The judges who determine which performing artists will receive the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement are now deliberating. Last week I heard from a group that's trying to persuade those judges to consider Nancy Wilson. I'm in complete agreement.
Nancy broke many barriers when she signed with Capitol Records in 1959. Nat King Cole, of course, was first to blaze the trail for black pop vocalists in the LP era—all vocalists, in fact. Frank Sinatra's shift to a hipper, swinging sound at Capitol beginning in 1954 didn't come out of thin air. Nancy went a step further, shattering the glass ceiling for female black vocalists whose voices were routinely pegged by labels as too soulful or jazzy for pop, which generated significantly more revenue.
Nancy changed all of that—recasting the image of the young black female singer thanks to her vocal control, movie-star looks and glamorous silhouette. In the TV age, such a repositioning was a big deal. Motown and other labels quickly recast their female vocalists from teen gospel belters to statuesque supper-club starlets. For this, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick and others owe Nancy a debt of gratitude for her grace, vocal power and coy pop delivery.
Nancy's efforts also had a profound impact on the struggle for racial integration. She appeared with ease on television variety shows hosted by white hosts, putting live and at-home audiences at ease by performing as though racial barriers didn't exist. Her clear pop diction also was a factor. But Nancy didn't hide behind the safety of her pop success. She worked tirelessly but quietly on behalf of the Civil Rights movement.
In my conversations with Nancy, she has often been low-key on her Civil Rights efforts and achievements, preferring to focus on the music instead.
Now is the time for the Kennedy Center judges to step up and honor Nancy for her singing, her tireless vocal promotion of Broadway and movie music, her work to bring black and white pop audiences together, and her support for integration, civil rights and feminism in the music industry.
For more information on efforts in support of Nancy Wilson, go here. I hear that Kennedy Center judges will vote toward the end of July/early August. For my favorite YouTube clip that makes all of the points above, go here.
Greg Lewis's album Organ Monk, released in 2012, is terrific. On the album, Lewis interprets the music of Thelonious Monk on a Hammond B-3.Bret Primack, the Jazz Video Guy, caught up with Greg here in an interview...
Sam Most, RIP. Swinging West Coast flutist Sam Most died last week. I hear he wrote a song, called Morphine Blues before he died and his family sang it with him before he died in his sleep. A memorial will be held this Sunday, June 16, at the Musician's Union (817 Vine St. in Hollywood, CA), from 1 to 5:00 p.m. Suggested donation is $10. One of my favorite Most albums is The Herbie Mann-Sam Most Quintet for Bethlehem in the '50s.
Mary McCartney. Last week, photographer Mike McCartney and former member of the The Scaffold sent along a link to a Liverpool Echo feature on his niece, photographer Mary McCartney [pictured above]. To read it, go here. And for my interview with Mike in Liverpool in 2012, go here.
Rossano Sportiello [pictured above] will be at the Café Carlyle from Tuesday to Saturday playing a piano tribute to the artistry of George Shearing. Rossano will be joined by bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Dennis Mackrel. The set starts at 8:45pm. For information and reservations, go here.
Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle. Few sounds are as closely linked to a singer as George Roberts' bass trombone intro on Nelson Riddle's arrangement of I've Got You Under My Skin for Frank Sinatra. Here's how it came together. And here's how the song sounded in 1956, when Songs for Swingin' Lovers was released...
Beware the CD! Today, we're moving fast through the era of the music download to the streaming library. But once upon a time, the CD was new and vinyl was on the run. Alan Elliott at UCLA sent along this YouTube clip...
Ed Shaughnessy, the driving big-band drummer who died in May, taped a video for photographer Jules Follett for her October 2011 Sticks 'n' Skins book party in New York. The book features Jules' photos and biographies of dozens of great drummers. Here's Ed's video...
CD discovery of the week. The prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York recently recorded Artistry in Rhythm: Music of the Innovations Orchestras—featuring the charts performed and recorded by Stan Kenton in 1950 and '51. This Kenton orchestra of 43 musicians included strings and an expanded woodwind and brass section and experimented with jazz-classical ideas. Though hardly the swinging wall-of-sound band that would follow when the Innovations concept ended, the orchestra produced some amazing work. Here, in a live performance, the Manhattan School of Music orchestra does a miraculous job on highly complex material. Note that this isn't a studio recording but if you turn up the volume a bit, your eyes will grow wide.
Oddball album cover of the week.
Reader Stuart Yasaki sent along this one, recorded in 1978 with Bob Brookmeyer (v-tb) Tom Ranier (p) Arlette McCoy (el-p) Joe Diorio (g) Monty Budwig (b) Billy Higgins (d) and Willie Bobo (perc). You can find it as a reissued and remastered download here—with a, uh, different cover.