In the last few years, the jazz world has lost some fantastic songwriters- Jon Hendricks, Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough and a few years before that, Abby Lincoln and Blossom Dearie. So, maybe you’re thinking – where are the great jazz songwriters? Well, the good news is though we can never replace the names I mentioned, there are some wonderful writers who are singing, recording and releasing great songs right now. I’m going to single out three of my favorites who write songs that generally use the vocabulary of jazz in their writing- but each of them go a little beyond that- mixing in other genres , while moving jazz ahead-
I’m a jazz singer songwriter and I teach songwriting at UCLA extension and the Songwriting school of Los Angeles, so I’m very aware of the songs that are out at any particular time- “the good, the bad and the ugly”. But, in this article let’s single out “the very good”- three of my favorite practitioners of the art of songwriting today.

Lorraine Feather
When people ask me my favorite lyricist, I always mention Ms. Feather. She is a brilliant wordsmith with a rhyming ability that rivals the Great American songbook maestros that she pairs with a quirky, brainy yet modern sensibility that is irresistible for the listener. She’s been writing and recording since the Eighties- putting out lots of fine Albums (she also sings great) and has 8 Emmy and 3 Grammy Nominations to show for it. Here are three of my favorite songs of hers, but she’s got an incredible catalogue to check out.

You’re Outta Here – This song is sort of the best of Lorraine. A fun and sassy “laundry list song” telling a cheating lover goodbye from her album “New York City Drag” based on Fats Wallers “Minor Drag.”

I Always Had a Thing for You – this lyric Witten to Shelly Berg’s poignant melody is sort of an outlier for Lorraine because of it’s apparent simplicity. But because it’s Lorraine, there’s a clever conceit. According to the lyric, the person singing is also the writer writing the song- so she uses lines like “…and hope you like the turnaround in the very last line- the one that says how glad I’d be to find you always had a thing for me.” She naturally uses a “turnaround” while writing about a turnaround! I’ve recorded this one on my new album “Late Bloomin’ Jazzman” and I hope it will only be the first of many of Lorraine’s songs I’ll sing.

The Rules Don’t Apply – Why every singer of a certain age (Dianne Reeves and DeeDee Bridgewater are you listening?) hasn’t recorded this stunning ballad, music by Eddie Arkin is beyond me- The lyric outlining the wonderful concept that dreams don’t have an expiration date.

Also check out “In Living Black and White”, “I Know the Way to Brooklyn,” “The Veil,” “A Hopeful Note” and “We Appreciate Your Patience.”

Gregory Porter
When Gregory Porter started putting out albums about 15 years ago, I became an immediate fan of his gorgeous honey toned voice (think Nat King Cole meets Sam Cooke)- but I was also immediately struck with how wonderful his songs were. And he writes both music and lyrics to boot. His melodies can almost be Bacharach like in their beauty and richness, while his lyrics cover everything from straight out love, the Harlem Renaissance to dating a white girl and facing the hidden wrath of her father. He sometimes reminds s me of Bill Withers in his simplicity and after about 7 albums is constantly surprising me with his songwriting abilities.

Be Good – okay this three-quarter waltz which starts out sounding like Mancini’s “Dear Heart” is my favorite song written in the last ten years. What a neat concept. Gregory is metaphorically a lion in a cage hopefully in love with a somewhat capricious girl who he mistakenly thinks is named “Be Good” because she tells him that admonition so often. “She said lions are made for cages, just to look at in delight. You dare not let them walk around, cause they might just bite.”
If Love Is Overrated- a beautiful old school ballad- that could have been a hit back in the day from his most recent album “Rise.” Once again, the song seems simple but actually the sentiment is quite nice in its twist- Gregory asks “If love is overrated, let me be the one that is naïve. If love is overrated, let me be the one that is deceived.” Of course, we know he knows love is the farthest thing from overrated.

Take Me to The Alley – there’s a bit of the preacher in Mr. Porter and he definitely takes us to church in this song that he never fails to sing live. In the lyric he lets us know that if Jesus were around today, he would not be found  in houses gilded in gold, but in the alleys where the lost and afflicted are. Very powerful stuff.

Also check out, “Painted on Canvas”, “Mister Holland”, “On My Way to Harlem, “Water Under Bridges” and“Insanity”

Rene Marie

Renee Marie is such a good singer (Grammy Nominated with her knockout tribute to Eartha Kitt “I Wanna Be Evil”) that it’s almost easy to overlook her songwriting abilities. Her voice conjures up the plushness and strength of a Nancy Wilson singing at the Fairmont or Carmen McCrae at a little New York jazz boite. But her songs are every bit the match of her voice and should be more widely applauded and recorded. She left day a job well past her 20s to start recording for Maxjazz and her experience and savvy only make her that much better. She’s sassy and bold- He’ll she’s smoking a cigar on the cover of her album “Black Lace Freudian Slip” And I must admit I’d like to be her in another life and gender. She’s cool!

Black Lace Freudian Slip – this song has most of the things I love about Rene Marie’s writing. It’s sexy, brash and has wonderful wordplay. It talks about the audience’s expectations of her as a female entertainer and then what she’s willing to reveal—she does all this to a jumpin’ walkin’ bass-with the words and lyrics reverberating with echoes of the past, but strangely new and definitely “empowered”

This is Not A Protest Song” is a wonderful character study of people who are on the margins of society starting with Rene Marie’s aunt- there’s an honesty and specificity that is disarming and commanding. “My Aunt is stone crazy, she fell right thru the health care cracks…well she won’t go to a shelter so she gets her meals from a garbage can.” She makes the headlines of our times something personal.

Wishes – is a b guitar ballad with a gorgeous melody-  So many great lines I could quote the whole song but I especially dig “ Sittin’ in a café, amidst the smoke and perfume, my coffee cup’s my ashtray, and I’m way past my bloom. The last lonely women’s wishes are here on my glass and oh  I’m just another in a long line movin’ fast.”

Also check out

“Take My Breath Away”, “I Like You”, “Lost,“The Sound of Red” and “Rufast Dailiarg”

The bench of good Jazz songwriters in Jazz today is deep—and here are some more writers/performers who have written some fine songs that you should definitely check out.

Kurt Elling  (And We Will Fly)Gretchen Parlato (Wonderful), Jacob Collier (All I Need),Karin Allyson (Some of that Sunshine), Celeste McLorin Salvant (Moon Song), Jazzmeia Horn (Free Your Mind) and Alllan Harris (Autumn Has Found You).

Mark Winkler is a platinum award winning songwriter who’s had his songs recorded by such artists as Dianne Reeves, Claire Martin Sara Gazarek Sinne Eeg, Randy Crawford, Bob Dorough and Jane Monheit. He has a new album “Late Bloomin’ Jazzman” coming out in April 2022 featuring eight songs featuring his lyrics.