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Reviewers: Glyn Pursglove, Jonathan Woolf

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MILDRED BAILEY

The Rockin’ Chair Lady; her 52 finest 1929-47

RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4344 [79:09 + 79:20]

 

CD1

1. Rockin' Chair

2. What Kind O' Man Is You?

3. Blues in My Heart

4. When It's Sleepy Time Down South

5. Georgia On My Mind

6. Home

7. Harlem Lullaby

8. Lazy Bones

9. Heat Wave

10. Junk Man

11. Ol' Pappy

12. Someday, Sweetheart

13. Willow Tree

14. Honeysuckle Rose

15. Squeeze Me

16. Downhearted Blues

17. A Porter's Love Song to a Chambermaid

18. More Than You Know

19. Smoke Dreams

20. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm

21. Trust in Me

22. Where Are You?

23. Never in a Million Years

24. There's a Lull in My Life

25. The Moon Got in My Eyes

CD2

1. It's the Natural Thing to Do

2. Bob White, Watcha Gonna Swing Tonight?

3. Thanks for the Memory

4. Lover, Come Back to Me

5. Weekend of a Private Secretary

6. Please Be Kind

7. Don't Be That Way

8. Says My Heart

9. I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart

10. My Melancholy Baby

11. The Lonesome Road

12. So Help Me If I Don't Love You

13. Small Fry

14. My Reverie

15. Old Folks

16. Have You Forgotten So Soon?

17. St. Louis Blues

18. Begin the Beguine

19. 'Tain't What You Do (It's the Way That Cha Do It)

20. Gulf Coast Blues

21. Prisoner of Love

22. Darn That Dream

23. Peace, Brother!

24. Don't Take Your Love from Me

25. Me and the Blues

26. At Sundown

27. All of Me

I think it’s fair to say that of all the singers covered thus far in this series – Bea Wain, Kay Starr, Helen Forrest, Annette Hanshaw, Kitty Kallen and Julie London – none makes a more direct appeal to the jazz sensibility than Mildred Bailey. But as Digby Fairweather makes clear in his booklet notes, there is something of a sense of anti-climax about her career. There’s a sense too that she should have seared herself more into the jazz memory than she has done. Try a test; which songs do you most associate with her? And then run through songs you associate with Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan.

In a sense this does Bailey less than her due. She was an influential, important and profoundly gifted interpreter and surrounded herself with some of the best players and bands in the business. The one tune rightly associated with her – though since supplanted by the Armstrong-Teagarden double act - was Rockin’ Chair though her early style is perhaps best exemplified by her brief moaning vocalise, portamenti and instrumentally-based vocalism on Blues in my Heart, made with Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra in 1931. It’s good to hear full verses being sung, as on Georgia on my Mind, for example, rather than hasty ‘vocal choruses’ interpolated between the band’s outing.

In these and other numbers the nucleus of the Paul Whiteman band, Matty Malneck, the Dorseys, her then-husband Red Norvo and Benny Goodman provide laudable backing but it’s still arresting to hear Coleman Hawkins’ powerful obbligato on Junk Man or his extended solo on Ol’ Pappy or Teddy Wilson’s articulate pianism on Someday, Sweetheart. Some of the best tracks in the twofer come with her Alley Cats - Bunny Berigan, Johnny Hodges, Wilson and Grachan Moncur – which include a set of Fats Waller and Lovie Austin tunes recorded in December 1935. Wilson’s boogie, Hodges’ blues and Berigan’s coiled lead all hit the spot. Listen out as well to Cozy Cole’s unobtrusively magnificent drumming on More Than You Know, assuredly one of Bailey’s most persuasive recordings. She was one of the most assured and convincing of all singers of popular song and even when the material was nondescript, as it is in Trust in Me and - strangely, as it’s from the pen of Jimmy McHugh - Where are You? Bailey never gives less than her best and sideman Roy Eldridge electrifies things sufficiently.

Throughout there are so many things to enjoy. There’s Johnny Mercer whistling away on Bob White, Whatcha Gonna Swing Tonight? and Eddie Sauter’s sophisticated arrangement of Debussy in My Reverie – even Have You Forgotten So Soon, the Silver-Heyman-Coslow crib of Thanks for the Memory. Her Oxford Greys, drolly named, comprised Mary Lou Williams, electric guitarist Floyd Smith, John Williams and Eddie Dougherty and they serve up a Back to the Past version of Clarence Williams’ 1926 Gulf Coast Blues. Bailey was no Blues Chanteuse but it’s by no means an exercise in retro chic in March 1939. Accompanist extraordinaire Ellis Larkins lends his skill in 1946 and an anonymous big band under Julian Work gives support on the last track, All of Me – a languorous envoi. The last track was cut in May 1947. Four years later she was dead, at the very early age of 48.

This fine twofer is a worthy salute to Mildred Bailey’s brief but invaluable legacy on disc.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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