Sunday, June 11, 2017
SUNDAY MUSIC: The Jazz Singer Part 2, by Wiggia
As I said in Part One, the likes of Sinatra will not have a place here, not because they shouldn’t be but simply because they require a piece on their own and they have been covered in depth for what seems like forever. I could add little to the many excellent biographies on the likes of Sinatra, Bennett and Nat King Cole, or little to their music, which is available in bucket loads everywhere, rightly so.
What I wanted to do was in this second part was to showcase some less well-known artists and some from the current era. The last is difficult as jazz singing for males (as opposed to females) is almost a lost art. Why I know not, other than alternative forms probably pay a lot more.
We start with one or two not-so-new artists.
The late Jimmy Scott (1925 – 2014) is unusual for one special reason: “His unusual singing voice was due to Kallmann syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that limited his height to 4 feet 11 inches (150 cm) until the age of 37, when he grew by 8 inches (20 cm). The syndrome prevented him from reaching puberty and left him with a high voice.“
Scott became prominent as the lead singer with Lionel Hampton and had a top R&B hit with Hampton in 1950 with Everybody's Somebody's Fool - for which he received no credit ! His career faded in the late sixties and he returned to more mundane work for quite a long period.
His career was kickstarted in ‘91 after singing at a funeral. In ‘92 his album All the Way was put forward for a Grammy award and several successful albums followed, some crossing into more popular areas. In his 65 year career he performed with many of the greats of the period: Parker, Marsalis, Sarah Vaughan, Mingus, Hampton, Bud Powell, Quincy Jones and more.
This is the best version available of his own composition “Holding Back the Years” (the live versions do not have the sound quality):
Andy Bey was allegedly Coltrane's favorite singer. Born in ‘39 he started out as a singer pianist and appeared on Connie Francis' television show Startime. At seventeen he started his own trio with his two sisters called, inevitably, Andy and the Bey Sisters, who toured Europe as a group for 16 months. Later he did some good work with Horace Silver and Garry Bartz and Dee Dee Bridgewater, and won the best jazz vocalist for 2003, and his album American Song was forwarded for a Grammy in 2005.
A wide ranging baritone voice is put to good use here with Never Let Me Go from the American Song album. He always reminds me of being a male Sarah Vaughan or Abbey Lincoln, which can’t be bad:
Difficult to believe that Mark Murphy who died in ‘15 was 83; like so many, he seemed to us as we get older to be a contemporary - worrying !
Another from a musical family, he learned the piano at seven and joined his brother's jazz dance group as the singer. He majored at uni in music and drama and performed on campus. After moving to NY in ‘54 he did work where he could find it as an actor and singer. His debut album for Decca, Meet Mark Murphy, sold well and he then moved to LA recording for Capitol before returning to NY and Riverside Records. His best jazz albums, Rah! (1961) and his favourite album That's How I love the Blues (1963), were for that label.
Between ‘63 and ‘72 he lived in England, working mainly as an actor, though still singing in clubs and on radio. He returned to the States where he recorded an album a year for fourteen years. In the mid-eighties there was a change in direction as he started to record Brazilian-based music. He continued to work into his eighties.
Of all the more contemporary singers Kurt Elling stands out as the one who has in a word cracked it. He started in a family with church music and learned to play several instruments, he sang in his college choir and toured with them and became interested in jazz after hearing Brubeck, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock and Ella Fitzgerald.
At the start in Chicago he had to work part time as a barman and other jobs to pay the bills. In ‘95 he put together a tape of nine songs that he sent to Blue Note records where his debut album Close Your Eyes was nominated for a Grammy. He did a total of six albums for Blue Note then signed for Concord in 2006 where he remains today.
Elling has been the jazz singer in modern times. His poll-winning and awards are up there with the best. His delivery, smooth sound and timing are unquestionably spot on, but for me there has always been something missing. Is it the fact almost every number he sings sounds the same: the same tempo, the same delivery? This number is his most acclaimed and here he sings with the Sydney Orchestra. It makes no difference that he is not with a small jazz group as it sounds the same, very accomplished, but judge for yourselves:
A couple of lesser-knowns to finish. Well known in jazz circles but in the wide world outside not so much, Kevin Mahogany: his Wiki entry is quite short so a link is better than retyping parts on here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Mahogany
A big man with a voice near to Joe Williams' (an insider's favourite), here he is live in ‘91 singing My Foolish Heart/Green Dolphin Street with the Ray Brown Trio:
Sachal Vasandani is not a well-known name over here. Born in Chicago in ‘78 he studied at the University of Michigan where he studied jazz and classical music. Originally he sang with Wynton Marsalis. His first album Eyes Wide Open was a success and his second in ‘09 We Move received critical acclaim; he also composes.
No More Tears:
What strikes me from the last three, and it is a purely personal view, is that there is little excitement. It is all very polished, crafted and delivered in a fault free style; there is none of the range put out by the likes of Torme or Sinatra and others. It is almost monotone, and maybe that is why the male jazz singer at this moment in time is in hibernation. We await someone who will get the old mojo going; at the moment, that is not likely.