I'm convinced there is no end to the number of albums recorded in the late 1950s and early '60s by jazzy singers. Every time I think I've seen or heard them all, another beaut bobs to the surface. The one I discovered this week is the rare Dori Howard Sings, released by Dot Records in 1959. The album features Howard backed by two different jazz quintets—one led by Eddie Costa and the other by Don Elliott. Both musicians were superb players and multi-instrumentalists. The Howard album was never issued digitally in the States, but it was released on CD in Japan, most recently in 2013. Both the vinyl and CD are extremely rare.
Dori Howard Sings came to my attention through an unusual source—her cousin, Susan Brink. Susan had seen the Dori Howard album cover on the front of a book on singers that I mentioned over the weekend—Bill Reed's The Last Musical Hurrah—and she reached out. Susan's other cousins were saxophonist Sam Marowitz and bassist Sid Weiss. While she heard stories about those two from family members, Dori was different. Susan and Dori were close.
Dori, Susan says, was short for Doris. For whatever reason, the Dot release was Howard's sole album. "The Beatles happened," Dori once told Susan. Dori lived in Queens, and Susan recalled that she kept a set of drums in her apartment and wasn't shy about jamming on them. "She even got me to sing a few times," says Susan. "When I was a kid, Dori's fair-haired nieces told me only blondes could sing. Even though I was a redhead, they graciously included me when we played 'girl singer.' I was diligent in rehearsing my part for our big number—Downtown. I still remember those moves."
Susan continued: "Dori said that Dot threw spaghetti at the fridge with her album. They chose the material to showcase the many facets of her talent. After the album came out, she continued her career in music, singing in clubs and recording background vocals—wherever the work took her. Dori recorded under a variety of names, but I never wrote them down. Her death was sudden and a shock to me. You always think you have more time with the ones you love."
The liner notes describe Dori's vocal style accurately, as having "a husky, roller-coasting voice...with a delayed action vibrato." According to the notes, Howard played violin growing up in New York, taking up piano and drums later. "For five or six years she has played and sung in New York, working the better East Side clubs. During a stint in Hollywood, she acted, sang and made a tremendous hit on the 'Shower of Stars' show. Jazz is her first love, and she found the musicians on this album to be 'just wonderful.' "
What I love about Howard's voice is the relaxed fun she has while singing. She also took smart risks, landing on unusual notes. I'm not big fan of vibrato, but Howard didn't abuse hers, using it tastefully only in places where she wanted a little drama. It's quite delightful. Best of all, the Costa and Elliott groups are marvelous and swing. Since Costa and Elliott both played vibes, it's tough to figure out which artist backed Howard on the different tracks. Adding to the difficulty in deciphering who's playing is the fact that there are different instrument configurations on each track.
The songs on Dori Howard Sings are The Moon Was Yellow, My One and Only Love, Here I Am in Love Again, I Get a Kick Out of You, Lonely Love, Mean to Me, How Long Has This Been Going On, Duke's Place, You're Not Alone, Monday, Stop Look and Run, and Mood Indigo.
Dori Howard died in 1982. "She didn’t think she’d be remembered," says Susan. "She was sure there would be no legacy."
JazzWax tracks: You'll find the Japanese CD of Dori Howard Sings for about $50 at online sites.
JazzWax clips: Here's Dori Howard singing Here I Am in Love Again. The track features vibes, piano and organ. Since these groups are billed as quintets, I'm guessing Don Elliott is on vibes and trumpet. The guitar sounds a lot like Chuck Wayne. The piano and organ may have been handled by Dick Hyman...
Here's I Get a Kick Out of You. Sounds like Eddie Costa on piano and Barry Galbraith on guitar...
Here's Lonely Love. Sounds like Don Elliott on mellophone...