Joan Shaw: Sings For Swingers

Early 60s album from the US singer who moved to England and became Salena Jones has good moments but overall doesn't match her later work


Salena Jones has had a long, successful career in Britain, on TV and in shows and cabaret, appearing regularly at Ronnie Scott’s, which is where I saw her more years ago than I care to remember. She has always had a showbiz aura and I recall her mainly singing popular songs of the time and show tunes, rather than being an out-and-out jazz singer. As Joan Shaw, she had established herself in the States in the 50s but feeling her success was limited, and given the increased racism prevalent there, she moved to Europe in 1965, changing her name.

When I saw this release from 1961 I was curious to hear her early work, accompanied by top jazz and session musicians, running through a selection of popular songs with a smattering of ballads and jazz standards. Although she admitted her admiration for Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne (hence her later name change), their influence is marginal but noticeable. There is also a hint of Dinah Washington, in her use of flattened notes at the end of lines, and an earthier feel, redolent of R&B singers of that time.

The material varies, and Gotta Be This Or That is an unfortunate opener, as it hardly shows her at her best. The arrangements often reflect musical styles of the time, Mississippi Mud and Lover even incorporating slightly rolling rock ’n’ roll riffs.

She is more convincing on the ballads, Let Me Love You and I Hadn’t Anyone Till You, and jazz elements surface in Ellington’s I’m Beginning To See The Light and Just Squeeze Me. There are brief contributions from trumpeter Ernie Royal (often muted) and tenorman Seldon Powell.

For me, the two additional tracks on this vinyl reissue – That’s What I Get For Loving You and You Made Me Love You – are an improvement. The latter was released as a single on Colpix the following year with Don Costa’s fuller arrangement and Shaw’s smoother, more soulful delivery. However, on the whole I found this a disappointing album, given the polished performances of her later career.

(1) Gotta Be This Or That; Let Me Love You; Mississippi Mud; I’m Making Believe; Lover; I’m Beginning To See The Light; (2) That’s What I Get For Loving You; (1) Just Squeeze Me; I Hadn’t Anyone Till You; Then I’ll Be Happy; Looking At You; Aren’t You Glad You’re You; Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries; (2) You Made Me Love You (36.52)

Shaw (v) with (1) Ernie Royal (t); Richard Hixson (tb); Eddie Caine, Romeo Penque (as); Seldon Powell, Boomie Richman (ts); Sol Schlinger (bar); Moe Weschler or Ernie Hayes (p); Bucky Pizzarelli or Art Ryerson (g); George Duvivier or Milt Hinton (b); Joe Marshall (d); Bill Ramal (arr). New York, June 1961.
(2) Orchestra conducted and arranged by Don Costa, NY, 1962.
Supper Club 023