december 2011

Deborah Winters: guiding an incredible journey through the heart’s many battles with itself

Like Lovers Do

By David McGee

Deborah Winters
Jazzed Media (Released November 2011)

Bay Area-based pop-jazz vocalist Deborah Winters consolidates all her strengths on this, her third album. That is to say, there’s plenty here for those who enjoy her Ella-like forays into seemingly improvisational territory, and plenty of romantic ballads, slow and uptempo alike, for those who hear in her expressive voice, which can carry both hope and melancholy in the same phrase when need be, a contemporary stylist of the first rank who joins the likes of Diana Krall and Maude Maggart (the two established singers she most resembles) in the ranks of today’s top interpretive singers. On Lovers After All she has the good fortune to work with producer/arranger Peter Welker, whose sensitive orchestrations and sublime small combo settings are evidence of how tuned in he is to what the singer is trying to accomplish.

Tantalizing snippets of songs from Deborah Winters’s album Lovers After All

Winters gets into songs in different ways. In “How Am I To Know,” introduced in 1929 by Gene Austin but most famously associated with Billie Holiday—a strong influence on Winters’s vocal style as well—Welker fashions an arrangement with bossa nova inflections and a keening horn chart to support a trumpet-like vocal by Winters that expresses the dawning of new love in throaty, disbelieving ruminations and soaring exuberant phrases alike, which is actually closer to Austin’s original 1929 reading than it is to Holiday’s. Her rendition of Cole Porter’s witty mock-serious kissoff “Get Out of Town” finds her wary and flippant at once, her tone throaty and a bit sultry (some Julie London in there), until she gives way to scintillating, discursive solos by alto Andrew Speight and trombonist Scott Whitfield before reappearing to romp to the end in an excited upper register.

Deborah Winters, ‘I’ll Close My Eyes,’ a magnificent performance on the closing number on Lovers After All, with Dave Matthews on piano, producer/arranger Peter Welker on flugelhorn

But she can shelve those vocal gymnastics, immerse herself in a lyric, and become the story, as she does in probing Dietz and Schwartz’s beautiful love song “Haunted Heart,” where her judicious deployment of her aching upper register evokes the pain and pleasure of the feeling and sets the stage for lovely, thoughtful theme-and-variation solos by guitarist Randy Vincent and trombonist Whitfield, which in turn prep the mood for a plaintive closing plea with a beautifully controlled, emotionally resonant legato line near its end. Even more interesting, she takes Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” (originally an instrumental when it was introduced in 1943 as a segment of Duke’s extended composition “Black, Brown and Beige” before it was revisited in 1958 in a vocal version featuring none other than Mahalia Jackson) from its gospel incarnation into torch song territory with a brooding, moody vocal (supported by a somber, surging horn section) that draws out all the colors of her tonal palette, from dark to light, in enhancing the urgency of a plea for divine guidance, albeit now in matters of the heart rather than in a spiritual quest. The album closes on a resounding note but in a quiet way—on the pop chestnut “I’ll Close My Eyes” (written by Billy Reid and Buddy Kaye, introduced in 1945 by Dorothy Squires and recorded over the years by the Pied Pipers, Dinah Washington (with Quincy Jones and orchestra), Sarah Vaughan and Johnny Mathis, among others), Winters, working with fierce, smoldering commitment, asserts a vow of commitment to her lover. Supported only by Dave Matthews’s spare, introspective piano, and a lovely but pensive flugelhorn cry from Welker, Winters’s voice is freighted with deep, Vaughan-like gravitas that brooks no questioning as to its sincerity—she’s all in, unequivocally, and letting her man know it. With the fading of the last notes, you realize, possibly with a start, how Winters has taken you on an incredible journey through the heart’s many battles with itself as it seeks balance and connection with another. Like lovers do.

Deborah Winters’s Lovers After All is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024