Laura Ainsworth re-spins classic jazz on “New Vintage”


Daughter of big band saxophonist, Billy Ainsworth, Laura Ainsworth, offers an album of romance and sultry soundscapes on “New Vintage.” While this an album of covers, that is perfectly acceptable in jazz. Besides, listening to Ainsworth’s sultry, old-fashioned voice, audiences might not know that the 21st century had arrived.

Introduction to Laura Ainsworth

Despite her jazz pedigree, Ainsworth has worked for her current moment in the jazz spotlight. “New Vintage” is her third album. The first two, “Keep It To Yourself” and “Necessary Evil,” earned her worldwide audiences and subsequent airplay. In addition, accomplished colleagues (Grammy-nominated artists) praised her work. All the attention earned Ainsworth performance dates in places like India and Dubai, far from her Dallas home.

Classic jazz vocals: Laura Ainsworth

In recent months I have heard a number of smoky-voiced jazz singers. At times I have wondered how natural the voices were. Sometimes, listeners can hear a singer who is out of his or her range. Tell-tale frizzes and dropped notes are often giveaway clues. When a singer takes on standards, sometimes it is easier to hear problematic vocal quirks. Ainsworth’s voice is earnest in a romantic way that saw its heyday at least 50 years prior. Her sultry tones are mixed with humor. On songs like “That’s How I Got My Start,” and “An Occasional Man,” Ainsworth’s voice is perfect to play up the rhyme scheme so that audiences can hear how humor works in each piece.

Ainsworth’s voice is pliable, but because of the crisp attention she pays to each syllable, it often sounds as though a misstep is about to take place. However, just in the nick of time, Ainsworth averts sonic calamity.

“New Vintage”: The sound of retro jazz

Ainsworth has carved a niche for herself as a singer of retro jazz. Her voice comes courtesy of a tradition forged by Rosemary Clooney, Dinah Shore and Julie London. In addition to Ainsworth’s voice, the ensemble working to bring classic jazz alive include: Brian Piper on keyboards, John Adams on bass, Steve Barnes on drums, Chris McGuire on saxophone and clarinet, Rodney Booth on trumpet, and Dana Sudborough on vibraphone.

The instrumentation is almost perfect. The sound is lush, perfectly timed, and neither overwhelms, nor hides behind Ainsworth’s voice. The brushed drums and bright saxophone strike a particularly nice balance with the vocals on “Long Ago & Far Away/You Stepped Out of a Dream.” In addition, “I Once Knew a Fella” is as close to raucous as this collection is going to get, and it sounds like the entire ensemble has turned up a notch or two. Suddenly, early rock and roll elements of saxophone and drums replace the group’s standard jazz sound. It’s a fun song. The vocals are half spoken, and that plays up the flirtatious vibe Ainsworth inflects.

Overall, a great album for jazz fans looking to hear a contemporary artist put an earnest spin on classics.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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