Like most great ballad singers Lee Wiley was grounded in the blues. Not that blues monopolized her repertoire (There is only one blues among the 51 tunes in this two-CD set.), but her blues-informed phrasing and timing gave her music a depth beyond that of the let's-cut-to-the-chase cutie pies. Combined with her cool, sensual sound and tiny vibrato (This is where Peggy Lee came from.) she was the preferred singer of many contemporary jazz musicians. By the 1950's her voice had started to deteriorate, but the music in this release remains an essential part of her catalog.
The title "Complete Fifties Studio Masters” is somewhat misleading. The tunes with Windhurst and Wein are mid-fi live recordings (not studio). Those with Joe Bushkin (clanky piano) are from 1965. Wiley recorded 26 tunes in the mid-50's (RCA) with Billy Butterfield and Ralph Burns that are not included.
Bobby Hackett (cornet) backs Wiley wonderfully on the first eight numbers, the cream of the crop. "I've Got a Crush on You," a tune Wiley put on the map with her 1939 Gershwin songbook, is redefined here as a slow ballad. (Gershwin originally wrote it as a rhythm tune.) On the Berlin (cuts 9 - 16) and Youmans Songbooks (cuts 17 - 24) she is backed by shimmering twin pianos. (They beat twin accordions, but not by much.) Still "More than You Know" and "Time on My Hands" are standouts, and her singing on the others is very musical. The Windhurst - Wein session comes off better than expected, especially considering potential ego problems. The best to be said about the Prager cuts is there are only four. Those with Braff and Jones (a premier accompanist) are almost at the same level as the ones with Hackett. On the final six tunes only pianist Joe Bushkin accompanies her. Beyond the sympathetic chemistry there is an effective contrast between Bushkin (plays ahead of the beat) and Wiley (lags behind).
A Woman's Intuition; Sugar; Any Time, Any Day, Anywhere; Ghost of a Chance; Oh! Look at Me Now; Street of Dreams; Manhattan; I've Got a Crush on You; Soft Lights and Sweet Music; Fools Fall in Love; Supper Time; Some Sunny Day; I Got Lost in His Arms; Heat Wave; How Many Times; How Deep Is the Ocean; Why Oh Why?; Sometimes I'm Happy; I'm Keepin' Myself for You; Should I be Sweet?; Tea for Two; Rise 'n' Shine; More Than You Know; Time on My Hands; Any Time, Any Day, Anywhere; Ghost of a Chance; Street of Dreams; Soft Lights and Sweet Music; Some Sunny Day; Chicken Today and Feathers Tomorrow; Somebody Loves Me; The Man I Love; When a Lady Meets a Gentleman Down South; Paradise; Careless Love; The Old Man on the Mountain; My Heart Stood Still; Glad to be Unhappy; Funny Valentine; Give It Back to the Indians; My Romance; You Took Advantage of Me; Mountain Greenery; It Never Entered My Mind; When I Leave the World Behind; Why Shouldn't I; The Lonesome Road; Someday, You'll Be Sorry; I Left My Heart in San Francisco; Indiana.
Bobby Hackett with Joe Bushkin and his Swinging Strings; Stan Freeman and Cy Walter, twin pianos; Johnny Windhurst - George Wein quartet; Carl Prager Orchestra; Ruby Braff - Jimmy Jones quartet; Joe Bushkin.