"Hipters, flipters and finger poppin' dadidies, knock me your lobes." San Franciso jazz singer Madeline Eastman used that phrase made famous by the late, hip, 1950s comic philosopher Lord Buckley on one of her early cds.
It's an attitude that has been marketed to death in today's culture, but unlike many of the current crop of retro divas that record companies have been parading before the public like porno queens with naked gams and dipping cleavage, this lady brings something to the bandstand besides her sexuality.
Eastman, who made her recording debut in the 1980s with the Bay Area's Full Faith & Credit Big Band, sings like a horn with razor sharp phrasing that can lift an audience right out of its seats. True jazz singing, the kind we seldom see today is knowing where to put the notes (words) of the song. It's about intelligence and emotion. Forget the scat.
Eastman performed in Louisville, Ky the week before the Kentucky Derby at the elegant new Glassworks museum and gallery. With a repertoire that includes standards like "The Thrill is Gone," and "All of You" plus jazz classics such as Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" and Thelonious Monk's "Evidence," Eastman is hard to beat.
"My biggest influences were Mark Murphy and Carmen McRae. McRae spoke to me, she had impeccable phrasing," Eastman said last week in a telephone interview.
McRae died in 1994 but Murphy, a true jazz legend who was discovered in the 1950s by Sammy Davis Jr., is still going strong. He won Down Beat magazine's Reader's Poll for Best Male Jazz Vocalist in 2001.
"I met Mark in San Francisco. He's always been a mentor to me," Eastman says. Mentoring is something Eastman knows something about. She teaches jazz singing at Stanford University and took time out for the interview while she was judging the jazz singing competition at the Reno Jazz Festival in Reno, Nevada.
In the early '90s, at a time when jazz fans were worried where the next new jazz singer was coming from, Eastman exploded on the scene fully formed with her first cd Point of Departure on MadKat Records, a company she owns with her friend Kitty Margolis, another outstanding Bay Area jazz singer. The cd, which featured jazz trumpet wunderkind Tom Harrell won raves from jazz critics across the country.
Since that release Eastman has produced three more cds with sidemen that read like a Who's Who of Jazz. Pianists Cedar Walton and Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid, alto saxophonist Phil Woods, drummer Tony Williams and a cameo appearance on her cd Art Attack by the Turtle Island String Quartet.
Eastman's latest recording -- Bare, released this year -- features her in a demanding setting for any kind of singer: accompanied by solo piano played by L.A. jazzman Tom Garvin. Few vocalists have the chops and intonation for this kind of exposure. No horns, string sections or electronics, just the voice "bare."
"I probably should have called it Naked. It might have sold more cds," she says.
Eastman has performed at some of the most opulent jazz rooms in the country. I saw her eight years ago at the Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkely, California, when she and guitarist Bruce Forman put the audience in a catatonic state of jazz appreciation in a room normally reserved for solo piano players. She has also been backed by the impeccable piano playing of recent Louisville transplant Harry Pickins, who has accompanied her in San Francisco, drummer Terry O'Mahoney and bassist Herman Burney, who recently worked with pianist/singer Freddie Cole, Nat Cole's brother.
In little over a decade Eastman has joined a elite roster of jazz singers that includes names like Sheila Jordan, Abby Lincoln and Mark Murphy.
Asked if she was worried about the future of jazz singing with the deaths of so many of the legends including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter and most recently Peggy Lee and Etta Jones, Eastman replied, "There's always lots of new people coming up with fresh influences."
And what about all those magazines and cd covers with pictures of female body parts?
"It's America!" she laughed.