Noel Paul Stookey first heard the term “fazz” when he, as part of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary, toured colleges with the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the 1960s. By way of introduction to a song that would feature both groups, Brubeck’s saxophonist Paul Desmond used the term—somewhat derisively—to refer to the mixture of folk and jazz they would perform together. For Stookey, the term became more and more intriguing, even as Peter would occasionally caution him in his attempts to incorporate jazz chords (AKA color chords or alternative chords) into PP&M’s own folk repertoire.
With a stellar solo career unencumbered by tradition, Stookey has finally created FAZZ: NOW &THEN, a 20-track collection that touches on a fusion of styles that he has been hinting at for decades in his approach to songwriting. FAZZ: NOW & THEN contains brand new material as well as some unusual “deep cuts” from his vast archive that he has revisited with new instrumentation and arrangements for this project. The CD will be released on March 22 via Stookey’s Neworld Multimedia label.
The concept for FAZZ: NOW &THEN has been percolating in Stookey’s creative mind for quite some time. It is said that people become more like themselves with age, and with the release of this new project—a decidedly jazzy exploration of both traditional and contemporary material—the 84-year-old Stookey seems increasingly comfortable in his own skin.
“Each of us is searching for our own authenticity,” Stookey says, “and the more honest we are, the less we have to hide. My attempt to infuse folk music with what might be considered unusual chord structures has always focused on fulfilling what I see as the promise of a lyric's emotional content.” He feels that the folk genre leveled the playing field between music and lyric.
Stylistically, the first twelve cuts on the CD are stunningly eclectic, drawing from such disparate musical worlds as soft rock and classical, concluding with “I'll Be Seeing You,” the nostalgic evergreen from the early 1940s. The remaining third of the album gives evidence to the claim that Stookey has been integrating those “color chords” with his music all along, proven by seven resurrected and remastered songs from Peter, Paul and Mary concerts and Noel's solo work prior to joining the trio. Several instrumental pieces, each with a distinctly different musical approach, are interspersed among the tracks as if to introduce each new section of the 78-minute album. “Similar to a musical sorbet,” suggests Noel, “in between courses of some extravagant listening.”
Standouts include the gospel-infused “In Reverence,” featuring the soaring voice of Theresa Thomason; singer-songwriter Willie Nile’s poignant “Under This Roof”; Stookey’s bossa nova styled “This Song (Bahia Skies)”; and the irreverent send-up “Fun Police” (he muses: “do you have a license for that smile?”). There is also “Long Lonely Night,” containing unusual chord changes on a song Stookey recorded for a prospective publishing house back in 1961; a performance of the traditional “The Water is Wide” containing a new verse; Billie Holiday’s timeless “God Bless the Child” and “There Are No Words,” a poignant song-poem penned by Kitty Donohoe in the aftermath of 9/11. “Wonderwhy,” an arresting instrumental, features mandolin, bass and Noel's playing of the koto, recorded live during a Peter, Paul and Mary tour of Japan. The album wraps up with “The Lady Says” on which Stookey offers a stylistic scat-singing homage to Ella Fitzgerald.
Neworld Multimedia has created a special bonus of archival material for those who purchase the FAZZ: NOW & THEN from the NOELPAULSTOOKEY.COM website between February 22 and its official release date of March 22. For that limited period of time, pre-release purchasers will receive autographed copies of the new CD as well as a link to access a private repository of never-before-heard Noel Paul Stookey tunes and performances.