With the release of Paula Castle's Lost Love (c. 1955) by the Verse Music Group—which recently acquired the Bethlehem Records catalog—we're presented with something of a mystery. Castle's voice was leather-glove warm and elegantly sensuous—with hip phrasing and a credible range reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan's. And Lost Love by any measure is a superb recording. Songs dwell thematically on love lost and found. [Photo of Paula Castle, second from right, in the 1950s]
But there's a subtext. This would be Castle's first 10-inch LP—and her last, according to Lord's Jazz Discography. Little is known about Castle or what became of her after this album was released—though we may have a clue.
The band here is equally mysterious. Beyond flutist Sam Most, the rest of the quartet's members aren't exactly household jazz names. Bassist Chet Amsterdam would have a lengthy career as a sideman, but Lost Love was the last known recording for pianist Ronnie Selbey and drummer Herbie Wasserman (d), who became journeymen players.
But back to Castle. She began her recording career in February 1949 with bassist Chubby Jackson. The New Yorker called her recording of All Wrong (made with Jackson that month) "a slow ballad with a foolish lyric" but "interestingly worked out by the musicians and well sung by Paula Castle." [Photo above of Chubby Jackson, center, by William P. Gottlieb. Others, clockwise from left: Dave Lambert, John Simmons, George Handy, and Dizzy Gillespie]
In early August 1949, Billboard reported that Castle had signed a personal management contract with Larry Newton. The magazine also mentioned that she had signed a four-year record deal with Newton's Derby label. But in 1953, Newton ran out of cash and formed Central Records with Lee Magid. The new venture didn't work out either for Newton, who had to file for bankruptcy in 1954.
His Derby masters were sold to RCA, where Newton became an executive. But whatever Newton lacked on the entrepreneurial side he more than made up for in a corporate setting. In 1956 he joined ABC-Paramount as a sales manager and three years later was vice president of sales. In 1965, he became the label's president.
But back to Castle. By mid-August 1949, Newton arranged for Castle to travel down South for a 10-day tour to plug her first Derby release. That single had been recorded in July. She had gone into the studio to record four sides but only two—Harry the Eight and Free of Charge—were issued. The songs were recorded with the Joe Roland Quintet, featuring Ray Turner (ts), Joe Roland (vib), Red Mitchell (p), Joe Puma (g) and Paul Sziglay (b).
In January 1950, Roland wound up at Savoy Records, and Castle recorded one track with him—Love Is Just a Plaything. By then Roland was billed as "Joltin' Joe" Roland and his Symphonette/Bopping Strings. The band featured Joe Roland (vib), Joe Puma (g), Gus Oberstein, Jules Modlin and Sidney Kasmit (strings), Ismael Ugarte (b) and Harold Granowsky (d), with Paula Castle (vcl).
Under contract to Derby, Castle wouldn't appear in a recording studio again until 1955, when she recorded a 10-inch Bethlehem LP called Lost Love. By then, she was managed by Mort Hillman, who also handled Herbie Mann, another Bethlehem artist. Creed Taylor [pictured] was the label's producer then, so I gave him a call yesterday. "The name is familiar but I can't recall the session," he said. "She was one of several vocalists I had at Bethlehem—including Chris Connor and Carmen McRae."
Except for a cryptic remark by an Amazon reviewer in 2011 who claimed that Castle was alive and well in Queens, N.Y., the trail goes cold in 1955. Which somehow makes this album all the more intriguing.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Paula Castle's Lost Love (Bethlehem) newly remastered for iTunes here.
JazzWax clips: Here's Paula Castle singing Love Is Just a Plaything with Joe Roland in 1950...
The following clip features Paula Castle singing Why Can't I? from Lost Love. Although the back of the Lost Love album simply gives 1955 as the release date, I suspect it was recorded very late in the year or perhaps in early 1956. As you will hear on this clip, Castle's phrasing on the song is very close to Sarah Vaughan's reading on In the Land of Hi-Fi, which was recorded in October 1955. Even if Vaughan's album was released close to the holidays, Castle's take could have come only after she heard it. Unless, of course, Lost Love was released first and Vaughan based her approach on Castle's...