Antoinette Montague – Behind the Smile

Antoinette Montague
Behind the Smile
In The Groove – 2010

For Behind the Smile, Montague assembled the same jazz masters she worked with on her debut album, Pretty Blues. She credits the band with having “immense artistry and a wealth of credits” – pianist Mulgrew Miller (Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Branford Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves); saxophonist, clarinetist and flutist Bill Easley (Duke Ellington Orchestra, Benny Carter, Ruth Brown, George Benson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Isaac Hayes, Dakota Staton); drummer Kenny Washington (Lee Konitz, Betty Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Joshua Redman, Phil Woods); and bassist Peter Washington (Art Blakey, Benny Green, Lionel Hampton, Marlena Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Michal Urbaniak). Kenny Washington produced, Montague executive produced, and Miller and Montague arranged the material.

Montague wrote the title tune, “Behind the Smile,” and uses that theme as the general concept behind most of the selections on the album. “I find it interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking, to look beyond people’s smiles. Sometimes smiling faces tell lies. Other times someone puts on a brave smile with a lot of pain behind it. Some smiles are hopes to get other people to smile, but just as often there is embarrassment or a broken heart just behind those upturned lips. Or it could be a smile of love or spiritual connection.”

Antoinette’s most astounding interpretations on the album are two Motown soul songs from the Sixties and early Seventies — Smokey Robinson’s “Get Ready” (a big hit by both The Temptations and Rare Earth) and Marvin Gaye’s timeless political masterpiece “What’s Going On.” Both tunes are re-imagined as swingin’ jazz pieces. “These are just wonderful songs that deserve jazz treatments. I believe the best way to preserve the Great American Songbook is to include more music in it, to expand the decades. The second half of the last century is the second section of that great songbook.”

But Montague does not forsake the original Great American Songbook either. She includes an uptempo version of “The Song Is You” by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II (“one of my favorite versions is Nancy Wilson with Cannonball Adderly”), along with Duke Ellington’s 1938 “Lost in Meditation” (“This is just church to me”). Montague also offers fresh takes on somewhat obscure material with Ray Noble’s “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” (“I heard Sarah Vaughn do it with a big band, but I decided to make a bossa nova out of it”), and a version of “Meet Me at No Special Place.”

Antoinette brings her own special passion to the Dave Brubeck-penned “Summer Song” (“I always loved the Louis Armstrong and Carmen MacRae version”),  the theme song for the Sixties TV show “The Naked City” (“Ten Thornton originally sang ‘Somewhere in the Night,’ and after I met her I decided to incorporate it into my show”), and Ellington’s “23rd Psalm” (“Mahalia Jackson’s original version was done more like a dirge, so I tried to breathe new life into it with a fresh arrangement”). Two tunes were inspired by her mentors — Carrie Smith taught her the Big Bill Broonzy bluesy “Give Your Mama One Smile,” and Etta Jones was known for “Ever Since The One I Love’s Been Gone.” The latter piece (with a few words changed) is dedicated to the memory of both Antoinette’s sister Barbara Montague Mousa and good friend Phillis Womble, who both died while Antoinette was selecting material for this CD. Montague’s slow, powerful and passionate singing of the tune is a fitting tribute.