CLUB44 RECORDS has announced that Hand in Hand – the debut duet album from the married musical team of Julie Benko and Jason Yeager – is available for pre-order starting today, Friday, August 12. In addition, the album’s first single – a charming take on “Louisiana Fairy Tale,” the 1935 jazz classic popularized by Fats Waller – is also available today. The full album will be released on CD and in digital and streaming formats on Friday, August 26. The pair will celebrate the new recording with a New York concert at Birdland Jazz Club on Monday, August 29 at 7:00 PM. Tickets are available HERE, the show is also available globally as a livestream event HERE. Benko is a singer and actress who is appearing as “Fanny Brice” in Broadway’s Funny Girl through September 4, and then every Thursday starting September 8. Jason is an acclaimed jazz pianist and composer who has played concert halls around the world. Hand in Hand includes theater favorites (“People” from Funny Girl, “All I’ve Ever Known” from Hadestown), jazz standards (“The Nearness of You,”), and pop hits (“Mercedes Benz”), in addition to Yeager’s original songs. Benko is featured on vocals, clarinet, flute, and percussion, with Yeager playing piano, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, celeste, organ, and percussion. Hand in Hand is produced and arranged by Julie Benko and Jason Yeager. A special EPK about the album’s background can be viewed online HERE. Hand in Hand is available for pre-order HERE.
“Making this record was so rewarding because it feels like an extension of the beautiful intimacy of our life together,” says Julie. “Every single sound on the record was created by one of us. Making music together is one of the unique ways in which we can celebrate, support, and communicate with each other. The fact that we were the only two musicians on the record gave us freedom to be creative, and to try experiments that came to us spontaneously. We obviously have a real comfort together, which makes the musical process feel free and flexible. When I listen to the way we play together now versus the way we played together on my first record, it’s clear that our musical communication has taken major steps forward. Maybe that’s our marriage coming through; maybe it’s that we were quarantined together as our sole musical partners for over a year during the pandemic.”
“Every song that we chose has such a special meaning to us and has grown with us in our relationship,” Jason continues. “And then to be able to come home from the studio and set up microphones in our office and play around with adding extra musical layers, whether that was adding new instruments to the mix or backing vocals, was simply fun. At one point, we tried to capture our cat’s purr – his name is Thelonious Monk – and hide it in the percussion somewhere, but we couldn’t find a way without ruining the music. So, instead, we gave him a featured portrait on the back of the album artwork.”
With Benko’s Broadway roots, it was natural to feature several musical theater selections. Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s “People” from Funny Girl is included, with the pair offering a romantic, bolero-inspired piano-voice take on the material. “I especially enjoyed finding our own spin on the Broadway tunes,” explains Julie. “With ‘People,’ what are you going to do… copy Barbra? What’s the point of that? So we tried to find the spirit of the scene the song grows out of. It’s a moment of intimacy, reflection, and seduction, which led to our delicate version.”
On Anaïs Mitchell’s “All I’ve Ever Known” from Broadway’s Hadestown, the Tony Award-winning “Best Musical,” Jason plays piano, organ, and cajón with Julie singing lead and background vocals. The couple first saw the show Off Broadway in 2016 and were dazzled by both the music and imaginative retelling of this classic Greek myth. Julie said, “This is amazing! It will definitely come to Broadway!” Jason was more dubious, replying, “Nah. It won’t do well on Broadway. It’s way too cool.” Mitchell’s New Orleans-inspired score was a natural fit for the Broadway and jazz pair, who themselves share an obsession with the history and music of New Orleans. As newlyweds, the two were particularly drawn to this song, which Orpheus and Eurydice sing together at the beginning of their love story.
A lilting take on Frank Loesser’s “If I Were a Bell” from Guys and Dolls and Jason Robert Brown’s “Another Life” from The Bridges of Madison County help round out the record’s musical theater repertoire. Reflecting on the second song, Jason adds: “We love Jason Robert Brown because he has such a strong and specific musical voice that bends into jazz, folk, and Latin vocabulary at times. That feels like a natural fit for us, since we do the same. And we are doing what jazz musicians have always done: reimagining and improvising on great songs from the theater in a personal and expressive way.”
Several other selections reflect the couple’s love of New Orleans, including the standard “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” “It is our favorite place in the world,” Jason comments. “It’s the only city where jazz is celebrated in the streets. Julie even wrote a play – recently named a semifinalist at the 2022 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference – set in Storyville, which some consider the birthplace of jazz. After we visited the first time, we could not stay away from this magical place. We try to return every year. In the meantime, we drink coffee with chicory from Café du Monde every morning.”
A special highlight is the pair’s joyously raucous version of the Janis Joplin hit “Mercedes Benz.” “We know that Janis’s raw aesthetic and original a capella arrangement might make this song seem an unlikely choice for us,” says Julie. “We had no sheet music or particular arrangement, just a fun romp on voice and Wurlitzer, with Jason simultaneously stomping his foot. Later, we decided to overdub additional layers of clapping, keyboards, and more stomping. It helped create an enhanced tapestry of rock ’n’ roll magic that makes it feel as though a whole crowd is rocking out with us.”
In addition to their love of classic idioms and vintage tunes, Julie and Jason thought it was important to include new songs for a new generation. One of Jason’s original compositions, “Sweet Pea,” is dedicated to legendary jazz songwriter-pianist Billy Strayhorn – composer of “Take the A Train,” and Duke Ellington’s longtime collaborator – who lived just a few blocks from the couple’s Harlem apartment and whose nickname was “Sweet Pea.” The poignant second original, “Just Begun,” features a melody Jason composed for Julie to walk down the aisle to at their wedding. The lyrics were added for this album.
“I’m very excited to be teaming up with Club44 Records for this project,” Julie concludes. “The team has been incredibly supportive, cheering our music as a duo and cheering me from the audience of the August Wilson Theatre. We are thrilled to be working with such an enthusiastic, genuine, kind group of people to bring this music to the public.”
Joel Lindsey, co-founder and A&R Director of Club44 Records, adds “A colleague sent me a rough recording of Hand in Hand and said, ‘I know you’re not really looking for anyone new to sign right now, but I’d love for you to listen.’ She was right; we had our hands full and our release schedule was stacked up nicely the way we wanted it. But I gave it a listen anyway. By the third song, I was hooked! I started forwarding the project to other colleagues asking them to listen. There are a lot of reasons why a record company signs a project but, in this case, we simply fell in love with it and, once we met them, we fell in love with Jason and Julie! This may be the first you’re hearing of Julie Benko and Jason Yeager, but I promise you it won’t be the last!”
JULIE BENKO is an actress, singer, and writer currently marching her band out on Broadway as the standby for Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. She has performed on stages on and off-Broadway and across the country, including Broadway turns in Fiddler on the Roof and Les Misérables. She is a recipient of the Wilde Award for “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” for her performance as Girl in Once. She also received a BroadwayWorld Award nomination for “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” for her portrayal of Luisa in The Fantasticks, as well as Theatre Bay Area Awards and SF Critics Circle Awards “Best Featured Actress in a Musical” nominations for her turn as Bella in Rags. Julie’s debut jazz album, Introducing Julie Benko, is currently available on all streaming platforms. She lent her voice to the 85th Academy Awards and the 70th Tony Awards ceremonies, performed as a soloist with numerous symphonies, and earned the Gold Medal and the Johnny Mercer Award in the national American Traditions Vocal Competition. Her writing projects include the full-length play The District (a 2022 semifinalist at the Eugene O’Neill National Theater Conference) and the short film “The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy,” which has garnered awards at film festivals across the nation. She holds a BFA and MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. JulieBenko.com. Instagram/Twitter/TikTok @JujujulieBee
JASON YEAGER – the New York City-based pianist and composer – has performed across five continents at such noteworthy venues as Carnegie Hall, the Blue Note, Panama Jazz Festival, Qintai Concert Hall, and more. A two-time finalist at the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, Yeager has released five albums as a bandleader, including New Songs of Resistance (Outside in Music), which reimagines the nueva canción tradition and was praised as “one of the best albums of 2019 in any style of music” (New York Music Daily). In addition to Hand in Hand, Yeager will soon release Unstuck in Time: The Kurt Vonnegut Suite (Sunnyside Records), with his eponymous septet and special guest Miguel Zenón. A frequent accompanist and collaborator, Yeager has performed and/or recorded with such noteworthy artists as Luciana Souza, Ayn Inserto, Fleur Seule, Jason Palmer, Ran Blake, Jason Anick, and Noah Preminger, among others. Yeager is also Assistant Professor of Piano at Berklee College of Music, where he has taught since 2012. He graduated with honors from the Tufts University/New England Conservatory Double Degree Program, and holds a Master of Music from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute. For more, visit www.JasonYeager.com or follow @jyeagermusic on social media.
CLUB44 RECORDS – based in the Music City of Nashville, Tennessee – is a new independent label which aims to highlight the Broadway, cabaret and jazz genres, preserve the American Songbook, and provide a home for artists who represent this timeless music. Following their premiere studio release, Christmas at Birdland, the label has presented Love Notes, the latest album from Tony Award and Golden Globe winner Linda Lavin; Billy’s Place from Grammy Award winner Billy Stritch; Act One from rising vocal star Nicolas King; Jane Monheit’s Come What May, which celebrates the international Billboard #1 pop/jazz vocalist’s 20th anniversary as a recording artist; Spencer Day’s Broadway by Day, highlighting creative arrangements of theater standards; and Carol Sloane’s Live at Birdland, an intimate set captured at the legendary venue. Club44 Records also serves as the creative home of many other singers, instrumentalists and writers. All releases are distributed digitally through Green Hill Productions/ Universal Music Group and to retail outlets by Provident/Sony. Club44Records.com
JULIE BENKO and JASON YEAGER “HAND IN HAND” – Track List
1. All I’ve Ever Known (Anaïs Mitchell)
2. It Might As Well Be Spring (Richard Rodgers – Oscar Hammerstein II)
3. People (Jule Styne – Bob Merrill)
4. Louisiana Fairy Tale (Haven Gillespie – Mitchell Parish – J. Fred Coots)
5. Gainesville (Randy Newman)
6. Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? (Eddie DeLange – Louis Alter)
7. Me, Myself, and I (Irving Gordon – Allan Roberts – Alvin S. Kaufman)
8. Mercedes Benz (Janis Joplin – Bob Neuwirth – Michael McClure)
9. Sweet Pea (Jason Yeager)
10. If I Were Bell (Frank Loesser)
11. Just Begun (Jason Yeager)
12. Another Life (Jason Robert Brown)
13. The Nearness of You (Hoagy Carmichael – Ned Washington)
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