Firefly – by Kenny Barron/Jarrett, BT

L.A. Based Musicians’ Musicians

L.A. Based Musicians' Musicians

Early Informal BT Picture

Playing in local clubs and concerts in the greater Los Angeles area, Borrowed Time was known for great singers, challenging compositions, and rich arrangements. As leader, vocalist, and lyricist/arranger, I was exceedingly lucky to have such incredible singers with me in the group: soprano Leila Thigpen, alto Sunny Wilkinson, baritone Rocky Davis, and bass Bob Joyce. Rocky, an award-winning TV and film composer, often played 2nd keyboard, and created perfect rhythm section scores for my arrangements.

Accompanists most often sight-read challenging charts – possibly one reason we were able to call on immensely talented side musicians: John Heard, Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Johnson, Greg Karukas, John Patitucci, Tom Garvin, John Beasley. Walfredo Reyes, Alex Acuna, Art Rodriquez, Ken Wild, and Luis Conte, to name a few, who, when they weren’t out with big-name artists or headlining their own ensembles, made what gigs of ours they could. I’ll never forget the concert in a lovely venue by the beach, hearing the waves in the quiet numbers, teamed with Baya, the 7-piece, horns and all, Caribbean Jazz band, featuring George Cables.

I had the privilege of singing in {Janice Jarrett’s} vocal group “Borrowed Time” for over 10 years in Los Angeles. I learned volumes from her about music production, arranging, and musicianship. She elevated my taste in music, helped create my style and deepened my musicianship. She is a remarkable musician and teacher.” Sunny Wilkinson, Jazz Diva ( ok Goddess)

Like many long-standing ensembles, Borrowed Time was an extended family, supporting each other and working hard to create the best possible music. I remain grateful for the talented group members and instrumentalists who played with us. And I can’t thank Stix Hooper enough, without him we would not have the distinct honor of the late, legendary, Al Schmidt, as the sound engineer for our demo.Borrowed Time

“A group so captivating and vivacious as Borrowed Time is bound to be heard from. It’s an exciting, polished jazz vocal ensemble whose five members can easily handle any contemporary style from hard-edged jazz-rock to sensitive ballads… These artists listen to each other and they are amazingly precise…Most (tunes) were arranged by Jarrett who chooses warm, pleasing harmonies.”    Zan Stewart, Los Angeles Times

“While mass audiences may not be screaming for more vocal jazz, small audience seem appreciative when something good is offered. Such was the case when a whole group of jazz singers gave its premier performance. Borrowed Time is the name of the three-woman, two-man vocal ensemble accompanied by the piano-bass-and-drum trio of Russ Ferrante, Tony Dumas and Ralph Penland…Both ensemble and solo efforts displayed {were) original and innovative.” James Liska, Valley News

One of the real joys of the group for me was being able to bring my new arrangements to rehearsals for us to try. In Rocky’s basement of growing sound equipment, we would tape a quick reading so I could review and revise. From the vault, here’s a clip, starting on the 2nd A, of a  “run-through” of my first penciled arrangement of Judd Miller’s “Silent Runner.” This excerpt comes after the beginning: “Part the windows still unlit by day. Past the sleeping, still in beds they lay. No Sound. Silent feet fall on his charted path. In the silence is his home at last.”  (2nd A) “As the earth turns….”

Silent Runner by Judd Miller/Jarrett  (BT “Basement Tape”)

One of my favorite memories about the group’s run in Los Angeles was a call from a singer-songwriter friend to tell me that when interviewing a side musician for an upcoming performance, he listed, tucked among a healthy list of famously celebrated bands, Borrowed Time, as one of his references.

Click to hear a live club recording of an a cappella French madrigal (arranged by John LaSalle)
IA La Claire Fontaine

Zan Stewart was kind enough to review us again after we’d been out a while:

“Since the five voices – Janice Jarrett, Sunny Wilkinson, Bob Joyce, Rocky Davis, and Leila – that make up the contemporary jazz singing group Borrowed Time sound so good, you have to wonder why this exceptional band isn’t heard from a lot…The talented members have their share of work, so club dates aren’t always easily arranged. That’s why this one-nighter at the Alleycat is worth noting. It’s the band’s first appearance in an annum and judging from voices floating seamlessly in and out of the forefront of Judd Miller’s “Coast Highway,” the snappy, Latin spirit of Pat Murphy’s “Baile,” the thick cloudy vocal shapes on George Cables’ “Blue Nights” – time has done nothing but improve Borrowed Time.” Zan Stewart, Los Angeles Tim

Borrowed Time Los Angeles

Where are they now? When the group broke up, Sunny Wilkinson went on to become one of the most vital members of Michigan’s outstanding community of jazz educators and performers. Her albums are stellar accomplishments. Leila Thigpen moved to Vienna where she creates beautiful artwork, teaches voice, and runs vocal jazz workshops. Rocky Davis continues to be a highly prized studio musician, and Bob Joyce became a prized member of several prominent vocal ensembles.

Five years after we had split up I overheard a conversation at the conference of the International Association of Jazz Educators, held in L.A. that year.  Apparently responding to a comment about vocal jazz groups, I overheard  “Ah, but you should have heard Borrowed Time.”  Nice.
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