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Singer Connie Evingson celebrates St. Paul-born jazz great

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Dave Frishberg
Even though Dave Frishberg hasn't lived in the state for 50 years, the highly-regarded pianist/songwriter/singer still considers himself a Minnesotan.
Photo courtesy of Dave Frishberg

When Connie Evingson decided to make a CD of songs by Dave Frishberg, she faced the difficult task of choosing which ones to record. Once she had narrowed down 30 of her favorites to just fourteen, she had another challenge.

"These songs are not easy to sing," she says. "I really underestimated that. I did not realize until I started working with the material that they are really hard."

Connie Evingson
Local jazz singer Connie Evingson honors singer/pianist/songwriter Dave Frishberg with her new CD, "Little Did I Dream."
Photo courtesy of Connie Evingson

Evingson calls her new CD "Little Did I Dream." It captures much of Frishberg's broad range as a songwriter, from his wry and witty songs to ones that are more wistful and poignant. 

Listeners to the disc also get to hear the St. Paul native's talents as a pianist. He came to the Twin Cities from his home in Portland, Oregon for the recording sessions and Evingson says he played on every track. 

"He knows about how a singer sings," she says. "It was really easy recording with him.  There was no stepping on each other's toes. He followed me, I followed him. It would be a dream to work with him on a regular basis."

Dave Frishberg is one of those rare jazz pianists who enjoys accompanying singers. He's been doing it ever since he left Minneapolis/St. Paul for New York City in the late 50s. One of his first jobs was with the legendary Carmen McRae.

Frishberg prefers playing for singers who have a strong musical intuition; singers like Connie Envingson. He cites her version of his song "Wheelers and Dealers" as a good example. 

"She was just learning it in the studio, I think," he says. "She hit upon a way of phrasing the first few lines that was so much better than what I had written. I thought, 'Wow, that's really hip.'"

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The wit and craft of Dave Frishberg's songs like "Wheelers and Dealers" has led to comparisons to such great songwriters of the past as Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, who, like Frishberg, were also performers. 

Los Angeles-based jazz journalist and critic Scott Yanow says Frishberg is arguably the top living lyricist and believes the best of his songs will become lasting standards.

"That's partly because of the quality and partly because there are not that many songwriters around today who are doing material like this," he explains. "Jazz and cabaret singers are quite often stuck doing Cole Porter and Gershwin songs which, as classic as they are, are sixty to seventy years old. Dave Frishberg's songs are written for today. More singers should discover his material because most can find three or four of his songs that will fit in their repertoire."

Playing tenor saxophone on Connie Evingson's new CD collection of Dave Frishberg songs is Twin Cities musician Dave Karr. The two Daves have been close friends since the early 1950s when they both attended the University of Minnesota and played in jazz groups. 

Evingson says one of the reasons she wanted to make the CD was to bring them together to play music again. For Karr there was a sense of deja vu when they began to record in Minneapolis. 

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"As we were standing in the main studio we remarked that in 1954 we were standing in the same place doing a little acetate that we made out of our own pockets for our own amusement," Karr says. "That's the only other time I recorded with Dave."

Dave Karr served in the Korean War before attending the U of M. He's a few years older than Dave Frishberg. When Karr arrived on campus and the two began playing together, Frishberg says the tenor saxophonist became one the biggest influences on his life and music. He lists Karr along with famous jazz greats Al Cohn and Zoot Sims as as one of the most gifted musicians he ever met.

"He was the best musician I had met in my life up to that point," Frishberg says admiringly. "He was the first real artist that I got to work with. He turned everybody's head around. All the local, young musicians in town were just thrilled to have him on board."

Dave Frishberg will be in the audience at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis for the release party for Connie Evingson's CD of his songs, "Little Did I Dream." He might even join Evingson, his old friend Dave Karr and the rest of the band on stage for a few numbers.