By MARGIE DOYLE
Lorraine Feather, Orcas Island resident and jazz vocalist, is first and foremost a word-lover. That is why her latest CD, released just last week and already on the top 40 jazz charts, is entitled, “Language.”
Feather and her husband, jazz drummer and webmaster Tony Morales, moved to Orcas Island last year, after careers in New York, Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley.
Feather recently performed many of the songs in “Language” at New York’s famed Algonquin Hotel, and was reviewed by the New York Times. Jazz writer Will Friedwald said, “Ms. Feather is one of the few singer-songwriters in contemporary jazz worth listening to and, ….virtually the only one whom I want to hear sing nothing but her own lyrics.”
Many of Feather’s lyrics are written to classic instrumentals, most often by Fats Waller and Duke Ellington. “Language” contains songs that are fast, staccato, and articulated spitfire-fashion by Feather, who says, “Singing is hard, but singing faster is no harder.” Her voice is “not big, but flexible,” she says.
The daughter of renowned jazz critic Leonard Feather Lorraine was born in New York, and named “Billie Jane Lee Lorraine, after her godmother, Billie Holiday, her mother, Jane her mother’s former roommate, Peggy Lee and Lorraine. At a young age, Lorraine decided she was to be called “Lorraine” rather than “Billie Jane.”
When her family moved to Los Angeles, Feather and her mother stayed with Peggy Lee while they looked for a house of their own. Feather remembers Peggy Lee as glamorous, giving “grown-up” presents to the little girl, having two pekinese dogs with long white hair. and a rug that matched the dogs’ fur. Feather also remembers a New Years’ Eve Party when Frank Sinatra wished her a “Happy New Year, Baby.”
After years in New York waiting tables and struggling to be an actress, singing in bands to fill in her income, Feather says, “When I began writing lyrics it was like a thunderbolt – I knew what I wanted to do and had the biggest talent for. It’s fun to do.”
When she first wrote lyrics to a Fats Waller composition, she submitted her “reinventions” to the famous “Stride” pianist Dick Hyman, who advised her to do a whole album of Waller songs.
Feather’s style of writing and singing jazz lyrics has been called “vocalese,” where fast, quirky words are added lightening-style to the music.
As a jazz singer, Feather loves performing live; she is scheduled to sing at the Orcas Center next February. She also finds it the most challenging part of singing jazz, because “you can’t re-do” the song. “In the studio you have many shots and more control. She loves the process of making an album – working with composers, mixing the album, hearing it take shape with co-producers.
“I’m a lyricist and I love language,” Feather says. Her projects include both “money-making” and “money-spending” efforts.
In the first category, she has written for other artists such as Patti Austin and Diane Schuur, as well as for film, TV and the 1996 Olympics. She is commissioned to produce a libretto for a new opera based on Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” and for several other theatrical productions.
Her own projects are more in the “money-spending” category, she says, and include an animated film of the Fats Waller song, “Minor Drag,” reinvented as “You’re Outa Here.”
Her dream project is to do a full-length animated jazz feature, along the lines of the Walt Disney classic, “Fantasia.”
The songs on “Language” are inspired by the everyday experiences of listening to radio traffic and weather reports, waiting on hold after dialing customer service on the phone, but it also includes a somewhat melancholy tribute to New York at Christmastime.
When writing “from scratch,” Lorraine says the lyrics come first.
Husband Tony Morales is a well-known drummer who played with the Rippingtons, a top jazz group. He became a computer guy, and they both work at home a lot so were looking for a place to move to with more space that was near the water, with a beautiful environment and a moderate climate. They visited friends in Anacortes, and in 2007 “as soon as I got on the ferry [to Orcas] it was so beautiful I almost cried, and I forgot about all the other places.”
For the future, Feather sees herself “writing pretty much forever; I don’t know that I’ll always perform.” She says the majority of pieces in the vocal jazz repertoire are recreations of old standards. “It’s important to do that, but I love to take part in expanding the jazz repertoire – and the people are so much fun to work with.” She credits the help of composers and writers husband Tony Morales, Russell Ferrante, Eddie Arkin, Shelly Berg, Terry Sampson, Bill Elliott.
“Language” is dedicated to Feather’s fried Linda Lawley, whose garden of golden broom is mentioned in the song “In Flower.”
Feather’s work habits are loose, but she finds if she doesn’t begin work by noon, it’s usually not worth the effort. “I think about a project constantly until I’m done. One of the benefits of being a lyricist is I can edit when I’m walking the dog or gardening.”
“There are so many different ways to approach a lyric,” Feather says. A title or a line may come first, and they she “builds the puzzle outward.” Her advice to other writers and lyricists is simply to start, to “take that little piece, or good idea and work outward from it.”
“I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and done things that didn’t come off well, but I’ve been very fortunate to have the quirky career I’ve had. It’s wonderful to be on Orcas Island and to be able to do what I do in this setting.”
Lorraine Feather’s latest CD, “Language” is available at Darvill’s Bookstore. Her website is www.lorrainefeather.com