Judy Wexler, For What It’s Worth Review
By Sylvannia Garutch
Judy Wexler is a long-standing touring and recording jazz vocalist that is a regular at jazz festivals, performing arts centers, and major jazz clubs both nationally and internationally. Wexler’s catalog includes five albums, all of which have topped the jazz charts and received stellar reviews. She is preparing for her six-album, Back To The Garden, later this year and is now releasing the first single, “For What It’s Worth.” Featuring Jeff Colella (piano), Larry Koonse (guitar), Bob Thiele, Jr. (electric guitar), Gabe Davis (bass), Steve Hass (drums), and Erin Bentlage adding background vocals. Wexler states, “I’m excited to announce that I’m releasing my 6th CD, BACK TO THE GARDEN. I chose 10 iconic protest, anti-war, and love songs from the 1960s that are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. Jeff Colella, my longtime pianist and arranger of 15 years, wrote some truly wonderful and creative jazz arrangements.”
“For What It’s Worth” was written by Stephen Stills and is considered an anti-war song. However, Stills has stated that the song was actually inspired by the Sunset Strip curfew riots in November of 1966. Either way, the song’s lyrics have a deep meaning and pulls emotions upon hearing them. On August 17, 2020, Billy Porter sang the song for the 2020 Democratic National Convention backed by Stills on guitar, which also marked the song’s resurgent use in the summer 2020 American protests. The arrangement is given a jazz feel while keeping the psychedelic rock beginnings at heart. Wexler’s voice is surrounded by a stellar ensemble, and Bentlage’s backing vocals are a plus. Wexler’s timbre is transparent and carries the melody with a bit of soul and emotion. Koonse’s guitar work is outstanding. Wexler’s falsetto singing at the climax is fitting and makes for a strong shape to the arrangement.
“For What It’s Worth” is a decisive moment, and bringing it into the jazz canon is only going to allow the song’s impact to grow even further. Supporting a worthwhile cause and enriching our musical catalog all in one pass. The song makes me very interested in Wexler’s upcoming album, Back To The Garden. However, the single lacks vocal quality with Wexler’s vocals; more power, blues, and jazz embellishments in her singing would be a better match to the stellar playing of the ensemble. So, I will be waiting to hear what else Back To The Garden offers before choosing to hit the download button.