A WOMAN IN LOVE: BARBARA LEA
with BILLY TAYLOR and JOHNN WINDHURST
Barbara Lea (vcl) accompanied by Johnny Windhurst (tp) Billy Taylor (p) Jimmy Shirley (g) Earl May (b) Percy Brice (drs)
Recorded March 15 and 16, 1955
1. Come Rain or Come Shine (4:03) (Mercer-Arlen)
2. As Long As I Live (2:26) (Koehler-Arlen)
3. Love Is Here to Stay (4:08) (Ira and George Gershwin)
4. Thinking of You (2:41) (Kalmar-Ruby)
5. I Didn't Know About You (3:17) (Russell-Ellington)
6. Love Me (2:26) (Washington-Young
7. The Best Things for You (2:48) (Irving Berlin)
8. A Woman Alone with the Blues (5:11) (Willard Robinson)
There are a great many popular songs, old and new, that deal with the very basic human emotion known as love, with widely varying degrees of success. There are also a great many singers who, on a staggeringly large number of records, take a crack at such songs. Every once in a while (to be accurate, only every one in a frighteningly long while) the combination comes out exactly right. Singer, songs, accompaniment, and the way all these elements blend together into a single, living, compelling unity - when it all comes out just right, the result is a moving and truly satisfying musical experience.
That's the way it is with this album of love songs by BABARA LEA, an album that builds and holds a mood of rare warmth and beauty.
That's the way it is unless we ("we" meaning everyone who had anything to do with this record session) are very badly caught off base. Now it's not really an easy thing to decide that a group of recordings you have helped bring into being is truly out of the ordinary. (It may seem as if it's easy - but that's just because of the sort of writing that goes on the back of so many LP sleeves, and isn't the same thing at all.) The problem is that you tend to become frightened by your own enthusiasm: you feel you just can't have the proper perspective; maybe your usually sound judgment is warped this once; and as for all the people who've had an advance listen and claim to agree with you all the way, why they're surely just trying to avoid getting into an argument with obvious fanatics.
But on occasions like this one, you decide you don't even care if someone (some misguided someone) is going to think your judgment is warped and you are fanatics. This album is like that. It's like Bobby Thomson hitting that home run, or Jimmy Durante saying any one of the dozen or more lines he says perfectly, or like a Hemingway bullfighter making exactly the proper movement. It's right, that's all. . .
Barbara Lea is quite clearly a singer of skill and taste. She has pecked out these songs - some of them moderately well-known, some quite obscure, and none recorded often before (which is entirely a reflection on other singer's taste). All of them are about being in love and being happy or worried or sad about it - that, of course, being the basis for the album title: "A Woman in Love." Barbara sings them as if she means every word and inflection (which is pretty close to being lose art). And she succeeds in convincing the listener that it's all real, which is surely the way a song should be put across. This is what might be called "interpreting" a song, except that the word is usually taken to mean either something stuffy or else that the performer has chosen to suit his or her own purposes. But there is nothing even faintly stuffy going on here; and Barbara Lean plainly has enough faith in her own taste to figure that if she chooses a song it's apt to have enough merit to be treated pretty much as written and come out very effectively.
Her material includes two numbers by Harold Arlen and one by Gershwin; one of those Ellington instrumentals that occasionally are converted into superior songs; one that Berlin wrote for an Ethel Merman show (although Merman would never have considered handling it like this), and a heart-braking dirge, Willard Robinson's A Woman Alone with the Blues. That's pretty good material to work with. And Barbara works on it with a voice that is warm, relaxed, sensitive and true. She is not a "perfect" singer (and there probably won't be one of those until someone whips up an electronic brain that can carry a tune), but she is a very good and very moving singer, which is undoubtedly better than being "perfect."
For the record: Barbara Lea is in her early twenties, was born in Detroit, sang a bit with local bands there, and then with a Harvard student band while attending Wellesley College. During that brief span of hew full-fledged professional career to date, she has appeared in number of clubs in the East and has been heard over New York and Boston radio stations.
Not the least of the virtues of this LP is the perceptive backing provided by a group of highly skilled musicians. BILLY TAYLOR is one of today's most brilliant jazz pianists; he has only rarely been heard as an accompanist, but he displays here a talent for handling that difficult assignment in inventive and consistently helpful fashion. The rhythm section also includes guitarist Jimmy Shirley, and Taylor's regular bass player and drummer - Earl may and Percy Brice - who have developed into a superbly meshed team during the course of long and successful engagements at such top spots as The Embers and The Composer in New York, and a great many other places elsewhere. JOHNNY WINDHURST is a young trumpeter of great strength and imagination, who has worked with a variety of jazz groups and who happens to have a distinctively personal style that refuses to be limited to any single jazz category. All five men provide a lilt where that is called for, tenderness when needed, and firm, integrated support at all times. Taylor and Windhurst also have their share of fine solo touches (listen particularly for Billy on I Didn't Know About You and As Long As I Live; and Johnny on the latter tune and on Woman Alone, where he takes what might be called the best tenor sax chorus ever played on a trumpet).
It can all be fairly summed up by saying that this group provides a setting that any vocalist could be jealous of, and that Barbara Lea sings well enough to deserve nothing less than that.
Other outstanding and unusual Riverside LPs include:
Randy Weston plays Cole Porter in a Modern Mood (RLP 2508)
Ray Weston Trio, with Art Blakey (RLP 2515)
Six Valves: Don Elliott and Rusty Dedrick, featuring the modern jazz composition of Dick Hyman (RLP 2517)
Here’s Morgan: Henry Morgan, famed radio and TV satirist, in ten of his best and most biting monologues (RLP 8003)
Produced by Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews
Recorded at Van Gelder Studios; Hackensack, New Jersey
Cover designed by Paul Bacon; photograph by Paul Weller
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.