As far as I can tell, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers recorded behind a singer only once. That session took place in May and June 1956 in New York and was released on Columbia and the Netherlands' Philips label, which makes perfect sense since the vocalist was Rita Reys, a Dutch jazz singer. Interestingly, the result was quite good, making one wish the Jazz Messengers had departed every so often from instrumentals to back hip vocalists like Johnny Hartman. [Photo of Rita Reys with Art Blakey in 1956 by Don Hunstein]
The Jazz Messengers lineup in May featured trumpeter Donald Byrd, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Horace Silver, bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Blakey. In June, the personnel shifted: trumpeter Byrd, tenor saxophonist Ira Sullivan, pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Blakey. The personnel is different because by June, Silver and Blakey had parted, with Silver forming his own quintet with Mobley and Watkins.
Reys became interested in jazz in the Netherlands after meeting her first husband, Wessel Ilcken, a drummer. They formed a sextet and had some success in Stockholm. Producer George Avakian heard Reys sing in Amsterdam and invited her to the U.S. While here in 1956, she recorded half an album with the Jazz Messengers and performed with the group at New York's Village Vanguard.
She also appeared with organist Jimmy Smith and accordionist Mat Mathews. The following year she returned to New York and performed with the Chico Hamilton Quintet as well as Clark Terry, Zoot Sims and Oscar Pettiford. Sadly, her husband died of a brain hemorrhage shortly after her return to the Netherlands, where she was based and remains today based on her site.
The May 1956 tracks were Taking a Chance on Love, That Old Black Magic, You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To and I Cried for You. The June tracks were My One and Only Love and Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year. Interestingly, the intro to My One and Only Love is identical to the one used in 1957 by Silver for the same song on The Stylings of Silver. Even though Silver was no longer part of the Jazz Messengers by June, the group used Silver's opening arrangement.
One would assume that since Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers were signed to Columbia at the time and had recorded their first album for producer George Avakian in Arpil and May 1956, the Reys date was squeezed in as a favor to the Philips label to help along the foreign distribution of Columbia's 12-inch LPs in Europe and build the Jazz Messengers as a brand abroad. The album was also released on Columbia in the U.S.
Reys, as you'll hear, has a June Christy approach to her delivery, with a faint Dutch lilt in her English lyrics. All in all, she turns in a solid job on all of the Jazz Messengers-backed tunes, working with the group rather than treating them as backup musicians. There's a real togetherness here, and Reys has a firm, swinging understanding of each song's story.
JazzWax tracks: The songs that Rita Reys recorded with Art Blakey are hidden on a Reys album at iTunes called The Cool Voice of Rita Reys. There are no details at iTunes about this partcular recording, so the album is easy to miss. The balance of the CD was recorded in Europe during the same period and features the Wessel Ilcken Combo.
JazzWax clip: Here's Rita Reys with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on My One and Only Love...