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Full Review --SUITE WILLIAM 
 Detroit Jazz Magazine, July/August 1999
Suite William: A Jazz Cantata
by Mitch Genova
 Imagine an evening at a Broadway Musical, or a world class dinner theater featuring a spectacular Live Musicale. Add to this a collection of tunes from the inventive musical imagination of Detroit´s First Lady of Jazz Piano, Bess Bonnier, and throw in lyrics by the Immortal Bard of Avon himself, Bill Shakespeare, and you have some idea of what "SUITE WILLIAM" is all about.
Bess, an English Major with a great fondness for Shakespeare, conceived of this project several years ago, and set about writing music to lyrics taken from Shakespeare´s plays, songs, and sonnets. The result is Shakespeare as he has never been heard before!

The music on this CD received its debut performance in 1994 at the Grosse Pointe North Center for the Performing Arts with a jazz sextet and The Pointe Chorale, directed by Ben Walker. The project was funded in part by grants from The Michigan Council For the Arts and Cultural Affairs and Artserve Michigan. Bess was then serving as Artist In Residence at Grosse Pointe North High School. The performance brought rave reviews, and Bess remarked humbly, "I was very fortunate to have such a great lyricist to work with." But, she was clearly pleased with the project and with the reception it received, and decided to have it documented on disc so that it could be shared with other lovers of Shakespeare and of jazz.

Bess chose for this recording many of the fine musicians she works with regularly, including bassist Paul Keller, who is her constant co-conspirator in concert and festival appearances and who is himself the leader of the Bird of Paradise Orchestra. With Bess and Paul are several other members of the BOPO, including Paul Finkbeiner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Cary Kocher on vibes, and Pete Siers on drums. Bess is also joined by long time friend and associate George Benson on tenor and saprano sax, and by Russ Miller on flute.

The lyrics are rendered by The Sugarhouse Voices, a vocal performance group from Salt Lake City. They appear here in ensemble and as soloists, and contribute several great moments of a Capella singing. They are joined by our own Judie Cochill in a special guest appearance as the third witch in "The Three Witches."

This is Bess´ second CD in two years, after having not recorded for several years. Her last effort, "LOVE NOTES," appeared in 1997, and was reviewed in these pages. Prior to that, she released "Duet To Quartet" in 1982 and "Bess Bonnier and Other Jazz Birds" in 1985, all on her own Noteworks label. Bess made her recording debut on Argo Records in 1958 with "Theme for The Tall One," and recorded "The 26th Floor" live in performance at the Top of the Flame in 1974.

Bess is well-known to local jazz lovers from her many performances around town, including several appearances at the Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival. But even her local fans may not know that she appeared in the 1982 Kool Jazz Festival, and was featured in New York as part of the Detroit Piano Summit along with such notable Detroiters as Barry Harris, Sir Roland Hanna, and Tommy Flanagan.

With "SUITE WILLIAM," Bess has put together a delightful set of music that doesn´t require that you be a fan either of Shakespeare or of jazz to appreciate and enjoy. It is just good music, well performed, and it is a treasury of great musical moments. Listen, for example to the nocturnal a Capella beauty of "How Sweet The Moonlight," or the exquiste melody of "O Mistess Mine," to which Bess offers a piano accompaniment that is sheer Schubert.

You will also delight in the "All Blues" feel of BessÕs treatment of "Double, double, toil and trouble, Fire burn and cauldron bubble" from ´MacBeth´ in "The Three Witches." And you will definitely enjoy the Duke Ellington feel of "MacbethÕs Blues," with Paul Finkbeiner´s wa-wa-muted trumpet solo. And Bess´ poignant setting of the XVIIIth Sonnet, "Shall I compare thee to a SummerÕs day," turns this classic work into a double masterpiece, to which George Benson provides an aptly timeless commentary on tenor. And for pure fun, how about a Calypso setting for the tongue-in-cheek "Sigh No More, Ladies."

Bess hopes to be performing this work live in concert at both jazz festivals and Shakespeare festivals worldwide. For your sake and mine, I would like to see this hope realized. This would make a great evening of live entertainment. Til then, we have the CD. Enjoy.

 
Full Reviews of SUITE WILLIAM: Related:
 SEMJA Update - Oct 99
 Detroit Jazz Magazine - Jul/Aug 99
 Windsor/Detroit Jazz Society
 SEMJA Update - Aug 99

 Read Quick Quotes of Suite William.
 Read reviews of Love Notes.

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