Sylvia Syms

In a 1995 Jazz Times review of a Sylvia Syms CD, I wrote:

Sylvia Syms had a vibrato like a telephone wire in a breeze. She sometimes slid around both sides of a note before she settled on it. She often added the syllable “uh” to the end of a word (“ridin’ on the moon-uh”). She could pounce on a consonant and ignore the vowel next door. Some of her power notes were pure brass and there were moments when she sounded alarmingly like Carol Channing.

Hey, nobody’s perfect, but to many discerning listeners, musicians and singers, Sylvia Syms was. This live recording has all the reasons: passion, drama, phrasing, interpretation of lyrics, a solid but flexible time sense and the ability to keep an audience in the palm of her hand.

Frank Sinatra admired Syms so much that he conducted an album for her. It has never made it to CD, but the LP is available. Syms was not the British film star of the same name, but in her treatment of songs and in the way she related to her audiences, she was a vocal actress. This 1991 appearance in England gives an idea why Sinatra called her “the world’s greatest saloon singer.” 

 

The year following that performance, Syms died of a heart attack on the bandstand of the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel in New York. She was seventy-four.

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