Everything Adds Up for Lorraine Feather

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Eddie Arkin (left) and Lorraine Feather frequently have collaborated on her albums, including Math Camp.

(Photo: Mikel Healey)

Inspiration truly can come from anywhere. For proof of that, look no further than vocalist Lorraine Feather’s decision to title her album Math Camp (Relarion) after hearing that phrase uttered on an episode of the TV show Frasier.

“One of [Frasier’s] many girlfriends was trying to get him to loosen up,” Feather said, speaking from her home in Massachusetts. “He said, ‘Fun’s been my name since math camp.’ I thought it was an appealing phrase, and it kind of stuck with me.”

It was only after working on the album for a while, writing songs with longtime collaborators Eddie Arkin and Shelly Berg, that the theme of science and mathematics started to emerge within the material. At first it was Feather’s realization that she had managed to work most of the numbers between zero and 10 into the lyrics of the opening track, “I Don’t Mean To Make A Big Deal Of It.” From there, she started writing some material, like the gently shuffling title track and the baroque-meets-ambient closer, “Some Kind Of Einstein.” The next thing anyone working on the album knew, a concept had surfaced.

“I thought of it as a metaphor for connectedness and relationship,” said Arkin, the composer and multi-instrumentalist who co-wrote seven of the 10 songs on Math Camp. “The foundation of everything.”

At this point in her career, Feather could find a way to spin the phonebook into a collection of engaging and catchy tunes. The daughter of famed jazz critic Leonard Feather and singer Jane Feather, Lorraine has built a sturdy career as a songwriter for hire, writing lyrics for an array of TV and film projects, as well as more high-profile assignments, like crafting a song for the opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

“My dad was very excited when I started writing,” she said. “He took me to my first ASCAP meeting. He was so thrilled when he realized that I had a talent for writing lyrics. Literally, almost on his deathbed, when he was in the hospital, he said, ‘Did you send those Ellington tunes you wrote lyrics [for] to Cleo Laine?’ He was very into the whole thing.”

Feather seems most fulfilled these days when she’s creating her own work. The process of writing and recording Math Camp presented some hurdles, one of which was geographic. She lives close to Boston, while Arkin resides in California, and Berg lives in Florida when he’s not keeping up a busy touring schedule. Because Feather pays for studio time out of her own pocket, the recording sessions were broken up by long stretches of time to, as she described it, “spread out the expense as much as I could.” Hence Math Camp took the better part of three years to finish.

Having been a working musician and performer for four decades, the Grammy-nominated Feather has developed a sense for which musicians are right for a particular project. Among the guest contributors to Math Camp are several high-profile stars, including drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, bassist James Genus and pianists Fred Hersch and Russell Ferrante, of Yellowjackets.

Arkin and Berg have been regular contributors to Feather’s albums since the early ’00s and have established a kind of rapport with her that allows them to come up with new material quickly and efficiently—most of the time, anyway.

“There have been times when we’ve had what I call a ‘garbage’ day,” Feather said. “Days when we got nothing and nothing came out. But it’s never really wasted, because, inevitably, the next time we get together, something happens. It’s an intimate thing—writing with somebody like that, because you have to just allow things to go down different roads.” DB



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