September 10, 2015

Jazz Faculty Contribute To New Album, “Here’s To Life”

Cliff Hugo

Photo credit: AIX Records

Sonoma State University Bass instructor Cliff Hugo recently produced a CD entitled Here’s to Life that features vocalist Cynthia Tarr with current and former members of the SSU Jazz faculty including Ken Cook and Kendrick Freeman on rhythm; Doug Leibinger, Dave Len Scott, Bob Afifi and former faculty member Mel Martin on horns; and an appearance by guitarist Randy Vincent and drummer George Marsh.

The album was co-produced and released by Tarr in June 2015 and is available on CDBaby and iTunes. The 15 songs that Hugo calls ‘eclectic by design’ include standards like “Shadow of Your Smile,” Latin tunes like the Dean Martin hit “Sway” featuring horn solos by Doug Leibinger and Dave Len Scott, several Tarr originals, and the album’s title tune—her trademark show-closer—“Here’s to Life” by Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary.

Producing the album was a special project for Hugo—a veteran LA studio musician whose work ranges from Ray Charles to Supertramp to jingles for Toyota and Coors—because its lead singer is also his wife. “Cynthia’s done a lot of projects over the years but she’s never had her own CD,” he said. “I just said, we gotta do this.”

Leibinger, who is SSU’s Jazz program director, plays trombone on the album and also co-arranged the horn solos. “It was cool because it was very collaborative,” he said, noting that the project evolved over the course of time. “Cliff and Cynthia planted the seed, and we all added our own ideas to it.” In the case of the Sinatra classic “One For My Baby (and One More For The Road)” Hugo and Tarr recorded the bass line and a scratch track, then added Randy Vincent and George Marsh on guitar and drums. “I started to hear some trombone lines,” Hugo said. According to Leibinger, “Randy had improvised some great lines on the guitar that I actually used as part of the trombone solo.”

Although Hugo has co-produced albums with guitarist Carl Verheyen (who appears on “Take Me With You”), this was his first lead project. After a two-day studio session in June 2014, tracking and overdubs took place in early 2015. Mixing was completed by April. “Trying not to overproduce,” Hugo said, “I could hear some horn parts on ‘Sway’ and ‘Shimmy’ and I knew I wanted a bari sax on ‘Cry Me a River.’” He added, “Doug was so gracious with his time. I wanted him to feel free to arrange the way he wanted.” 

A lifelong singer, lyricist and songwriter, Tarr is music director at the Sonoma Community Center, where she teaches voice, directs The Free Spirits gospel choir, and leads workshops on performing. Her distinctive, velvety voice encompasses many genres, from country and western, rock, Latin, jazz, and French songs. Calling herself more a storyteller than jazz improviser, Tarr has co-written many songs, and as a lyricist has collaborated with Chris Bennett and Keb Mo. “I have never understood the preoccupation with genre,” Tarr says. “If you are a good singer, can commit emotionally to a lyric and have respect for the roots of each genre, you can sing anything.”


Cynthia Tarr

Here's To Life

Here’s to Life
Produced by Cliff Hugo* and Cynthia Tarr
Arranged by Cliff Hugo
Horn arrangements: Doug Leibinger* and Cliff Hugo
Vocal arrangements: Cynthia Tarr
Vocals: Cynthia Tarr
Bass: Cliff Hugo
Keys: Ken Cook*
Guitar: Jean-Michel Huré
Drums: Kendrick Freeman*
Trombone: Doug Leibinger*
Trumpet and flugelhorn: Dave Len Scott*
Tenor and bari saxophone: Mel Martin
Flute: Bob Afifi*
Guitar on “Take Me With You” and solo on “Pocketful of Rainbows”: Carl Verheyen
Drums on “One for My Baby”: George Marsh*
Guitar on “One for My Baby”: Randy Vincent*
Percussion: Scott Breadman

* SSU Faculty member



  1. The Shadow of Your Smile
  2. Shimmy Softly
  3. Cry Me a River
  4. Think Well of Me
  5. Pocketful of Rainbows
  6. Make Me New For You
  7. Crazy in Love
  8. One For My Baby
  9. Sway
  10. Love’s River
  11. Take Me With You
  12. Ain’t No Game
  13. All For Naught
  14. Black Coffee
  15. Here’s To Life


Media Contact

Ruth Wilson
Lecturer in Horn
Music Department Publicity
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Avenue
Rohnert Park, CA 94928