Carmen McRae lacked the notoriety that several other female vocalists received. But she was one of the greats.
Here are two paragraphs of the very well written introduction to a McRae fan site. As a non-musician, I often find myself reacting to music, positively or negatively, without really knowing what the musician or musicians are trying to do. I like it or I don’t. This passage, particularly the second paragraph, does a nice job of explaining the strengths of three great vocalists — McRae, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald:
Eight years younger than her idol, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae was a contemporary of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Ella and Sarah were already well established by the time Carmen came onto the scene, but it wasn’t long before Carmen was considered their artistic equal, although she never achieved their wide popularity. She never had a huge hit nor did she ever receive a Grammy. But, on the other hand, she never made a bad record nor compromised her high standards.
Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan inspired awe with their vocal prowess. Ella – with her perfect pitch and unerring sense of time – could reproduce any instrumental jazz riff, and Sarah – with her multi-octave range and ultra-flexible voice – could change octave and color on a single note. Carmen, however, could bring a tear to the eye or a lump to the throat, with her reading of a lyric. That was her great talent. She combined the ability to project the emotional connotations of a song with a musical intelligence that was derived in part from her knowledge of the piano. (Continue Reading…)
The site is one of the most complete that I’ve run into since I began TDMB. Check it out. Above is “I’m Glad there is You,” which seems as if it would be a difficult song to sing. It is one of McRae’s signature songs. Below is the standard “That Old Black Magic.”
Sarah Vaughan sang in the choir of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Newark, as a child, where at the age of 12 she became organist. In October 1942, she won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theatre; shortly afterwards, in April 1943, she joined Earl Hines’ big band as second pianist and singer to Hines and Billy Eckstine. Eckstine formed his own bop-oriented big band early in 1944, and Vaughan joined him a few months later, making her first recording with his orchestra on December 31. She left Eckstine after about a year, and thereafter, except for a brief stay in John Kirby’s group in winter 1945-6, she worked only as a soloist. (Continue Reading…)
Here are Vaughan’s discography. Her obituary in The New York Times was written by Stephen Holden. Here is part of what he wrote, at only 66 years of age:
In a career that spanned nearly 50 years, Miss Vaughan influenced countless other singers – including Phoebe Snow, Anita Baker, Sade and Rickie Lee Jones – and made hits of such songs as ”It’s Magic,” ”Make Yourself Comfortable” and ”Broken-Hearted Melody.” Her ornate renditions of ”Misty” and ”Send In the Clowns” were invariable show-stoppers at jazz festivals in recent years, including the JVC Jazz Festival in New York, at which she appeared almost yearly. (Continue Reading…)
Above is Over the Rainbow and below is Tenderly.
The beginning of NPR’s bio of bassist Ray Brown does a good job of quickly defining who he was — and the company he kept:
Grammy Award-winning double-bassist Ray Brown was a leader in defining the modern jazz rhythm section — in addition to being a first-rate soloist. His unique dynamic and innate sense of swing graced performances by Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson and countless others.
Bebop was great music, but it could be intellectual and inaccessible. Brown’s allmusic bio, which is on the same page as Brown’s discography, hints at a player who wasn’t as challenging to listeners as many who played in his era:
The huge and comfortable sound of Ray Brown’s bass was a welcome feature on bop-oriented sessions for over a half-century.
Mr. Brown won numerous critics’ and listeners’ popularity polls, and was regularly included among the half-dozen or so greatest of all jazz bassists, along with Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus, Milt Hinton, and Jimmy Blanton, whose performances with Duke Ellington he counted among his greatest influences.
Martha and the Vandellas sing Heatwave. Here are other summer- and heat-related songs. Send me links to those I missed:
The Heat is On: Glenn Frey (From Beverly Hills Cop)
Summer in the City: Lovin Spoonful
Hot ‘Lanta: The Allman Brothers Band
In the Summertime: Mongo Jerry
Summer Song: Joe Satriani and John Petrucci
Unlike some other jazz greats, there is a tremendous amount of great Ella Fitzgerald material on YouTube and other video sites. None are better than this beautiful version of The Man I Love, a standard by George and Ira Gershwin. Tommy Flanagan is the piano player. The band is great, but the star of course is Ella.
Mack the Knife is a beloved jazz standard. Besides Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin are heavyweights who recorded it. Here is a fabulous version by Armstrong.
The song, which is from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, is not very nice. Weill’s wife, Lotte Lenya, sings it here, probably in the 1950s. She’s not much of a vocalist in English, but it’s a fascinating clip. (Here she sings it in German.)
The commentary before she sings describes Berlin as a degenerate pit in which Nazism grew. Lenya leaves no doubt who this much-loved song really is about at the end.
Here are some lyrics from the song. Very pleasant stuff:
Poor wee Jenny,
There they found her
Knife in breast.
On the West Pier
For the best.
Mind that fire burnt
All through Soho.
Seven kids dead
One old flower.
And those sweet babes
Story goes that
Black and blue
For the price of
One good screwing
How could you?
It goes on like that. It’s also unclear why the murderer, Macheath, is not German. I have no interest in seeing a production or reading it, so I guess I’ll never know.
At the end of the day, we have a song that is about murder and references Hitler. It’s beloved and sung by big stars. Actually, it’s a perfect pop classic for the 20th century.