Singer, songwriter, pianist, Janell Rock started her professional career in the alternative nightclubs of Kansas City. Relocating to San Diego, she became a featured pianist at "Croce's" hip downtown jazz scene. She captured the Saturday night spotlight. Her creative talent and piano skills stole the show. Invited to travel internationally, Janell performed in Japan and Sweden as a guest artist. A career move to Seattle placed her lush layered sound squarely on the map. In 1992 Janell won Seattle's 8th Annual Lesbian Music Contest, performing one of her original songs. In 2004, she won an international award for Best Cabaret Song, for "Gertrude&Stein's,", from the Just Plain Folks organization. Recognized with songwriting awards both locally and nationally, her remarkable original songs exposed the heart of her musical ability. Moving beyond simple entertainment, she entered a world of creative expression that brought forth her exceptional debut CD "Quiet Thrill". "Performer," her 2nd album, will be released in February 2009.
News & Reviews
COMMUNITY IMPACT - JANELL ROCK, PERFORMER
Janell Rock was not what her name connotes. Not musically. Her music was jazz with a creamy pop accessibility. But personally, she was everything her name implies; a breast cancer survivor for 13 years, she finally succumbed to it eight months ago. She was in the recording studio just four days prior to her death working on a collection of songs for her second full length album. Unfinished, her longtime friend and fellow musician Sue Palmer took over the reins and completed Janell Rock, Performer with the co-production help of Linda Morton. Now available, Sue promises that no less than 50% of the purchase price of each CD will be donated to the Breast Cancer Fund, an entity that educates the public about contributing environmental factors and rallies for change. Sue has already made good on her promise: a record release party in San Diego that included blues legend Candye Kane already garnered over $4,000 for the non-profit.
Janell’s career began in her native Kansas as a piano club act. By moving to the west coast, she achieved honors that included winning Seattle’s 8th Annual Lesbian Music Contest in 1992. Her composition, “Gertrude & Steins,” about a women’s bar, won Best Cabaret Song, an international industry award, in 2004. When she was in better health, she toured Japan and Sweden.
On this posthumous release, some of her songs take on the cancer issue directly. “I’m Gonna Be OK” opens with a rhythmic, whispered chant of the title that evolves into a dark but defiant melody reminiscent of Carole King’s best work. “I Wonder What It’s Like” genuinely ponders the afterlife with only fleeting flecks of justified anger. The lyrics mostly marvel at all the other impossible-to-answer questions of this world. It’s fitting that Janell covers “Over The Rainbow” for her final collection. Like another special girl from Kansas once mused, “If happy little blue birds fly beyond the rainbow, why can’t I?” Janell is soaring high above it now.
"Janell Rock was a singer-songwriter who never made a national impact, but deeply touched her fans here with her svelte, jazz-inflected ballads. Her devotion to her craft was so great that she completed the vocals on one song for her second album from her sickbed, just four days before she died on July 8, after a long struggle with breast cancer. She was 53.
Tragedy struck Rock, whose second album, "Performer," will be posthumously released Sunday afternoon at a concert in her honor at downtown's all-ages Dizzy's (dizzyssd.com). All proceeds from the show will go to the nonprofit Breast Cancer Fund. Nearly half of "Performer's" 10 songs were completed by Rock in the last year of her life, according to top San Diego blues,jazz and boogie woogie pianist Sue Palmer, who is one of Sunday's featured artists. Also scheduled to perform are Candye Kane and singer-pianists Wendy Dewitt and Laura Jane. Kane's guitarist, Laura Chavez, will sit in with Palmer's Motel Swing Orchestra, and various spontaneous musical colllaborations are likely.
Palmer organized the tribute concert. She is also largely responsible for making sure "Performer" was released as a labor of love in Rock's memory.
"Janell oversaw nearly all the recording and mixing, and she had it all organized," Palmer said of the award-winning singer-songwriter.
"She wanted a legacy of some kind, because she was proud of her work and wanted to get credit for writing these songs. She'd love it if someone famous, like Sheryl Crow or Melissa Etheridge, would record one of her songs."
Rock was a formidable talent and her music will be prominently featured at Sunday's concert at Dizzy's.
Kane will sing "Gertrude and Steins," which she and Palmer recorded on Palmer's 2005 album, "In the Green Room." The Motel Swing Orchestra's Deejha Marie will provide vocals for "The Black Cat Cries," a standout tune from Rock's new album.
My advice: tape the Academy Awards and go give Rock her due. She deserves it."
George Varga, "Who Made You God?"
"This posthumous release of Janell Rock's final musical project will earn her more comparisons with k.d.lang or Linda Ronstadt than to the Kate Pierson persona on the cover. I picture Rock performing at a piano bar, sidled up to an always-full dirty martini (thanks, bartender!) with the lights down low, singing to a room full of dreamers and lonely hearts. Play on, Janell, wherever you are."
Celebrating the Life and Work of Janell Rock
"Janell Rock was a sultry singer and strikingly honest songwriter with small-town, raised on a fram, Kansas roots. Just last year Ms. Rock died at her home in San Diego after a long struggle with breast cancer. Her 2003 cd, "Quiet Thrill" garnered her a prestigious independent international music award. Recently the release of her posthumous cd "Janell Rock, Performer" was held at Dizzy's and the energy of world renown Candye Kane combined with Sue Palmer brings a smile to my face; Laura Jane was on hand at the event. The proceeds from the release went to the Breast Cancer Fund because Ms. Rock wanted her music to live on and be used to support the fund's efforts in eliminating the environmental causes of the disease. Her wish was that by supporting this important cause other women will not have to go through what she did with breast cancer."
Lavender Lens, San Diego
"Janell Rock succumbed to breast cancer in July of last year, and until four days before her untimely death she was in the recording studio, singing and playing piano, to complete her disk "Performer." Except for "Over the Rainbow," Rock wrote all the music and lyrics for the CD, each tune tinged or colored, or an outright meditation, on the disease that she fought and the loss of life that she faced.
A you have probably assumed, this is not a happy, carefree recording. And yet, surprising as it may seem, the overarching theme that Rock puts forth is one of hope. In a voice that is often plaintive, often quite strong, and sometimes revealingly weak, she sings that she can still be grateful, can still rejoice, can still fall in love, while being worn down with hospital stays and disappointing news from physicians.
Filled with the adoration of the lover, "Il Bella Amore" is as passionate a love song as any paean to teen love. Nonetheless, the song contains the lyric, "I fell in love as autumn leaves fell from above," and makes other references to the closing of the year, to fall and winter. Rock is caught up in the swirl of beating hearts and kisses, yet all around are chilling reminders of her life's shortness. Like "September Song" or "Autumn Leaves" these contrasts are greatly touching and carry a resolulte poignancy.
Directly confronting the hell of living with cancer is "I'm Gonna Be OK," which describes the inner strength needed to fight the inevitable fear that strikes in the night. Raw and emotional, Rock repeatedly sings the title refrain, that she will be OK, friends and family are near, that she will live. It is not a denial of death: Rock knew that she was dying. It is rather a rally to life, embracing the power that she had facing her disease.
There are preachers and sages who will illustrate and diagram the afterlife as if it were a program for a society ball. But when pressed as to where they cribbed their notes from, they're all a little sketchy as to their source material. When it comes right down to it, mortality is the greatest mystery. With "I Wonder What Its Like?" Rock contemplated the unknown that she faced. More pain? Angels? To know all the answers? to "forever disappear?" As the questions pile up, Rock finds solace in the things that give her life certainty, the love and emotions that have carried her through.
With the pairing of a strong and appealing tune with an equally well-crafted lyric, it's almost impossible to make a bad cover of "Over the Rainbow." Rock taps the tune's universal appeal, which goes beyond the yearnings of an unhappy girl on a Kansas farm. No matter how old we may grow, all of us from time to time would appreciate our troubles melting away like lemon drops.
Rock is the star of the show on "Performer," singing and playing piano, but she gets some help from some of San Diego's best musicians on a tune or two. You'll find the voice of April West and an accordian played by boogie queen Sue Palmer. Pete Harrison and Evonna Wascinski lay down bass lines; Phil Rawley plays the drums; and Karin Kajita plays piano on "Over the Rainbow." Profits from the sales of this disk go to the breastcancerfund.org.
Artist: Janell Rock
"I liked the bass in the beginning. Instead of just keeping the rhythm, it actually played the melody. I like how you can feel the emotion being portrayed throughout the song. It was definitely jazz - almost a little of the bebop era and kind of close to Anita O'Day. The lyrics were something like "the cat cries for the little girl." Metaphorically speaking, I took it to be about someone's heart crying.l I got a sense of longing. I can really see somebody like that picking up on the jazz circuit here in San Diego."......."as i hear it: san diego songs take the street test."
"A posthumous release, this album is a wonderful reminder of Rock's talent."
Bart Mendoza, FYI online column
"It's rare when a jazz singer writes most of her material, so Janell Rock deserves kudos for writing or co-writing all but two of the 12 cuts on her new album "Quiet Thrill." A former San Diego resident, Rock performed at Croce's and other local clubs before moving to Seattle in 1990. "You Again", which opens the album, has a catchy chorus and deft sax work. Rock's playful spirit shines in "Gertrude & Steins", about a fictitious women's bar, but mainly she explores journeys of the heart."
"Singer, songwriter, pianist, Janell Rock's sultry, distinct voice draws in her listeners with original love songs, on her debut album "Quiet Thrill." Rock is author and co-author of all but two of the 12 cuts. Eleven musicians are featured on the album, on bass, guitar, percussion, horns, piano and accordion. The album was nominated this year for an OUTMUSIC AWARD for OUTSTANDING DEBUT RECORDING-female.
"You Again," which opens the album, features some artful muted trumpet played by Jay Thomas with a driving rhythm in the background by bassist Clipper Anderson and drummer Mark Ivester.
"Million Butterflies," features some beautiful solos by Darren Motamedy on flute and John Raymond on lead acoustic guitar. The piano and rhythm section also work nicely together on the popular tune, "Let's Fall In Love," by T. Koehler and H. Arlen.
Steve Rice shines in a passionate blues solo in "I Can't Resist." "Rosewater," is another soulful ballad, in which pianist Janell Rock cleverly conveys the flow of water.
"Gertrude & Steins," a brassy cabaret tune about a women's bar, features a nice clarinet and piano duet. The song also provides a nice contrast to the album's slower ballads.
"Quiet Thrill," is a romantic album that you can dance to."
"It was the haunting gentleness that nudged my memory... she crosses boundaries of time and tastes... that really show the power of her voice."
"...the arrangements, musicians and her voice are all very good, what a great CD she's pulled together. I've also never heard contemporary jazz with such a lesbian flair, That was cool."
"Janell has graced us with her presence... talented, creative and versatile... her charisma captures an audience as only a true professional can. I highly recommend Janell Rock."
"When jazz musicians Janell Rock and pianist Billy Wallace (who has accompanied Dinah Washington, Carmen McRae and Nancy Wilson, among others) step up to perform, they shatter all concepts of "background music" and simply become crowd pleasers... her warm vocals, seem almost tangible enough to breathe. If the music was not soothing, then it was infectious. If it was not electrifying than it was relaxing and serene. Her original songs stood the test of time just as well as any covers she could have sung."