Scouring the web in search of something unrelated, I came across a clip from a 1967 Ed Sullivan show that brought to mind—as if a reminder were needed—Harry James’s stunning musicianship. The trumpeter teamed up with Nancy Ames in a performance of one of Ethel Merman’s signature songs from Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. A couple of his licks in the piece emphasize James’s ability as a blues player, an attribute often ignored by critics who downgraded him for his sugary playing in hits like “Sleepy Lagoon.” On the Sullivan broadcast, he showed his jazz side.
Ames seemed omnipresent on television for a few years. She came to fame on a program called Hootnenanny, something of a sensation in the early 1960s. She also sang the introductory news summary on the US version of the satirical This Was The Week That Was. Ames was typecast as a folk singer, but her stylistic range was wide. Part of her appeal came from relaxation and naturalness reminiscent of Peggy Lee. When bossa nova was still making modest waves in popular music, Nancy Ames showed that she had a nice touch with Brazilian songs. Her duet on “So Nice” (“Summer Samba”) with Andy Williams in a 1967 episode of his television show is an example. YouTube doesn’t allow us to embed the clip. To see it, click here.
As for Harry James’s blues authenticity, he established it convincingly on record in 1938 when he was a 22-year-old making his name as a sideman with Benny Goodman. He validated his credentials on two sides of a 78 with the boogie woogie piano giants Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, drummer Eddie Dougherty and bassist Johnny Williams. Here are both takes, “Boo Woo” and “Woo Woo.”
Less than a year later, in January, 1939, James left Goodman to form his own band. A string of hits lay ahead of him.
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone. Feet in the dirt, or barefoot on a stage with sequins--it's soul beats in my chest.
I was first exposed to jazz while others listened to surf music in the '50s and '60s, it was Monk, Miles, Satchmo and Ella, Rosemary Clooney and Julie London followed. Margaret Whiting, Les McCann, Willie Bobo, Andy Simpkins, Snooky Young, Bill Basie and Helen Humes. The first time I heard Topsy, Take 2, I about passed out at the age of ten.
I've hung with Les McCann who more than 30 years after our first meeting became my duet partner on my CD, Don't Go To Strangers. Karen Hernandez from the start, Jack Le Compte on drums, Lou Shoch on bass, Steve Rawlins as my arranger and pianist, Grant Geissman - guitar genius, Nolan Shaheed, Richard Simon, and more. The big boys. My Red Hot Papas. The best show I ever attended was...
I met Helen Humes first back in 1981 and helped turn one Playboy Jazz Festival night into her tribute, bring the Basie Band to stage, her joy boys. Before she took the stage for the last time to sing, If I could Be With You One Hour Tonight thousands of copies of the newspaper I wrote for carried her story. It was kismet, her being held by Joe Williams backstage. Soon in my life were the great Linda Hopkins who told me I sang the song she wrote better than her, which floored me of course, the energizing Barbara Morrison and the stellar Marilyn Maye who guided me professionally.
My advice to new listeners... let your backbone slip and feel your body stripping back the barriers that prevent us from being one with the music.
Remember none of us are strangers, we just haven't met yet.