Thelma Gracen: Thelma Gracen / Milli Vernon: Introducing

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Here we have another two high-quality singers lost in the mists of time, disinterred by Jordi Pujol and brought back to us. Enthusiastic words forecasting a great future in jazz singing were on the sleeve notes of the original two LP issues. And with good reason: both these ladies sang comfortably with good jazz musicians, their phrasing, voice control and interpretation of the lyrics all spot on.

Thelma’s self-titled LP features her with sterling backing from the likes of Georgie Auld, Barney Kessel and Lou Levy. Phrasing cleanly on I’ll Never Be The Same and dipping down to a lower register Thelma hits the good notes and the blue notes as Kessel and the rhythm section glide along in the background. She certainly demonstrates that subtle but almost indescribable difference between a true jazz singer and a good pop songstress. She swings easily too, in particular on tracks like Tea For Two and that old favourite of jazzers ancient and modern, Out Of Nowhere. Lou Levy shines on this one. Auld and Quentin Anderson’s trombone add piquant jazz flavourings.

Milli Vernon has a distinctive, bluesy, husky voice but just as much jazz feeling and intonation. She begins with a slow, blues-based Weep For The Boy which is helped along nicely by Ruby Braff’s muted trumpet and the free-flowing piano of Dave McKenna. Spring Is Here finds her in reflective, ballad mood, her voice strong and resonant. She really tells a story here and McKenna understands and supplies just the right piano backing. I feel that both these discs would be heralded just as enthusiastically if they were recorded and issued in 2019.

Discography
(1) I’ll Remember April; Night And Day; I’ll Never Be The Same; Tea For Two; I’ll Get By; Out Of Nowhere; Solitude; Just You, Just Me; I’m Yours; People Will Say We’re In Love; More Than You Know; Let There Be Love (2) Weep For The Boy; Moments Like This; Spring Is Here; St. James’ Infirmary; My Ship; This Year’s Kisses; Moon Ray; Everything But You; Every Time; Blue Rain; I Don’t Know What Kind Of Blues I’ve Got; I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry (60.34)
(1) Gracen (v) with Georgie Auld (ts); Quentin Anderson (tb); Lou Levy (p); Barney Kessel (elg); Joe Comfort (b); Sid Bulkin (d). LA, November 1955.
(2) Vernon (v) with Ruby Braff (t); Dave McKenna (p); Jimmy Raney (elg); Wyatt Ruther (b); Jo Jones (d). NYC, February 1956.
Fresh Sound FSR V104