Picks and Pans Review: Dinah Jams
A jazz collector's life is full of small tragedies. Obscure jewels, and sometimes whole labels, slip out of print, taking chunks of an era with them. But in the past several years, out of commercial optimism or sheer love of the music, record companies have been refloating almost anything that swings. A worthy example, adding to Carmen McRae's relatively small stock of recordings, is a 1970 session on the new Seattle-based label Jazz Man. Carmen, who is now 61 and still performing, uses her swaggering voice to establish a character—a street-wise lady low on green but high on spunk. The band, co-led by bebop drummer Clarke and pianist Boland, has the firepower to match Carmen's dramatics. Jazz Man has also unearthed Billie Holiday's live Storyville sessions, recorded at the Boston nightclub in 1951 and 1953. Stan Getz toots sweetly behind her on three cuts. Booze and heroin were undermining Lady Day in those years (she died in 1959 at 44), but her voice retained its one-of-a-kind warmth and poignancy. The climax is Billie's Blues, her own tune, a heartrending and frightening tale of abuse, despair and rousing pride. Blossom Dearie's LP couldn't be more different. The honey-voiced singer-pianist's 1956 debut on Verve is an example of a bygone style—cozy, nurturing, feminine and sexy. Her Lover Man, avoiding the usual torch treatment, brims with girlish yearning. Then there's the reissue of two peerless 1954 discs: Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Jams. Both were recorded for Mercury's EmArcy label. These were relaxed small-group dates with all-star casts: Clifford Brown, Paul Quinichette, Mann and Roy Haynes with Sarah; Brown, Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry, Junior Mance and Max Roach with Dinah. They're all in peak form, especially Brown's probing trumpet and Mann's flute. Mann disappointed many jazz purists when he went commercial in the '60s, but here, in a supporting role, his smartness and punch leap out. Best of all are the singers. Whether warbling a tragic April in Paris or larking through It's Crazy, Vaughan's voice is sumptuous and full of nuance. Listening to Washington is like grabbing a live wire. Dinah Jams is a shiver giver.
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