Jun 7, 2014

Jazz For A Summer Day With Mary & Anita, Plus Gene & His Drums, Kenneth & Judee And A Sissy-Walk Secret Song!

Does music have a season? If it does, then jazz is meant for summer. The heat, the humidity, a chill band, a fresh vocalist. And the city for jazz? San Francisco must have something in the water, because so many terrific jazz vocalists seem to hail from there. Case in point, Mary Stallings, born in 1930, who almost immediately made a name for herself by singing at Frisco jazz clubs while still in her teens.
Yet despite performing steadily for decades - including stints with Cal Tjader and Dizzy Gillepsie - she didn't break through to mass-market jazz audiences until the mid-90s, which is a bit of a mystery (and a crime). But better late than never, right?

You'll understand why I think it's a crime when you listen to her 1997 LP "Manhattan Moods," which is one of the most satisfying jazz vocal albums I've ever heard. And I know, that sounds hyperbolic, but there's something about the champagne lightness of her tone - it's like an impossible high-wire act performed without a blink or a hair being mussed out of place. She reaches her zenith, I think, in her version of "It Goes To Your Head," stretching out her notes like the most delicious, buttery taffy. It rarely gets better than this.

Of course, a summer with jazz isn't complete without you-know-who. Yes, I'm talking about Miss Anita O'Day. You've stopped by on a good day today, because this isn't just an Anita Cheerful Exclusive!, it's a mystery, yo!

Sometime in 1975, Anita recorded an LP, or what was meant to be one, with jazz pianist and composer Dave Frishberg, whom she'd earlier joined forces with on "Peal Me a Grape," which he authored. Yet after I stumbled upon this LP, I couldn't find any concrete information about it at all (on the Internets or anywhere!). It's called the "Unissued Album," and while I'd like to trust whoever cobbled these tracks together, who really knows if it's definitive?

But then...who the hell cares? When you hear Anita's version of "Beyond the Blue Horizon," you won't be questioning its origin, you'll be thrilling to her crackling interpretation. And shockingly, she takes an overworked piece of slop like "You Are The Sunshine Of My life" (I'm not kidding) and reinvents it from top to bottom, making it bee-yond cool. And don't get me started on "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." That song and Anita? A match made in Heaven.

Meanwhile, when the summer gets really scorching, why not add to the fun with some white-hot Krupa?

There's (too) many Gene Krupa compilations out there, and sadly, most of them feel tossed together, without any momentum or build from track to track. That's not the case with "The Gene Krupa Story" (or "Drummin' Man," another Krupa compilation in an earlier post).

His celebrity was huge during his heyday - and his arrest for possession of doobage only fanned the flames (the opposite happened for Anita O'Day when she was busted for the good shit weed) (because men getting high was "cool;" women, not so much). His fame was well deserved and this 4 CD set puts it all into wonderful perspective. The first three chronicle his infamous band from the 1930s through the 40's, while the fourth is a collection of their live performances. He's joined by several stand-out vocalists, including Anita (of course), Dave Lambert, Irene Daye, as well as trumpeter Roy Eldridge, saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and many more. Play this at a summer party and it will never end.

There are times during the summer season when you feel laaaaaaaaazy, a little haaaaaaaaazy, and maybe, for just a few moments, a little electrified. Sounds contradictory, doesn't it?

It is, and before you think that some drug you took is taking you for a ride - wheeeeee! - relax, it's just Julee Cruise working with her finest collaborator, Kenneth Bager, the fizzy-pop Danish composer and DJ. Since Bager's output has been minimal, he isn't talked about much anymore (at least in the U.S.), but his steamy-dreamy sonic soundscapes on his 2006 debut, "Fragment From A Space Cadet," are almost instantly captivating (they also, I think, top Julee's collaborations with Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch). Haunting, beautiful, aurally amorphous, and with Julee's voice floating eerily above many of them, they sometimes remind me of that half-asleep, half-awake state when you first get up in the morning (or when I did mescaline back in the day) (but that's another story for another day).

The Secret Song File never takes hallucinogens. Why? Because life provides them handily enough. Like the time she went grocery shopping wearing a barely-there gold and diamond-studded snake - and for no rational reason. Who needs hallucinogens? And music? Who needs men? Who needs women? Why not something in-between?

Sometimes fun, blissfully obscene summer party music can come from places you least expect. For example, The Secret Song File wasn't expecting much from this so-called "Goddess Boy" in a long, flowing wig, knockers out to there and trashy, thigh-high hooker heels - because who would? But trust me, this is your new favorite summer CD. Will you adore it? *Cough!* Sorry, the Secret Song File's allergies are acting up. Or something like that.

Hay fever, hay schmeaver, let's have a drink!

Pour some bubbly in the comments, if you like!


Anthony said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful album (Mary Stallings)! She has a great voice/sound that stands out, and doesn't need a great orchestra or strings to shine!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're welcome, Anthony. And you're so right about her voice; I'd love to hear her a cappella!

Anthony said...

If you enjoy Mary Stallings, you will be pleasantly surprised when you listen to Lorez Alexandria, a wonderful jazz singer who past away in 2001. Wikipedia states that she has been described as "one of the most gifted and underrated jazz singers of the twentieth century". They are right!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

I love Lorez! I haven’t featured her on the Cheerful, but I really should.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Any chance you could reup that Unissued Anita O'Day album? Sound like it is really interesting listen and can't find it anywhere else. Many thanks!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Hi Anonymous. Anita's all yours. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Thanks!! Much appreciated!