Beverly Kenney: Five Classic Albums

Kenney died at the age of 28 in 1960, and these albums, with jazzmen including Johnny Smith and Frank Wess, show what potential was lost

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For a brief period in the 50s, it looked like Beverly Kenney would make a name for herself. Lauded by the likes of Nat Hentoff and Barry Ulanov, she made six albums, five included here, with the exception of her final one, Born To Be Blue.

Evidently Billie Holiday was a major influence, but this isn’t overly apparent and her voice is quite distinctive – soft, with clear enunciation, and given variation through a slight huskiness, especially on lower notes. If anything it’s closer to Anita O’Day . . . the intonation, phrasing and occasional willingness to take risks.

Some of the albums are with small groups. Sings For Johnny Smith has the guitarist’s quartet and their support mirrors Kenney’s delivery. There’s an interesting take on Ball And Chain (a woman’s reworking of Sweet Lorraine) and the tempo changes on This Little Town In Paris are handled well. The tracks are short and only on There Will Never Be Another You is there any opportunity for the musicians to solo.

The songs from Come Swing With Me have larger orchestration by Ralph Burns, breaking into more commercial areas, but several attract attention – Frank Loesser’s If I Were A Bell from Guys and Dolls and the torch songs Violets For Your Furs and You Go To My Head, on which harmonic changes are negotiated. Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So features voice just with conga drums.

The tracks from the Like Yesterday album – Undecided, Sentimental Journey, And The Angels Sing, Tampico and others – are a nod to the big band vocalists of the swing era, and Al Klink’s tenor on A Sunday Kind Of Love slips in well. The trumpeter is omitted from the personnel details but likely was pianist and arranger Stan Free. Probably best to overlook Larry Clinton’s irritating Dipsy Doodle though.

An all-star line-up accompanies on Sings With Jimmy Jones & The Basie-ites, and understandably they are given more room. It’s a relaxed session, Frank Wess’s warm tenor and Joe Newman’s squeezed notes particularly notable, as are the economical in-fills of Jimmy Jones. However, Mairzy Doats is a curious choice.

Sings For Playboys has a pared-down accompaniment, just pianist Ellis Larkins and the bass of Joe Benjamin, giving a feeling of enhanced intimacy, Kenney at times wistful, as the mood takes her; at other times there’s resignation, in What Is There To Say, A Lover Like You and A Summer Romance.

Kenney’s career was short-lived and ended tragically in 1960, her talent and potential lost at the age of 28 – for those who want to know a little more, there’s an introduction to her work by Tony Guerrero, linked from Marc Myer’s JazzWax.

A discrepancy – You Make Me Feel So Young is repeated, replacing Nobody Else But Me. I believe this will be corrected on repressing – purchasers can contact Avid.

Discography
CD1: (1) [Sings For Johnny Smith] The Surrey With The Fringe On Top; Tis’ Autumn; Looking For A Boy; I’ll Know My Love (Greensleeves); Destination Moon; Ball & Chain (Sweet Lorraine); Almost Like Being In Love; Stairway To The Stars; There Will Never Be Another You; This Little Town In Paris; Moe’s Blues; Smuggled On Your Shoulder; (2) [Come Swing With Me] Give Me The Simple Life; I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry; The Trolley Song; Violets For Your Furs; This Can’t Be Love; Scarlet Ribbons; If I Were A Bell; Why Try To Change Me Now; Swinging On A Star; You Go To My Head; It Ain’t Necessarily So; You Make Me Feel So Young; (3) [Sings With Jimmy Jones & The Basie-ites] Nobody Else But Me; The More I See You; Old Buttermilk Sky; I Never Has Seen Snow; A Fine Romance; Who Cares What People Say (76.38)
CD2: (3) Makin’ Whoopee; The Charm Of You; Isn’t This A Lovely Day; Mairzy Doats; My Kind Of Love; Can’t Get Out Of This Mood; (4) [Sings For Playboys] Do It Again; A Woman’s Intuition; You’re My Boy; Mama, Do I Gotta; What Is There To Say; A Lover Like You; A Summer Romance; Life Can Be Beautiful; It’s Magic; A-You’re Adorable (The Alphabet Song); Try A Little Tenderness; It’s A Most Unusual Day; (5) [Like Yesterday] Undecided; Sentimental Journey; I Had The Craziest Dream; And The Angels Sing; More Than You Know; The Dipsy Doodle; What A Difference A Day Made; Somebody Else Is Taking My Place; A Sunday Kind Of Love; Any Old Time; Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe; Tampico (76.36)

(1) Johnny Smith (g); Bob Pancoast (p); Nabil Totah (b); Mousie Alexander (d). NYC, 1955.
(2) Ralph Burns & Orchestra. NYC, May 1956.
(3) Frank Wess (f, ts); Joe Newman (t); Jimmy Jones (p); Freddie Green (g); Eddie Jones (b); Jo Jones (d). NYC, 1956.
(4) Ellis Larkins (p); Joe Benjamin (b). NYC, 17 March 1958.
(5) Al Klink (ts); Jerome Richardson (ww); Eddie Bert (tb); Stan Free (p); Chuck Wayne (g); Bill Pemberton (b); Johnny Rae (vib, pc); Ed Shaughnessy (d). NYC, July 1960.
Avid Jazz AMSC1427