Every picture tells a story. It’s a time-honored phrase, but it’s not always true.
Take South Florida-based vocalist Deborah Silver (www.deborahsilvermusic.com). Even if you know that she’s a veteran singer well-versed in jazz and adult contemporary styles, and see images that indicate the look of a classic cabaret artist, those elements are only part of her tale.
Especially in the COVID-19 era that’s gripped the world for much of 2020. Silver had a concert performance scheduled at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts’ Marshall E. Rinker Sr. Playhouse on April 5 that was canceled, as most live shows were worldwide for safety reasons since March. As it turned out, the vocalist had contracted the virus and couldn’t have performed anyway.
“We were rehearsing for that show, and I made the mistake of using the same microphone as someone who was feeling ill,” she says by phone from her home in Boca Raton. “I caught double pneumonia along with COVID-19, and couldn’t test negative for it for the next 40 days. Then I isolated from my family for the next 18 days afterward, just to make sure I didn’t pass it on to anyone else.”
Silver was rehearsing, in part, to debut songs from her new third album. Glitter & Grits also features producer, singer/songwriter and guitarist Ray Benson and his 50-year-old, 10-time Grammy Award-winning Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel on its 13 standards.
Its first single, “I Got Rhythm,” literally puts a new spin on the George and Ira Gershwin jazz standard. Its second, the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer chestnut “That Old Black Magic,” jumped to #3 on the iTunes jazz chart shortly after its release. Silver has even had Glitter & Grits promotional facemasks produced, a literal sign of the times.
Recorded in Austin, Texas, the new CD features Benson on guitars and in a vocal duet with Silver on the early jazz standard “Ballin’ The Jack,” plus contributions from pianist Floyd Domino, steel guitarist Eddie Rivers, violinist/mandolinist Dennis Ludiker, guitarist Rick McRae, bassist Josh Hoag, drummer David Sanger, harmonica player Mickey Raphael (from Willie Nelson’s band), saxophonist John Mills, and backing vocalists Katie Shore, Elizabeth McQueen, Leesa Humphrey, LaVie, and T. Hatcher.
“Ray was amazing to work with,” Silver says. “He brought in some of the original, founding Asleep at the Wheel members, plus some current touring members, and it was just a fantasy land for me. We combined jazz with Americana and a little bit of country to create a new sound, and it’s been very well-received so far.”
Even if you’ve seen a live performance by Silver, you may not have necessarily known what led up to it, or to this juncture in her career.
For one thing, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that she was born and raised in Indianola, Miss., or eventually left the Deep South to attend Washington University in St. Louis. She then relocated to Southern California and then the Washington, D.C. area, and ended up living in South Florida 15 years ago. Her geographics are as diverse as her musical palate.
“I’m from the same area in Mississippi as B.B. King was, and I knew him,” Silver says. “A lot of my musical influence came from soul and blues, like a lot of people. For me, it’s been channeled through jazz standards and, obviously more recently, Texas swing.”
After her college graduation, Silver moved to Los Angeles, where she made important industry connections before starting her jazz recording career. And her 2012 independent debut Pure Silver was made, in part, for humanitarian reasons. Her sister had been diagnosed with the progressive neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2009, and one of Silver’s several projects to fund research included donating 100% of the album’s sales proceeds toward combating the illness, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“I’ve always tried to be philanthropic,” she says. “When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I wanted to do something for the people in need there, not far from where I came from. I arranged to have nine 18-wheel trucks deliver food, baby formula, diapers, water and medical supplies. Some even got there before the government relief arrived. Both of my grown children have formed charities as well.”
Silver’s 2016 sophomore recording, The Gold Standards, was another collection of jazz standards interpretations, including duets with Jack Jones (on George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got a Crush on You”) and Ann Hampton Callaway (Billy Hill’s “The Glory of Love”). Produced by Steve Tyrell, the release topped the Billboard Traditional Jazz Album chart, and helped Silver earn praise from another iconic producer.
“Deborah Silver’s strong and sultry vocals are seductive and soul-soothing,” says Quincy Jones. “Whatever she sings, she owns, making every note matter.”
Tyrell also collaborated with Silver and the vocalist/pianist Freddy Cole, who died last month at 88, on last year’s video recording of “Orange Colored Sky.” The standard is best-known for its 1950s interpretation by Cole’s brother, the late jazz legend Nat King Cole, and was filmed to commemorate what would’ve been his 100th birthday.
“She’s a fine singer; a good entertainer, and she knows how to pick her material,” Freddy Cole said in a promotional video for the song.
And collaborators, like Benson.
“Ray and the band were so incredible to work with,” Silver says. “So much so that we’ve discussed another possible collaboration. And I really look forward to performing live again, I love the excitement of being there in front of an audience. When venues are finally able to start presenting live shows again, I’ll love it that much more.”