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Fresh Sound Records and the Legacy of Recorded Jazz

Bruce Klauber By

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If the importance and the contributions of jazz are measured by its recorded legacy, then Fresh Sound Records—and its founder, Jordi Pujol—must be duly recognized for rescuing a legacy that might otherwise be lost or nearly impossible to find, and for making it available to the public.

Specifically, this legacy includes recorded works by saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Louis Armstrong, bandleader and composer Duke Ellington, and literally hundreds of other major, semi-major and lesser known jazz artists who recorded commercially before 1962. Many of these releases might be called "reissues," but Pujol and Fresh Sound make them virtually new by remastering the original tracks if necessary, adding unreleased tracks—sometimes from private recordings, concerts or television tracks—finding newly discovered photographs, conducting interviews with any surviving principals, and commissioning beautifully written and meticulously detailed booklets.

Fresh Sound and Pujol have been doing this since 1983. And while a confessed fan of west coast jazz, as evidenced by his issues of material on labels like Contemporary, he's also released dozens of items from the catalogs of Verve, Riverside, Prestige, RCA (almost 200 releases), New Jazz, Argo, Royal Roost, and almost every other label of every size that recorded jazz.

Because many of Fresh Sound's products are by little-known players by today's standards, these releases cannot be expected to make even a little bit of a profit. It therefore seems that Pujol's criteria for issuing something is simply: He likes it.

That's called integrity. Fresh Sound's newly-released titles stand as a good overview of what the label does and what the label stands for. And though some of these artists may be considered obscure and don't have what we'd call "name value," their musical value is, without exception, considerable.

Vocalists Beverly Kenney, Lucy Ann Polk, Jane Fielding, Helyne Stewart and Marilyn Moore aren't the most recognizable names in jazz, but each of their CDs are very well worth listening to. Repeatedly.

For the most part, these singers came out of the Anita O'Day/June Christy tradition, not without overtones of Doris Day, and all demonstrated a jazz orientation, with "orientation" being the key word. These are not ske-daddling scatters or lyric twisters, but subtle interpreters who improvise by way of inflection and phrasing.

Enter the album name here Beverly Kenney was a sensitive, lyrical and individual jazz stylist who was well on her way to fame when she took her own life at the age of 28 in 1960. Sadly, she sometimes gets more attention for that than she does for her singing. Beverly Kenney: The Complete Decca Recordings is a two-CD set that captures the singer's many unique sides in a number of settings, some blatantly commercial—hey, you've got to sell records—and others in stark surroundings with accompaniment only by the superb piano of Ellis Larkins and bassist Joe Benjamin. Kenney's sound was sort of a Stacey Kent out of Joanie Sommers, little-girlish type of approach that, under the right circumstances—and knowing her tragic history—can really get to you. This one will grow on you. Particularly late at night.

Talk about obscure. Singer Jane Fielding recorded only two albums in her lifetime, both made in 1956 when she was 21 years old. Little is known about Fielding—some contend she was actually a pro ice skater who hung up the skates due to an injury—but it's clear that, had she stayed in the jazz game, there was a bright future at hand. Her youth comes through at times—let's call her sound "smolderingly youthful"—but her maturity on material that's often difficult is incredible. On tunes like "Embers Glow," "Right Boy for Me" and, believe it or not, "Round Midnight," she is more than confident and clearly feels the lyric. Some of her accompanists aren't too shabby, either, and include saxophonists Teddy Edwards and Joe Maini, bassists Paul Chambers and Red Mitchell and pianist Kenny Drew, who also penned some of the charts. Sound-wise? Think one-half of "Jackie and Roy," Jackie Cain.

Love Moods, first recorded for Contemporary in 1956, highlights singer Helyne Stewart, a protégé and discovery of Teddy Edwards, who led the accompanying group. Stewart, another little-known singer who seemed to have disappeared from the scene after this outing, is a soulful and secure stylist who must have listened to a bit of Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan. Stewart has a refreshing purity about her that avoids excess or clichés. The overdone "The Man I Love" is not overdone in Stewart's hands, nor are "How Deep is the Ocean or "That Old Feeling."

And dig who's on the session in addition to Edwards: How about trombonist Frank Rosolino, trumpter Jack Sheldon, alto sax legend Art Pepper, pianist Pete Jolly and bassist Jimmy Bond? Ah...the west coast. CD number two in this same package is a 1961 Edwards session, Good Gravy! featuring pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Milt Turner. This informal session swings from the start and like the title says, is "Good" indeed.

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 reaction—in 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.

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