Mimi Perrin (1926-2010), a French pianist and singer whose hip, lilting vocalese and fearless passion for harmony helped set the tone for two of Paris' best-loved jazz vocal groups and influenced the founding of a third, died November 16. She was 84. [Mimi Perrin is pictured second from right]
Perrin began her recording career in 1956 as a member of Les Blue Stars, a jazz vocal group formed two years earlier by pianist-singer Blossom Dearie. Les Blue Stars was deeply influenced by King Pleasure's recordings in the early '50s and those by the Dave Lambert, Singers. The French group added words to Parisian melodies and jazz songs, often singing in French-accented English, which widened their charm and appeal. Les Blue Stars pre-dated Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
In 1959 Perrin, with two members of Les Blue Stars, formed Les Double Six, which featured a more swinging and complex harmonic sound. As the group's name implied, the six singers overdubbed their voices in the recording studio the way Lambert Hendricks and Ross did on Sing a Song of Basie (1957). The group was signed to Capitol for a time and had moderate success in the U.S., finding an audience among jazz fans who sought novel extensions of the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross sound. Les Double Six's For Lena and Lennie and Boplicity remain a gorgeous marriage of boulevard chic and 52nd Street savvy.
While Les Double Six's overdubbing skills worked wonders in the studio—up to 15 tracks were recorded for songs—duplicating such large harmonic textures in concert posed an obvious problem. But Perrin found a way around it. As she told Leonard Feather in a September 1964 Down Beat interview:
"Sometimes it's difficult to create in person, without overdubbing, what you have done through a special recording procedure. But we manage to create the impression we need through the use of head tones, falsetto and the widest possible spread of parts. It's not easy on our voices, but it brings us as close as possible to that big-band sound." [Pictured: Les Double Six with Quincy Jones at the piano and Mimi Perrin on the right]
The third vocal group Perrin influenced (she wasn't a member) was The Swingle Singers, which was formed in 1962 by Ward Swingle, who had departed Perrin's Les Double Six. The original eight members of the Swingle Singers were best known for singing a cappella versions of Bach's counterpoint compositions and had some success in the U.S. in the 1960s.
Perrin continued performing and recording with Les Double Six until 1966, when health problems forced her to shelve her singing career.
Perrin's Paris in the 1950s was a bohemian hotbed of artistic and stylistic development. The post-war years had unleashed a flood of optimism in Paris, and American jazz and jazz artists were celebrated by French musicians. The brutality of the war had soured many Parisians on Europe's so-called cultural superiority, and America's restless and liberating art movements were treated with a newfound curiosity and respect.
During the '50s, many American musicians, painters and writers relocated to Paris. Most had left the U.S. for greater racial, political and artistic freedom in the wake of blacklisting, conformity and the slow pace of the civil rights movement.
Exposure to well-trained French jazz singers and musicians had a deliberate impact on many American jazz artists who were on tour or residing in Paris. Many were embraced by the French and became more harmonically sophisticated composers and players as a result, particularly those American artists who were studying with French modern-classical theorists.
In exchange, American jazz musicians enabled French jazz artists to develop a more authentic sense of swing and a greater understanding of the jazz idiom. French singers like Perrin became savvier and more daring in their phrasing. With American record labels expanding to Europe by the mid-1950s, French artists also hoped to gain access to the lucrative American market. Too few did, and whatever hopes they had were dashed with the rise of American and British rock in the mid-'60s.
If you want to explore Perrin's seductive contribution to jazz and vocalese—and hear the romantic charm of Paris in the '50s—here are three superb albums:
- Pardon My English—Les Blue Stars (1956)
- The Double Six Encounter Quincy Jones (1959)
- Dizzy Gillespie Quintet and the Double Six of Paris (1963)
You'll find Pardon My English on Jazz in Paris Vol. 19: Pardon My English at iTunes. The Quincy Jones album as well as much of the group's '50s output is on Les Double Six here. The Dizzy Gillespie album is out of print, but you can listen for free here.
Here's Mimi Perrin (she had the high parts) and Les Double Six singing Quincy Jones' For Lena and Lennie...
And here's Perrin and Les Double Six singing Gerry Mulligan's Westwood Walk...
Jazz in Japan. Japanese jazz journalist Makoto Gotoh shared with me a terrific clip of the great jazz clarinetist Eiji Kitamura playing Memories of You with Tadao Kitano's band...
Army Music School. In the wake of my post last Sunday featuring a letter from Stuart Anello, who is studying guitar at the Navy School of Music, reader Rodney Rojas sent along a clip on the importance of music to the U.S. armed forces...
Radio today. WKCR is featuring its annual marathon tribute to Coleman Hawkins today and tonight. You can listen now from anywhere in the world on your computer by going here... Jazz musician Bill Kirchner's Jazz From the Archives show tonight on WBGO will focus on big band trumpeter Marvin Stamm. Bill's show starts at 11 p.m. (EDT). Go here.
CD discoveries of the week: For every r&b hit of the '50s and '60s, there were hundreds of other singles that were lost or forgotten. Fortunately, Belgian radio host Walter De Paduwa has put together a CD of 28 rare funky soul singles by American artists from original 45-rpm records. All of the tracks are solid. The album is Wasa Wasa (urban slang for "what's up?"). Sample Diggin' by the Pac Keys. Or I Get a Groove by Thomas East. You'll find Wasa Wasa (Sub Rosa) at iTunes or here.
On Musica, Brazilian pianist Helio Alves offers up nine spirited tracks. Songs include sambas as well as jazz pieces such as Herbie Hancock's Chan's Song and Wayne Shorter's Black Nile. Alves throws himself into the music with abandon and ambition, and his conservatory-trained technique shows at every turn. He is joined by bassist Reuben Rodgers and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Trumpeter Claudio Roditi and guitarist Romero Lubambo make cameos. The label here is JLP, which always manages to record CDs with enormous fidelity, and this one is no exception. Sample Kathy or Adeus Alf. Musica can be found at iTunes or here.
Some albums on the CTI label in the 1970s hold up better than others. One that remains a gem is Hubert Laws' Morning Star, with arrangements by Don Sebesky. Released in 1973, the album features a full orchestra and Laws on flute, alto flute and piccolo. Sample the title track and Where Is the Love. You'll find Morning Star (Sony) at iTunes or here.
Novabossa is a nifty bossa quintet from Seattle. Backing vocalist Márcia Távora are Marty Jourard (keyboards), Frederick Cockfield (bass), Peter Caruso (guitar) and Eric Larson (drums and percussion). The group's latest album is Mais Musica, a download here. Equally smooth is the group's 2006 release, Novabossa. You'll find it here. Sample Wave and The Look of Love.
Oddball album cover of the week: Here's another one of those strange pairings. The point of Beauty and the Beard, I suppose, was to give Ann Margret a touch of jazz sophistication and Al Hirt a finger-snapping teen image. My guess is the opposite in both cases was achieved. Both look a little apprehensive, though Hirt clearly realizes he has more to gain from the union than Margret. This one by the "female Elvis" and the Dixieland tootler was recorded in 1964 for RCA.