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Eddie Jefferson: Vocal Ease

Jim Santella By

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Writing lyrics to fit transcribed jazz solos note for note, Eddie Jefferson founded vocalese in the late 1940s. His lyrics contained a contextual message about the referenced artist, which he performed, to the accompaniment of a small ensemble. The singer’s "Parker’s Mood" salute to Bird and his "I Cover the Waterfront" salute to Pres were recorded in 1949. But it was King Pleasure who captured the public’s ear, singing Jefferson’s "Moody’s Mood for Love" and "Parker’s Mood" a few years later. This compilation by 32 Jazz comes from the four Muse albums that Jefferson recorded in the mid-1970s. The singer adds some scat singing to his performances, which contain improvised instrumental interludes from a talented cast. The electric sounds from that seventies decade are used sparingly, as Jefferson alternates electric and acoustic basses and pianos. Eddie Jefferson was fatally shot outside a Detroit club in 1979 after performing there; he was 60.

Capturing the mood, as one would expect on "Ornithology" and "Bitches Brew," for example, Jefferson speaks to the nature of each artist and to the impact each piece had on listeners. "So What" and "Bitches Brew" capture the essence of Miles Davis descriptively and through musical timbres, including muted trumpet, velvety tenor saxophone, and eerie bass clarinet tones. The latter piece, of course, veers from the traditional vocalese course by adding reverb, echo, musical saw, and more. "Zap! Carnivorous," with Richie Cole, was a precursor to today’s rapster jargon. Jefferson warns about carnivores that threaten our streets, emphasizing the thought with forceful language. "Night in Tunisia" features Billy Mitchell on flute and Joe Newman with muted trumpet, while Sam Jones and Joe Newman take the solo spots on "Billie’s Bounce." Trumpeter Waymon Reed contributes several lovely interludes to the album. His fluid, mellow tone and lyrical phrasing recall Clifford Brown’s favorable sound. Reed’s trumpet interludes on "Ornithology" and "I Got the Blues" reveal a heartfelt sensitivity toward melodic interpretation. Sadly he, like Eddie Jefferson, is gone; but the music remains for us to enjoy again and again.


Title: Vocal Ease | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Repertoire Records

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