Born in 1911, Marietta Williams (Maxine’s real name) came from a musically active family. From the age of six her singing attracted attention around her native Pittsburgh. In the mid-30s she headed for New York, seeking fame and fortune, and auditioned in the prestigious clubs along the famous 52nd Street, gigging at the Onyx. She impressed pianist and arranger Claude Thornhill (later her husband), and on his first recordings as bandleader for the Vocalion label in June 1937 he featured her on the two tracks which open this 75-track, three-disc compilation covering her formative recording years. On Thornhill’s advice she recorded under the name of Maxine Sullivan.
Her warm voice, gentle and supple, was clear in tone and accurate in pitch and diction. Her contained but easy swinging phrasing, delivered with almost casual, relaxed ease and poise, eschewed showy embellishment. The great Peggy Lee recalled “I wasn’t drawn to any particular singer until I heard Maxine Sullivan. I like the simplicity and the economy … you really get the point of her songs right away”.
Thornhill encouraged her to develop her penchant for traditional folk songs, which he could arrange in a swing setting. In August 1937 she recorded Loch Lomond, excellently arranged by Thornhill, which became a major hit. Its success would influence her repertoire for several years, but venerable folk tunes with “hey nonny nonny no” attributes did perhaps threaten to typecast her to some extent, when she was equally adept with big band hits of the day. The dozen or so folk songs in this collection work well enough on the whole, benefiting from Maxine’s natural charm and Kirby’s ingenious chamber jazz arrangements with just two or three lame ducks which sound somewhat self-consciously twee and sentimental.
Maxine was no hell-raiser, and most of these recordings are quite laid back. But her so enjoyable singing is undeniably top-class in such golden standards as Night And Day, What A Difference A Day Made, Every Time We Say Goodbye (standing up well in comparison with Ella), Skylark and Come Rain Or Come Shine. There’s also much fine jazz to be enjoyed in the distinguished backing – John Kirby’s Band (with memorable contributions from Shavers, Hackett and Buster Bailey), colourful driving big band swing from Benny Carter’s Orchestra, and accomplished piano contributions from Teddy Wilson and Ellis Larkins. Full discographical details and notes are given in the commendably informative booklet. A deserved tribute to an outstanding yet often overlooked artist.
CD1: (1) Stop, You’re Breaking My Heart; Gone With The Wind; (2) Loch Lomond; I’m Coming Virginia; Annie Laurie; Blue Skies;(1) Don’t Save Your Love (For A Rainy Day); (3) Easy To Love; Nice Work If You Can Get It; The Folks Who Live On The Hill; Darling Nellie Gray; (4) It’s Wonderful: You Went To My Head; Dark Eyes; A Brown Bird Singing; (5) Moments Like This; Please Be Kind; It Was A Lover And His Lass; Spring Is Here; Down The Old Ox Road; St. Louis Blues; L’Amour, Toujours L’Amour; (6) Night And Day; It Ain’t Necessarily So; Kinda Lonesome (72.40)
CD2: (6) Say It With A Kiss; I Dream Of Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair; Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes; I’m Happy About The Whole Thing; Corn Pickin’; (7) Jackie Boy; Sing Something Simple; Turtle Dove; Ill Wind; (8) The Hour Of Parting; If I Had A Ribbon Bow; Who Is Sylvia?; Molly Malone; Barbara Allen; That Lovely Tune; There I Go; The Same Old Story; Calm As The Night; The Heart You Stole From Me; Last Night The Nightingale Woke Me; You Mean So Much To Me; (9) Midnight; What A Difference A Day Made; (10) Just Like A Gypsy; My Blue Heaven (71.38)
CD3: (11) Kentucky Babe; My Curly-Headed Baby; When Your Lover Has Gone; My Ideal; (12) Beside The River Clyde; How Do I Know It’s Real?; (13) Behavin’ Myself For You; I Carry The Torch For You; The Story Of Our Love Affair; Confession Is Good For The Soul; (14)This Heart Of Mine; Every Time We Say Goodbye; (15) I’m The Caring Kind; Looking For A Boy; (16) Mad About The Boy; I Must Have That Man; I Can’t Get Started; (17) Skylark; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Miss Otis Regrets; Takin’ My Time; Summertime; Legalize My Name; (18) Cry, Buttercup, Cry; Restless (71.10)
Sullivan (v) on all tracks with: (1) Claude Thornhill’s Orch. NY, 14 June and 26 August 1937. (2) Her Orch., Dir. Thornhill. NY, 6 August 1937. (3) Her Orch., Dir. Thornhill. NY, 22 October 1937. (4) Claude Thornhill’s Orch. NY, 4 February 1938. (5) Claude Thornhill’s Orch. NY, 1 March and 29 June 1938. (6) Claude Thornhill’s Orch. NY, 10 December 1938. (7) Her Orch. NY, 22 August 1938. (8) John Kirby’s Orch. NY, 1 May, 1 August, 10 October, 18 November, 18 December 1940. (9) Benny Carter and his Orch. NY, 1 April 1941. (10) Unidentified small group. NY, 17 June 1941. (11) Unidentified small group. NY, 28 January 1942. (12) Unidentified orch. NY, 19 March 1942. (13) Cedric Wallace Orch. NY, 24 November 1944. (14) Teddy Wilson Quintet. NY, 18 December 1944. (15) Benny Carter and his All Star Orch. NY, 8 January 1946. (16) The New Friends Of Rhythm. NY, late 1946. (17) The Ellis Larkin’s Trio. NY, late 1946. (18) Bob Haggart’s Orch. NY, 1949.
Collective personnel includes Manny Klein, Charlie Spivak, Frankie Newton, Charlie Shavers, Bobby Hackett, Doc Cheattham, Sidney DeParis (t); Vic Dickenson, Jimmy Archey, Al Grey (tb); Babe Russin, Buster Bailey, Pete Brown, Bud Freeman, Russell Procope, Benny Carter, Dexter Gordon, Hank D’Amico (reeds); Red Norvo (vib); Claude Thornhill, Billy Kyle, Teddy Wilson, Ellis Larkin’s (p); Everett Barksdale, Freddie Green (g); Buddy Rich, Cozy Cole (d).
Acrobat ACTRCD 9085