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When Harry James Met Nancy Ames


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Scouring the web in search of something unrelated, I came across a clip from a 1967 Ed Sullivan show that brought to mind—as if a reminder were needed—Harry James’s stunning musicianship. The trumpeter teamed up with Nancy Ames in a performance of one of Ethel Merman’s signature songs from Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. A couple of his licks in the piece emphasize James’s ability as a blues player, an attribute often ignored by critics who downgraded him for his sugary playing in hits like “Sleepy Lagoon.” On the Sullivan broadcast, he showed his jazz side.

Ames seemed omnipresent on television for a few years. She came to fame on a program called Hootnenanny, something of a sensation in the early 1960s. She also sang the introductory news summary on the US version of the satirical This Was The Week That Was. Ames was typecast as a folk singer, but her stylistic range was wide. Part of her appeal came from relaxation and naturalness reminiscent of Peggy Lee. When bossa nova was still making modest waves in popular music, Nancy Ames showed that she had a nice touch with Brazilian songs. Her duet on “So Nice” (“Summer Samba”) with Andy Williams in a 1967 episode of his television show is an example. YouTube doesn’t allow us to embed the clip. To see it, click here.

As for Harry James’s blues authenticity, he established it convincingly on record in 1938 when he was a 22-year-old making his name as a sideman with Benny Goodman. He validated his credentials on two sides of a 78 with the boogie woogie piano giants Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, drummer Eddie Dougherty and bassist Johnny Williams. Here are both takes, “Boo Woo” and “Woo Woo.”

Less than a year later, in January, 1939, James left Goodman to form his own band. A string of hits lay ahead of him.

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