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CARMEN MCRAE always had a nice voice (if not on the impossible level of an Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan) but it was her behind-the-beat phrasing and ironic interpretations of lyrics that made her most memorable. She studied piano early on and had her first important job singing with Benny Carter's big band (1944) but it would be another decade before her career really had much momentum.
McRae married and divorced Kenny Clarke in the 1940s, worked with Count Basie (briefly) and Mercer Ellington (1946-47), and became the intermission singer and pianist at several New York clubs.
In 1954, she began to record as a leader and by then she had absorbed the influences of Billie Holiday and bebop into her own style. McRae would record pretty steadily up to 1989 and, although her voice was higher in the 1950s and her phrasing would be even more laidback in later years, her general style and approach did not change much through the decades.
Championed in the 1950s by Ralph Gleason, Carmen McRae was fairly popular throughout her career. Among her most interesting recording projects were participating in Dave Brubeck's the Real Ambassadors with Louis Armstrong, cutting an album of live duets with Betty Carter, being accompanied by Dave Brubeck and George Shearing, and closing her career with brilliant tributes to Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan.
Carmen McRae, who refused to quit smoking, was forced to retire in 1991 due to emphysema. She recorded for many labels including Bethlehem, Decca (1954-58), Kapp, Columbia, Mainstream, Focus, Atlantic (1967-70), Black Lion, Groove Merchant, Catalyst, Blue Note, Buddah, Concord and Novus.
-- Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
She almost never lets melodies remain exactly as written; nearly every line received some kind of alteration, rhythmic or melodic, large or small. Within jazz, she makes the point that paraphrase and embellishment can be just as satisfying as out-and-out improvisation
Yet she makes an even greater point for jazz, concerning its relationship to other musics, because improvisational devices help her delved into the narrative; she reiterates the message of Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra that jazz can be the most important item in the toolbox for interpreting lyrics.
-- Will Friedwald, Jazz Singing
Editor's note: Carmen McRae was born in New York on April 8, 1920, and died on November 10, 1994.
TO HEAR NPR'S JAZZ PROFILE ON CARMEN MCRAE, put "Carmen McRae, Painter of Song, NPR Music" into your search menu. and click for download.
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ETTA JONES. An excellent singer who is always worth hearing, Etta Jones grew up in New York and at 16, toured with Buddy Johnson. She debuted on record with Barney Bigard's pickup band (1944) for Black & White, singing four Leonard Feather songs, three of which (including "Evil Gal Blues") were hits for Dinah Washington. She recorded other songs during 1946-1947 for RCA and worked with Earl Hines (1949-1952).
Jones' version of "Don't Go to Strangers" (1960) was a hit and she made many albums for Prestige during 1960-1965. Jones toured Japan with Art Blakey (1970), but was largely off record during 1966-1975.
However, starting in 1976, Etta Jones (an appealing interpreter of standards, ballads, and blues) began recording regularly for Muse, often with the fine tenor saxophonist Houston Person. Some of her finest work has been from the last two decades. She died from complications of cancer on October 16, 2001, the day her last album, Etta Jones Sings Lady Day, was released.
-- Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
For more about Etta Jones, go to http://www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/archive/jones_etta.html
A solid singer who is superior at interpreting lyrics, gives a soulful feeling to eachsong, and improvises with subtlety, Lorez Alexandria was a popular attraction for several decades. She sang gospel music with her family at churches starting in the mid-'40s and worked in Chicago nightclubs in the 1950s.
With the release of several albums for King during 1957-1959, Alexandria became popular beyond her hometown, and by the early '60s she was living and working in Los Angeles. In addition to the King label, her earlier recording sessions were for Argo and Impulse, while her later albums were for Discovery and Muse.
Despite a long period off records (only a few private recordings during the 1965-1976 period), Alexandria survived through the many changes in musical styles and could be heard in excellent form up until she retired in the mid-'90s. Not long after retiring, Alexandria suffered a stroke, and her health declined until her death in May 2001.
-- Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
Lorez Alexandria's most recent CDs are available on Muse Records.
CAROL SLOANE was born to Claudia and Frank Morvan on March 5, 1937, in Providence, Rhode Island, the older of two daughters, but she never lived in that city. Instead, she spent her happy childhood in the small town of Smithfield, just a few short miles north of the city. Her parents worked steadily through the years of World War II in the textile mill near their home.
Carol was the lucky member of a large family of cousins, aunts and uncles who all possessed natural singing voices. Only one uncle ever received formal musical education, and he played the tenor sax. In 1951, her Uncle Joe arranged an auditio for her with a society dance band led by
Ed Drew, and she began singing the stock arrangements of popular hits of the day each Wednesday and Saturday night at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet Ballroom, located in Cranston, Rhode Island. In 1955, Carol married a Providence disc jockey named Charlie Jefferds, and almost immediately, the couple found themselves at Fort Carson, Colorado, where Charlie endured the rigors of basic training followed by a one-year obligatory tour of duty in Germany. They returned to the U.S. in January 1958, and were amicably divorced in that year.
Carol continued to sing in small bars and clubs until she met the road manager of the Les and Larry Elgart Orchestra, which was touring the amusement park ballrooms in the southern New England area. She auditioned for Larry Elgart, who then asked her to come to New York with his band. The brothers had recently split the organization, Les taking the territory west of Chicago, Larry to handle everything east of Chicago. Larry Elgart suggested she change her name to Carol Sloane.
The "road years" with the Larry Elgart band continued until 1960, when the road simply became too boring and too difficult for her. After two years on the road, she was still unknown, and there were no singing engagements to be had. She took various secretarial jobs booked through Manhattan temp agencies. She continued her working relationship with the former road manager of the Elgart band, who had become an agent in the office of the legendary Willard Alexander. This man, Bob Bonis, arranged for Carol to sing at a jazz festival in Pittsburgh in 1960, at which time she met Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
Jon Hendricks asked Carol if she could learn the LH&R book in order to be prepared to take Annie Ross' place if that ever became necessary. Carol agreed to study the group's exacting material, and continued her secretarial gigs. Then, one night in early 1961, when attending a performance of LH&R at the Village Vanguard, Jon asked Carol to sing a couple of tunes on her own, after which the legendary proprietor Max Gordon asked her if she'd like to sing at the club the following August as the opening act for Oscar Peterson. In her own words, "I stammered an acceptance, and walked five feet off the ground on the way home"
Another auspicious move was quietly being made for Carol in 1961, without her knowledge: Jon Hendricks made a very persuasive argument to the producers that Carol should be included in that year's Newport Jazz Festival as part of the "New Stars" program. On the afternoon of that presentation, Carol had the use of the Ike Isaacs Trio which backed LH&R.
The pianist, Gildo Mahones, didn't know the verse to the Rodgers & Hart song "Little Girl Blue" so Carol blithely suggested she would sing it a cappella, and did so. The New York press unanimously praised the young woman's talent, exceptional intonation and pitch, and she was also heard by a representative of Columbia Records. Her first album,"Out of the Blue" was recorded a few short months later, with arrangements by the legendary Bill Finegan, and an orchestra boasting Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer among the soloists.
In the 1960's, Carol Sloane sang in major clubs such as Mr. Kelly's in Chicago where she opened for Jackie Mason and the Smothers Brothers; at the hungry I night clubn in San Francisco where she opened for Bill Cosby, Godfrey Cambridge and Richard Pryor; she also opened for Phyllis Diller, Stiller and Meara and Jackie Vernon at the Blue Angel in New York; she appeared regularly on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and became a regular member of the radio cast on Arthur Godfrey's CBS weekly program. She continued to record and make club and concert appearances
during this decade until the Beatles and rock 'n roll began to consume the popular culture, forcing some jazz venues to the edge of ruin. In 1969 Carol accepted an offer to sing in a club in Raleigh, North Carolina, found the atmosphere in that city very much less hectic than New York, with an audience eager to hear and support jazz artists. She relocated to the south at the beginning of 1970.
Carol worked both as a singer and a legal secretary for the next several years, eventually returning to New York to begin a turbulent relationship with a legendary jazz pianist, Jimmy Rowles. Jimmy's reputation as a master accompanist and soloist was solid and undisputed, but his alcoholism made their situation often stormy. He did, however, pull himself together long enough to play for Ella Fitzgerald when Tommy Flanagan left after almost twenty years of accompanying the great singer. Jimmy's tenure was much shorter: only two years at the outside. He then decided to return to Los Angeles, and did so at the end of 1980. Carol also left New York, this time returning to her beloved New England.
She arrived in Boston in January, 1981, accepted a job in a prestigious law firm, and promptly threw away the idea of an "ordinary" life when a friend asked her to return to N.C. to help him in his new supper club recently opened in Chapel Hill. The venue was beautiful, comfortable and truly a perfect setting for any artist, and Carol booked her friends into the club: Shirley Horn, Joe Williams, George Shearing, Marian McPartland, Anita O'Day, Jackie & Roy, and of course, the great Carmen McRae. This club managed to last all of two years, a remarkable accomplishment. Carol also hosted a radio show at the NPR affiliate in Chapel Hill. In 1984, while singing in a Boston club, she met the man whom she would eventually marry. Her marriage to Buck Spurr took place in November, 1986, and Carol has lived in the Boston area since that time. She recorded two albums for Contemporary in 1988 and 1989, then signed with Concord Jazz in 1991, recording six solo albums and touring Japan many times as part of the Concord-Fujitsu Festival. Carol stayed busy making her debut with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Boston in 1998, then with the New York Pops Orchestra in 1999, and recorded a tribute album to Duke Ellington on the DRG label that same year. In March 2000, she began a second career in radio, hosting The Jazz Matinee, a four-hour jazz program, five days a week on
WICN-FM, the NPR affiliate in Worcester, Mass. This jazz show took a full year's time to produce, until, in the spring of 2001, a heavy performance schedule made it necessary for Carol to leave WICN to resume touring and also record a new CD, I Never Went Away on the HighNote label was released in October 2001 and Whisper Sweet was released in 2003.
see Carol's website:-- www.carolsloane.com
Rebecca Parris has sung everything from rock to Sondheim, held her own in tightly orchestrated vocal jazz ensembles, and worked as a soloist in every setting imaginable, from big bands to duets. Whatever the occasion, during whichever phase of her career, Rebecca Parris has always been right on the musical target, nailing the groove. With her days of wandering the musical landscape behind her, she’s now singing in the jazz idiom, presenting her dynamic style through her unique interpretation of standards, ballads, blues, Latin and contemporary tunes. The career of this remarkable talent was launched at age six, singing in musicals with her father in summer stock. Born in Newton, Massachusetts, Rebecca still lives just south of Boston. Her New England fans consider her their own special star, but her smooth and passionate vocals enrapture and captivate audiences wherever she performs. Whether it’s the main stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, or the International Floating Jazz Festival out of Germany, Rebecca has amassed a plethora of teaching and working venues throughout the United States and abroad.
In addition to touring for the past decade as a solo artist, she has performed and shared the stage with an impressive list of jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Gunther Schuller Orchestras, Joe Williams and others.
Ms. Parris’ prior albums have garnered airplay and stunning accolades both on a national level and on the overseas market. In a review of her work, Jazz Times writer Fred Bouchard writes, "Best of all, she sings with power, conviction, originality, total believability. She is that rare bird: thexxxxxxxxx true Jazz singer with the soul of an entertainer."
Watching Rebecca Parris perform is more than going to a club to hear "good music".She is a gifted and accomplished performer, embracing the audience with her engaging and passionate vocals, witty humor, and the ability to leave people with a sense that they have truly been touched by the lyrical delivery of her ballads and the spirit of her skillful and versatile standards.
"Only now and then does there appear the genuine article - the singer with a great voice, consummate musical skills and a natural stage presence and dramatic delivery that makes a song’s works and lyrics spring to life."
-- Owen McNally, Hartford Courant
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For more information, go to www.rebeccaparris.com