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Acclaimed singer Hilary Gardner grew up in Wasilla, Alaska infatuated with New York City. Her stunning recording debut, The Great City, is part love letter, part lament to New York and the big dreams it represents. Jonathan Schwartz has kept The Great City in consistent rotation on his radio program, and the album has garnered effusive praise from New York’s jazz community, including Will Friedwald (Wall St. Journal) and Terry Teachout (Arts Journal, Wall St. Journal).
In 2010, Hilary was chosen by the Frank Sinatra estate to appear as the live, onstage singer in Tony-award winner Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away. Backed by a 19-piece big band, Hilary sang solos and duets with Frank Sinatra in a performance hailed by critics as “wonderful” (Huffington Post), “elegant” (USA Today), and “terrific” (New York Observer).
Hilary performs as a leader throughout New York City, appearing regularly at Birdland, in addition to recent performances at the Café Carlyle, Symphony Space, and Jazz at Kitano. She is a frequent soloist with symphonies throughout the United States and has appeared with Connecticut’s Ridgefield Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, and New York’s Rochester Philharmonic. Multi-platinum recording artist Moby featured Hilary prominently on his 2009 release, Wait For Me (Mute Records/EMI).
The Great City is a graceful and intimate album, with nuanced band interplay enriched by lyrical instrumental solos. It’s sophisticatedly accessible, recalling classic records by Peggy Lee, Julie London, and Ella Fitzgerald. The album’s program of songs is refreshingly broad, featuring songs both urban and urbane by composers like Leonard Cohen, Vernon Duke, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, and Nellie McKay, among others. “I wanted to acknowledge the breadth of musical influences in my life while still making a cohesive musical statement,” Hilary says.
The album was tracked at Systems Two in Brooklyn, under the guidance of Grammy-winning producer Eli Wolf, and features sublime musical accompaniment by friends and NYC jazz mainstays Ehud Asherie, piano; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Elias Bailey, bass; Jerome Jennings, drums; Jason Marshall, saxophone; Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet, and Jon Cowherd, organ.
Hilary’s bittersweet rendition of “Autumn In New York” is both luxurious and filled with longing. She reinvigorates Vernon Duke’s classic standard, singing with understated elegance. On the title track, she sings with dynamic emotionality, vibrantly teasing out the love-hate duality pent up in the lyrics.
Her version of Tom Waits’ late-night ballad, “Drunk On The Moon,” evokes the original’s snapshot of blue smoke curling around neon signs and the beauty of the urban underbelly. Hilary authentically inhabits the song’s bruised and slumped-over emotionality with silken grace, smoothing out the melody without dulling the sentiment. “This song is how the city feels after a long night, coming home after a very late gig,” Hilary says.
The album concludes with poise and poignancy on “Manhattan Avenue.” Here, supported by Ehud Asherie’s virtuosic piano accompaniment, Hilary interprets the gritty, contemporary lyric with sophisticated intimacy. The simple grace of the song’s arrangement is a tribute to the telepathic interplay between Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday. That juxtaposition of sensibilities, timeless musicality melded with an in-the-now sentiment, poetically sums up The Great City.
“We knew right away that “Manhattan Avenue” would close the album, especially with the last line: Oh, but dreams come true/on Manhattan Avenue. That’s really the message of the album,” Hilary says. “This city is complicated, frustrating, and magical, and dreams do come true here. They certainly have for me.”