Meredith D'Ambrosio on Jackie Cain


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When Jackie Cain died last week, I immediately thought of jazz singer-pianist Meredith d'Ambrosio. Meredith also has an intimate, conversational vocal style and, like Jackie, has an ear for great little-known songs that match her personality perfectly. Meredith and I chat often, so I asked her for a few recollections on Jackie (and Roy). Here's what Meredith said...

“From the moment I heard Jackie and Roy's Euphoria on Symphony Sid's amazing jazz show on Boston radio in the early 1950s, I was hooked. And amazed. I was 11 years old then and their voices melded together in a hip and elegant way. I was impressed by Roy's piano. If it weren't for Roy's chords and his smooth jazz voice merging with Jackie's, I think their famous sound might not have happened.

“[Pianist] Roger Kellaway and I listened to their recordings for hours in the late 1950s and loved them so much that we formed our own similar duo for a while. We tried to capture their empathy but chose different songs. Of course, no singing duos could ever come close to their sound. Roger had a Chet Baker quality to his voice, similar to Roy's, though the range of my voice wasn't an octave away from Roger's the way Jackie's was from Roy's. We learned a lot though. I was 17 and Roger was 18.

“If not for Jackie and Roy, Roger and I would never have experimented with this kind of singing. They taught us the possibilities. It was great fun. Jackie's voice was right on key. She had the voice of an angel. Her sound was perfect. What a wonderful voice. She was one of my most important teachers.

“Fred Bouchard, an excellent Boston jazz critic, introduced me to Jackie and Roy in 1974. We had lunch at the famous Coolidge Corner, a New York-style deli in Brookline, Mass. What a thrill it was to finally meet those two. We became close friends. When I met [pianist and future husband] Eddie Higgins in 1987, I learned that he and Jackie and Roy were close friends when they were all in Chicago.

“Jackie was an excellent cook. When I visited her at her beautiful home in Montclair, N.J., she made me a delicious brunch. Food was very important to her and Roy. One day in the 1990s, after Eddie and I had married, they came to our home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for lunch, Roy walked into the living room with sheet music in his hand. It was his music to Stoppin' the Clock.“ He read my mind. I was preparing for my next album [Out of Nowhere] and had planned to record that song but wasn't sure of the chords. I was relieved to have the music!

“When Eddie and I played at Trumpets in New Jersey, Jackie and Roy came to see us. Roy took me aside after our first set. He suggested that when Eddie played his solo, I should refrain from moving around to avoid distracting the audience. I learned something that night that I've never forgotten. I was lucky to know such generous, sweet and wonderful friends. I miss them terribly." [Photo above of Eddie Higgins and Meredith d'Ambrosio, photographed by Ruth Williams]

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Meredith d'Ambrosio's albums at iTunes and Amazon. Here latest is By Myself(Sunnyside) here. You'll also find her paintings, which grace the covers of her albums, here.

JazzWax note: You can read my five-part interview with Meredith here (this is Part 1; for the additional parts, look above the red date at the top for the next link).

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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