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Judy Wexler on 'Dreams and Shadows'

From the evidence on her new second album, Dreams & Shadows, Judy Wexler can sing almost anything.

Wexler can be slow and sad without being goopy. She can straight-out swing, and she can take a classic jazz riff and keep riffing, even with words. Not bad for someone who says she didn't necessarily grow up with jazz.

"My whole life, I've been involved with music and studying it," Wexler says. "But with the jazz idiom, it's actually not something that I grew up per se with. It's something that I came to later in life."

Well, sort of.

"Well, actually, I was [listening to jazz]," she said. "I lied. My dad had music on all the time ... and my father was — he loved to sing. He was always singing. And my mother and he would dance in the living room -– put on music and dance. And that was very joyful."

Susan Stamberg spoke with the jazz vocalist about the tunes on her new record.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

If I Only Had a Brain

From The Wizard of Oz -- "my favorite movie," Wexler says -- comes this tune, written by Harold Arlen. But the song's comic sadness comes from lyricist Yip Harburg. "It is a lament," Wexler says. "You know, 'If only I were smarter, you'd be with me.' But there's something very self-effacing and joyful in admitting it, I think."

Bye Bye Country Boy

"Bye Bye Country Boy" spins the tale of a worldly singer's whirlwind fling with a young man who came to see her perform. It was written and first performed by Blossom Dearie. "Blossom is unique and inimitable," Wexler says. "She has a girlish, sweet, innocent quality that really communicates the lyric in a pure, sincere, heartfelt way."

Pent Up House

Sonny Rollins first recorded his up-tempo tune "Pent-Up House" in 1956. Wexler's version, with words written by her bassist, transforms it into a song about a harried mother. "I always said, 'I want to learn this tune. I must do this tune,'" Wexler says. "And when we were picking songs for the CD, I thought one way for me to be sure that I learn this tune is to record it."

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