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Mildred Bailey – The Rockin’ Chair Lady

Mildred Bailey (vocals)
with her Orchestra, Eddie Lang and his Orchestra, Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra, Red Norvo and his Orchestra, Matty Malneck and his Orchestra, Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra
rec. 1929-47

LIVING ERA CD AJS2020 [76:00 + 76:28]



All Of Me
At Sundown
Begin The Beguine
Bob White, Watcha Gonna Swing Tonight?
Darn That Dream
Don't Be That Way
Don't Take Your Love From Me
Downhearted Blues
Georgia On My Mind
Gulf Coast Blues
Harlem Lullaby
Have You Forgotten So Soon?
Heat Wave
Honeysuckle Rose
I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
It's The Natural Thing To Do
I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
Junk Man
Lazy Bones
Lonesome Road
Lover, Come Back To Me
Me And The Blues
Moon Got In My Eyes
More Than You Know
My Melancholy Baby
My Reverie
Never In A Million Years
Ol' Pappy
Old Folks
Peace, Brother!
Please Be Kind
Porter's Love Song To A Chambermaid
Prisoner Of Love
Rockin Chair
Says My Heart
Small Fry
Smoke Dream
So Help Me If I Don't Love You
Someday, Sweetheart
Squeeze Me
St Louis Blues
'Taint What You Do
It's The Way That Cha Do It
Thanks For The Memory
There's A Lull In My Life
Trust In Me
Weekend Of A Private Secretary
What Kind O' Man Is You?
When It's Sleepy Time Down South
Where Are You?
Willow Tree


Mildred Bailey seemed to fall somewhere between those two critical commonplaces – taken for granted and underestimated. But increasingly her status has risen. Her repertoire was wide. She sang the Classic Blues number Gulf Coast Blues in a small band with Mary Lou William and Floyd Smith in 1939. Earlier she’d essayed the Lovie Austin-Alberta Hunter Downhearted Blues alongside Bunny Berigan and Johnny Hodges, both virtuoso instrumentalists whose baroque flourishes are here necessarily reined in. These echoes of Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters marked her as an individualist amongst white singers – an archivist, in a sense, of a different tradition, or to be more accurate one who idiomatically absorbed such "Race" material into her own repertoire. The mementoes of the South are also pervasive – Georgia On My Mind and When it’s Sleepytime Down South – both hot off the press when Bailey recorded them. If Ray Charles and Louis have now eclipsed her in popular memory in these songs let’s never recall who was there first – or how adeptly she fashioned the lyrics.

She sang with some stellar players and the small group line-ups are not at all dissimilar to those that John Hammond prepared for Billie Holiday. Alongside Berigan and Hodges we find the pivotal figure of Teddy Wilson in that 1935 Parlophone session – the so-called Alley Cats band - one of the single best vocal sessions of the thirties. Moments of magic abound. Try Andy Secrest’s Bix-saturated solo on What Kind O' Man Is You? or Coleman Hawkins’s Vorticist take on Ol' Pappy.

One of the good things about so many of her discs is the opportunity to hear verses and not just choruses – to Georgia for one and The Lonesome Road for another, songs that are usually topped and tailed for the convenience of tighter arrangements. Still, there are some surprises. One doesn’t associate her much with fey songs but My Reverie is an Eddie Sauter and Larry Clinton arrangement of an early Debussy piano piece – unusual stuff indeed. So too is Mitch Miller’s oboe interlude in Don't Take Your Love From Me. Sauter incidentally provides the suave arrangement for St Louis Blues where Bailey is backed by her then husband Red Norvo and a contingent from the John Kirby band. Living Era has a bit of a track record for ending with syrup – they’ve just released an André Previn disc similarly afflicted – and they do so again with the string-laden confection All of Me abetted by Julian Work and his orchestra.

This however is not representative at all of the best sides here – excellently and inventively arranged and with Bailey’s cool, clear voice modifying from a rather portamento-fluid and high affair to a highly personalised, artifice-free and effortlessly swinging one. One final thing; Digby Fairweather can’t agree with himself as to when Bailey was born; 1903 or 1907. He’s clearly been handed a typo. It was 1907 making this, as he notes, her centenary year. Two packed CDs here, well transferred by Martin Haskell - except for the dim and dusty first track - handle her legacy with commitment.

Jonathan Woolf



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