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Jack Phillips Releases An Album Of Modern Standards, Throws Away His Old Gray Hat

The legendary Algonquin Hotel is as apt a rendezvous with the pianist Jack Phillips, the gifted California native whose latest album, Cafe Nights In New York, resurrect the Top Hat And Tails of the 1900s New York City where Gershwin, Berlin and Porter roamed the streets of Manhattan and the Round Table met at this very hotel. AN album that seems to be destined to be missed by its natural audience as thoroughly as  To Whom It May Concern – Philip's earlier great lost Elton John style piano pop album from 2010 was.

And that's not all. There is a live album and DVD recently released. "We wanted to play To Whom It May Concern  live and we did, it's the album and some other songs,  and we recorded it and liked it and decided to put it out. We also released a DVD, "

"I think if you ask any one, the album they like best is the most recent album. Revival Time was actually a long time ago, so I would differ to my latest project being my favorite because it's where my head is at now. Cafe Nights In New York. It was a different album for me to make because it's the first time I wrote the lyrics and I actually delegated half the music writing to Eddie Davis the producer and I have never done that before. I've always been responsible for all the music I've ever done before. And I always delegate the lyrics to somebody else. 

"So this was more of a trusting situation because I wanted it to be a little more as if I was writing in the 1920s, kind of the way Cole Porter write songs. The lyrics were written the way they were a long time ago, which was to play with words. Lots of words that rhymed after each other. I've got a song that goes 'you are so marvelous, gregarious, amorous…' and going on and on and on like that. And I am not being descriptive but I am playing the way Cole porter might have.

"My drummer Klaus Suonsaari used to play with Bobby Short and that immediately dictated that the time must be in the late 16940 to 1950s sounding recording as opposed to a 1920s recording so we had a little of both there. 

"When I used to visit New York, I used to go  and hang out at the Cafe Carlyle and see Bobby Short, and in recent times I would go and hang out because that's where Woody Allen was playing, and I got to know all the band members. My producer Eddie is Woody Allen's band leader, suddenly I was absorbing all this 1920s New Orleans jazz on a weekly basis and it got into my system a little bit, and the first thing I wrote, about three years ago now, was 'The Old Gray Hat'

"I wrote that by myself. I wasn't thinking Cole Porter… the story of that song is there is a line in a couple of Woody Allen films about 'The Gray Hat'. It's mentioned in 'Shadows And Fog' and again in 'Husband And Wives'. Both mention 'The grey hat of compromise'. So I write a song to say, I won't compromise' You can take my grey hat. So that was the genesis."

The album doesn't seem to be finding you out there, Phillips has been doing interviews with the radio, talking it up, but it is an extremely difficult task. to get the words out there.

The 49 year old Phillips is a Fresno native, whose parents were both very musical and whose mother taught Jack how to play the piano at an early age."Music was in our family from way back, my mother was a very fine pianist, my Grandmothers were fine pianists. My mother was once in a piano competition and Arthur Rubinstein was a judge, but she became a teacher but she did not pursue music professionally. You know? She probably could have if in the late 1950s somebody had pushed her in that direction.

"Piano is the only instrument I ever took. I started lessons around six or seven, and I probably continued till I was about 17."

But Jack continued to play and in 1982, he released the wondrously beautify First Hand EP, you can hear him revive the lovely "Sixty Years Ago" on the live album.  In High School, Jack had performed a number of concerts and in 1999 released his debut album, the excellent Revival Time

But Phillips is a career that appears to stall easily, and after the 1999 Revival Time, it took the studio perfectionist a decade to release the follow up. Phillips cares about every detail of the music he presents, it is a painstaking lost art type of perfectionism. And so it costs him momentum and that couple with a crippled music industry doesn't let him get the traction he needs. He is currently working on Cafe's follow-up and it will be a hard blues based sound a million ways away from Cafe's sophisticate. "My original concept was to do a black and white album, something that had stark contracts, really bluesy, old blues." Wiser minds prevailed. Still, the result, an album of dirty blues, should be released soon.

Meanwhile, Phillips hopes to perform some small jazz clubs in the Autumn and hopefully use that as a starting point for a tour. But it is so difficult for Jack to get the attention he so richly deserves. It is really a sad Testament if a man as gifted as Jack can not make a living at it. To be honest, it is pathetic that he can't.

Still his loss is your gain and here is a link to "Live In New York" so you can hear for yourself:

Mr. Phillips advises that success or lack thereof what stop him in his pursuit of musical glory and thank the Lord for that. No, he never has needed that old gray hat.

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