Category Archives: Singers

An Interview With Abbey Lincoln from 2001

Yesterday was the 81st birthday anniversary of the singer Abbey Lincoln—also known as Aminata Moseka, and born Anna Marie Wooldridge—who died last August 14th.

Like her inspiration, Billie Holiday, Lincoln was never out to prove that her voice was a great instrument — although, in its own way, it was. Never afraid to make a mistake, never self-censoring, she reached for what she heard. Usually it worked.

I had an opportunity to interview Ms. Lincoln for the bn.com website in February 2001, when her Verve album, Over The Years — one of many superb collaborations with the French producer Jean-Philippe Allard — was released. What follows is the unedited transcript.

Follow this link for her discography.

Abbey Lincoln (2-5-01):

In all of the records that you’ve done with Jean-Philippe Allard, you’ve had various magnificent tonal personalities intersecting with you.  How do you go about deciding who you’re going to work with and make music with for each particular project?

Well, I use my band, as usual, the trio that I work with.  It was Jean-Philippe who suggested Joe Lovano.  I hadn’t thought of him for the album.  But I’m glad he did.  He was brilliant.  And I asked for Jerry Gonzalez, because he worked with me before as a percussionist on an album called Talking To The Sun.  I didn’t know he played trumpet!  Jaz Sawyer, who is a brilliant musician and drummer, I asked him about a cello player, and he sent me Jennifer Vincent.  Kendra Shank came to see me one day, and we were having a little jam, and she played this song for me and I fell in love with it.

Did you do that much before the association with Verve; that is, intersect with other horns within your groups in the period directly before that?

People in Me.  In the album I made in Japan, Miles Davis sent me some of his musicians.  I asked him for his drummer, and he sent me Al Foster, Mtume and Dave Liebman.  I’ve always had a lot of help in the music.  When I was with Roach, I got to work with Coleman Hawkins.  My first album was with Benny Carter, and Marty Paich was one of the arrangers.  Jack Montrose as well.

But you know, it’s a happening.  I’m not that wise.  It’s like writing a song.  I start out at a point, and it gathers energy.  I’m fortunate, I think.

What usually comes first, the words or the music, when you’re writing a song?

It all depends.  Sometimes it’s the words.  Usually it’s the words, and sometimes the music comes much later.  But it’s a story that I hear, a point of view, and I have  developed it with the words and with the music.  But the words are really important for me.

Your songs on this record, are they all recent or do they come from different points?  Part of what I’m asking is:  Do you write for projects, or with each project do you select from a well of material?

I select from a wealth of material.  I don’t wait to record to write a song.  If it comes to me, I write it then.  “Bird Alone,” when I wrote that, I was in Japan, and Miles Davis was working there as well.  He wasn’t so well, you know.  And I thought I was writing it for him.  But it really was for myself.  Later on, years later, I finished the song and recorded it.

The records that you’ve done with Allard have been so rich…

Yes.

…in so many ways.  I wonder if you could speak about that relationship and the effect on your records.

I  think he is very, very bright.  He is a brilliant man, and he knows a lot about music, not only this form, but the Classical tradition and other forms.  He called me in 1989 and asked me what I wanted to do.  He never tried or suggested that I didn’t know what I was doing, and he wanted to help me to do what I was doing, and that’s what he’s done.  The first album was called The World Is Falling Down.  He brought me J.J. Johnson.  And I asked for Ron Carter.  So I get this kind of help from him.  I asked for Stan Getz, and he told me he would check it out.  So I’ve not been here alone.  Jean-Philippe is a great ally.  He told me that the newest album, Over The Years, he liked it a lot.  So a lot of it is due to an alliance with Allard.

In interpreting your tunes, how specific are you with the musicians?

They’re brilliant.

They help create the arrangements…

No.  They’re head arrangements.  In that way they help create them.  But I know how many choruses I’m going to use.  I know what key it is in.  And I write them.  So it’s me.

Does that develop on the bandstand over touring?

No! [LAUGHS] It’s not as if… They have lead-sheets, they learn the songs, and bring their understanding and their spirit to it.  So I don’t try and really control things — except that I do.  I like the tempo that I want.  Everything is about how I hear the song.  And they know how to interpret the song.  Brandon McCune is brilliant.  So is John Ormond, and so is Jaz Sawyer.  That’s my quartet.

Let me ask you about the notion of style, which I think is an insufficient word to describe the way you sing, or maybe I should call it the craft of singing.  I realize you’ve said these things before, but could you discuss  some of the singers you concentrated on when you were forming your singing personality, and a few words about them.

Well, I heard Billie Holiday when I was 14, on a Victrola, in the country where I was living.  She was always a great influence on my life.  She was social.  And she didn’t try to prove that she had a great instrument.  This is not the form for people who use that approach.  That’s the European Classical tradition.  We have voices.  Louis Armstrong was a great singer.  It has nothing to do with having a great voice.  So I had a chance to listen and to meet many of these great performers and singers, and I come from Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, all of these people.  I sing in that tradition.  I don’t try for anything they do, just like they didn’t try for anything that anybody else was doing, but interpret a song on a level of understanding and with skills, knowing where one is… They’re brilliant.  It’s a brilliant musical form.  The musicians are masterful when it comes to theory and harmony… Yeah.

So I’m not here alone.  I learned a lot about the music through Max Roach.  I didn’t know about Charlie Parker, I didn’t know who he was — or Dizzy or Monk or all these people.  Working with Max, I had a chance to meet some of these folks.  All of them.

You were just speaking about singing the song with understanding.  Could you say a few words about the songs not by you on Over the Years.  I’m interested in “Somos Novios.”

Yes!  That’s a beautiful love song.

And you sing it beautifully..

Thank you.  Armando Mazanero is the writer.  I’ve been singing this song for about 15 years, and in Spanish.  I’m not sure of everything I’m saying, but I know that it’s a love song.  We are lovers.  And it has nothing to do with motive or anything.  A pure love.  It’s one of my favorite songs.

The opening song “When The Lights Go On Again,” is one I’m unfamiliar with.

That comes from the Second World War.  When I was 12 or 13 or something like that, I heard that song.  I must have been in Kalamazoo at the time.  One day I was thinking, working on the album before I went into the studio, and  that line just came into my ear.  “When the lights go on again all over the world.”  I thought, “Wow.”  So I called the music store, and they sent it to me…or somebody brought it for me.  So it’s like an unconscious companion that is with me all the time, and whispers in my ear sometimes.

I have a certain memory of “The Windmills of Your Mind” with a certain connotation, but it’s certainly not the connotation that you give it.

Well, that’s the glory of a song.  It can have more than one meaning.

On Lovano’s solo he sounds like a windmill.

Yes.

“Lucky To Be Me.”

That’s the great Leonard Bernstein.  I remember singing that song years ago.  There was a brilliant singer named Mabel Mercer, and I heard her sing that on a recording, and I’d been meaning to sing it over the years, but I finally got to it.

And I was spellbound by the conclusion, by “Tender As a Rose.”  I was listening last night at about 1 in the morning over headphones so I could have you in my head overnight, and it caught me!

It’s the second time I had a chance to record it.  The first time was on an album called That’s Him, with Max and Sonny Rollins and Kenny Dorham, Paul Chambers, and Wynton Kelly.  I hadn’t had a chance to have it transposed, because Wynton did that for me.  We needed one more song, so I sang it alone, and I’m glad I did.  Phil Moore, the composer and the writer, was a brilliant coach whom I went to see a couple of times.  He was one of Lena Horne’s teachers.  So I added the last line.  “Well, that’s the way the story goes, and sometimes the rose was he.”  Joanne is here, too.  Joe isn’t the only one who is a stalker.  Joanne does that, too.  Know what I mean?  And leads a youngster astray.

I was actually about to ask you about the conclusion of the song.  Because not many women would really think to say something like that at the end of a song about evil men.

Well, women like to talk about a man.  This is what the songs always were when I came to the stage.  It’s about this man who she has to have, and how he treats her badly.  Well, I decided I’m not singing that any more.  If he’s nothin’, then that makes me nothin’ too.  Mmm-hmm.  So I sing, for the most part, the praises of a man.  He’s God and the Devil and she’s not responsible for anything! [LAUGHS] Well, anyway, I’m not playing that.

But I guess you were placed in that role a lot in the first stage of your career…

Yes.

…as far as having to sing that kind of material and project that type of image.

Yes.  I was following after the other singers.  Sarah was singing, “You’re mine, you; you belong to me; I will never free you.” [LAUGHS] I was singing the songs of the women who were prominent on the stage.  “Happiness is just a THING called Joe.”  And “My Man, he beats me, too, what shall I do.”  I thought, “Well, leave him.”  You know?  So I found my way to other conversations and to other things to address.

Another thing that’s fascinating to me is that your songwriting started in mid-life. 

It takes a while, I think, to awaken here.  I have been writing words, but I never saw myself as a composer.  And I would write lyrics to other people’s songs, like Oscar Brown, Jr.  So I wrote a lyric to Thelonious’ “Blue Monk.”  We hadn’t talked about it.  I didn’t ask him if I could write it.  But I just wrote it, because I felt that I knew what he was talking about, and it really touched me.  And he gave me permission to use it, to record it, and was instrumental… Because he was quoted on the liner notes to an album… They asked Max to do the liner notes when Straight Ahead was rereleased about ten years later.  And Thelonious was quoted as saying that I was not only a great singer and actress, but a great composer.  I had never written a thing.  I knew that he knew something that I didn’t know.  Because Thelonious was not a flatterer, nor a liar.  And it freed me up.  So when I heard “People In Me,” I used it.  I mean, I believed it.  It’s like a child’s song.  And the compositions get better and better for me, I think.

Also, in some of the articles, I remember reading of Monk telling you not to be too perfect.  I’ve heard other musicians relate that.  Benny Golson relating almost the exact same story, of Monk talking to him and saying “make a mistake; you’re too  perfect.”

Well, Roach was the one who said “Make a mistake.”  When I told him about it, Roach said, “He means ‘make a mistake.'”  It took me a minute…a while to understand that.  But what they meant was, you try for something.  If you crack, at least you tried for it.  Don’t be so perfect.  Yeah.  Make a mistake.  Mmm-hmm.  And that’s what this form of singing is all about.  I mean, you reach for something and it works. [LAUGHS] Yes.

You made a comment in a piece that Amiri Baraka wrote about you in Jazz Times that men… Well, you came up in a generation when everybody was a rugged individualist, and you couldn’t really be anything if you weren’t.  You made a comment toward the end of the piece that women have always been in the music, but the men have been out front, and you said, “the men have a hard time keeping a standard that’s individual.”

I didn’t say that.

Oh, you’re quoted as saying that.

That’s one of the reasons I really dread sometimes interviews.  Because I didn’t tell Amiri that.

The men, I say, have like a conception, and it’s a delivery.  They cannot run away from their work.  It’s something that they have to do.  A woman can get married and have a child.  She has other options.  But he delivers this work.  It’s him.  Yes.  And they all have a style that is their own.  If you’re not an individual, you can’t stand along the masters.  No, I didn’t say that.

But you just said what you said.

Yes.

In your bands you’ve nurtured a lot of the most individualistic younger musicians, like Steve Coleman and Rodney Kendrick and Mark Cary and the band you have now.  I just wonder if you have any sense of the struggles of this generation in maintaining their individuality against the incredible magnificence and weight of the tradition they’re trying to come out of, which you may represent to them as well.

I’ve never worked with greater musicians than the ones I’m working with now, the ones I’ve been working with.  They are not lauded and they are not rich yet in money.  But I remember when all of these folks weren’t either.  It’s always been kind of a secret society.  And the musicians are as great as they ever were.  There will never be another Charlie Parker.  Or John Coltrane.  That’s what this work affords us, is individuality, and that’s who you are, and there is nobody to replace you.  But Jaz Sawyer and John Ormond… Brandon McCune I got through Betty Carter, you know.  That’s how I inherited Marc Cary.  He worked with Betty.  She was a great teacher, I believe.  She taught them a lot about the work.  About on the beat! [LAUGHS]

A strict taskmaster, right?

Yes!  And it works, too.  Mmm-hmm.  So I am benefitting from her work.

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The Pile (#4), and raw copy of Karrin Allyson’s Blindfold Test from About Ten Years Ago

Coming in from several weeks on the road to back a new Concord release (her 13th on the label), entitled Round Midnight, singer Karrin Allyson enters Birdland tonight for a Tuesday-Saturday run.  I’m a fan. Like her idol, Carmen McRae, Allyson plays piano with more than an arranger’s touch, as she demonstrates throughout the date (bassist Ed Howard and drummer Matt Wilson join her long-time guitarist Rod Fleeman in an impeccable rhythm section). Perhaps this is one reason for her uncanny, sodium-pentothal like phrasing, which certainly serves the repertoire on Round Midnight, comprised of blue ballads and reflective, elegiac songs. Allyson  conveys the oceanic emotions with minimal artifice and a complete absence of mannerism or excess or bathos; her husky, lived-in, pitch-perfect contralto conveys a starkness that’s an aural analog to her  Great Plains (Great Bend, Kansas; Omaha, Nebraska; Minneapolis; Kansas City) background. Along with Gretchen Parlato’s The Lost And Found, it’s my favorite recording this year by a female vocalist. All the more interesting that, when coming up, Allyson was known for the cyborg chops she displayed when scatting at fast tempos (to hear what I mean, listen to Footprints, from 2006, on which she displays those skills with Jon Hendricks and Nancy King).

In 2001, in conjunction with Allyson’s release Ballads, on which she sang down the repertoire from the iconic John Coltrane-Johnny Hartman collaboration of that name, I had an opportunity to conduct a DownBeat Blindfold Test with Allyson. Here’s the unedited version.

* * *

1.    Kurt Elling, “Say It” (from FLIRTING WITH TWILIGHT, Blue Note, 2001) (4 stars)

I don’t recognize the voice.  It sounds a little like Mark Murphy, but I know it’s not Mark Murphy. [LAUGHS] I like it.  It sounds good.  It’s a very focused version of “Say It Over and Over Again.”  Cool little horn things behind it.  I’ll give it 4 stars.  I don’t know who it is, though.  Unh-oh, this is Kurt Elling.  But it sounds older than Kurt; I don’t think it’s him.  Maybe it is Kurt.  I’ll bet it is Kurt.  Interesting.  I didn’t even know he’d recorded this.  I like it. [AFTER] As I said at the beginning, it’s a very focused thing.  It’s not terribly romantic…but at the same time it is.  It’s not the typical romantic sound.  You don’t hear many singers do this song.  That’s what turned me on about Trane’s ballad album, because it’s not a typically romantic sound.  Like I said in the liner notes, it’s a deeper thing than simply romance.

2.    Luciana Souza, “Embraceable You” (from AN ANSWER TO YOUR SILENCE, NYC, 1999) – (2 stars)

Sounds like a Cassandra Wilson disciple.  I don’t know about disciple; that might be a little strong.  But she sounds influenced by Cassandra Wilson.  It’s kind of a cool arrangement.  Her pitch is a little off for my taste, so I give it a 2.  I really don’t know who it is.  But it’s creative, and I like that. [AFTER] Many Brazilian singers do have that trait about bending the pitch a little bit, and I do like her feel very much.  But for me, if you’re singing an American standard, maybe I’m just a snot, but it seems like maybe paying a bit more attention to the pitch would be a good thing.

3.    Billy Eckstine, “I Want To Talk About You” (from COMPACT JAZZ: BILLY ECKSTINE, Verve, 1962/1989) – (5 stars)

Is it Arthur Prysock?  No?  Do I get another guess?  Is it Grady Tate? [LAUGHS] It’s not Billy Eckstine.  Is it?  Yes?  On the third guess, I guess I knew it was Billy Eckstine.  It’s a bit more operatic than I’m used to hearing him present a tune.  “Operatic” may be the wrong word.  Because of that 12/8 Rock feel… It’s lovely.  I love it.  It’s classic.  I’ll give it a five.  I never really cared for the choir in the background, however, but that’s a whole other story.  That’s not his fault.  That’s the producer!  And the time, the year it was done.  Nat Cole did all that stuff.

4.    Norma Winstone, “Prelude To a Kiss” (from WELL KEPT SECRET, Koch, 1995) (Jimmy Rowles, piano; George Mraz, bass) – (3-1/2 stars)

Is that Dena de Rose”?  No?  It’s interesting to take “Prelude To A Kiss” as a waltz and spread out the phrasing so much.  It’s hard to do that.  And she leaves space, which is nice.  Her pitch is pretty good.  I mean, it’s very good.  Nice accompaniment.  They’re providing a nice groove for her.  I might like it better instrumentally this way than I like it for a vocalist.  But that’s totally subjective for everyone.  It’s not an insult toward her; it’s just a taste thing.  And in that way, instrumentalists have it easy.  Not easy, but that’s an advantage they have over vocalists, I think.  Because lyrics, the way you present them… Like I said, she’s spreading out the phrasing.  Because there are a lot of words to get in, but when you spread  it out that much, it goes quite a bit slower, of course… I’m trying to get used to this version of this tune.  I have no idea who it is.    3-1/2 stars.

5.    Jimmy Scott, “All Or Nothing At All” (from OVER THE RAINBOW, Milestone, 2001) (Justin Robinson, alto sax) (5 stars)

Jimmy Scott.  I didn’t think he did anything up!  I love Jimmy Scott.  This is cool.  Beautiful.  He’s somebody who knows how to paint a picture.  I can even see him singing this.  And I’ve never seen him live, so that’s kind of interesting!  He’s an artist.  I wish I’d heard this before I recorded my version of this…or before I recorded Trane’s version of this.  I like the alto player.  He has a really unique sound on his horn. [AFTER] I don’t have a problem with vibrato unless it’s insincere.  It depends upon the age of the singer, too, in a way.  Because physiologically, sometimes singers can’t help but waver.  I’m not speaking about Jimmy here particularly; I’m just saying in general.  So that’s a whole nother matter.  But vibrato I don’t have a problem with if it’s well-placed!

6.    Sarah Vaughan, “Every Time We Say Goodbye” (from AFTER HOURS, 1961/199_) (Mundell Lowe, guitar; George Duvivier, bass)

[AFTER A MINUTE] Is that Sarah?  Is that early Sarah?  Am I totally wrong, or is that Sarah?  Mid period Sarah?  She’s having fun with that tune with the breaks in the melody…as if this melody needs any more!  It’s so unexpressive! [LAUGHS] Only kidding.  Sarah’s got one of those trick voices.  She can go wherever she happens to think about, and she can think about a lot of things, so therefore she can sing a lot of things.  And she contains so much… I mean, she’s playing with you at the very end there.  “Bye-bye, bye-bye,” she’s playing with you.  At the beginning it’s a little playful as well because of the breaks in the arrangement in the middle.  And she’s just singing it straight, it sounds beautiful.  5 stars.  Was the guitarist Herb Ellis?

7.    Tony Bennett, “Out Of This World” (from JAZZ, Columbia, 1964/1987) (Stan Getz, tenor sax; Herbie Hancock, piano, Ron Carter, bass, Elvin Jones, drums) (5 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Tony Bennett.  I like this tune.  I used to sing this tune.  Trane did this?  I didn’t know that.  I may have to do another Trane CD!  What I like about Tony is his pretty much no holds barred approach to singing.  I suppose that’s the Italian Tenor in him.  But he’s not afraid of showing emotion.  5 stars.  There’s a lot of reverb on this recording, maybe a little too much for my taste, but that’s probably the time as well.  Is that Paul Desmond?  Is it a tenor?  All of a sudden I’m confused if it’s a tenor or an alto, for God’s sake!  Shame on me! [LAUGHS] I think it’s a tenor.  Is it Getz?  Okay, I never said Paul Desmond!  He was up there on that high register, though, with that tenor.  I have this record here!  I like Tony in this jazz context.

8.    Dena De Rose, “The Touch Of Your Lips” (from I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW, Sharp-9, 2000) (4 stars) (DeRose, piano, vocals; Dwayne Burno, bass; Matt Wilson, drums)

[IMMEDIATELY] That is Dena, isn’t it?  I just saw her at a gig, and she’s been in my consciousness.  I heard her on Marian McPartland’s show.  It sounds nice.  Is she playing piano for herself on this?  My first version of this tune was by Tony Bennett.  I love this tune.  I like singing it.  This version is faster than it needs to be, but it’s swinging.  It’s nice.  That’s cool when pianist-singers will double their own line.  I attempt that myself sometimes.  She’s a good piano player.  I know that was her first instrument.  A real inventive solo.  I like that very much.  Four stars. [AFTER] As little as I know about Dena, and I like her musicianship very much, I know that she will find, the longer she does this, that her voice is more a part of her than she might realize.  She’s an artist in progress, and she’s going to have a good run at this wonderful music.

9.    Ian Shaw “If You Could See Me Now” (from SOHO STORIES, Milestone, 2001) (3 stars)

One of my favorite ballads of all time.  Why is that singer starting on the bridge?  Just kidding! [AT THE DOUBLE TIME] Don’t sabotage this beautiful tune!  No!!!  Oh, well.  It’s nice, though.  It’s tricky sometimes.  We took “It Might as Well Be Spring,” as many other people have too…a beautiful ballad, and we samba-tized it.  So it’s totally a matter of taste.  I think it’s very important… And this singer is doing it.  He’s enunciating.  When you do a tune fast and it has a lot of lyrics, it’s very important to understand those lyrics.  It’s almost like he’s  trying to keep his rhythm section entertained or something.  I know it’s not Al Jarreau, but he is Al Jarreau-influenced, I think…a little bit.  Is he the pianist?  No.  I don’t know.  It’s a little frantic for me, this version of this beautiful ballad.  I’d give it 2.  Although the singer’s performance is better than a 2, so I should give it more.  3 stars.  It’s almost like this singer is a theatrical performer.  He’s got a great feel.  He’s a good singer. [AFTER] Now that I’ve discovered it’s Ian Shaw, I did hear him on a live gig once and really enjoyed it.  It’s just not my preference to treat that tune that way, but like I said, it’s totally subjective.  I said before I know who he was that this was more of a theatrical singer, and I got that impression when I saw him live, too.  Maybe it’s that English drama, the Shakespearean influence he has from being British.  I don’t know.  Maybe.  He’s a real showman.  He was just with a pianist the night I saw him, and you can only do so much with that.  And that’s  good sometimes!

10.    Betty Carter, “My Favorite Things” (from INSIDE BETTY CARTER, United Artists 1964/1993) (5 stars)

This is Betty Carter, of course.  I love Betty Carter.  Talk about bending the pitch; she does it, too.  Not too much on this.  Betty is an original, very unique.  I feel like I learned a lot from this influence… I don’t know if it would be evident to anyone else.  But I saw her many times live, and she was so integrated with her rhythm section.  Because I feel like I am part of the rhythm section, not only when I’m playing piano but when I’m standing up singing.  She may have felt a little bit like that, too.  I don’t know.  But she’s totally original.  I love her.  5 stars.  And not any singer could get away with doing this kind of… Good for her.  Do that Indian EEYEEYEEYEE thing there.  That ain’t Julie Andrews singing it!  Yeah, good for you!  She’s great.  Not every singer could get away with what she does.

11.    Jeffery Smith, “Lush Life” (from A LITTLE SWEETER, Verve, 1997) (3 stars)

Pretty voice.  I like the conversational style he has at the end of his phrases.  It’s nice. [SWING SECTION] Unh-oh!  I’ve never heard “Lush Life” swung by a singer.  Shows you how much I know.  Again, I liked it on the verse.  It’s beautiful.  I’m not crazy about swinging this tune as a singer.  But I mean, albeit it’s a waltz, but he’s swinging it.  He’s got nice pitch.  3 stars.  I was sort of really digging the verse in that dreamy state, and I know everybody doesn’t like it if they don’t swing or don’t do it in a different way, but it sort of turned me around a little bit on it.  It kind of ruined my mood.  But I suppose it’s a great way to do it in a club where it’s really noisy! [LAUGHS] I have been there and done that!  That’s where we come up with all our different versions.  Pure necessity is the mother of invention.  Or non-invention.

12.    Shirley Horn, “It’s Easy To Remember” (from I LOVE YOU, PARIS, Verve, 1994) (5 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Shirley.  I was going to comment on the piano playing, but I should just wait… I love Shirley Horn.  I’ve never heard her do this either.  I love Shirley.  She’s another unique, beautiful interpreter of songs for me.  Her accompaniment, of course, is dreamy for her.  She takes a bath in her ballads.  She’s got all those suspended chords that always leave you…suspended as a listener.  5 stars

13.    Carmen McRae, “Speak Low” (from PRICELESS JAZZ: CARMEN McRAE, GRP, 1955/1997) – (5 stars)

Early Carmen!  I love Carmen.  She can do no wrong. [LAUGHS] Carmen has so much attitude in her singing and contains… She’s a little bit like Sarah, but Sarah is a little more on the romantic side — or can be.  But she can be sassy, of course, like she was given the name.  But Carmen has so much attitude in  her singing.  It contains all kinds of emotion within one phrase.  Yeah, I love Carmen.  Five stars.  I like this tune a lot.  I used to do it.  It’s a cool arrangement, too.  It’s fun.  I have no idea who it was.

14.    Billie Holiday, “Why Was I Born?” (from THE COMPLETE BILLIE HOLIDAY ON COLUMBIA: 1933-1944, 1937/2001) – (5 stars) (Buck Clayton, tp.; Teddy Wilson, piano; Benny Goodman, cl.)

“Why Was I Born,” obviously.  It’s not Louis Armstrong, is it?  Oh. [LAUGHS] Billie Holiday.  Of course.  Those are different changes at the end of the A-section.  It’s interesting.  Different chord changes than I know, anyway.  I never heard Billie’s version of this.  I guess this is THE version! [LAUGHS] I knew Coltrane’s version. [CLARINET SOLO] The Dixieland approach.  [When does this sound like it’s from?] The ’40s. [Who do you think the pianist was?]  Jimmy Rowles?  She used to work with him all the time. I have no idea.  Was it Buck Clayton on trumpet?  Was it Tommy Flanagan?  Teddy Wilson!  Oh, sure.  So you want me to give that a star rating?  5 stars. [LAUGHS] [So you’re more familiar with her later recordings.] Mmm-hmm.  Not so much the earlier stuff.  It’s a terrible thing to admit.  But I had to grow into Billie when I first started singing.  She didn’t hit me as quickly as Sarah and Carmen, Ella… Part of it is that I did hear her later stuff first, like Lady In Satin, things that now I really appreciate.  I think she’s somebody that you keep discovering.  She’s got layers.  She’s geologically got a lot of layers going on there.

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