The film’s star, Steve Martin, encouraged Tyrell to record an entire album of standards. Though Tyrell doubted that such an album would, at the height of the grunge movement, have much of an audience, he self-produced A New Standard, released by Atlantic in 1999. An instant bestseller, it established Tyrell, at age 54, as a major jazz voice, paving the way for a stellar nightclub, concert and recording career that has included seven additional albums on Billboard’s Top 5 Jazz chart.
Now, for I’ll Take Romance (due February 7, 2012), his ninth album release and Concord debut, Tyrell is expanding upon his role as newlyweds’ favorite serenader. “Most of my albums have been collections of love songs,” he says. “But I haven’t done a studio album of just romantic standards since Songs of Sinatra in 2005. I realized that my music is now played at countless weddings, engagement dinners and anniversaries, and it occurred to me that nobody has ever created an entire album for people getting engaged and married. But what really inspired the concept was that, last December, President Clinton came with Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea to see me at the Café Carlyle [where Tyrell has, as the chic Manhattan nitery’s annual holiday season headliner, attracted SRO audiences since 2005 where he replaced the legendary New York icon Bobby Short]. He told me that at Chelsea’s wedding, for his first dance with her, he chose my version of ‘The Way You Look Tonight.’ Then, this past summer, Nick Lachey married Vanessa Minnillo in the Caribbean, and she hired me, as a surprise to him, to come out and sing ‘A Kiss to Build a Dream On.’ So I figured it was a good idea to put together a collection of romantic songs for weddings.”
But I’ll Take Romance, which features Tyrell’s original recording of “The Way You Look Tonight” as a bonus track, also harkens back to his earliest days in music. In addition to such Great American Songbook gems as “That’s All,” “Taking a Chance On Love,” “All of You” and the title track, Tyrell covers a host of R&B classics, including the Etta James hits “At Last” and Trust In Me,” Sam Cooke’s “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” and Little Willie John’s “Talk to Me.”
“I grew up in the 5th ward of Houston,” Tyrell recalls, “and was the only white boy for miles. So, I was raised on a mixture of my Italian parents’ music – standards sung by Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Dean Martin – and music from the neighborhood, where I heard Louis Jordan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. I started singing at 15 in a white R&B band and was also the singer for an all-black band, and both bands only did R&B songs. We didn’t cover Bobby Vee or The Beach Boys, but Otis Redding, Ben E. King, Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler and Ray Charles, who to this day remains my favorite singer of all time. This album has that flavor in it, and is closer to my roots that any of my other ones.”
Tyrell also wanted to include a couple of songs that much of his audience would be discovering for the first time. During the 1960s, when he was a player in pop’s celebrated “Brill Building Sound,” Tyrell became close friends, and subsequently partners, with the hit songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. From the vast Mann-Weil catalog, he has selected the relatively obscure gem. “You Turn Me Around.” Written in the early 1970s (and originally recorded by Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers), says Tyrell, “it’s a real find. It’s a song I’ve known for a long time, and always wanted to do.” Of newer vintage is David Foster and Linda Thompson’s “A Love That Will Last,” first recorded by Renee Olstead for her 2004 eponymous album (produced by Foster). “The first time I heard Renee’s album, “Tyrell explains, “I told David and Linda that song had the feel of a great, old standard.”
Rounding out the 12-track playlist is “Don’t Know Much,” also written by Mann and Weil with Tom Snow, and another song linked to Tyrell’s vibrant musical history. Back in 1986, when Mann and Weil were working with James Horner to create songs for Steven Spielberg’s animated film An American Tail, Tyrell suggested to Linda Ronstadt that one of the tunes, “Somewhere Out There,” originally intended for a group of cartoon mice to sing, would be perfect for her. She recorded it with James Ingram; it played over the film’s end titles-- Tyrell’s idea which had not been done in an animated feature. That collaboration went on to win two Grammys (including Song of the Year) and an Oscar nomination, and reached #2 on the Billboard pop chart. Three years later, when Ronstadt was preparing what would become Cry Like A Rainstorm – Howl Like the Wind featuring Aaron Neville, Tyrell not only suggested she include “Don’t Know Much,” but also produced it for her and Neville with her manager Peter Asher. Again reaching #2 in Billboard, it is, to date, Ronstadt’s last million-selling single and earned both her and Neville a Grammy win for Best Vocal Performance.
In addition to the musicians backing Tyrell on “The Way You Tonight,” I’ll Take Romance features nearly 20 different accompanists, including four pianists, four bassists and four drummers in various combinations. The reason, he says, is that, “I’m always recording. When I get an idea, I record it. It’s like a painter who has a studio with all sorts of canvases in various stage of development. Most of these tracks were newly recorded for the album, but others I’ve been working on for years. That’s why you’ll hear the late, great drummer Johnny Guerin [who died in 2004] playing on ‘That’s All’ and ‘You Turn Me Around.’”
Additionally, I’ll Take Romance showcases several stellar soloists, including five time Grammy-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist David Mann (who also plays flute on “Talk to Me” and “All of You”), legendary Sinatra and Nat King Cole saxophonist Plas Johnson and harmonicist Will Galison. Another special guest is vocalist Judith Hill, Tyrell’s duet partner on the album’s title track. Tyrell first encountered Hill when he was producing Rod Stewart’s Soulbook (released in 2009). “She was singing backup on the Stewart album,” he says, “and I fell in love with her voice, so I asked her to sing on my record. At the time, she was about to go out on tour with Michael Jackson. She was going to sing all the duets with him – you can see her in the film This Is It. He was going to introduce her to the world. She’s an incredibly talented, beautiful girl, and is going to be a big star.”
As for his recently forged relationship with Concord, Tyrell says he is “thrilled” about joining the label. “I’ve been a big fan of John Burk [Concord’s Executive VP and head of A&R] for a long time. As I stated earlier, Ray Charles is my favorite artist of all time, and John produced Ray’s final studio album [2004’s Genius Loves Company] that won [a Grammy for] Album of the Year. John was the one who signed me, and he’s helped a tremendous amount with this album. He is somebody I really admire.”