Ms. Winters sang Dave Frishbergâ€™s lyrics to Mandelâ€™s â€œYou Are There,â€ accompanied by only the composer at the piano. Together, without embellishment, they created magic, something at which this masterly singer has excelled for many years to recognition that comes nowhere near her level of artistry.
At JWC3, I learned from Ms. Winters and her producer, Bill Reed, that she had recorded an entire album of Mandel songs with the great pianist Lou Levy, her companion in music and life who died in 2001. In 1983, they performed in the Great American Songwriters series at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. Until this spring, the recording of their Mandel concert was squirreled away on a reel of tape. The good news for those who relish singing that serves the song is that the recital has emerged on an imported compact disc. Slightly less good is the news that The Shadow of Your Smile: Pinky Winters Sings Johnny Mandelâ€¦with Lou Levy, produced by the Sinatra Society of Japan, sells for nearly forty dollars. If I had not received a review copy, I would have paid the forty bucks. Singing of this quality is worth it.
Why? Maybe the key lies in that phrase from the October Rifftides review: â€œwithout embellishment.â€ Pinky Winters does not scat, swoop, or indulge in any form of â€œjazz singerâ€ posturing. I have no doubt, given her innate musicianship, that she could embellish up a storm, butâ€”like the man who knows how to play the accordion in Mark Twainâ€™s definition of a gentlemanâ€”she chooses not to. She merely sings the song, with impeccable diction, interpretation, time and phrasing, and with intonation that is centered in the heart of each note. Strike â€œmerely;â€ thereâ€™s nothing mere about her kind of artistry. The great bassist Red Mitchell once wrote a song called â€œSimple Isnâ€™t Easy.â€ He might have had Pinky Winters in mind.
In her two minutes with Mandelâ€™s â€œYou Are Thereâ€ (lyric by Dave Frishberg), she presents the song as a chapter in a life story. Through her subtle phrasing, â€œitâ€™s morning,â€ makes us feel the freshness of morning. She sings â€œpretend the dream is trueâ€ with the softest diminuendo on the word â€œdream,â€ and weâ€™re dreaming. At a dynamic level of double piano, she makes the piece a soliloquy. She works the same magic with Peggy Leeâ€™s lyrics to Mandelâ€™s â€œThe Shining Sea,â€ with â€œCinnamon and Clove,â€ with â€œEmily,â€ indeed, with all ten of the songs she caresses here. Itâ€™s no wonder that in his back-cover endorsement Mandel says, â€œIâ€™m proud to say that many fine singers have recorded my songs, but none of them made me as happy as what youâ€™re about to hear on this record.â€
Levyâ€™s accompaniment is half the story of the albumâ€™s success. One of the finest of the generation of bebop pianists who followed Bud Powell, he was a member of Woody Hermanâ€™s Second Herd and of Chubby Jacksonâ€™s big band. He went on to solo with power and imagination through a career that brought him together with a high percentage of the top jazz artists of the second half of the twentieth century. He worked often with Stan Getz, his pal from the Herman days. Levyâ€™s sixth sense about what singers need made him a favorite accompanist of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson and, of course, Pinky Wintersâ€”the royalty of vocalists in the second half of the twentieth century. Levy once said, â€œIâ€™ve played for every singer except Pavarotti.â€ Thatâ€™s a tough break for Pavarotti.
In addition to the pieces with Winters, Levy plays â€œTheme from M*A*S*H,â€ â€œEl Cajonâ€ and â€œA Time For Loveâ€ as piano features, aided by the late bassist Bill Takas, who also assists on the vocal tracks. The intimate quality of the recording captures all of Levyâ€™s full-bodied harmonies. The album ends with a 1991 recording of Ms. Winters singing â€œTake Me Home,â€ Mandel accompanying her in what is described as a demo track. Some demo. Some album.