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For the Love of Carmen by Theodore Frisbie
How to enlarge your collection of Carmen's work at bargain prices.

As an avid Carmen McRae fan since the 1950s, collecting her LPs and cassettes ultimately led to the far more compact CD format. I still have the originals acquired, but rarely play them and must add the collection didn't include all of Carmen's prolific output. Fortunately most of her recorded legacy has been digitally remastered and is available on CDs. There is sometimes an incentive to replace the originals because alternate takes or previously unreleased 'tunes' (as Carmen would say) have been added; thus, when it's possible to replace (or add missing albums) at bargain prices--Why Not?

When it comes to Carmen, all of her recordings are worth collecting. She always provided clear and precise diction and sang behind the beat; her 'scatting' was beyond phenomenal! One can chronologically follow her career and hear her substantially different 'softer' singing of the early years develop into the mature, deeply penetrating 'huskier' style. Amazingly, Carmen seemed to improve with age. Her final recording, "Dedicated to You" (1991) eloquently bears testimony to this fact.

It is possible to spend a small fortune collecting Carmen's CDs. If you live in areas having record shops with good discounts and used CDs, you might come up with some great bargains; however, for an even easier way to assure finding Real Deals, I recommend Amazon.com where you will normally find under the heading 'Music' over 300 Carmen McRae offerings at any given time. Prior to this, one should become familiar with Carmen's Official Website (you are there, now!) wherein all 60+ 'official' recordings are chronologically listed and meticulously described, as well as many compilations which combine songs from various original releases. There are also CDs offering usually 10 songs on 'off brand' labels--add a 'nifty' title and hope to entice buyers--beware! Some compilations, however, are truly wonderful--containing upwards of 20 or more songs--and are available for as little as ONE CENT (the standard postal rate is $2.98 per disk--even so, you've gotten a bargain)--especially if you don't own the albums (or some of them) from which the selections derive.

Great bargains can also be found on Amazon.com with original releases--those still available from manufactures are numerous--but check for lower priced used copies. Many others have been deleted/discontinued and available 'Used', but sometimes 'New', as well . IF you are discerning and have particular albums in mind you can type in 'Carmen McRae' + album title and get a FULL rundown with prices (and conditions) of those available. My usual strategy includes planning to spend over an hour with Carmen; that is to say, I go through the ENTIRE listing of items available. I can then check out a number of 'wants' and add to my "Wish List"--being aware a single album will often be separately listed a number of times with prices ranging from veritable bargains to OUTRAGEOUSLY UNREAL--for example, for the IDENTICAL CD from 99 cents (or less) to well OVER $50!

I strongly suggest ANY 'live' Carmen recordings are worth collecting--they are ALL great!! (Carmen, herself, preferred them over most of her studio recordings.) The 'live' 2 CD set, "The Great American Songbook," is the only one wherein the LPs are superior since her 'patter' has been deleted--and it's WONDERFUL; even so--the CDs are a great addition to any collection! Personally, I've added over 20 CDs to my collection since periodically checking those available via Amazon.com--the great majority for less than $2 each!! While some of the rarer recordings--especially imports (Japan) may never appear as bargains--one never knows...MAYBE! I keep checking... Meanwhile, I maintain a list of 'What I DON'T have'--and if asked, "What would you like for Christmas/birthday/Father's Day?"--I suggest one or two of them. I surmise, one way or another, eventually I WILL (and so can you) acquire all or most of Carmen's recorded legacy. She was, as many jazz musicians assert, "The QUEEN of Jazz!" Enjoy her legacy--it IS out there on CDs--and a great deal of it at truly bargain prices!

Dr. Theodore R. Frisbie, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville



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