Back in February 2009, I posted on singer Marcy Lutes, who recorded just one album under her own name. What makes this Decca recording so special are the arrangers—Ralph Burns, Gil Evans and Marion Evans. I received the following email from an anonymous reader:
"Marcy still lives in New York. She has lived for many years at a single-room occupancy hotel for women in Manhattan. I knew her for a few years, when I lived there, and learned a little about her career and her background. Marcy mentioned that she worked in television quite a bit (I guess this was after her club career and marriage ended), but I don't remember any details. I hear that she is in fair health. I was very touched by your sincere appreciation of her talents, and so I thought I would let you know about her."
Graciela Perez (1916-2010), an Afro-Cuban singer whose powerful, passionate voice was crisply featured on the recordings of her foster brother, Latin-jazz bandleader Machito, died of renal and pulmonary failure in New York on April 7th. She was 94.
Graciela's U.S. career dates back to 1943, and in the Latin-jazz world, her talents and reputation can be compared only with Ella Fitzgerald's. Graciela (she was known simply by her first name) popularized a style known as bolero—slow-tempo Cuban music employed predominantly for love ballads. But these pleading songs in America also carried with them strains of nostalgia for Cuba and family life left behind. For this reason, Graciela's commanding and torch-touched delivery resonated strongly with an older generation of Cuban-Americans who settled in Miami and New York. [Pictured: Conga master Candido Camero and Graciela Perez]
A typical Graciela performance would begin with a big, dramatic introduction by the Machito orchestra. Once the rhythmic instrumental buildup began to hush slightly, Graciela's voice would be heard as if emerging from the darkness. Even on studio recordings, Graciela sounded as though she were delivering her vocal eyes closed, bathed in the white heat of a stage spotlight.
Even if you don't understand a word of Spanish, you can still hear the pain, sorrow and conflicted feelings in Graciela's powerful delivery. I remember meeting Graciela several years ago and was struck instantly by her earthy, friendly personality. When I made this point to a friend, he said to me: "She has no airs about fame or herself. She's always among her audience, which is why she's so beloved."
If you're unfamiliar with Graciela, download just one song at iTunes: Alma Con Alma from Machito at the Crescendo. Here's a clip of Graciela singing with Machito's orchestra...
Sonny Rollins speaks. Videographer Bret Primack posted a fascinating interview with Sonny Rollins on YouTube, in which Sonny talks emotionally about his saxophone influences. It's part of Bret's ongoing series called Sonny Speaks, celebrating the year of Sonny's 80th birthday, which will be on September 7th...
Herbie Nichols. Fans of the pianist—and there are many—will be pleased to learn that David Brent Johnson, host of WFIU's Night Lights radio show, recently devoted an hour-long program to Nichols. You can hear the podcast of David's show here.
CD discoveries of the week. Hip-O Select has remastered and reissued the 1975 classic City of Angels by the Miracles. The album was a self-described "soul opera" co-written by Billy Griffin, who replaced Smokey Robinson as lead singer in 1972, and original member Pete Moore. Their concept album told the story of a lovesick guy who travels to Los Angeles to find the woman he loved only to discover that the fame-seeker flamed out on "too many pills." Hey, it was the '70s. The big hit was Love Machine, and the album sounds even better than it did 35 years ago. You'll find City of Angels here and here.If you love the jazz violin, you'll fall hard for Federico Britos' Voyage (Sunnyside). Backed by a string section, a jazz group and special guests including Bucky Pizzarelli, Kenny Barron and Michel Camilo, the Uruguayan-born Britos soars on every track with Carlos Franzetti's string arrangements behind him. There are breathtaking originals (Vivian and Okey Paganini among others) as well as poetic standards (After You've Gone, Moonglow and Avalon). In each case, Britos brings enormous feeling to the instrument without going overboard. You'll find Voyage here.
Wen Mew is a saxophonist who practices for hours on the streets of Santa Monica, CA. His new self-produced CD, Sunday Morning, offers many surprises. For one, Mew plays the saxello, which is a B-flat soprano sax with a curved neck and bell. The instrument has a much mellower disposition than its rigid cousin. On Sunday Morning, Wen plays with enormous feeling and a relaxed vibrato that resonates with you long after his notes are played. All 12 tracks are Wen originals and none moves faster than the beat of your pulse. Which makes for a highly personal expression with peaceful results. To buy Sunday Morning, you'll have to email Wen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oddball album cover of the week. Throughout the 1950s, album art directors had a hard time with the French horn. Or put differently, they almost always went overboard trying to tease out the instrument's round shape and regal curves. Poor John Graas. On the cover of this 1957 LP for Decca, his bafflement among the beakers seems to be saying, "You've got to be kidding, right?"