Dodo Records doesn't sound like a respectable company name, but bassist Mike Palter and pianist Lynne Jackson enjoy the irony of having their own label named after an extinct species.
Palter remembers being scoffed at when they presented their interpretation of the pop/jazz standards of the 1920s, '30s and '40s to a recording executive: "He said, 'You people are dodos . . . anachronisms. People don't listen to that stuff anymore. No one cares.' "
Now, Palter, 42, and Jackson, 37, married in life as well as in music, are trying to prove the industry wrong. They've cut two albums, "Rememberings" and "Sing a Kern Song." The first comes complete with a drawing of a dodo by their then 5-year-old son. For the next two weeks, they'll be appearing on the East Coast for the first time, at Cates in Alexandria.
Their company name isn't the only example of their rebel flair. When 66-year-old jazz vocalist Joe Williams won a Grammy last year but was not invited to perform on the broadcast program of the awards ceremony, Palter and Jackson led a protest. Ninety people picketed a country club luncheon for the Grammy TV producer, Pierre Cossette, calling for greater jazz representation on the telecast.
"We let them know in no uncertain terms that we would never let this happen again," Palter said. Next year, he said, he anticipates about 15 minutes devoted to jazz during the Grammy ceremony.
In a letter to his home town paper, the Los Angeles Times, Palter said the exclusion of jazz represented more than "the denigration of our American musical heritage." It was, he said, "a manifestation of a deeper insensitivity," one evident in the musical tastes of the younger, record-buying generation.
"Indeed, is it any wonder at all that the alienated, afraid, overtelevised, overdrugged, underloved, overindulged generation we have raised have grown to identify with a music so fundamentally violent, so loud, so alienated and alienating, so nonmelodious, so drug-oriented, so self-indulgent?" he asked.
It's no surprise that Palter, a former teaching assistant in the University of Massachusetts English department, disdains the current music scene. He and Jackson value instead the more literate music of an earlier time.
On their first album they paid tribute to lyricists E.Y. Harburg ("Over the Rainbow," "It's Only a Paper Moon") and Gus Kahn ("It Had to Be You," "Ain't We Got Fun"). "In an age in which melody has disappeared, in our opinion, we're dealing with musical geniuses," Palter said.
"We're living in a time of loudness and percussiveness and a very violent time," he continued, "and our music is precisely opposite that."
Palter and Jackson met in the late '60s through their fathers, who played golf together. Jackson had studied classical piano at the Longy Conservatory and jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. "My grandmother played in the silent movies, and we used to sit around the piano singing," Jackson said. Soon they were singing together, and in 1970 they left Massachusetts for the Los Angeles music scene.
They owe their visibility in the Washington area primarily to disc jockey Felix Grant, who has been playing their music regularly, first on WMAL-AM and now on WWRC-AM. "These kinds of people should be supported," said Grant. "They shouldn't be bypassed because they're not going to sell a million records.
"They have a great love of what we can broadly call the American song style," Grant said. He has offered his listeners information on how to purchase the Jackson and Palter albums, since they are not available in most record stores. As a result of Grant's support, Palter reports, the duo receives dozens of letters each week.
One listener, postal worker John Youtcheff, was so impressed by their music he decided to host a party in their honor. "I thought it would be nice to have a little get-together," said Youtcheff, 55, who invited about 70 guests to meet the musical couple when they were in town for a Voice of America broadcast in February. "We didn't know anyone from Washington, D.C.," remarked Palter, who said he is still surprised by the positive reaction they've received here.
The gig at Cates, from tonight through Sept. 7, is a breakthrough for the musical couple; Jackson said she expected to make it this far, but Palter is still apprehensive. "Who's going to come to this club?" he asked. He paused briefly, then remarked, "It's going to be a real odyssey down there."