Trying to keep up with new releases, I often get sidetracked by old favorites. It happens that my recent listening coincides with the birthday of two of the listenees.
Lou Levy, Lunarcy (Verve). Levy would have been 81 today. He died in January of 2001. From his post-World War Two beginnings with Georgie Auld through work with Sarah Vaughan, Boyd Raeburn, Woody Herman, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra–among many others–Levy was in demand as a band pianist, soloist, and accompanist to major singers. Uncompromising in his musical standards, he was one of the most important pianists initially inspired by Bud Powell, and he made whoever he was playing with sound better. Every so often, I pull out his 1992 CD Lunarcy. Recorded in Los Angeles for the French label Polygram and released in the US by Verve, Lunarcy got less promotion than it deserved. Drummer Ralph Penland and the late Eric Von Essen, a remarkable bassist, complete the rhythm section. Pete Christlieb is on tenor saxophone on most of the tracks. It is a happy collaboration.
Carol Sloane, Dearest Duke (Arbors). This is also Sloane’s birthday. As far as I know, Dearest Duke is her most recent CD. Full disclosure that I am not an impartial observer of this music: I wrote the liner notes. This excerpt will give you an idea of my enthusiasm for her work in this collection of Ellington songs.
What is a jazz singer? There is no reliable definition, but there is an answer. Carol Sloane is a jazz singer. If she scats one note in a thousand, I’d be surprised. I would not be surprised if that note was full of the spirit of jazz. Vocalists have scatted entire songs, entire sets, without a glimmer of the jazz feeling that Sloane achieves with three words of a ballad.
This is not idle liner note chatter. We have evidence at hand. One minute and six seconds into “Sophisticated Lady,” hear how she employs phrasing, intonation and melodic ingenuity as she sings “…soon grow wise.” It is a gem of a moment in a compelling performance. Sloane finds the heart of Duke Ellington’s tune and makes the most of Mitchell Parish’s lyrics. In her care, the awkward line, “…and when nobody is nigh,” seems absolutely right.
Next time, more recent listening and, possibly, more detachment.