Singer Carol Stevens has a terrific phone voice. It's identical to her singing voice in the late '50s—husky, feminine and full of character. Naturally, it was a pleasure interviewing her—both for the content and just to hear her articulate her points. [Photo of Carol Stevens in the '60s]
Carol in the '60s and beyond continued to sing at clubs in New York and New England. She performed with Jimmy Giuffre and others. She also was married to Norman Mailer. But for this interview, Carol preferred to stick with her early years; her album, That Satin Doll, from 1957; and her appearance in a TV pilot in 1959 called After Hours, with the cream of New York jazz musicians at the time. Let me show it to you now...
In Part 2, Carol talks about the years immediately after her album was released and the clip you just viewed...
JazzWax: After the album came out, where did your manager Phil Moore book you?
Carol Stevens: All over. He sent me to Canada, where I worked with the Canadian Jazz Quartet. The place I worked in Toronto was called Le Cabaret, which was originally a bank. The review that was written about That Satin Doll was printed and placed on every table. Phil also arranged for me to appear in a TV pilot for a jazz show.
JW: Was that After Hours?
CS: Yes. If I recall, we taped the pilot in 1959, not 1961. [Photo above of Carol Stevens in the '60s]
JW: How did you wind up in it?
CS: One day Phil told me he had a TV pilot of a jazz show lined up. I had to be on location at 6 a.m. I knew William B. Williams, the New York disc jockey who was doing the voiceover, and a few of the guys in the band.
JW: Did you know how the After Hours scene was going to be set up?
CS: I knew who was going to be there before I arrived and the song I was going to sing, but we never rehearsed. The producer just said, “You'll make an entrance.” I knew Barry Galbraith and Milt Hinton, of course, since they had been on my album. But I had never met Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins [pictured above], Johnny Guarnieri or Cozy Cole. I was to enter the club, sit down at a table and then go up and sing one song.
JW: Were you nervous, given who was up there?
CS: Before any performance, I always had a physical thing that went on. I usually had such butterflies. But I knew that if I didn’t have them, there was something dead inside of me. After the first notes, they left me entirely.
JW: What happened during the taping?
CS: I sang Taking a Chance on Love with the band and then went in the back and sat down on the break. Roy cozied up next to me and we made a connection. He said, "You know, you and I ought to do something together. Look what I did for Anita. We can do something, baby." He started singing Just You, Just Me. Well, the producer heard what we were doing and said, “Hey, let’s start rolling the camera.” I’ve always hated my performance on that song.
CS: I’m not a scatter. And I’m so embarrassed by the tiara they made me wear. I was only supposed to do Taking a Chance on Love.
JW: Just You, Just Me is fun, though.
CS: I was caught off-guard and didn’t have a chance to think about what I wanted to do. I never felt comfortable trying to scat. I simply wasn’t good at it. But Roy could scat, wow.
JW: And the other extras in the clip—did they really work at the club where the pilot was taped?
CS: The dancers were pros. I'm not sure about the waiter and the woman. [Photo above of Carol Stevens and husband Norman Mailer in the '60s]
JW: What was going on between Hawkins and Eldridge during Just You, Just Me?
CS: It seemed that Hawk wouldn’t let him in to solo. Roy was ticked. Hawk thought Roy was taking over the session and didn’t like it. That was my impression, at least. I could be wrong.
JW: Even though the TV pilot didn’t get picked up, your album was successful. Why didn't it lead to more recordings?
CS: Phil got an offer from Atlantic. I loved Nesuhi Ertegun [pictured above]. He wanted me to record again. But Phil told me he turned it down to wait for better deals with other labels, which never materialized. That was a shame.
JW: What did you do in the early ‘60s?
CS: I fielded all sorts of offers. I did an ad for Duke cigarettes that paid $20,000. I don’t read music, so I asked the piano player to play the jingle a few times until I had it down. We cut it in just 20 minutes. I was amazed by the money. I had a husky voice and hip sound that other advertisers dug. Duke led to ads for Score Hair Crème, Breck shampoo, Rheingold beer and Harveys Bristol Cream with the MJQ and with Toots Thielemans.
JW: Voiceovers really paid well, wow.
CS: They did. The first one allowed me to have my son David come up from Philadelphia and live with me in New York. Previously, I couldn't afford a bigger place. I originally had lived on 57th St and loved it. The building had many one-room artists’ studios, so a lot of photographers and theater people lived there. But when David came up, I had moved to the Upper West Side opposite the Dalton School, before it moved to the East Side. I had a huge two-bedroom apartment there with a dining room. I was probably spending a fortune. [Pictured above: Carol Stevens recently with her daughter Maggie Mailer]
JW: Did you continue to sing?
CS: Yes. Mostly in New England, where I had moved by then. Norman [Mailer] loved my voice.
JW: Were you happy?
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Carol Stevens' album That Satin Doll here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Satin Doll from the album...
And here's Carol singing Everywhere, based on Bill Harris' trombone solo on the song from his Bill Harris and the Ex-Hermanites album in 1957...