Fresh Sound Records and the Legacy of Recorded Jazz
There are some singers on the scene today who have received a good deal of critical acclaim because of their similarity to Billie Holiday, most notably Madeleine Peyroux. A bunch of writers applauded Diana Ross version of Holiday as well. But in the late 1950s, sounding like Lady Day, intentionally or otherwise, must have been considered a crime of some sort.
The case of Marilyn Moore, heard on Bethlehem's Moody from 1957 and MGM's Oh! Captain! from the year following, was good illustration of that attitude back in the day. Despite great critical reactionin 1957, the influential Leonard Feather called her "the finest new jazz singer I've heard this year"that Lady Day albatross and the controversy surrounding it did not help her career.
Holiday is in there, to be sure, but Moore swings like the devil in her own way on items like "Lover Come Back to me," and sings the heck out of a none-to-easy score to the Broadway show, "Oh! Captain." She's backed herein by a group of sympathetic jazz stars, including her then-husband on tenor sax, Al Cohn; bassist Milt Hinton; tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins in a rare role as sideman; and no less than the very forward-thinking composer, George Russell, who contributed "Born to Blow" and plays piano on three tracks.
Calling Lucy Ann Polk a jazz singer may be stretching things somewhat. Polk, the best-known of all these singers, gained no small amount of fame from her 1951-1954 stay with the big band of Les Brown. Brown's band, at least in terms of its jazz content, was considered to be at its peak in those years. And Polk rode the crest of the bands' popularity, as she won what was called the best "Girl Band Vocalist" award, given to her by Down Beat magazine for four yeas in a row. She's backed here in three separate sessions from 1953, 1956 and 1957 by groups led by pianist/arranger Marty Paich and saxophonist Dave Pell, and though you can't deny the influence of Doris Day, Polk has a pleasing, secure takeand a much more jazz-oriented oneon the Holiday sound.
Young and aspiring singers should give this a listen. Polk's diction, time and intonation are superb. She swings lightly and politely on 22 standards, with more than appropriate backing by west coasters like trumpeters Shorty Rogers and Don Fagerquist, pianist Claude Williamson, drummers Mel Lewis and Jack Sperling, and Polk's husband, trombonist Dick Noel.
In 1960, the Washington, D.C.-based pianist Dick Morgan was playing at a club called the Showboat. He so impressed saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley during that engagement, that Adderley got Morgan a record date with the Riverside record label. Fresh Sound's Dick Morgan Trio is a two-CD set that includes Morgan's three dates for Riverside.
All are characterized by Morgan's funky, swinging and crowd-pleasing style, that seems much closer to that of Bobby Timmons than Morgan's admitted influences, Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner. This is what they used to call "good time party music," and that it is, especially the live date at The Showboat, complete with out-of-tune piano and happy crowd noises. The then Washington-based bassist Keter Betts plays on two of the three dates from 1960 along with local drummer Bertell Knox. Knox is a killer with brushes, by the way. The 1961 session, recorded in New York, pairs the pianist with the better known Ben Riley on drums and Joe Benjamin on bass.
No matter. Morgan was the centerpiece of these dates, and his happy grooving on standards and a few originals (check the funky "Big Fat Mama") still holds up. As of this writing, the 81-year old pianist, known as the "Dean of Washington, D.C. piano," is still out there wailing.