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Interview: Sue Raney (Part 2)


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What makes vocalist Sue Raney special? First and foremost, she uses her intonation like a net to capture you completely. As Sue sings, she has this way of wrapping a lyric around her finger without ever becoming possessive. What's more, she lays back in just the right places by adding a breathiness to her voice—feathering her delivery. This enables her to seem attached to a song without smothering it. It's a studied coolness that seduces you without ever being clingy. 

The second factor is Sue's technique, which is remarkable. She has a mighty passing gear but never abuses it. Instead, she know show to surge without ever breaking a sweat, making it seem effortless. And she doesn't wander into the upper register to flirt with risk but instead purposefully soars there because she can pull it off without wavering. Today's singers could learn a great deal from Sue Raney's recordings.

The third factor—which is unknown to most people—is Sue's incredibly sweet and gracious conversational style. Sue comes from an age when people voiced appreciation sincerely and wrote letters of thanks. And I have to say, if you love Sue's singing voice, her phone voice will knock you out. It's warm and velvety and saturated with kindness. 

In Part 2 of my two-part conversation with Sue, she talked about her struggle to break through in the '60s and her new album with Alan Broadbent...

JazzWax: In  1960, you recorded two singles—four sides—with Bill Holman. What was the goal?

Sue Raney: Bill was amazing. We hoped to create a hit with Biology and One-Finger Symphony. Biology came close and wound up on Billboard's “Bubbling Under the Hot 100" chart. Capitol promoted it nationally, but the record never gained enough steam. If I had had one hit record, my future might have been different.

JW: How so?

SR: So many great singers were recording all at the same time. Vicki Carr and Jack Jones had hits, which took them to that next plateau. Unfortunately, I didn't have that hit. 

JW: And yet your pop records hold up well, especially your sessions with the Page Cavanaugh Septet in 1960 and '61?

SR: We worked steadily at clubs in Los Angeles. I recorded Angel Eyes and I'm in Love with the Honorable Mr. So and So with the Page 7—which was the Page Cavanaugh Septet. He arranged three horns and a four-piece rhythm section. Page had a little edge to him, but never to me. He was a sweet guy. 

JW: What about those recordings with Buddy DeFranco and Tommy Gumina?

SR: Those were for the Armed Forces Radio's “Navy Swings" programs. They were incredible. 

JW: How did the rock scene change your world?

SR: There was less and less appreciation for what I was doing. Without a hit, I slipped to the outskirts of pop. Many other singers had already gotten over that hump. At the time, I didn't consider myself a jazz singer. I was sort of in the middle, but I did a lot of TV—The Red Skelton Show, The Tonight Show and others.

JW: You were on The Dean Martin Show, too.

SR: Yes, I did a duet with Dean. I had brought this lovely Michel Legrand medley. But Greg Garrison, the show's director, said, “You can't do that. We don't want girl singers to do that kind of stuff." Whatever his vision was, he didn't want female vocalists to go into an artsy-craftsy thing. Instead, I did an opener called Like to Get to Know You, by Spanky & Our Gang.

JW: Were you comfortable with it?

SR: My favorite songs are ballads, which let me get involved with the lyrics. But you just couldn't do those in the '60s—unless you were Ella Fitzgerald. I wish I could have been on those Songbook shows with Frank Sinatra and all the rest. But I just didn't have a hit.   JW: Do you wish you had come up earlier?

SR: Someone once said I was born too late. Had I been recording earlier, I would have been established. I didn't come up during the big band era. And if I were just starting out today, things also might be different. Look at Diana Krall and how terrific she is. Also holding me back was my reluctance to do a ton of traveling, which I guess wasn't good. I didn't like touring so much.

JW: What did you do in the '70s?

SR: I went into the jingle business with my former husband. I sang ad jingles for so many companies I've lost track. When work slowed, we started a jingle company called EYE—Ed Yellen Enterprises. We wrote a lot of the jingles, and it became a good business for us.

JW: Your album Dreamsville is a lovely tribute to Henry Mancini.

SR: Henry kind of looked out for me. When he scored Wait Until Dark in 1967, he hired me to sing the closing theme.

JW: How did Supersax come about?

SR: During the '70s, when I was recording jingles, I knew saxophonist Med Flory. We were on the Ray Anthony show together in the early '60s. One day at a restaurant, Med came up to me and said he had a great idea. He wanted to put voices with the saxophones and asked me to sing lead.

JW: How did the group come together? SR: I got Melissa Mackay and John Bahler, and we rehearsed at my home up on Mulholland Drive. Gene Merlino was on the Ray Anthony Show and Med sang baritone.

JW: Who scored the voices?

SR: That was Med's wonderful writing. There's nothing more rewarding than to be part of a vocal ensemble. I sang lead because I don't read music well. The saxophones were recorded first. Then we stacked the voices twice—overdubbed. There were five of us, so the vocals were tricky.

JW: How so?

SR: For example, we recorded Star Eyes but found that with five of us, there were too many s's hissing at the end. So we sang “Star Eye"—without the last “s." If you record one layer of voices, that's fine. But when you overdub twice, the result gets tricky.

JW: You clearly have an affinity for Doris Day, yes? Your 2007 album was dedicated to her.

SR: Yes, very much. I grew up loving her voice. I hadn't recorded with a string orchestra for a long time. But for that album, we went into Studio A at Capitol, where I had been 50 years earlier with Nelson Riddle.

JW: Did you ever meet her?

SR: I met her one time, for a second. Around the time my mother took me to Marty Melcher's office, I went up there to hear my first record, The Careless Years. In she walked. I didn't recognize her at first. It was so fleeting. She was in and gone. But after my CD came out in 2007, I sent it to her and she wrote me such a wonderful letter.

JW: What does it say?

SR: “Dear Sue. I'm very late in saying thank you and I'm so sorry and embarrassed. I'm sorry that you're paying tribute to me when I should be paying tribute to you." She was so sweet and all class.

JW: Why was Doris Day so important to you?

SR: When I was growing up in the '50s, I would have loved to be like her. I tried to sing like her. I loved that she was such a good singer. Her movies made me cry, she was such a good actress. She loomed large in my life. Just watching her made you feel good. All those Technicolor movies with Gordon MacRae. I grew up on them.

JW: On your most recent release, Listen Here, you're accompanied only by pianist Alan Broadbent, a gorgeous player.

SR: I had always loved those albums Alan did with Irene Kral. I always wanted to do something with him like that. I always loved Irene's sound. She and Alan melded together so well. I hope this album comes close.

JazzWax note: If you're in New York this week, Sue will be appearing with the Alan Broadbent Trio at Feinstein's at Loews Regency .

JazzWax tracks: Sue's latest album, Listen Here (Rhombus), is a collection of ballads. She's accompanied on the album by pianist Alan Broadbent. You'll find it here.

JazzWax clips: Here a clip of The Bad and the Beautiful from Sue Raney's latest album ...

The Bad And The Beautiful

And here's one from Ridin' High (1984), arranged by Bob Florence...

This Happy Madness

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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