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Reviewers: Glyn Pursglove, Jonathan Woolf

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Nancy Wilson

Four Classic Albums Plus

AVID JAZZ AMSC 1349 [71:23 + 75:30]

 

 

CD1
1-12: Like In Love
1. On The Street Where You Live
2. Night Mist
3. You Leave Me Breathless
4. The More I See You
5. I Wanna Be Loved
6. Almost Like Being In Love
7. People Will Say We’re In Love
8. Passion Flower
9. Sometimes I’m Happy
10. In Other Words
11. All Of You
12. If It’s The Last Thing I Do
13-24: Something Wonderful
13. Teach Me Tonight
14. This Time The Dream’s On Me
15. I’m Gonna Laugh You Out Of My Life
16. I Wish You Love
17. Guess Who I Saw Today
18. If Dreams Come True
19. What A Little Moonlight Can Do
20. The Great City
21. He’s My Guy
22. Something Happens To Me
23. Call It Stormy Monday
24. Something Wonderful Happens

25-30 Six tracks from The Swingin’s Mutual
25. On Green Dolphin Street from The Swingin’s Mutual
26. The Nearness Of You from The Swingin’s Mutual
27. Born To Be Blue from The Swingin’s Mutual
28. All Night Long from The Swingin’s Mutual
29. The Things We Did Last Summer from The Swingin’s Mutual
30. Let’s Live Again from The Swingin’s Mutual
CD2
1-11: Nancy Wilson & The Cannonball Adderley Quintet
1. Save Your Love For Me*
2. Teaneck
3. Never Will I Marry*
4. I Can’t Get Started
5. The Old Country*
6. One Man’s Dream
7. Happy Talk*
8. Never Say Yes
9. The Masquerade Is Over*
10. Unit 7
11. A Sleepin’ Bee*
12-23: Hello Young Lovers
12. A Good Man Is Hard To Find
13. Hello Young Lovers
14. Sophisticated Lady
15. When A Woman Loves A Man
16. Little Girl Blue
17. Nina Never Knew
18. You Don’t Know What Love Is
19. Put On A Happy Face
20. When Sunny Gets Blue
21. Listen, Little Girl
22. Miss Otis Regrets
23. Back In Your Own Back Yard

Like In Love : Nancy Wilson (vcl), with orchestra arranged and conducted by Billy May. Personnel includes Willie Smith and Benny Carter (alto sax), Milt Bernhart (trombone), Milt Raskin (piano), Jack Marshall (guitar), Joe Mondragon (bass), Stan levey (drums). Rec. Los Angeles, December 5,7,8, 1959.

Something Wonderful: Nancy Wilson (vcl),with othcestra arranged and conducted by Billy May. Personnel includes Pete Candoli, Conrad Gozzo (trumpets), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Emil Richards (vibes), Milt Raskin (piano, celeste), Jack Marshall (guitar), Shelly Manne (drums). Rec. Los Angeles, May 10,11,19, 1960.

The Swingin’s Mutual: Nancy Wilson (vcl), with George Shearing (piano), Dick Garcia (guitar), Warren Chaisson (vibes), Armando Peraza (percussion), Ralph Pena (bass), Vernell Fournier (drums). Rec. New York, June 29-July 6 1960. Nancy Wilson does not appear on the remaining tracks from this album. The complete album was previously reissued on George Shearing Four Classic albums (AVID AMSC 1117).

Nancy Wilson & The Cannonball Adderley Quintet : Nancy Wilson (vcl)*, with Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Nat Adderley (cornet), Joe Zawinul (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Louis Hayes (drums). Rec. New York June27 & 29 1961.

Hello Young Lovers : Nancy Wilson (vcl) with orchestra and strings (arr. Milt Raskin and George Shearing), conducted by Raskin. Personnel includes George Shearing (harpsichord), on ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, Shelly Manne (drums). Rec. Los Angeles, March 14-16, 1962.

During her career of over 40 years, Nancy Wilson sang many kinds of popular music – blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, straight popular. In most of what she sang the listener was conscious of the presence of a firmly-rooted jazz sensibility. In various interviews Wilson spoke of being, in her early years, influenced by hearing records by artists such as Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine and Lionel Hampton and those valuable influences were usually audible.

She won a talent contest while still in her teens in Ohio, the state of her birth, and began to perform in the Midwest and (with a band led by saxophonist Rusty Bryant) in Canada, around 1957-58.

After Cannonball Adderley met her and she sat in on a gig of his, he advised her to move to New York City, believing that she would be able to build a career there. She based herself in New York from 1959 and soon established herself on the club scene there (initially while working daytime as a secretary).

In subsequent years she worked and recorded with many different ensembles – sometimes with big bands, sometimes in the company of smaller jazz ensembles. How far we hear the jazz singer and how far the sophisticated interpreter of standards largely depends on the context in which Wilson is performing. Of the 53 tracks reissued on this useful set from Avid, 24 were made with orchestras arranged by Billy May, another 12 in front of an orchestra arranged by Milt Raskin and George Shearing and the remainder with quintets led by Cannonball Adderley and George Shearing. Unsurprisingly Ms. Wilson’s jazz virtues are most consistently in evidence in the sessions with Adderley and Shearing.

It is on Hello Young Lovers that one hears the least of Wilson the jazz singer (which is unfortunate, since her voice actually sounds to be in very good order). This is an album of urbane readings of good-quality popular material with charts which are often excessively lush. As a result, Wilson’s phrasing is generally less personal than it is on her very best recordings. Still, on at least two tracks, ‘Little Girl Blue’ (by Rodgers and Hart) and, especially, Cole Porter’s ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, Wilson has more opportunity to escape the cloying arrangements, so that she does more to set the tone of the performance herself. On the Porter song – which gets an intriguingly-styled reading with an interesting sense of drama, George Shearing makes a somewhat unexpected appearance playing harpsichord.

More straightforward big band arrangements by Billy May (who was something of a house-arranger with Capitol around the time of these recordings) are to be heard on Like in Love (Wilson’s debut album with Capitol) and Something Wonderful. Recorded, respectively, in December 1959 and May 1960, both remain interesting listening, though Something Wonderful is the more consistently satisfying.

For understandable reasons (lack of space) Avid don’t give personnel details for these big-band albums (my very selective listings of musicians above come from online discographies). Where Something Wonderful is concerned, jazz listeners will surely want to know that the great Ben Webster was in the recording studio and can be heard from time to time (as on ‘He’s My Guy’). Tracks of particular interest, in addition to ‘He’s My Guy’, include ‘Call It Stormy Monday’ – on which Webster is again heard to good effect – and ‘Guess Who I Saw Today’. On ‘Guess Who’, with lyrics by Elisse Boyd (with music by Murray Grand, this was written for the review New Faces of 1952), Wilson is accompanied by a small group and gives a quite stunning reading of the song; while utterly unflamboyant, Lewis grips the listener with her control of Boyd’s narrative monologue of a woman recounting to her husband, how she saw him, earlier in the day in a café-bar with a woman with whom he was clearly “so in love”. Hearing the way Lewis creates this character and dramatic situation, it is not surprising that she should later (in the 1960s and 70s) have acted in TV series such as Burke’s Law and Hawaii Five O. The fine guitar playing on this track is the work of the relatively unsung Jack Marshall. Though primarily a studio musician and an arranger-composer, Marshall did make a few jazz records appearing, for example, on two sessions led by Shelly Manne (Sounds, 1960 and Sounds Unheard Of, 1962). He also plays rhythm guitar on some tracks of Barney Kessel’s Some Like It Hot (1959) but seems to have gone largely unnoticed by followers of jazz.

I have saved till last discussion of the small group recordings with Adderley and Shearing. I have done so because they are rather different from the other material on this set and because the two have different characters in just the way that might easily be anticipated. The album with the Adderley Quintet is the more ‘bluesy’, essentially a hard bop recording (even if a somewhat ‘polite’ one). The Shearing session – or at least this vocal section of it – is harmonically more complex and a good deal less passionate; at times it almost sounds, to quote an observation on Shearing’s work by Richard Cook and Brian Morton, more like “blue-chip easy listening rather than jazz”. Or, more generously, one might say that in jazz terms, Wilson’s collaboration with Adderley is ‘hot’, while that with Shearing is altogether ‘cooler’. Both sessions are worth the hearing; with Shearing ‘The Nearness of You’ shows Wilson the ballad singer to excellent effect, while on her session with the Adderley Quintet the performance of ‘Happy Talk’ catches her in livelier mode and involves some attractive interplay between alto sax, cornet and voice, driven along nicely by the drums of Louis Hayes. That Wilson is able to impress in both these two very different quintet situations is a testimony to how well she could control her ‘instrument’. Both groups of instrumentalists audibly respect and value Wilson’s work. (The purely instrumental tracks by the Adderley Quintet, while they may not have the stuff of greatness about them, make for rewarding listening too).

Never purely a ‘jazz’ singer, Wilson was an accomplished vocalist who was very much at home with jazz musicians and who had enough affinities with singers such as Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and even Billie Holiday, to be able to produce recordings able to please hardened jazz enthusiasts. This valuable issue is a well-chosen and accessible ‘sampler’ of her work.

Glyn Pursglove


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