Another entrant for the "let's find some more good male jazz singers" sweepstakes comes in the person of Lemuel West, and his chances are promising. With a play list of eleven familiar tunes this maiden album gets West off in the right direction. He uses the excellent instrumental backing to his advantage by allowing it to emphasize his vocal strengths and minimize his weaknesses. Billy Pierce appears on three cuts. His plaintive Ernie Watts like tenor saxophone makes "When you Wish upon a Star" an album highlight. The producers know a good thing when they hear it, as Pierce plays the entire song before West sings a single note.
Pierce and West also come together nicely on "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?". Premier jazz pianist James Williams, who produced the album and was the driving force behind getting it made, is a rock solid accompanist throughout. On slowly played "Ain't Misbehavin'" track, West's interpretation of this Fats Waller/Andy Razaf standard reveals his leaning toward the style and delivery of the great Johnny Hartman. The way he turns a phrase, his timing, his feeling recall why Hartman was among the elite when it came to singing ballads. It's here where it's made clear who the dominant instrumentalist on the set is, and that's Chris Biesterfeldt and his guitar, Williams and Pierce notwithstanding.
Although listed as a guest artist, Biesterfeldt shows up on most cuts. He is outstanding on "Blame It on My Youth" combining with Ron Savage's drums for an assertive opening to provide a contrasting fade into West's and Williams' gentle treatment of the Oscar Levant/Edward Heyman classic. Biesterfeldt lays down blues chords as West delivers the Nat King Cole hymn "Nature Boy." West takes on a decidedly Al Hibbler tinge as he runs through "When the Lights Go down Low" with only the funky James Williams organ in support. My only complaint about this album is that Williams' piano gets somewhat flamboyant from time to time. This is evident is his longish opening and his playing behind West on "When I Fall In Love."
Lemuel West is a work in progress, of that there's no doubt. But the prognosis for an outstanding finished product is excellent indeed. Hopefully, the powers that run the record industry won't let him fall into oblivion as has been the fate of many promising singers after their maiden album.
Track Listing: Falling in Love with Love; Nature Boy; When You Wish upon a Star; Ain't Misbehavin'; Blame
It on My Youth; After the Lights Go down Low; Will You Love Me Tomorrow?; Bein' Green;
When I Fall in Love; But not for Me; Over the Rainbow.
Personnel: Lemuel West - Vocals; James Williams - Piano/Organ; Ron Savage - Drums; Tom Elliott -
Bass; Billy Pierce - Tenor Saxophone; Chris Biesterfeldt - Guitar.
I love jazz because...it's in my blood! My late father, Billy Ainsworth, was a musical prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 after he stunned the seasoned musicians of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with an in-off-the-street audition
I love jazz because...it's in my blood! My late father, Billy Ainsworth, was a musical prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 after he stunned the seasoned musicians of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with an in-off-the-street audition. He was on the band bus the next day as Dorsey's alto sax and clarinet player, and never looked back. He played with great bandleaders such as Freddie Martin, Tex Beneke and Ray McKinley, some before he was out of his teens (they had to lie about his age to get him into nightclubs). Many older musicians have told me he was the greatest alto sax player they ever worked with. He was equally great on clarinet and was clarinetist and harmony singer for cocktail jazz pioneers, the Ernie Felice Quartet.
He eventually left the road and settled down, and that's when I came in. By that time, he was, by day, vocal group session leader/player/arranger for classic jingles and commercial music produced in Dallas. At night, he played in society bands, jazz combos and elegant showrooms. Tuesdays were slow in the showrooms, so band members' families got in free, and my mom took me to see him backing such legends as Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Steve and Eydie, and a very old Ella Fitzgerald. Between that, hearing his record collection, growing up around the legendary musicians and singers who were like aunts and uncles to me, and just listening to him practice around the house, filling the neighborhood with incredible jazz sax riffs, I couldn't help becoming that weird kid who was listening to Peggy Lee, Ella and Manhattan Transfer when my classmates were listening to rock, country and soul.
Even though he died before I ever sang professionally, he remains my inspiration and all my CDs are dedicated to him. I like to think that he'd like my music, since it's built on the foundation he handed down to me.