After years of recording and performing strictly in jazz settings, Hollie Baines is finally singing the blues—and exploring her truest musical heart on A Little Bit Blue, a unique and eclectic set of standards and pop songs that allows her to share a deeper side of her rich artistry and life experience.
The New Jersey based vocalist, who was smitten with the jazz bug years ago when she heard Sarah Vaughan’s landmark Sassy Swings Again, has always had a deep affection for blues and R&B. In creating A Little Bit Blue, Hollie—who released two standards oriented jazz albums in the 90s– finds freedom in forging connections between the genres and ultimately fashions the perfect hybrid recording. The singer worked on the dynamic arrangements of the ten tracks with her guitarist and musical director Doug Clarke, whom she has worked with for 18 years.
Hollie’s emotional vocals and lively phrasing are supported brilliantly by Clarke, longtime bassist Steve Varner, drummer Rudy Petchauer and Steve Jankowski, Baines’ co-producer who plays flugelhorn on a soulful, dreamy cover of “Rio De Janeiro Blue” and trumpet on the hard-swinging “Close Your Eyes”. Most of the saxophone solos and flute are played by John Simon, while veteran blues saxman Tommy Labella performs on the torchy blues driven opening track “Someone To Love” and “Rio De Janeiro Blue”.
To some degree or another, the songs Hollie selected for A Little Bit Blue—from Benny Goodman’s “Soft Winds” and Suzanne Vega’s “Caramel” to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Meditation” and Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away”—relate to slightly blue feelings about love. Taking a slightly different angle, she chose Joe Sample’s “Soul Shadows” (which was also recorded by Bill Withers with Sample’s group The Crusaders) as a tribute to the “shadows” of the blues and jazz artists and musicians whom she feels are channeling through her as she sings.
“A Little Bit Blue is my chance to let those shadows show, and I really enjoyed the collaborations with all of these wonderful musicians,” says Hollie. “I have been through many emotional changes in my life over the past ten years and in the process have learned to stand on my own two feet and to not rely solely on the opinions of others to define me. I had developed a reputation as a singer of classic jazz and was very comfortable there – but rarely gave myself an opportunity to show who I really am. This material and the approach I take to it with this great ensemble is a manifestation of where I have come to in my life.”
In 1994, Hollie assembled her first band Hollie Baines & Sauce, so named because the personnel would fluctuate from gig to gig. This ensemble, like the many she has worked with since, was dedicated to modern and energetic interpretations of classic and contemporary jazz and blues standards. Based in Little Silver, New Jersey (not far from Red Bank, hometown of Count Basie), Hollie has spent many years on the East Coast providing entertainment for private parties, weddings, corporate functions, political affairs, holiday parties and special events. Over the years, she has performed at The Rumson Country Club in Rumson NJ, the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia, and regularly at restaurants and clubs, including: Metropolitan Café in Freehold NJ, Lambertville Station in Lambertville NJ, The Downtown Café in Red Bank NJ and Downtime in NYC. Hollie has also been a featured performer at the Jazz in the Park summer series along Navesink River in Red Bank NY.
Hollie grabs the listener into her compelling bluesy heart and soul from the first saxophone notes of Tommy Labella on the soulful and emotional, sparsely arranged “Someone To Love”. Hollie taps into a touch of exotica on the sweet and wistful, easy swinging romance of “Meditation”, then allows the wind to whisper love to her on the sensual, gently percussive “Soft Winds”. The singer brings a wistful, bossa-lite vibe to Suzanne Vega’s “Caramel”, a clever song of longing and obsession featuring a snappy bass solo by Steve Varner. The heart of A Little Bit Blue is Joe Sample’s reflective “Soul Shadows”, which Hollie delivers smoothly and soulfully with tantalizing rising horn section and trumpet harmonies. Hollie has always been transfixed by the performance of “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” by Anita O’Day at the Newport Jazz Festival, and offers a sly interpretation with simple acoustic bass accompaniment. She calls the torchy, dreamlike “If You Could See Me Now” the album’s “slow dance song,” while her balmy take on “Rio De Janeiro Blue” (popularized by Joe Sample and Randy Crawford) makes for a whimsical romantic travelogue with a tinge of sadness. Hollie wraps the set with the swinging romantic invitation to “Close Your Eyes” and the liberating, high spirits of “Throw It Away,” a song about letting the sun shine through—even after a delightful set of blues.
FROM THE BEGINNING
Hollie Baines grew up singing in the church choir in rural Minnesota and started singing jazz when she attended college at SUNY Buffalo, where she sang in the chamber choir and had classical training. As a young mother, she began making extra money singing country music at local venues, then got the jazz bug via Sarah Vaughan’s Sassy Swings Again and recordings by Ramsey Lewis and Dave Brubeck. While she put her musical pursuits on hold to raise a family for quite a few years, Hollie felt as though she was saving up songs in her mind as ones she would eventually record and perform. She began performing regularly in the mid-90s and has done hundreds of shows in the two decades since. “I loved jazz because of the spontaneity,” she says. “Unlike in pop music, where you have to perform a certain song the same way each time, jazz opened me and the musicians I worked with to fresh ideas with each performance.” She released First Glance, her first recording of standards, in 1996 and returned in May 1999 with her second album, A Close Call With Love, which featured standards (including the quirky Jimmy Rowles tune “Peacock”) and the original title cut, which she co-wrote. In the intervening years between her early full-length recordings and now, Hollie has recorded various tracks including Michel Legrand’s “Once Upon a Summertime” and “Social Call”.