The Music of Randy Newman (Motéma Music)

Roseanna Vitro 

Released May 10, 2011

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2012




“It’s a great honor to have musicians of this quality devote themselves to doing these really great versions of some of my songs. I feel about it much the way I did when Harry Nilsson did an album of my songs. Roseanna is a great artist.” – Randy Newman

With the release of The Music of Randy Newman, her debut CD for Motéma Music, Roseanna Vitro stakes a claim as the first jazz vocalist to explore the richly melodic, sharply observant Randy Newman songbook. Having previously covered the music of American icons Ray Charles and Bill Evans in acclaimed album-length projects, Vitro relished the challenge of selecting material from Newman’s vast catalog.

“What I love about Randy Newman is his ability to tell a story, and the fact that his music is Southern-flavored with a real taste of New Orleans,” says Vitro, an Arkansas native who cut her musical teeth in Texas. “It provides me with a rare opportunity to delve deep into my roots. I felt so at home singing his songs, I could make three albums of his music.”

Working closely with veteran pianist and longtime collaborator Mark Soskin, Vitro infuses Newman’s songs with her soul-deep feel for blues and gospel. Vitro credits the concept to her husband, sound engineer and producer Paul Wickliffe, an idea planted by her yearning version of Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” on her 2006 album Live at the Kennedy Center.

The project is very much a collaboration with a brilliant cast of musicians, including Mark Soskin, whose long history with Sonny Rollins and his band goes back to the 1970s and who currently teaches at the Manhattan School of Music; rising violin star Sara Caswell, heard recently with Esperanza Spalding’s Chamber Music Society and Mark O’Connor’s American String Celebration; percussion ace Jamey Haddad, currently with Paul Simon’s band; guitarist Steve Cardenas, now touring with Ben Allison and Jenny Scheinman; and Vitro’s working rhythm section of bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tim Horner, both featured on Live at the Kennedy Center.

For the new CD, Vitro and Soskin developed arrangements that flow from the contours of Newman’s incisive lyrics and the implied orchestrations of his piano playing. The disc opens with “Last Night I Had a Dream,” in a propulsive Latin groove, and also includes Vitro’s highly personal takes on “Sail Away,” “Baltimore,” “I Will Go Sailing No More,” and Newman’s 2002 Oscar winner “If I Didn’t Have You,” recast as a bossa nova.

Although Newman’s work as a film composer goes back several decades (he received two Academy Award nominations for Ragtime in 1981)—contemporaneous with his career as recording artist—in recent years he’s emerged as Hollywood’s favorite tunesmith. His music has played an essential role in more than a dozen hit films, including The Natural, Meet the Parents, and the Toy Story trilogy.

The fact that Newman’s music is so well suited for movies is just possibly genetic. Three of his uncles—nine-time Oscar winners Alfred Newman, Lionel Newman, and Emil Newman—were esteemed Hollywood composers, and today his nephew Joey Newman and cousins Thomas Montgomery Newman and David Newman are successful film and television composers.

“If you look at the American Songbook,” says Vitro, “most of that work was created for film and theater. Randy Newman is actually expanding the definition of the American Songbook.” “Randy’s stories have touched me for a long time,” says Vitro, “and hopefully, as I sing these songs, my listeners will find something that touches them as well.”

Track Listing:

1. Last Night I Had a Dream (Randy Newman) 4:55

2. Sail Away (Randy Newman) 5:48

3. If I Didn’t Have You (Randy Newman) 6:16

4. Everytime It Rains (Randy Newman) 4:05

5. Baltimore (Randy Newman) 5:59

6. In Germany Before the War (Randy Newman) 4:35

7. Mama Told Me Not to Come (Randy Newman) 4:36

8. I Will Go Sailing No More (Randy Newman) 6:06

9. Feels Like Home (Randy Newman) 6:02

10. Losing You (Randy Newman) 5:17


Roseanna Vitro: vocals

Mark Soskin: piano

Dean Johnson: bass,

Sara Caswell: violin

Tim Horner: drums

Steve Cardenas: guitar

Jamey Haddad: percussion

Produced by Paul Wickliffe & Roseanna Vitro

Arranged by Mark Soskin & Roseanna Vitro


Randy Newman is an American treasure hidden in plain sight. An Academy and Grammy Award-winning soundtrack composer since the 1980s, a decade earlier, Newman established himself as a preeminent American song writer with Randy Newman (Reprise, 1968), 12 Songs (Reprise, 1970), and Sail Away (Reprise, 1972), and his songs have been covered by everyone from Three Dog Night to Joe Cocker. Few popular American songwriters have captured Americana as well as Newman. 
Singer Roseanna Vitro and Newman share a Southern heritage, with her birthplace being Hot Springs, Arkansas, while Newman lived in New Orleans when growing up. The South is a potent metaphor for Newman and an equally potent aural reminder for Vitro. The singer cultivates a band with a red-dirt, organic sound that bridges well the distance between Newman’s music and jazz. 

Vitro’s approach dovetails well with the “Frontier Jazz” concept favored by Houston singer Jacqui Sutton on Billie and Dolly. The ubiquitous presence of Sara Caswell’s violin (or “fiddle,” if you will) gives Vitro’s sophisticated interpretations a rich roux aroma: warm and inviting. 
“Last Night I Had A Dream,” from Newman’s Sail Away, is given an hard Latin Treatment, with pianist Mark Soskin perfectly navigating the descending Latin scales. “Sail Away” is treated with respect, Vitro stripping Newman’s sardonic tone, while “Mama Told Me Not To Come” is a swinging treat full of fun anxiety. Vitro fully embraces Newman’s fireside demeanor on the vignettes “Baltimore” and “In Germany Before the War,” recasting the pieces and revealing Newman’s importance to us all.

C. Michael Bailey (All About Jazz)