For me, the news that Billy Childs will perform a tribute to Laura Nyro at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival is welcome indeed. The remarkably gifted and tragically forgotten/overlooked singer-songwriter is an important cultural figure and she did more than any artist this side of Steely Dan to inject jazz influences into pop.
Nyro was born in the Bronx and profoundly influenced by her father, a piano tuner and jazz trumpeter. She grew up listening to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane and was still a teenager when she began writing her jazz-inflected tunes. Her commercial breakthrough came with “And When I Die,” first recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary but immortalized a few years later by Blood, Sweat and Tears. In 1967, Nyro (pronounced “nero”) performed at Monterey Pop on the strength of her Verve debut album, “More Than A New Discovery.”
Following Monterey, David Geffen signed on as Nyro’s manager and got her a deal with Clive Davis at Columbia. Her Facebook bio picks up the story.
In 1968, Columbia Records released Nyro's second album, “Eli and the Thirteenth Confession,” which is widely considered to be one of her best works. It was followed in 1969 by “New York Tendaberry,” another highly acclaimed work. Nyro invited jazz great Miles Davis to the studio while she was recording “New York Tendaberry” and asked him to contribute to an instrumental section, but once he heard what had already been recorded he is reported to have replied, "I can't play on this. You already did it."
Nyro spent much of the ‘70s and ‘80s off the road and out of the studio, involved with marriage and divorce and motherhood. She did not have the taste for fame that many other performers do and this, suffice it to say, put a real crimp in her career. Nyro died on ovarian cancer in 1997 at age 49.
She left behind a string of exquisite jazz-pop melodies and lyrics, many of which became hits for other artists. In addition to the aforementioned Blood, Sweat and Tears track, the Fifth Dimension scored with "Wedding Bell Blues" and “Save the Country”; Three Dog Night had a hit with “Eli's Coming," and Barbra Streisand recorded "Stoney End."
As for the Childs project, some details are available on his website.
Excited to be working on a project re-imagining the music of Laura Nyro. This is my first project for Sony Masterworks and Larry Klein is producing. A lot of my favorite singers and other artists will be joining me: Renee Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, Chaka Khan, Chris Botti, Shawn Colvin, Rickie Lee Jones, Lalah Hathaway, Dianne Reeves, Esperanza Spalding, Becca Stevens, and Lisa Fischer. Plans are to release the CD in April 2014. Stay tuned for more info.
Want to keep up with the best in Bay Area jazz and blues?
Subscribe to us: Have our jazz and blues Examiner columns sent to your inbox. Click the SUBSCRIBE button on this page. It's free. (And we won't spam you or give out your information.) Bookmark us: http://www.examiner.com/jazz-music-in-oakland/brian-mccoy. CONTACT ME FOR YOUR JAZZ AND ARTS GRANT WRITING NEEDS