Onward With Ruth Price

Even before the recession, the business side of jazz was struggling. During the worst of the downturn, singer and nonprofit entrepreneur Ruth Price took a double hit when her Jazz Bakery lost its lease. The club is still looking for a home. Reporter Greg Burk tells the story in today’s Los Angeles Times.

The Jazz Bakery is a nonprofit organization. To followers of the scene, that statement is a redundancy, of course. In Los Angeles, saying a jazz club doesn’t make money is like saying a restaurant doesn’t serve scrap iron.
In 18 years as president and artistic director of the Jazz Bakery, Ruth Price has alwaysruth-price.jpg known that fresh music doesn’t translate into hefty profits. Lately, though, Price has found it harder to offer quality at a discount. Last May, the Jazz Bakery lost its space in Culver City’s old Helms Bakery complex when its philanthropic landlord, Wally Marx Jr., died. Since then, Price and the Jazz Bakery’s 13 directors have scoured the city for a new permanent location. They report some excellent prospects but can confirm only that the club will remain on the Westside and that its status as a quiet concert venue will continue.

To read the whole story, go here.
More Live-Lee.jpgOf the many albums recorded at the Bakery, I have long been partial to the two CDs alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Alan Broadbent recorded in concert there in 2000. The spirit of Lennie Tristano – salty and benevolent — hovered over the bandstand that night.
As for Ruth Price in her artistic rather than her managerial role, she is an undersung vocalist. I mean that in two senses; she doesn’t sing often enough and she doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. One night at the Jazz Bakery, she was a guest for one Thumbnail image for RUTH PRICE, SHELLY M.jpgnumber during a Gene Lees evening. She sang Bill Evans’ “My Bells,” featuring Lees’ lyrics to that beautiful Evans melody line with its devilish intervals. Ms. Price nailed it so definitively that I’ve been hoping ever since that she would record it. She did record at another Los Angeles club. Her CD with Shelly Manne and His Men is one of the best vocal albums of our time.
The technical quality is substandard in the following segment from a 1958 Stars Of Jazz program, and Bobby Troup’s interview with Ruth doesn’t quite get off the ground, a risk of live television. But the singing soars. Stan Levey is the drummer, and although the glimpses of them are brief, I am reasonably sure that the bassist and pianist are Scott LaFaro and Victor Feldman.

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  1. says

    First, I am flattered at your assessment of my singing; it’s what I’m most proud of, even though keeping the Jazz Bakery going all these years has been the more visible achievement.
    As far as your final supposition, you are correct that it was Scott LaFaro and Victor Feldman. In fact, Scott’s sister and several others have mentioned to me that that is unfortunately the only known video of Scott’s all-too-brief career of gorgeous playing. We were all very young at the time, and I worked with him frequently here in Los Angeles, before he went to New York City.
    You mentioned the Bill Evans tune “My Bells.” I too regret not recording it. Although “Skylark” is still my very favorite song (dating from long before I had any intention of being a singer), “My Bells” is the one that tugs at my heart almost mysteriously. I grew up on a street called Church Street, in a small town called Phoenixville, in Pennsylvania. And there were, as you might have guessed, 4 churches on each corner. The lyric clearly seems to describe my life….

  2. Walt says

    I am only sorry that it has taken me seventy-eight years to find this gem of a singer! The album with Johnny Smith is now in my record rack, and I expect to trawl the internet and used shops for the rest. I rate Ms Price well up among the best jazz and cabaret singers of my lifetime.