On Jazz It Up! Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads (Blue Griffin), jazz trumpeter Bob Arthurs and guitarist Steve LaMattina deliver an engaging and excitingly original offering that successfully—and charmingly—melds two genres: jazz and music from Ukraine’s folkloric tradition.
The album is the brainchild of producer Irena Portenko, a long-time fan of trumpeter Bob Arthurs’ playing, composing, and uniquely personal approach to jazz. Irena, an accomplished and acclaimed classical pianist and educator, suggested that Arthurs should record some popular Ukrainian tunes in a jazz style. To get the project rolling, Portenko provided the trumpeter with a list of tunes from the country’s folk tradition along with other works by Ukrainian composers. Bob put his head together with a frequent collaborator, guitarist Steve LaMattina, and the twosome developed the 11 brilliant arrangements displayed here. Not only do their visionary arrangements respect the tunes’ ethnic origins, they also reflect the players’ straight-ahead jazz sensibilities.
Jazz It Up! Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads gets its name from Irena Portenko’s desire to dedicate the album to three of her favorite dads: her father, her uncle, and her daughter Anastasia’s father, as well as to Ukraine, where Portenko was born.
Album highlights include:
“Blackthorn in Blossom”: The duo displays a delicate touch on this tender traditional tune with a slightly melancholy air.
“Kyiv Waltz”: The lilting trumpet melody soars over a cool, sauntering guitar line.
“Walking Around the Garden”: The arrangement and Bob’s Ukrainian vocal have a longing quality that evokes jazz classics such as “I’m a Fool to Want You.”
“Blues for Ukraine”: A Bob Arthurs original with a great bluesy feel, and heartfelt lyrics offering support and sympathy for the country’s historic travails.
Trumpeter Bob Arthurs has been a regular on the New York and international jazz scene for a half century. He’s gigged at major jazz clubs in the Big Apple with greats including Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Warren Vache, Etta Jones, Carmen Leggio (with whom he co-led a big band) and a host of others. Bob has a particular affinity with guitarists, as evidenced by his collaborations with six-string masters such as Tal Farlow, Larry Coryell, Bucky Pizzarelli, Chuck Wayne, and Steve LaMattina, who appears on Jazz It Up! Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads, as well as previous Bob Arthurs recordings. Jazz It Up! Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads is Bob’s fourth release as a leader.
Bob recalls being entranced by the trumpet as a child, and began lessons at age 8; the young trumpeter played his first gig by the time he entered his teens. Bob later studied with Sal Mosca, whom he credits with teaching him the basics of improvising and for inspiring him to pursue his musical goals. The legendary pianist must have been pleased by his student’s progress, as the two went on to make music together for decades. Besides building a reputation as a jazz trumpet player, vocalist, band leader and recording artist, Bob Arthurs is well-regarded as an educator. For more than 30 years, he was on the faculty of the Westchester Conservatory of Music (now known as the Music Conservatory of Westchester), in White Plains, New York. He also was head of the school’s jazz department, as well as dean of students and faculty.
Bob and guitarist Steve LaMattina have been playing together for well over a decade. Steve was also on faculty at the Music Conservatory of Westchester and now has a large private teaching practice. He’s an in-demand sideman in the New York metropolitan area, and has recorded with Ted Brown, Dennis Irwin, Carmen Leggio and others.
Fans of jazz and creative music will be engaged by the innovative and intriguing music on Jazz It Up! Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads, and will no doubt look forward to hearing what Bob Arthurs lends his trumpet and voice to next time around.