Louise Cappi’s new album, Mélange is a terrific offering of jazz-tinged songs guaranteed to make you smile, tap your toes and sing along. She and her fine band of musicians give us nine songs, four Cappi originals and five covers of songs by the likes of Randy Newman, Roberta Flack and Leon Russell. All hugely enjoyable.
Louise is based in New Orleans, having been raised in New York City, in a musical family. Her father was Al Cappi, a renown jazz guitarist who worked on staff as a musician for NBC for years. “When I was a kid,” she told me, “my father used to have George Van Eps at the house, and Joe Pass and Bucky Pizzarelli. They used to jam with my dad and they were very good friends. So, I grew up hearing all this and I developed a really good ear.”
(Interestingly, George Van Eps in the 1930s invented a seven-string guitar, which he and Al Cappi pioneered. This was a guitar with another bass string which allowed them to play basslines below their chord voicings).
Louise started singing on gigs with her dad and then went on to sing contemporary gospel while she was at college. “They gave me the name Nitro because my performances can be pretty explosive!” Once she got to New Orleans and her children were older, she picked up her musical career: “I was able to go out and sit in at the club and start to develop my career that way. Meet everybody. I got to play with musicians like Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Orchestra, Jason Marsalis. And then I started put my own band together and, you know, we went from there”
Cappi is a versatile and quite lovely singer, with a fine sense of phrasing, all to the fore in Mélange. There’s a lovely purity to her voice on Roberta Flack’s Feel Like Makin’ Love, and she’s able to take Leon Russell’s Song for You to a new place, with a captivating dynamic range in her vocals.
Hugely enjoyable is the Don Covay Chain of Fools which segues cleverly into Bobby Sharp’s Unchain My Heart. This works exceptionally well, Cappi’s voice melding splendidly with the band, and some fine support from the brass section.
And then there’s Summertime, so well known but always a treat to hear, especially when there’s a quite different take on it. Cappi and her band move it along a quite a lick – “I know,” she said, “I took it at a faster pace because I do like to swing. Matter of fact, I have to slow it down a little bit to do it.”
“Summertime is a song that is very special to me, because it’s the first song I ever sang in public, as a freshman in high school. And then ironically, years later, I was invited to perform it for the Gershwin family. For George Gershwin’s son and some close friends at a party. So Summertime is kind of a special song for me.”
There are four original songs on the album, all great songs, beautifully arranged by Jenna McSwain. Let’s Make Love sounds like an old jazz song and is just great fun. “That’s where I like to go to,” says Cappi. She’s been listening a lot to Mose Allison. “I love his lyrics. I love his phrasing. And I love that he’s funny with his song, his humor.”
Bella Nola is a beautiful song Cappi wrote a couple of years after Katrina, expressing her love for her new home, She refers to New Orleans “tried and true,” because of the resiliency she’s seen in the people of the city. New Orleans has had a history, she told me of “getting knocked down and getting up. So that’s why I wrote that song. The drum solo during the solo in that song, I had the drummer specifically play a military beat. Because when I came back to New Orleans after Katrina, there was a strong military presence. And that really shocked me when I first got home, and it left an impression. So I put that in this song.”
I asked Louise how she’d characterize Mélange and she said, “I’m very eclectic. I love all kinds of music. I do love blues. I started at thirteen listening to Billie Holiday, which was jazz-blues. And of course, Summertime is blues. I mean, that’s the core. So it’s jazz-blues.” Watch out for Louise’s next album, which she told me will be “all blues tunes.”
In the meantime, like the rest of us right now, she’s hunkered down, “hanging in there and, you know, praying for better days.” And praying is something Louise Cappi has some experience of. She has a degree in Theology, and when she’s not making music, she works as a chaplain in Touro Hospital in New Orleans.
“It’s an interfaith chaplaincy. we serve anybody, we go to their room and give them a message of hope, and try to serve them if they want to pray, or if they want reading material, or if they just want someone to talk to this. And I love it. Just about a little more than music! Sometimes I sing, if they want, so it’s wonderful.”
She and the rest of the chaplaincy team can’t be with the patients just now. So, “we pray from our homes for the people. And so, the prayer and heart is still there. We just can’t be present.”
It’s challenging work, especially, Louise says, going to the oncology ward. But, “I have some amazing experiences. And I have to tell you that with some of the patients that I see, I walk out of there uplifted because of them. You meet so many amazing people. And it just gives me chills. I can’t wait to go back.”
So, I asked her, how is she coping in the present challenging circumstances, she told me that “everything is under the umbrella of my faith in God,” and quoted a few verses from Proverbs:
“My son, pay attention to my words and be willing to learn; Open your ears to my sayings. Do not let them escape from your sight; Keep them in the center of your heart. For they are life to those who find them, And healing and health to all their flesh. Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.”
As well as that, she’s sustained by her family and her music. She says she wants “to connect with and improve the human condition with my music.” On the evidence of Mélange Louise Cappi is certainly doing her bit on that score.