Sunday, July 25, 2010
Safety In Numbers-by Steve Provizer
The trigger for this was reading that today is Annie Ross' birthday. As far as I'm concerned (and it's a safe bet no one else is), there has never been a greater female 'parts' singer than Annie. Not just parts, but the vocalese solos she sang with Lambert and Hendricks. Fantastic range, intonation and phrasing. I never saw her live, but her recorded work isn't in the same league. There's a lot of ancillary reasons-inferior accompaniment and repertoire among them, but her voice was her voice and, in the end, she simply stopped compelling attention when she sang on her own. Jazz history is full of people who could arguably be put into that category. Does their work suddenly lose all merit when they step out and take on a heavier career burden? Of course not. But, ironically, their identities as musicians were the result of playing relationships with other, more "leader"-type musicians, or found within the safety of a larger ensemble. Here are some possibilities: A number of people away from Ellington-Webster, Cootie, Hodges, Cat Anderson; Basie people fared a bit better, I think (Did Herschel ever record on his own?); Junior Cook away from Horace Silver; some Mingus guys-Knepper, Curson, Hillyer; did Wynton Kelly ever sound as good as he did with Miles? Art Farmer worked less well without the Jazztet... For each, there's a different set of explanations for why they achieved some kind of synergy with a person or group and why moving away from that, to some degree, seemed to dissipate their musical power. I'm curious to see how the Royal Readership responds to those I've mentioned as well as its suggestions about others who fit this pattern.