Dave's True Story's infectious and humorous update of a classic jazz vocal sound is winning converts in the unlikeliest places, from college campuses to the new Times Square.
By JOSHUA TANZER
You might think that singer Kelly Flint grew up on a steady diet of Peggy Lee, or that guitarist-songwriter David Cantor picks apart Porter and Gershwin for ideas, but that's not necessarily so.
Growing up in Indiana, Flint was a fan of the popular music of the 1970s, not the quaint standards-singers of an earlier time. "I never even heard it," she admits. "I mean, I don't think I ever even heard Frank Sinatra. I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell."
Cantor, likewise, grew up playing the usual guitar stuff in high school. "It was not my agenda to follow in the 'Great American Songbook,' " he says. "It just happened that way."
|DAVE'S TRUE STORY|
|David Cantor (guitar, vocals)|
Kelly Flint (vocals)
Jeff Eyrich (bass)
Rich Zukor (drums)
Bernhard Ullrich (saxophone, woodwinds).
Related links: Official site
| AUDIO |
|Another Hit || MP3|
|Crazy Eyes || MP3|
| © 2000 David Cantor. Used by permission.|
|Dog's Life || MP3|
|How Do You Break a Heart? || MP3|
| © 2003 David Cantor. Used by permission.|| |
It was playing along to Donald Fagen's album "The Nightfly" about 14 years ago that flipped his switch.
"I got used to the jazz harmonic thing and I found that I could really write to that," Cantor remembers. "I'd never felt comfortable writing popular songs never felt like they sounded legitimate. [But] when I started writing jazz songs, they wrote themselves."
The result, when Cantor, Flint and this unlikely repertoire came together a decade ago, was Dave's True Story now a quintet with its own catalog of friendly, funny, even naughty songs and a following that ranges from graying old-timers to college students.
Flint remembers being hooked up with Cantor by their mutual songwriter friend Richard Julian even though she didn't think it was a musical match at all.
"I said, I don't really like the songs. Too jazzy for me," she says. "Even before the first rehearsal, I called [a singer friend] and said, 'I got myself into this mess here.' "
But after just one rehearsal, it suddenly made sense to her.
"I couldn't believe how much fun it was to be singing these jazzy melodies," she now recalls. "It sounded sort of authentic. It sounded like something my voice was supposed to be singing."
The band is at its best melodic, lyrical and seductive but not very firmly on its rocker in songs like "Crazy Eyes" (click to hear the mp3). Cantor spins out quickly modulating jazz chords while Flint who admits she doesn't feel suited to the long, sustained notes of many of the classic singers snaps out the lyrics in quick vocal caresses.
You've got a blue eye|
That's deeper than any blue.
As for the green one,
I think that it's charming too.
But put the two of them together
And I've got no chance of breaking free
Not when those crazy eyes gaze on me.
The song was one of two Dave's True Story cuts that graced the movie "Kissing Jessica Stein," serving as the backdrop to the climactic scene when the two leads finally kiss. The movie's co-writers and co-stars Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Weisfeldt were instant fans when they heard the music, and later hired the band to play at their premiere party.
"When we were festivaling the film, people would always ask us about the song over the kissing montage always!" Juergensen says.
"Crazy Eyes" and the song "Sequined Mermaid Dress" were offered by the film's music supervisors during the editing process, and it was love at first listen.
"Sometimes you put in some marker music 'I want something jazzy here,' " which is how the music initially got dropped into place, Juergensen explains. "They gave us Dave's True Story and it was perfect. There was something about not only the jazzy feel but the wit of the lyrics. . . . I have a feeling those were actually the only songs that stayed the same from the music cut to the final cut."
(Inexplicably, the Verve label decided to omit the band's songs from the soundtrack CD, so quite a few of the references to the band on the Internet are questions from the movie's fans about what happened and where they could find the missing music. "I can only say to the people who are wondering we were wondering too," Juergensen says.)
Many of Cantor's songs maintain the same upbeat, humorous tone the band is working on a new CD that will include the likes of "Dog's Life," a jocularly cynical lament that's really about people's life. But a few set a very different mood, like the wistful ballad "How Do You Break a Heart?" from the forthcoming CD, which echoes contemporary Bonnie Raitt as often as classic Peggy Lee.
|Dave's True Story at the Times Square Howard Johnson's bar.|| |
Another truly striking song is the melancholy but touching "Another Hit." It's about a songwriter of a bygone era who revels in memories of the time "Sassy" Vaughn and Johnny Mercer were toasting his talents but now, forsaken, he can only beg fruitlessly for one more chance at the big time.
A long parade of goddesses
Passed through my bedroom door.
I unhooked gowns and bodices
'til it became a chore
I dined with Julie London once,
And charmed her with my wit.
Joe, I could use another hit.
The title's double meaning reveals the character's sorrowful state. The "hit" he yearns for is not just a successful song it's the drug of success and glamour.
Maybe this is not a true story at least not Dave Cantor's true story but one has to wonder whether, when the character laments, "The music that they write these days, well it's just a lot of noise," that's the fictional songwriter or the real one talking.
"I don't really feel that," Cantor insists. "Actually, I'm more of a pop fan."
But somehow the band's update of a classic sound has stuck it keeps bringing in fans of all stripes, and it doesn't hurt that they've found the absolute perfect place to play: the Times Square Howard Johnson's. For the uninitiated, the Howard Johnson's restaurant which ten to twenty years ago was surely the squarest spot in town is now the most authentic piece of New York culture left in a once-gritty district that now features a T.G.I. Friday's and a Toys R Us. And tucked way in the back of the restaurant is the real treasure a bar that can't have changed a bit since the Kennedy administration. It's lit on each side by the orange glow of signs offering up "COCKTAILS" to anyone who still has eyes for their decades-old come-on.
Predictably, the place is on the Times Square endangered species list, which is why musical entertainment is now offered late on Thursday nights in an attempt to bring in a mixture of local clubgoers and the after-theater crowd. Dave's True Story is a regular in the space, and it's such a perfect fit that you can actually see the extra sashay in the waiters' step when they play. Wedged between the cash register and the kitchen, the band competes with the restaurant's bustle. Cantor swears the microwave beeps in C.
| ||"It seems like someone will have an entire popular music collection and then they'll have all three of our albums. It seems to transcend age."|
| || Kelly Flint|
Out-of-towners of an age to remember at least the tail end of the jazz vocal's heyday happen by on their way out of a Broadway show, surprised to find something so real amid Times Square's gaudy neon MTV-ness. Yet, they share the bar with a younger, more rock and roll crowd made quick converts by the music's amiable swing and intelligence. That doesn't surprise the band.
"It seems like someone will have an entire popular music collection and then they'll have all three of our albums," Flint says. "It seems to transcend age."
Bass player Jeff Eyrich who joined the band in the late '90s and incidentally married the lead singer says he has a clue to their music's lasting appeal. After a show at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, one undergrad fan came up and talked to the band.
"[We asked him], 'Why do you like Dave's True Story?' " Eyrich recalls. "And he was like, 'Well, when you take a girl home, what are you going to play Metallica?' "
|SEPTEMBER 21, 2003|
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