Interview: Carol Stevens, Part 2


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Singer Carol Stevens has a terrific phone voice. It's identical to her singing voice in the late '50s—husky, feminine and full of character. Naturally, it was a pleasure interviewing her—both for the content and just to hear her articulate her points.

Carol in the '60s and beyond continued to sing at clubs in New York and New England. She performed with Jimmy Giuffre and others. She also was married to Norman Mailer. But for this interview, Carol preferred to stick with her early years; her album, That Satin Doll, from 1957; and her appearance in a TV pilot in 1959 called After Hours, with the cream of New York jazz musicians at the time. Let me show it to you now...

In Part 2, Carol talks about the years immediately after her album was released and the clip you just viewed...

JazzWax: After the album came out, where did your manager Phil Moore book you?

Carol Stevens: All over. He sent me to Canada, where I worked with the Canadian Jazz Quartet. The place I worked in Toronto was called Le Cabaret, which was originally a bank. The review that was written about That Satin Doll was printed and placed on every table. Phil also arranged for me to appear in a TV pilot for a jazz show.

JW: Was that After Hours?

JW: How did you wind up in the pilot?

CS: One day Phil told me he had a pilot lined up. I had to be on location at 6 a.m. I knew William B. Williams, the New York disc jockey who was doing the voiceover, and a few of the guys in the band.

JW: Did you know how the After Hours scene was going to be set up?

CS: I knew who was going to be on the stage before I arrived, but we never rehearsed. The producer just said, “You'll make an entrance.” I knew Barry Galbraith and Milt Hinton, of course, since they had been on my album. But I had never met Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins [pictured above], Johnny Guarnieri or Cozy Cole. I was to enter the club, sit down at a table and then go up and sing one song.

JW: Were you nervous, given who was up there?

CS: Before any performance, I had a physical thing that went on. I usually had such butterflies. But I knew that if I didn’t have them, there was something dead inside of me. After the first notes, they left me entirely.

JW: What happened during the filming?

CS: I sang Taking a Chance on Love with the band and went in the back and sat down. Roy cozied up next to me and we made a connection. He said, “You know, you and I ought to do something together. Look what I did for Anita. We can do something, baby." He started singing Just You, Just Me. Well, the producer heard what we were doing and said, “Hey, let’s start rolling the camera.” I’ve always hated my performance on that song.

JW: Why?

CS: I’m not a scatter. And I’m so embarrassed by the tiara they made me wear. I was only supposed to do Taking a Chance on Love.

JW: Just You, Just Me is fun, though.

CS: I was caught off guard and didn’t have a chance to think about what I wanted to do. I never felt comfortable trying to scat. I simply wasn’t good at it. But Roy could scat, wow.

JW: And the other extras in the clip—did they really work at the club where the pilot was taped?

CS: The dancers were pros. [Photo above of Carol Stevens and husband Norman Mailer in the '60s]

JW: What was going on between Hawkins and Eldridge in Just You Just Me?

CS: It seemed that Hawk wouldn’t let him in to solo. Roy was ticked. Hawk thought Roy was taking over the session and didn’t like it. That was my impression, at least. I could be wrong. 

JW: Even though the TV pilot didn’t turn into a regular show, the album was successful.

CS: Yes, and Phil got an offer from Atlantic. I loved Nesuhi Ertegun. He wanted me to record again. But Phil told me he turned down the offer to wait for better deals with other labels, which never materialized.

JW: What did you do in the early ‘60s?

CS: I fielded all sorts of offers. I did a single ad for Duke cigarettes that paid $20,000. I don’t read music, so I asked the pianist to play the jingle a few times until I had it down. We cut it in just 20 minutes. I had a husky voice and hip sound that advertisers dug. I also did ads for Score Hair Crème, Breck shampoo, Reingold beer and ads for Harveys Bristol Cream with the MJQ and with Toots Thielemans.

JW: Voiceovers really paid well, wow.

CS: They did. The first one for Duke allowed me to have my son David come up from Philadelphia and live with me in New York. Previously, I couldn't afford a bigger place. I originally had lived on 57th St and loved it. The building had many one-room artists’ studios, so a lot of photographers and theater people lived here. But when David came up, I lived on the Upper West Side opposite the Dalton School, before it moved to the East Side. I had a huge two-bedroom apartment there with a dining room. I was probably spending a fortune. But I was happy. [Pictured above: Carol Stevens recently with her daughter Maggie]

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Carol Stevens' album That Satin Doll here.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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