Take my hand, won’t you, as we journey back to a golden era in Toronto’s musical history when session work was plentiful, television shows hired actual live bands and club gigs were multiple-night affairs. It’s a time spoken of with misty-eyed fondness by older musicians and singers struggling to make a living in music these days. Dianne Brooks was at the centre of it all as a first-call studio singer and versatile lead and backing vocalist. Brooks recorded and toured with a long list of top performers of the day such as Thad Jones, Count Basie, Dusty Springfield and Anne Murray and was also a member of the legendary 16-piece group, Dr. Music, led by the equally legendary keyboardist, Doug Riley.
It’s the late singer’s solo musical ventures in R&B and jazz, however, that are represented on this new release by producer Andrew Melzer. Melzer is a songwriter, musician and engineer who unearthed recordings from 1983 of Brooks’ live gig at George’s Spaghetti House, a hub for jazz in Toronto back in the day. Three tracks are included here – two of which are Gershwin standards – that feature Riley on piano, Tom Szczesniak on bass and Bob McLaren on drums. The first five tracks on the album were from two different sessions in L.A. from 1978 and 1980 and are very much of the era. A pop/R&B blend, they showcase the singer’s strong vocals and the keyboards of Grammy Award-winner, Don Grusin. My favourite of the five is Brooks’ funky take on Paul McCartney’s I’m Carrying. If you’re a fan of Brooks, or even looking for a little nostalgia trip, add From the Heart & Soul to your collection.