Album Review: Mark Winkler–”The Rules Don’t Apply”

April 28, 2024

Singer/songwriter Mark Winkler received the 2023 Bistro Award for Outstanding Recording for his last album, Late Bloomin’ Jazzman. The blooming continues with his new collection of originals and inventive covers, The Rules Don’t Apply. It’s a musically diverse and adventurous set of songs, jumping from big band, to sextet, to trio, and back again. The ease with which the singer maneuvers the differences so that there’s no loss of cohesion is thanks to the beautiful production by Barbara Brighton.

Opening with his West Coast answer to “Sunday in New York,” the singer defends his often maligned hometown with “Sunday in LA” (Greg Gordon Smith, Winkler) painting vivid, swinging pictures of life in the city. He also may well be setting the stage for the wry, witty, moving reveries and observations that populate the rest of the album. Winkler’s clarity of phrasing gives new vitality to Steely Dan’s “I.G.Y. (What a Wonderful World)” (Donald Fagan) with Bob Sheppard’s sax and George Doering’s guitar adding to his reworking of the song.

Sharing a bit of his performance philosophy with an irresistibly laid back, bluesy swing, “The Joy of Singing” (Jamieson Trotter, Nic Chamberlain, Winkler), sketches quick portraits of people who populate his musical life and inspire that joy. Winkler has a unique ability to turn ordinary conversation into poetry, especially on a love song like “In Love in New York” (Michele Brourman, Winkler), reveling in both his romance’s presence and its location. Kevin WInard’s percussion captures the insistent urban energy of the city beautifully. 

Once a staple of many a jazz artist, The Beatle’s “Got to Get You into My Life” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) gets a welcome revival. The pulsing arrangement of pianist John Beasley underscores Winkler’s slow burn build to the famous chorus.  The title song by Eddie Arkin and Lorraine Feather is a musical declaration of independence and individuality even in the shadow of age and experience. Paul Simon’s “Something So Right” is a perfect example of Winkler’s ability to elevate a solid pop song into the Great American Songbook.

A paean to a recording studio might seem an unusual endeavor, but when the studio is in the Capitol Records Building (home to Sinatra and so many others), “If These Walls Could Talk (They’d Sing)” (Smith, Winkler, Shelley Nyman, Bill Cantos) becomes a glorious celebration of the jazz royalty that recorded there, name dropping in the most entertaining way. Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” has the joyful abandon of a New Orleans marching band, and Winkler has great fun living in the world that the terrific arrangement by Jamieson Trotter creates. Trotter’s piano joins with the great Grant Geissman’s guitar to enrich “Lessons I’ve Learned” (Trotter, Winkler), a contemplation of time’s passage filled with the wisdom, the gratitude, and the acceptance of one who realizes “…that I have lived more of this life than I have left.”

Mark Winkler’s The Rules Don’t Apply ends with “Here’s to Jazz” (Trotter, Winkler), a toast to one of his abiding loves, with witty, knowing and moving lyrics that will have the listener nodding in recognition as well as nodding to the low-key syncopation of the melody. Winkler continues to have more to say and with the quality of his work maintaining such a high standard in both writing and performance I for one am thrilled that he is recording at such a steady pace. 


About the Author

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”