Writings about Music

Southern California Sun: Jerry Sharell

Jerry Sharell hosts Weekends with Sinatra and Sharell on kjazz

I have high standards when it comes to music. Listening to anything less than perfect seems a waste of precious time. Music is about inspiring feelings whether they be sensual or intellectual or anywhere in between. 

Jerry Sharell has something special in that he presents the most profound vocal interpreter of our jazz ragas - that's what our jazz standards are essentially - in a magical way that forever surprises in delightful, utterly transformative modus operandi. What I am talking about is how these songs are seamless, inextricable constructions of music and poetry together, something that comes before all those sublime instrumental interpreters we also love who knew the words when they were playing, of course.

I might add that when recently challenged to name my two favorite jazz vocalists, they were Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. Louis had things that Frank didn't have, and vice-versa, while Armstong spent more time playing trumpet, of course, not completely focused on singing like Sinatra. There are many other jazz singers I love, including Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Tony Bennett, Helen Forrest, Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Vic Damone, June Christy, Anita O'Day, Chet Baker, Ray Charles, Betty Carter, and on and on.

The line between jazz and popular singers is sometimes a fine one, yet wide by miles, and it isn't always easy to differentiate or recognize, jazz singing being more about substance, feeling, nuance and individuality than mannerisms and quantity of notes. Needless to say, differences of opinion and personal preference will exist.

Verbal improvisation master that he is, Jerry Sharell extemporizes his show anew every time, and we never truly know what direction he will take. But be assured that if you take to listening you will be musically elevated whether a beginning singer, a master instrumentalist, or simply a music lover. Much of Sharrel's expertise comes from being a truly gifted jazz singer himself even if turning to focus on other aspects of the music world.

More than even music, it's like with every show Jerry clears all the smog away, and makes the ocean pure again, like the idyllically pristine paradise Stan Getz described while living here prior to World War II.

Listening to Jerry's show enhances my overall musicality while being introduced to myriad priceless gems such as the resplendent Duke Ellington Orchestra and Frank Sinatra collaboration. Nelson Riddle said that Indian Summer was his favorite Sinatra track of all time even though Billy May did the arrangement. Dig the Johnny Hodges solo. Al Dubin's lyrics are the top.

One famous singer I met by chance was Patti Page. At the time, I was working part-time at the ritzy Longhi Shop clothing boutique in Kapalua, where I also resided - not in the store! - both as a pianist and sales person. While alone there late one afternoon, Patti entered the shop, and I was struck by her sartorial and personal elegance, including a fresh white gardenia in her hair, perhaps on her way to dinner. Frank Sinatra was playing on the sound system, and the subject of music came up, Page confiding to me most modestly how she was a singer, too, myself not knowing who she was after introductions were made. Patti related how much she admired Sinatra as a singer and person, and how kind he had been to her with visible if restrained emotion, taken by spontaneous recollections. I also recall Page mentioning how she had been close to a drummer or bassist Frank had worked with, perhaps performing and recording with the same musician herself. Patti charmed me off my feet with her gentle, glowing loveliness, and it was only afterwards I learned how renowned and accomplished she was, the personification of humility.

Patti Page performing a song identified with Frank Sinatra

After moving to Los Angeles from Manhattan by way of Maui, I was blessed to learn from the crème de la crème of Indian classical music, including Harihar Rao, Pandit Jasraj, Ravi Shankar, Shivkumar Sharma, Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, Anindo Chatterjee, Swapan Chaudhuri, Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and others, something completely unexpected, this timeless tradition advanced beyond imagination in terms of intellectual and spiritual substance.

And now with Jerry Sharell, I'm being educated once again; this time about illuminating inner roots of jazz through his uncanny understanding of Frank Sinatra, a singer who earlier thrilled and inspired both swing and modern jazz masters, including Lester Young, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, and countless others. Sinatra's musical interpretations taught those musicians, and continue to teach all of us the depths and heights one may aspire towards. Everyone who really learns does so in their own way, assimilating all one may as best possible.

The indigenous Beach Boys gave us Good Vibrations, and that is a term that best identifies the nature of Jerry's radio show, and I'm not using that expression lightly. Just don't be lulled into relaxing too much from the enchanted music and commentary because there are lessons to be learned, too, when you least expect it. Be alert together with being transported if you will.

Someone should make sure ALL of Jerry's shows from the first to the most recent are compiled for students of music, practitioners of music, and music lovers to access. They are truly both a NATIONAL treasure and a WORLD treasure always presented unpretentiously and unselfconsciously like the best music purely natural like you're one on one with him at his kitchen table.

- Michael Robinson, September 2021, Los Angeles

Weekends with Sinatra and Sharell airs Saturdays from 10 p.m. to Midnight, and Sundays from 10 a.m. to Noon, Pacific Standard Time, on kjazz 88.1 FM, Long Beach, California


© 2021 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and musicologist who has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University. His 155 albums include 148 albums for Meruvina and 7 albums of piano improvisations.