Letter from Home: the voice of EDDIE JEFFERSON
arrangements by ERNIE WILKINS
Jefferson is accompanied by –
On Letter from Home, Things Are Getting Better, and I Feel So Good: Clark Terry (tp) Ernie Royal (tp) Jimmy Cleveland (tb) James Moody (as, fl) Johnny Griffin (ts) Arthur Clarke (brs) Joe Zawinul (p) Barry Galbraith (g) Sam Jones (b) Osie Johnson (drs)
On A Night In Tunisia, Take the “A” Train and Back In Town: Joe Newman (tp) and Wynton Kelly (p) replace Terry and Zawinul. Other personnel the same.
Billie’s Bounce, Soft and Furry, Keep Walkin’ and Bless My Soul are played by Griffin (ts) Junior Mance (p) Galbraith (g) Jones (b) Louis Hayes (drs) Arranged and conducted by Ernie Wilkins.
1. Letter From Home (2:58) (Mance –Keepnews)
2. Take The “A” Train (3:07) (Strayhorn – Mignone)
3. Billie’s Bounce (2:44) (Parker – Jenkins)
4. Back In Town (3:06) (Moody – Jefferson)
5. Soft And Furry (2:49) (Griffn – Jefferson)
1. A Night In Tunisia (3:29) (Gillespie – Mignone)
2. Things Are Getting Better (3:08) (Adderley – Jefferson)
3. Keep Walkin’ (2:57) (Cobb – Jefferson)
4. I Feel So Good (3:09) (Moody – Jefferson)
5. Bless My Soul (Parker’s Mood) (3:25) (Parker – Jefferson)
Eddie Jefferson is a jazz singer – in the fullest sense of the words.
It is hoped that such an opening remark will not involve us in that age-old war waged over the question of exactly what is a jazz singer. It’s an issue that gets writers endlessly tangled in definitions and explanations, with pitched battles involving the credentials of pop vocalists who on occasion are able to swing, the legitimacy of scat-singing, how many points are to be awarded for hitting a flatted fifth without sounding just plain flat, etc., etc. In this instance, however, there is no need for such carryings-on. Eddie Jefferson is a jazz singer for the simple and conclusive reason that what he sings is jazz, firmly imbedded in modern music and fully equivalent to what a horn might seek to do with the same material.
Furthermore, although others (most notably Lambert, Hendricks and Ross) have in recent years done much with such things as the setting of lyrics to specific recorded jazz solos, all evidence indicates that Jefferson was the pioneer of the vocal technique he and others now employ.
Singing with jazz flavor and feeling is of course an old and honorable concept. Early blues singers were quite close to an instrumental approach; so was Louis Armstrong, whose voice was almost as widely imitated as his trumpet. But it was not until the mid-1930s that anything approximating the improvised-solo idea cropped up, in the work of a remarkable but almost forgotten singer and trombonist named Leo Watson. His vocals with The Spirits of Rhythm uniquely combined scat, rhythm, and what Leonard Feather has aptly called “stream-of-consciousness sense of humor.” He is also the only singer Eddie Jefferson by whom considers himself at all influenced.
Jefferson can accurately be described as horn into show business. His father was a performer, and as a boy in Pittsburgh, Eddie appeared for four years on a local radio show with Erroll Garner. He thinks of Garner as a life-long influence, from whom he first learned to swing (“a genius … at the age of four he was swinging as much as he does today – although of course his repertoire was a lot more limited”).
After several years as a dancer and player (tuba and bass trumpet) with less than a satisfying amount of success, Eddie made the decision to turn fully to what had been only a casually-used vocal talent. Almost as far back as he can remember, he had been singing – fellow musicians recall some memorable improvising, accompanied by records, in hotel rooms on the road. By the mid-40’s, Jefferson was strictly a singer and in 1951 made some now long-unavailable 78 rpm records. Then began a decade of close association with James Moody. Eddie frequently set lyrics to Moody choruses (two examples of his words combined with a tune built on a Moody solo are included here) and recorded with the band, although the present LP is his first on his own.
Jefferson actually has a variety of approaches to both words and music. Three newly-lyricized numbers here show him at his “straightest,” singing what amounts to the melody lead on the Ernie Wilkins arrangements. One is Junior Mance’s unusually constructed Letter From Home, which has possibly the longest release in the world, during which Eddie alternates with the band (and which represents the debut as lyricist of Riverside A & R chief Orrin Keepnews). The other two, both with words by the singer, are Cannonball Adderley’s earthy Things Are Getting Better; and Soft and Furry. The latter tune is by Johnny Griffin, a long-time friends who suggested this record date to the label and who plays an important instrumental role – along with such other top talent as Moody, Clark Terry and, on each of the three sessions, a stand-out pianist: Mance, Wynton Kelly and Joe Zawinul.
Dizzy Gillespie’s Night In Tunisia and Billy Strayhorn’s Take the “A” Train both have for some time had special lyrics by Frank Mignone. Eddie offers them and then goes on to some solo flights of his own. Arnett Cobb’s Keep Walkin’, with Jefferson lyrics, includes both melody and blowing. The remaining two, both Charlie Parker compositions, derive essentially from Bird’s classic disc solos, Bless My Soul being the name under which this with-lyrics version of Parker’s Mood was previously recorded.
Eddie Jefferson believes that the addition of words in keeping with the spirit of a modern jazz instrumental is one important way of making such jazz more readily and widely understood and accepted. This highly unusual album strongly suggests that he knows that he is talking – and singing – about.
(This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RLP 9411) and Monaural (RLP 411) form.)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos: STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York