I am particularly fond of The Swingin's Mutual, the album that singer Nancy Wilson recorded with the George Shearing Quintet in June 1960. Her six tracks with Shearing represented a crisscrossing over at the time for both artists. For Nancy, being accompanied by just Shearing's group rather than a big orchestra created a special intimacy that allowed listeners to hear just how special her voice was. As for Shearing, he was able to show off a more soulful feel within the confines of the quintet's sound, which by 1960 had become quasi easy listening.
A good example is My Gentleman Friend, my personal favorite from the album. The Shearing quintet exhibits its trademark, ice cubes dropped into a crystal glass sound. But this isn't sticky Satin Affair fare. Shearing brings enormous soul forward as Nancy swings with kittenish abandon. Highly sophisticated stuff within its tasteful simplicity.
On Wednesday, I had a chance to speak with Nancy about Shearing and The Swingin's Mutual. Here's what she told me:
"The Swingin’s Mutual was recorded because George Shearing and I were both represented by talent manager John Levy. We also were on the same label—Capitol. John thought it would be a great idea, and he was right. [Photo of Nancy Wilson at The Swingin's Mutual session in 1960 by John Levy]
"I don’t remember when and where I first met George. It was probably in 1959. We had performed together that year at New York's Basin Street East. That was a great place to play. It was a jazz supper club rather than just another jazz club. [Photo of George Shearing and Nancy Wilson at the Capitol Tower by John Levy]
"When we decided to record the album in 1960, George and I sat down and talked about the type of material we’d record. Then we picked out the songs. There was no specific strategy to having me record only six songs and for George to record six with just the quintet. We used the same six-and-six format on Nancy Wilson with Cannonball Adderley, which we recorded a year later in 1961.
"I suppose it was set up that way so the album could sell in both of our record bins. Buyers who wanted the instrumentals would have them, and the different audiences would be exposed to each of us.
"The photo on the cover? I believe those images were taken at separate times and then they joined the pictures together to make it seem as though we were sitting back to back. In fact, I'm sure of it. I owned an orange dress, so I didn’t have to buy one for the photo shoot. But I didn’t have orange shoes so I had to dye a pair.
"After The Swingin’s Mutual came out, everyone loved it. So did I. George and I toured for a time and performed concerts together. We’d appear separately at the clubs but then come out and do songs together. [Photo of Nancy Wilson in the vocal booth at The Swingin's Mutual session by John Levy]
"George was a joy. He had a light touch and was...I guess the word would be tasty. There also was a little humor in the music every now and then, too.
"As a singer, you’re always listening to the piano. To sing accompanied by the Shearing sound really was wonderful. His style encompassed and surrounded my voice beautifully. He knew what to play and when. He’d always embellish, and the result made you sound even better.
"Of course, let’s not forget his beautiful chord structure. These are all the things you’re listening to as a singer for excitement and inspiration.
"George had a humorous and odd wit. He could come up with some really odd things when he was on the microphone. He told jokes that weren’t really funny in the traditional sense. But he meant well so you just had to love him and his sense of humor.
"As good as The Swingin’s Mutual was, I loved what George did on Hello Young Lovers, which I recorded in 1962. Most people aren't aware that George wrote all the string arrangements for the album. I heard them for the first time when the orchestra played them down in the studio at the Capitol Tower in Los Angeles. There’s such grandeur and sweep to that album, I love it.
"Swingin' came along just at the right time. It broadened my audience and took George out of jazz and put him in my thing, which he liked. Interestingly, we both needed that type of album. My style was and is pop of the day. I’m now called a jazz singer, which makes me laugh. I’m a song stylist who sings show tunes, Broadway and contemporary hits. That's who I am. Swingin' gave me a pop-jazz feel and it gave George a jazz-pop feel.
"The Swingin’s Mutual was a breakthrough for me, commercially. It raised my profile and showed off my versatility. The album that I recorded with Cannonball [Adderley] in New York did even more for my career in terms of my being taken more seriously by jazz and pop listeners.
"George was always about the ears. I remember there was a party for George in 1999 at Carnegie Hall to celebrate his 80th birthday. We were in a studio rehearsing, and he played the songs from our album note for note, just as he played them on the record. I had never known anything like that. To sit down and play exactly what you had played on an album from so many years ago. Well, it blew my mind. But that was George."
JazzWax tracks: Nancy Wilson and George Shearing's The Swingin's Mutual is available at iTunes or here. Nancy Wilson with Cannonball Adderley is available at iTunes or here. Nancy Wilson's Hello Young Lovers, arranged by Shearing, has not been reissued, although some tracks appear on compilations.
JazzWax note: The quintet on The Swingin's Mutual featured Shearing on piano, Eddie Costa on vibes, Dick Garcia on guitar, George Duvivier on bass and Walter Bolden on drums.
JazzWax clip: Here's Nancy Wilson and George Shearing on My Gentleman Friend. Dig Shearing's halting, tumbling intro arrangement. Then dig Shearing's soulful solo on the break before being joined by the quintet's synchronized lines. And catch Shearing's hinting of Horace Silver's Ecaroh riff on the repeated outro...