Bing Crosby said, "I think popular music in this country is on of the few things in the 20th Century that has made giant strides in reverse."
I haven't heard of any recently written "pretty" music, but I have heard several younger singers doing the pretty songs of earlier years. Perhaps because I tend to enjoy male voices more than female, I chose the following vocalists to write about.
Michael Buble' is a very talented performer born in the '70's who does not really have a style of his own, but sings the old numbers like "Call Me Irresponsible" and "For Once In My Lifetime" the way someone my age likes to hear them. If you watch him (lucky you, if it's in person) you will see he has a little attitude, call it swagger maybe, that you might not "hear" on a CD. However, I think his charm and musicality come through in pieces like "Save the Last Dance For Me" he has a little different sound. It's a country song, but he makes it his own with a little different leaning toward a Latin blend.
Michael Feinstein is a little older than Buble'. Born in the late 50's he had an opportunity to be influenced by working as Ira Gershwin's assistant. Feinstein is an accomplished pianist in his own right, and a lot of his work is "cabaret style" with himself as accompanist. His specialty is romantic songs, and probably the fastest among his performances would be "Something's Gotta Give." He has made many albums and worked with many groups. One important work he has done was with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in early 2001 in which he performed "Laura", "Stormy Weather" and other standards. All works were by Jewish American composers including Gershwin, Berln, and Herman's "I Wont Send Roses." Unlike Buble', Feinstein has developed a style of his own, a confidence and maturity that, if you have the opportunity to compare old work with new, will be discernable. Michael Feinstein's mother was a tap dancer of little fame and his father was salesman, who also was an amateur vocalist.
Harry Connick, Jr. is the third performer I enjoy. He was born in the late 60's; younger than Feinstein, but older than Buble', he has written songs, put together his own bands, and most definitely developing his own style. While he has made a career of singing the Great American Songbook pieces, he didn't try to copy the old performers. He admitted he did not have the vocal strength to sound like Sinatra or others, although he was being touted as the "Chairman nouveau" by some promoters. He played young Lt. Cable in the 2001 version of So. Pacific; and in Pajama Game he was the piano-playing Sorokin. My impression of Harry Connick, Jr's career is that he has had lot of fun. He was worked hard and used his talent to the highest scale.His is the voice in the movie "Sleepless in Seattle" singing his own "Wink and a Smile". His father was a district attorney in New Orleans who also played piano and sang as a hobby in local night clubs.
To be fair, Diana Kral is a very credible young woman, born in 1964, who sings jazz and swing with the best. She came to the US from BC, Canada. Her father played stride piano and he exposed her to all the greatest musicians such as Thelonious Monk, Claude Thornhill and Paul Whiteman ( the latter previously profiled in a blog). Her style is not a copy of any other performer. She has toured with Tony Bennett. She has sung blues, jazz and traditional music (the latter a Christmas album) and is right at home with swing. It is said her only mistake so far has not taking Bennett up on the offer to make an album with him. That's o.k., Diana, you're doing just fine.
Another female performer that I admit to really liking among the younger set is k.d. lang.
No, I didn't leave off the capitals. She doesn't use them. I have seen videos of her and like her unselfconscious style. She is who she is and sings with confidence but not brass. She professes to be attracted to both women and men - but not equally. She DID do an album with Bennett. It is one of my favorite "put on some music and go to sleep" albums. She is an activist for many causes such as animal rights, gay rights, and human rights. She also came from Canada and puts a nice mark of her own on country. I am not a fan of country, but she makes it very listenable. Some of her songs have a heavy guitar (she might be playing it it is so in tune with her) but the lyrics come over it very well. She is considered a rock and roll artist. I have not heard any of that music.
Just thinking about the variety of styles each performer uses, I recommend not giving up on someone just because you have heard them one piece you don't care for. In my circle of very talented senior organ players (senior as in age, not necessarily accomplishment) I notice that each really does well with one or two rhythms and tempos, but it doesn't stop them, nor should it, from playing every other one. A gal who plays fast Latin because she loves Ethel Smith's rendition of TicoTico doesn't necessarily play it like Ethel, but isn't she just having a ball doing it? And the person who loves Hank Williams might attempt to play a country piece with a twangy guitar which would "twang" my ears uncomfortably, but if he loves what he does, that's what hobby music is all about. If any of us plays comfortably enough to share our music at a senior center, nursing home or community event, that's hobby organ's purpose. I can't sing, but I do enjoy all of the performers I have written about today. And I don't think we have taken strides in reverse. I think somewhere out there are composers writing good music we have yet to hear. We just need to make the need for it known.
Bob Hope once said of Phyllis Diller, "When she started to play, Steinway himself came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano."
As long as Mr. Lowrey doesn't appear to remove his name from your instrument --
Keep a song in your heart and keep the music playing.