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Carmen

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RECORDINGS – 1940s, 1950s

FIRST RECORDING
"Pass Me By" written by Mercer Ellington and recorded with his band in 1946.

BETHLEHEM, STARDUST

Carmen McRae, Bethlehem.1954
With Mat Mathews and Tony Scott quartets, Dick Katz on piano and Mundell Lowe on guitar.
Reissued on CD in 1994 by Bethlehem  Example: "Easy To Love"

"In the late months of 1953, the clarinetist Tony Scott was running up a record stand of 18 weeks at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem…Tony prevailed upon proprietor Teddy Hill to give Carmen a trial on ‘guest night.’ This was to be the first time Carmen sang in a club solo, standing, without her own group. I was there, alone with the rest of our intimate McRae fan club, and we managed to make the small joint look crowded…. Carmen fractured everyone, of course, and Teddy hired her. That was the beginning…she was on her way." -
 BILL SIMON
, then manager for Tony Scott

A Foggy Day, Stardust LP (with Ivie Anderson) 1955
Si Oliver and his orchestra, Larry Elgart’s orchestra, and the Mat Mathews quintet.

"
Carmen’s first big hit record made a great impact on such luminaries as announcer Dave Garroway and syndicated TV columnist Jack O’Brian, who wrote: "Here was an intelligent singer with amazingly pure diction, every word and phrase properly and delicately intoned, every romantic thought subtly stated, every graceful note and phrasing and manner of breathing and mood all wonderfully right."
– From liner notes.



THE DECCA/KAPP YEARS 1954-59

"Carmen McRae’s five-year association with Decca (and its brother label, Kapp Records) served both to make her a bona fide singing star and to yield what would ultimately prove to be the most consistently excellent series of recordings of her entire forty-year career. These twelve LPs, indeed, rank among the greatest vocal records of all time. McRae is simultaneously cool and cutting-edge sharp, relaxed and swinging, putting over all manner of material in all manner of settings…These tracks announced the coming of a major new artist, one whose light would be hidden under a bushel no more, and nearly fifty years later they retain their power."
 WILL FRIEDWALD,
author of Jazz Singing, from liner notes.

By Special Request, Decca, 1955
With the Mat Mathews Quintet on some titles: Matthews on accordion, Herbie Mann on flute, Mundell Lowe on guitar, Wendell Marshall on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. Other titles have Dick Katz on piano, with Mann, Lowe and Marshall. Carmen accompanies herself on "Suppertime" and Billy Strayhorn plays on his own composition, "Something To Live For."

"About halfway through the date, I became aware of a familiar figure sitting off to the side: he was short, wore large eyeglasses, looked very important – and was very important. It was Billy Strayhorn, a creative force who some think was at times the equal of his more celebrated mentor and partner, Duke Ellington. Although relinquishing the piano bench is a common occurrence for most pianists, we do not always do it entirely willingly. But in this case, it was a great honor when Strayhorn replaced me to accompany Carmen on his classic "Something To Live For." -
 DICK KATZ
, played piano for the Tony Scott group at Minton’s when Carmen was the "girl singer," played on By Special Request (1955) and toured with the singer a few years later.

Torchy, Decca, 1955
With orchestras conducted by Ralph Burns and Jack Pleis.
Carmen sings twelve classic ballads including "Star Eyes."

Blue Moon, Decca, 1956
With orchestras conducted by Tadd Dameron and Jimmy Mundy
Twelve more songs from the American songbook.

Boy Meets Girl, Decca, 1957 with Sammy Davis, Jr.
With the Jack Pleis orchestra

The mellifluous voice of Carmen only emphasizes the nasal tone of Sammy Davis, Jr.  They seem to be having fun on songs such as "You’re the Top," "Baby, It’s Cold Outside," and "A Fine Romance."

After Glow, Decca, Recorded in 1957
With Ray Bryant on piano, Ike Isaacs on bass, and Specs Wright on drums.
Introduces the song "Guess Who I Saw Today?"

Mad About the Man, Decca, 1957
Orchestra directed by Jack Pleis
Carmen sings the songs of Noel Coward.
Includes the songs "Mad About the Boy" and "Ziguener."

Carmen for Cool Ones, Decca, 1957
With orchestra directed by Fred Katz
Arranger Katz divided the songs into three categories by instrumentation and feeling: strings as represented by "I Remember Clifford," woodwinds as in "If I Were a Bell," and percussion exemplified by "What’s New."

Porgy and Bess, Decca, 1958 (under Sammy Davis, Jr.’s name)
Carmen sings "My Man’s Gone Now", ''Summertime", and "I Loves You Porgy" with orchestra conducted by Fred Katz.

Birds of a Feather, Decca, 1958
Directed and arranged by Ralph Burns, featuring Mundell Lowe on guitar and the "unnamed tenorman," Ben Webster.

All songs on the subject of birds, including "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," "Flamingo," and "Bye, Bye, Blackbird."

Book of Ballads, Kapp, Recorded in 1958
Orchestra directed by Frank Hunter. Trio: Don Abney, piano; Joe Benjamin, bass; and Charles Smith, drums.
Carmen sings twelve standards with string accompaniment. One would be hard pressed to select a standout from these tasteful interpretations.  Example: "When I Fall In Love."

When You’re Away, Kapp, 1959
With the Luther Henderson orchestra.
More beautifully-sung classic standards such as "I’m Glad There Is You" and "I’ll Be Seeing You."

Something to Swing About, Kapp, 1959
With Ernie Wilkins Orchestra
Mostly medium tempo songs from the American songbook, nicely accompanied by the Wilkins orchestra.

  

Selected Reissues and Collections of the Decca/Kapp albums

Here To Stay, 1992
CD reissue of By Special Request (with the Mat Mathews Quintet) and Something To Swing About (with the Ernie Wilkins orchestra.)
Produced by Orrin Keepnews for GRP.

Complete Recordings: Carmen McRae and Ray Bryant, 2005
CD reissue of After Glow and Mad About the Man, Gambit Espana

Boy Meets Girl: Sammy Davis, Jr. & Carmen McRae on Decca, 2005
Reissue of Boy Meets Girl and Porgy and Bess on Verve.

Carmen McRae Sings Great American Songwriters, 1993
CD collection of twenty songs from the original Decca/Kapp albums.
Produced by Orrin Keepnews for GRP.

"The recordings in this collection [Sings Great American Songwriters] may prove surprising, in that they present a singer so remarkably different in outlook and intent from the Carmen McRae of the ‘70s and 80’s. Stylistically, the history of jazz squeezes her in between the bop-era Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter, who began recording shortly after Carmen. But whereas Vaughan and Carter both managed to maintain an unquestioned, even flamboyant romanticism, Carmen’s later singing would reveal a woman who didn’t seen to have time for that stuff. The later version of Carmen McRae sings of romance, yes, but without romanticism. Her eyes are open and then some; they become x-rays, examining the lyrics, her own emotions, and apparently even the audience for the slightest hint of phoniness. Bringing a modernist edge to the deflowered innocence of her idol Billie Holiday, she suffers fools not at all; assiduously allergic to sentimentality, she prefers to take her pleasure from real-world emotions, whether high or low. But the singer heard here had not yet learned so many of life’s lessons, and the ones she had learned had not opened her eyes quite so wide."- NEIL TESSER- from liner notes.

I’ll Be Seeing You, 1995
Nicely packaged double CD collection of thirty-nine songs from the Decca/Kapp albums. Produced by Orrin Keepnews for GRP.


Carmen McRae’s Finest Hour, 2000
Nineteen selections from the Decca/Kapp recordings.
Produced by Will Friedwald for Verve.

The Diva Series, Carmen McRae, 2003
Selections from the above albums, Verve

Carmen McRae for Lovers, 2006
Another collection from Verve of the Decca/Kapp albums, this one devoted to Carmen’s specialty, romantic ballads.

Many of the above Decca albums were remastered onto CD with original packaging by the Japanese label MVCJ and are available through amazon.com. Warning: they are a bit pricey.


























 
 
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