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JJ 06/70: Carol Sloane on singers

In 1970 Fred Bouchard got the opinions of Carol Sloane (b. 1937, leader of dates on Columbia, Concord, HighNote and Arbors and sometime Downbeat critic) on singers including Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Cleo Laine, Aretha Franklin, and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. First published in Jazz Journal June 1970

Ella Fitzgerald How Long Blues (Verve) Roy Eldridge (tpt), Wild Bill Davis (org), Ray Brown (bs), etc.

Ella doesn’t have to try to prove anything when she sings the blues, or to show her heritage. I didn’t like that at all

It sounded to me like somebody said, ‘C’mon, Ella, let’s prove to the world you’ve got guts, that you can really sing the blues.’ When she heard that I imagine that made her a little nervous. I don’t suppose that’s one of her fav­ourite tracks. It sounded like it was recorded in the fifties when Charlie Christian and those guys were around. It might have been Roy Eldridge or Buck Clayton behind her.

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On the intro, Ray Brown sounded like he was recorded in somebody’s basement. On Verve? I’m sur­prised. Very amateurish recording. Ella didn’t sound very comfortable, like she was straining a little. She can sing the blues without resorting to all those funny little grace notes thrown in there. There’s a considerable amount of fooling around that just proves what we al­ready know anyway, that she has the vocal flexibility to do it.

At a concert in Washington not too far back, she sang one of my favourite songs with her trio – How Long Has This Been Going On? The way she sang that song made me cry. She sang it – not bluesy – but she sang that thing and phrased it beautifully without going into all that stuff. Ella doesn’t have to try to prove anything when she sings the blues, or to show her heritage. I didn’t like that at all. I’d have liked to hear more of Roy, ’cause he blew nicely.

Joni Mitchell Michael From Mountains (Reprise)

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OK, that has to be Joni Mitchell, because it’s not Judy Collins. I did that feat by process of elimination, not ever having heard Joni sing but knowing it was her song. And all the things I’ve heard about Joni Mitchell I love a lot. Very young, isn’t she? A lovely tune.

Something marvellous has happened to music lately – these young people, not only folk singers, though it started there, are all writing and singing their own songs. They’re not necessarily the greatest singers in the world, but they have the courage to come out with it. You know, in the old days, Hoagy Carmichael would say, ‘Admittedly, I can’t sing,’ and he’d write great tunes and wait for a Sinatra to come along and sing them. Now the Bert Bacharachs and Joni Mitchells are doing their own tunes. And Jim Webb and Rod McKuen, men who are not essentially singers. But in this age of ‘do your own thing, baby,’ if you write your own tunes, why not sing them as well? I think it’s marvellous.

Did I tell you I bought a guitar? Oh, yeah. And I said, well, if they can do it, I can do it. So one night I had some brandy and I got the guitar out and I had some more brandy and I fooled around and fooled around and it started to sound pretty good, you know? I didn’t really have a lyric, but I had a nice melody. I thought I’d better put it down on tape before I forget it, because I really don’t know what I’m playing. And the next morning I found I’d written Black Orpheus. Oh, well.

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But the Gershwins and Rodgers and Hart never sang their own songs, and the only time you’d see Irving Berlin is if it were a TV special and he’s a guest and everybody’s doing his songs and at the end he sits down and does the ‘and then I wrote’ routine. Then he might hum along or sing a chorus, but he always apolog­ized that he wasn’t a singer but a songwriter. Well that’s not the case anymore and I’m kinda for that. Ha ha! It narrows down the room though for those of us that sing and don’t write, but I guess there’s room for all of us.

I liked that song; it’s beautiful. Isn’t it lovely the way she uses the analogy of the mountains with a young man who doesn’t want to be tied down. And that ‘cats come crying to the key’! Now that absolutely gets me. You can imagine with my seven cats when I put my key in the door there’s nothing but tails and noses and whiskers looking at me.

Jimmy Rushing Tricks Ain’t Walkin’ No More Hank Jones (piano) (Philips)

Fats? Is that Fats? Is it Willie the Lion? Well I think he’s playing for himself, isn’t he? Gee it sure fits in good. When I first heard the introduction, I thought it sounded like Duke Ellington playing. And that last sustained pedal, too. I thought of Jimmy Rushing, now, I really did, but I never heard him just speak a tune like that. I should have said the first thing I thought, ’cause it sounded too new to be Fats, not enough scratchy surface. Come to think of it, he speaks like he sings. That was good for a giggle.

Beatles Because (Apple)

I bought ‘Abbey Road’ and I took it home excitedly like any strong Beatle fan does and I put it on, track 1, side 1, with a drink and started to listen. I loved it from the very beginning

You can take that off if you want to because I know just what I’m going to say. Well, I bought ‘Abbey Road’ and I took it home excitedly like any strong Beatle fan does and I put it on, track 1, side 1, with a drink and started to listen. I loved it from the very beginning. When I hit Because on side 2, track 2, that was it. I couldn’t go any further. I kept going back to it and playing it over and over, and I said, ‘That’s the first one I’m going to do from this album.’

I think this is their most musical album since ‘Revolver’ – their pro­gress of evolution is very gradual and graceful. You can see the progress in their music very clearly defined if you play their records chronologically from the early days. My blind accompanist in the States has his roots very much in the 30s with Teddy Wilson and those guys, but when I played him ‘Abbey Road’ he went right out and bought himself a copy. With a lot of these groups, like Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Chicago Transit Authority you can see their influences come from jazz. This LP de­lighted him no end and he’s now really doing some listening to the new things. What’s my favourite album? Well, with the Beatles, it’s their next one – they’re beautiful!

Grace Slick, singing with the Jefferson Airplane Triad Lather (RCA)

I don’t know Grace Slick, but I’m sure I’ve heard that tune Lather before on the radio. Of course disc jockeys often don’t tell you who it is, that’s a drag. Well, I’m not jumping up and down about her, I’ll tell you that. But I should listen to more of it. Again, it’s the busi­ness of the young people writing their own stuff. They have so much to say without fooling around or implying by innuendo as there used be in the old days. It’s right down to it, which I think is much more worthwhile and valid. In sharp contrast to this is a Bobby Short album Downbeat gave me to review recently. Bobby does tunes like Noel Coward’s, ultra-sophisticated, blasé tunes for what used to be café society in the forties and thirties. They’re charming to hear: there was a slick way of expressing coyly and unspokenly certain un­mentionables.

But today there’s so much directness, no equivocation, no ambiguity. Triad, for example, is about a triangle that is quite unlike the three-sided love affair Bobby Short sang about: it involves a new attitude towards sex altogether. Drugs and other things also come out in the new music very frankly. I like this stuff, but I like Bobby Short, too, telling how it was in those days. And quite frankly, I’d like to have it back there sometimes.

Louis Armstrong On My Way (Brunswick)

That’d be a good tune to play at Louis’ funeral, though I can’t imagine the man ever leaving this earth. How old is he now? Seventy? Did you hear him pop that high note? Huh? Did’ja hear that trumpet? Nothin’s going to stop that man. You just played me one of the great jazz singers of all time. He and Jack Teagarden I could listen to ’til days get better. He sings when he plays, Louis. So do Art Farmer, Bob Brookmeyer, Jack. If anybody really wants to know about the basics of singing they have go back to these guys: Louis, Jack, Mildred Bailey, or Maxine Sullivan. These are the people who show you how you’re supposed to sing. Ella too, when she’s not forcing.

Jimi Hendrix Foxy Lady, Castles Made Of Sand (Track)

I’m tired of the freaks who really can’t play, the longhaired kids who wear out­landish costumes to camouflage the fact that they really don’t have any talent. I’m not saying that’s Jimi Hendrix, necessarily, but that bored me silly

I thought that was nice dance music. When I’ve had a few drinks, there are some people around, and I feel like dancing, that’s good. But I can’t imagine myself buying that record. You can’t just sit and listen to that kind of thing. I didn’t find it interesting at all. I’m getting a little tired to the screaming and the shouting, I really am, and tired of the freaks who really can’t play, the longhaired kids who wear out­landish costumes to camouflage the fact that they really don’t have any talent. I’m not saying that’s Jimi Hendrix, necessarily, but that bored me silly. The only thing that stays in my head on that track is his bad grammar. ‘Castles in the sand/melts into the sea.’ You can’t have a plural noun with a singular verb, Jim.

Bessie Smith New Orleans Hop Scop Blues Clarence Williams (piano) (Columbia)

Love that two-handed pianist! Now that was Bessie, right? March 1930? That was seven years before I was born. My, my! Columbia has a fantastic collection in their archives which they reissue periodically. Most of it is high quality stuff like this because they have the original masters. That really sounded good, really sounded lovely. I like just – plain – singing! Now compare that singing of the blues to Ella’s that we heard earlier. Bessie didn’t fool with all that running around with her voice and up and down. She didn’t have to do that. Just sang ’em the only way she knew how. Ella sounded like she was fakin’ a little bit.

Cleo Laine Something’s Gotta Give (Pye)

Cleo? Thought so. I’ve never heard her, but she said ‘vost’ not ‘vaast’. I hope her voice has gotten better since then, because she sounds more musical comedy than pop

Cleo? Thought so. I’ve never heard her, but she said ‘vost’ not ‘vaast’. I hope her voice has gotten better since then, because she sounds more musical comedy than pop, like Robert Goulet trying to swing. I guess now she’s ad­opted more jazz style through her association with John. It didn’t sound very swingy: the bands in England in the fifties were funny. They were loud and had good musicians but the arrangements were kinda dull.

The fifties were thin years for big bands all over. Guys who were writing were working for small groups with the bop takeover. And all I can remember of the fifties was Ted Heath and that wap! bop! bap! zip! dap! bappin’ away at everybody. And everybody got so excited and I said ‘Whaa? Why?’

But I’d be interested in hearing Cleo today. She’s at Scott’s soon, but I’m off for a gig in Ireland. I’m sure she’s gotten a little more loose, from all I’ve heard about her.

Aretha Franklin I Say A Little Prayer (Atlantic)

Aretha’s one of my favourite singers. She and Barbra Streisand and I signed at Columbia at the same time. Aretha’s A+R man was John Hammond, a very knowledgeable individual and a musical historian, but neither he nor Colum­bia knew what to do with her. Most of the energy and capital from the head offices were devoted toward Streisand which, of course, paid off. But it wasn’t their fault; the market wasn’t ready then for what Aretha had to offer – it is now.

It was all these things that have been happening in the sixties which made the time ripe: the tremendous emphasis on black people and their rights, a new-found recognition of black artists by the white populace. So there’s a wider market for rhythm and blues. Only certain small New York stations used to play black music for black people. But now a lot of middle-of-the-road stations that played Eydie and Steve are playing R&B.

So Aretha’s come into her own, and believe me, she deserves to be on top. She’s worked long and hard to get there. To me, she sounds just the way she did on her first record date about ten years ago. She sat at the piano and played for herself real good, right from the beginning. And she’s had a hard life. You can’t sing that tough unless you’ve had a tough life. She’s a beautiful but tough lady. Hard as nails, like Dinah Washington. I admire the honesty of both of them. The way they sing reflects the kind of people they are. And that makes them the good artists they are. I believe a singer sings the way he is, a player plays the way he is. Aretha’s honesty will sustain her. She’s not jiving anybody – she’s just out there singing.

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross Down For Double (ABC Paramount)

When it starts to get serious, that’s when jazz gets into trouble. A lot of guys got serious lately, then started moaning that jazz was dying. They for­got the happiness of it, that jazz can be fun

There aren’t enough good words in the dic­tionary for what LHR did during the time they were doing it. I just wish they were doing it still. It’s a great loss for jazz, I think. Jazz has always had a wonderful sense of humour. It doesn’t necessarily take itself seriously. When it starts to get serious, that’s when jazz gets into trouble. A lot of guys got serious lately, then started moaning that jazz was dying. They for­got the happiness of it, that jazz can be fun. Dizzy makes it perpetual fun, keeps it light and lovely. The Basie band has been doing it ever since they started, light, beautiful, putting a smile on your face. LHR did the same thing. And that’s really what jazz should be about. Bill Evans is a serious musician, but he never for­gets his sense of humour. He can remind us of childhood happiness in funny tunes like Little Lulu or nursery rhymes.

The kids are getting serious too, but at the same time they can laugh at themselves. They’ve got to, for heaven’s sake, the way they look. The scream­ing and the duds they wear is their idea of poking fun at the establishment. It’s a minor form of rebellion, but it’s fun, and uninhibited. If jazz is going to survive, it has got to keep its clowns.

Not that LHR were just comics, but they made you smile. John wrote these marvel­lous lyrics, Dave made his strong contributions, and Annie came out in between them looking the elegant lady ’til she made everybody smile by poppin’ those high notes. You’d sit there and say ‘That’s really groovy’ – and you’d just feel good when you left the club. That’s the way you should feel. When you go to be enter­tained, you don’t go to be depressed or morose or to come out and say ‘Oh, my God! Is that the way it really is?’ I can’t see that. As long as jazz has people like Basie, and Louis talking about his travellin’ shoes and laughing because he’s leaving ’em behind at the end? You know, that’s a lovely way to look at life.

If Lambert, Hendricks & Ross don’t come back, or Something, Hendricks & Ross don’t come back – and soon – it’s going to be our loss. I’m for reviving that group. Immediately!

Billie Holiday One For My Baby Harry Edison (tpt), Ben Webster (ten) (Columbia)

Sweets. That’s Sweets for sure. He always identi­fies himself by those funny little dropping notes he has, those moaning cries he’s been carrying on for years. Hmm. Billie sounds good there. Ben? Oh boy. I’d know him anywhere. A long lime ago I had a chance to work with Ben at a little club in Providence. Yeah, that’s right, the Kings and Queens. He just came up for the weekend. Just to be on the same stage with the man gave me such a thrill I couldn’t believe it.

It’s always a pleasure to hear Billie, any time of day or night. But preferably around four a.m. if you’re feeling lousy. Then the tears can flow and you can drink some more and do something dopey like make a transatlantic call or send a cable

Now Billie. If good phrasing makes a jazz singer, that’s Billie. That also makes Frank Sinatra a jazz singer. And Carmen McRae. And it’s be­ginning to make Tony Bennett a jazz singer, too. Man, is he improving!

That was very pleasant to hear. Billie didn’t make the mistake a lot of singers do by hitting that last note: ‘it soon might explode.’ So many hit it bam! Loud and hard. Not her. You don’t have to make it explode in their faces, just tell them.

It’s always a pleasure to hear Billie, any time of day or night. But preferably around four a.m. if you’re feeling lousy. Then the tears can flow and you can drink some more and do something dopey like make a transatlantic call or send a cable.

Billie had a sense of humour, too, she really did. On all her records you can hear the fun in her voice, the hope in her voice. She always had hope, I’m sure, even that somebody was going to come and find her in that hospital. I’m positive she was hoping ’til she went.

I wish I’d known that lady. I never even saw her. When I meet people that worked with her, I get excited like a kid and I want to find out what she was like. You generally don’t have to ask too hard, because most musicians that have worked with her are so proud of the fact that they tell you straight off. A marvellous lady.

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