RonstadtWhat’s New

Here was a rock star of the ‘80s making an album of jazz standards of the pre-swing and swing era in an effort to “rescue them from spending the rest of their lives riding up and down in elevators.” This was arguably the first time a rock singer would pay tribute to that golden age and introduce a new generation to the music. Today we have everyone from Rod Stewart to Lady Gaga doing the same thing. When I first heard it, I knew “What’s New” wasn’t “new” at all but rather someone boldly and brashly saying with her big voice that these songs are beautiful, timeless and are here to stay! And the lushness of Nelson Riddle Orchestra backing her just unapologetically drove the point home with every languid string arrangement.

5. Leonard CohenI’m Your Man

As a shy, bookworm of a teen, I was obsessed with Leonard Cohen. Sure he was a ladies’ man, but he could really reach hearts with his often-colorful style of romantic poetry and music.   “Suzanne” – “among the garbage and the flowers” – who hasn’t wondered about that line and been strangely drawn to it? Although I loved Cohen’s early stripped down poetic folk albums,  this later work was a jumping off point to a new modern sound. Not only did it use synthesizers and drum machines, but also went back to his European roots for emotional memories, using bouzouki and the ude. For me the album was about a man in his prime, drawing on all his life experience  – and his voice showed it in its gravelly raspy way.

6. Tony Bennett and Bill EvansThe Tony Bennett Bill Evans Album

When I first heard this album about four years ago I was ready to hear it. It is a highly acclaimed work recognized by many for its simplicity and brilliance. Some argue it finally showed off Tony’s skills as a jazz singer in its directness and emotion. And Evans was the perfect partner: refined with a lyrical touch that was once described as, “something you might hear at the gates of heaven.”  I was so inspired by the strength of the collaboration that I used the album as the inspiration for my own current work, Find Your Wings. I wanted lots of space inside each composition and for each note to matter. And for the storytelling to be raw. Some have said, we have done it – thanks for my accompanist and arranger, Rich Ruttenberg – and thanks to this beautiful album.

7. Pink Martini Sympathique

I love this ‘little orchestra” from Portland, Oregon, that crosses all genres from jazz to classical in their very own unique style. In fact, they cross the world, too, with their music: China Forbes, one of the two lead singers along with Storm Large, can sing in 15 languages! And they do, on concert stages around the world, where they often perform with symphony orchestras and are applauded in many languages. The album I always return to is their debut, Sympathique. Next time you need to “belt one out” in your car alone, just listen to “Amado Mio.”  The tone they set with this unique first album has stayed consistent with the nine that have followed in the last 20 years.  Pink Martini is great for the times with its spirit of diversity and “multi-nationalism.”

8. Frank Sinatra In the Wee Small Hours

The title track of this classic Sinatra album defined it and helped make this album a huge critical and commercial success for the singer. It was one of Sinatra’s first “concept” albums – this one about loss, loneliness, and introspection, inspired by the demise of his relationship with Ava Gardener.  What I’ve always admired about it is how Sinatra left his heart bare for us to see – something that was not done quite like this on a recording before.  He would continue to do so in his later work as well, a quality I deeply admire in him and have tried to emulate in my own singing.

9. Diana KrallQuiet Nights

I can listen to Diana Krall’s soothing contralto all day. The arrangements on this album by Claus Ogerman are exceptionally and exquisitely complimentary to her vocals and elegant, laid back style. In fact, Ogerman won a Grammy for the arrangement of the title track. What I admire about Krall is the ease with which she delivers each note and how she’s never competing with the instrumentation, but rather using her voice as if one of the instruments and floating over “Quiet Nights.”

10. ABBASuper Trouper

I make no apologies for loving disco music: I grew up in Europe during the 1970’s when ABBA was a movement. This 1980 work was a departure from their disco sound to a more pop one, transitioning with the times. It was also their second to last album and was more mature and dark in its themes, but still catchy, with songs like “The Winner Takes It All.” ABBA’s work was always very well produced and this album shows the band’s coming of age – which ultimately tore apart the two couples that made up the band, one of the most successful recording artists of all time!

Anna Dane’s latest release, Find Your Wings (Danes Label Group), was released on October 30, 2016.

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