by Constance Tucker
Darrian Ford is not a newcomer to the spotlight. Born in Chicago, Ford began his professional theater career at age thirteen in Oscar Brown Jr’s The Great Nitty Gritty. At Fifteen the multi-talented Ford joined The Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theater and at age ninteen Ford moved to NYC to dance in the companies of Alvin Ailey and Donald Byrd/The Group. He made his Broadway debut as Charlie in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair, and then onto The Who’s Tommy (B’way/First National), Smokey Joe’s Café, for which he won The Black Theater Alliance Award for Best Actor in a Musical, and the First National tour of The Color Purple. Some of his Television highlights include co-starring opposite Halle Berry in HBO’s Introducing Dorothy Dandrige as Fayard Nicholas of the legendary Nicholas Brothers. He also had a recurring role on Disney’s That’s So Raven. In addition to a dozen appearances on daytime talk shows as musical guest, he has been featured on several of his Broadway colleagues’ albums, original workshop recordings and concept albums. Most notably Ford is well-known for his musical show, The Cooke Book, featuring the music of Sam Cooke, which he tours around the country.
Did I take your breath away, well get ready, because here comes a stunning debut full-length album from Darrian Ford entitled New Standards. A wonderful array of original vocal jazz tunes with a respectful nod to the legacy of vocal jazz, performed in a soulful way, with a impressive instrument in Ford’s voice. There is an immediate recognition of a slice of Al Jarreau in his voice that gives the album a reminiscent excitement of vocal prowess.
“Loose Cotton Shirt,” written by Ford, Ben Joseph and Felton Offard is a breezy Latin tune that is eloquently penned, the lyrics are poignant and punctuated by flutist James Perkins Jr. and percussionist Zach Himelhoch, with the supple and soulful backing vocals performed by Cortini A Harris, Kelly Craig, Dawn Smith, Michael Simmons, Robin Da Silva and Jessica Gross. The production on this album is first-rate, and Ford’s voice is divinely masculine, agile and a versatile instrument, his ease of chest voice and transition to head voice is seemingly flawless. As high notes are hit with powerful clarity, while his rhythmic command is enlightened.
Together Ford and guitarist Larry Brown, Jr. have created an anthem to absentee fathers “Fatherless Son.” This tune is a journey of recognition that love is to give and to learn from and that sometimes the most loving lessons are found in the gem of forgiveness and the recognition you may not be the person who walked out on you, but the person who will not walk out too. Ford is a true wordsmith, these are not just a collection of well-performed tunes, they are transformative pearls of situational life, and how we are all living it. It is Ford’s outlook of the other side, the side that becomes and grows from life’s challenges. It can be heard in his voice, one of a honed and polished instrument that is competent and expresses in its highest form.
This review could not be complete unless I touched on “Not My Brother’s Keeper,” penned by Ford and John Cicora, who lends his flamenco guitar stylings on nylon strung guitar, along with trumpeter Constantine Alexander and Organist Ben Joseph who lend their masterful performances to the track as the tune builds, into a Cadenza punctuated by Ford and rhythmically driven by Alfonso Jones on drums. Ford elongates the ending notes, creating a striking ending to a passionate tune.
New Standards is a wonderful play on words of what our new standard of life should be towards each other as fellow human beings. There is a thematic message throughout Ford’s album, to dig deeper, to look beyond the catch phrase and to turn that thought inside out with the best of emotions that humans can give to each other; compassion, forgiveness, positive actions that go beyond the catch phrase of change, but to truly change the patterns and thoughts you put out into the world and how that can affect the overall collective mind and outcomes. Ford is a stellar lyricist, I can see how his traveling show of Sam Cook tunes has deeply influenced his songwriting to go beyond the standard, he can turn a phrase or idea like Michael Franks to engage the listener to think, but with the relevance of times like a Joni Mitchell, and back it up with fiery performances that enliven the soul. I cannot encourage you enough to check out this album, Ford is a new name for me, but certainly one that has seared a lasting impression. Highly recommended.