THE DOZENS: MILDRED BAILEY by Sue Russell



                        Mildred Bailey, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

Mildred Bailey (1907-1951) was one of the first female singers to make a name for herself with a major band and one of the first white singers to incorporate the innovations of black jazz and blues. She loved the music of Bessie Smith, and she was an early fan and advocate of Louis Armstrong. Bailey is known for her small, agile voice and her ability to swing with the best, including Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Coleman Hawkins, and perhaps most notably, the legendary xylophone player, Red Norvo, whom she married in 1933. Together, Bailey and Norvo captivated audiences as “Mr. and Mrs. Swing.” Bailey is a major artist and innovator whose influence extends to singers as diverse as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Rosemary Clooney.

This Dozens feature presents some of the highlights of her musical career, which was unfortunately cut short by her untimely death in 1951. I’ve also included a few personal favorites. Happy listening!


Mildred Bailey: When It's Sleepy Time Down South

Track

When It's Sleepy Time Down South

Group

Paul Whiteman Orchestra

CD

Mildred Bailey, Volume One: Sweet Beginnings (Old Masters MB 103)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals).

Composed by Clarence Muse, Leon T. Rene & Otis J. Rene, Jr

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Recorded: New York, October 4, 1931

Albumcovermildredbailey-sweetbeginnings-volumeone

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Contemporary listeners might cringe at this track's "darkies singing" and mammy "falling on her knees," but Mildred Bailey's affinity for the blues ran deep. And people who knew her in the early years say she was very hip. She knew about Louis Armstrong – who recorded this song six months earlier and subsequently made it his theme – even before he began his recording career. Once his records were out, she became his advocate, enthusiastically introducing them to friends and associates.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: Rockin' Chair (1932)

Track

Rockin' Chair

Group

Matty Malneck Orchestra

CD

Mildred Bailey, Volume Two: Band Vocalist (Old Masters MB104)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Red Norvo (marimba).

Composed by Hoagy Carmichael

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Recorded: August 18, 1932

Albumcovermildredbailey-bandvocalist-volumetwo

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Hoagy Carmichael first heard Mildred Bailey with Paul Whiteman's orchestra in 1929 and later taught her this song, which he felt suited her voice and style. "Rockin' Chair" was a huge hit and soon became Bailey's signature song. It also earned her the epithet, "Rockin' Chair Lady." Bailey's voice and manner were well suited to Carmichael's laconic style. This is her first recording with future husband Red Norvo.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: Shoutin' In That Amen Corner

Track

Shoutin' In That Amen Corner

Group

Dorsey Brothers Orchestra

CD

The Incomparable Mildred Bailey (Columbia/Legacy)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Bunny Berigan (trumpet), Tommy Dorsey (trombone), Jimmy Dorsey (clarinet),

Larry Binyon (clarinet), Fulton McGrath (piano), Dick McDonough (guitar), Artie Bernstein (bass), Stan King (drums)

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Composed by Andy Razaf & D. Smalls

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Recorded: New York, September 5, 1933

Albumcovertheincomparablemildredbailey

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

After her stint with Paul Whiteman, Mildred Bailey moved on to sing with the other great bands of her day, including the Dorsey Brothers and Benny Goodman. "Shoutin' In That Amen Corner" is one of the highlights of her recordings with the Dorseys. It is infectiously listenable, with surprising tempo changes, a sparkling clarinet solo by Jimmy Dorsey, and vigorous stride piano from Fulton McGrath.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: Junk Man

Track

Junk Man (takes 2 and 3)

Group

Benny Goodman and His Orchestra

CD

Mildred Bailey, Volume One: Sweet Beginnings (Old Masters MB 103)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Benny Goodman (clarinet), Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), Gene Krupa (drums),

Manny Klein, Charlie Margulis (trumpets), Arthur Schutt (piano), Dick McDonough (guitar), Artie Bernstein (bass)

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Composed by Joseph Myer & Frank Loesser; arranged by George Bassman

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Recorded: New York, February 2, 1934

Albumcovermildredbailey-sweetbeginnings-volumeone

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Mildred Bailey doesn't make her entrance until halfway through this track, but it's worth the wait, with Benny Goodman at the helm and on clarinet and Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax. Bailey jumps right into the action with the hard-driving opening lines of her vocal: "I'm going to give that junk man my broken heart, the broken heart I got from you. / I'm going to give that junk man my broken heart for a loaded .32." Frank Loesser, who later wrote the lyrics for such Broadway hits as Guys and Dolls, wrote these words when he was 23. I don't hear any glaring difference between takes 2 and 3, so I leave that choice to the listener's discretion.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: The Weekend of a Private Secretary

Track

The Weekend of a Private Secretary

Group

Red Norvo Orchestra

CD

The Incomparable Mildred Bailey (Columbia/Legacy)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Red Norvo (xylophone, maracas),

Zeke Zarchy, Barney Zudecoff, Jimmy Blake (trumpets), Wes Hein (trombone), Hank D’Amico, Leonard Goldstein (clarinets, alto saxes), Charles Lamphere, Jerry Jerome (clarinets, tenor saxes), Bill Miller (piano), Allen Hanlon (guitar), Pete Peterson (bass), George Wettling (drums)

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Composed by Johnny Mercer & Bernie Hanighen; arranged by Eddie Sauter

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Recorded: New York, February 10, 1938

Albumcovertheincomparablemildredbailey

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

This novelty song depicts a shy clerk who comes alive on a weekend trip to Havana. Mildred Bailey seems to get a kick out of telling the story. Red Norvo plays the maracas as well as the 'phone, and the band members join in on the chorus. Everybody has a rollicking good time.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: St. Louis Blues

Track

St. Louis Blues

Group

Mildred Bailey and Her Orchestra

CD

The Incomparable Mildred Bailey (Columbia/Legacy)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Red Norvo (xylophone),

Charlie Shavers (trumpet), Buster Bailey (clarinet), Russell Procope (alto sax), Billy Kyle (piano), John Kirby (bass), O’Neil Spencer (drums)

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Composed by W.C. Handy; arranged by Eddie Sauter

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Recorded: New York, January 18, 1939

Albumcovertheincomparablemildredbailey

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Mildred Bailey and Red Norvo are the key players in this light take on the old standard with an element of seduction. Norvo on the xylophone equals Fred Astaire on the dance floor. It's clear that Bailey's "short fat squatty mama" will get her man back from the siren with the store-bought hair.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

Track

I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

Group

Mildred Bailey and Her Orchestra

CD

The Incomparable Mildred Bailey (Columbia/Legacy)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Buster Bailey (clarinet),

Charlie Shavers (trumpet), Russell Procope (alto sax), Billy Kyle (piano), John Kirby (bass), Cozy Cole (drums)

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Composed by John Kellete & Jaan Kenbrovin (the latter is a pseudonym for James Kendis, James Brockman and Nat Vincent)

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Recorded: New York, June 14, 1939

Albumcovertheincomparablemildredbailey

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Eddie Sauter's arrangement of this lightweight tune from an earlier era is full of surprises. The bubbles float and pop, with help from Buster Bailey on the clarinet and from Mildred Bailey's peppy vocal. Thankfully, we're not in Lawrence Welk country.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: I'm Nobody's Baby

Track

I'm Nobody's Baby

Group

Mildred Bailey and Her Orchestra

CD

The Incomparable Mildred Bailey (Columbia/Legacy)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Roy Eldridge (trumpet),

Robert Burns, Jimmy Carroll (clarinets), Carl Prager (bass clarinet), Eddie Powell (flute), Teddy Wilson (piano), John Collins (guitar), Pete Peterson (bass), Bill Beason (drums)

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Composed by Benny Davis, Milton Ager & Lester Santly; arranged & conducted by Eddie Sauter

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Recorded: New York, April 2, 1940

Albumcovertheincomparablemildredbailey

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Another lightweight tune gets first-class swing treatment here with Mildred Bailey fully in control. Roy Eldridge's trumpet solo and a clarinet chorus are especially delicious.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

Track

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

Group

Paul Baron Orchestra

CD

The Mildred Bailey Radio Shows: Original 1945 Broadcasts (Storyville Records)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Teddy Wilson (piano), Cozy Cole (drums).

Recorded: New York, January 26, 1945

Albumcoverthemildredbaileyradioshows-original1945broadcasts

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Mildred Bailey's introduction to the radio audience is part of this track. She mentions that "Motherless Child" was a favorite from her previous radio show, Rockin' Chair Lady, and that it's one of her favorites as well. It's a stunning performance of the traditional song.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: These Foolish Things

Track

These Foolish Things

Artist

Mildred Bailey (vocals)

CD

The Chronological Mildred Bailey 1945-1947 (Classics 1337)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Ellis Larkins (piano), Red Norvo (vibes),

Dick Vance (trumpet), Henderson Chambers (tuba), Hank D’Amico (clarinet)

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Composed by Jack Strachey, Harry Link & Holt Marvell

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Recorded: New York, December 30, 1945

Albumcovermildredbailey-classics1945-1947

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

After Decca failed to renew her recording contract in 1942, Mildred Bailey had a difficult time finding another company to take her on. In 1945 her recording career resumed. On this track, the legendary accompanist Ellis Larkins (who would later play for Ella, Chris Connor, and Eartha Kitt, among many others) provides the "tinkling piano in the next apartment." The other solo parts are dreamy, too. Although some people comment on the weakening of Bailey's voice in her later years, the ballads she recorded from 1945 show a new emotional depth and richness in the lower register.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: It's a Woman's Prerogative

Track

It's a Woman's Prerogative

Group

Eddie Sauter-Ted Dale Orchestra

CD

The Chronological Mildred Bailey 1945-1947 (Classics 1337)

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Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals), Ellis Larkins (piano),

Hank D’Amico (clarinet), Al Hall (bass), Specs Powell (drum)

.

Composed by Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer

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Recorded: New York, March 5, 1946

Albumcovermildredbailey-classics1945-1947

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

"It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind." Cliché but funny and tongue in cheek. Mildred Bailey at her sly best, and still swinging.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


Mildred Bailey: Heather on the Hill

Track

Heather on the Hill

Group

Julian Work Orchestra

CD

The Chronological Mildred Bailey 1945-1947 (Classics 1337)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Mildred Bailey (vocals).

Composed by Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe

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Recorded: New York, 1947

Albumcovermildredbailey-classics1945-1947

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Lerner & Loewe's Brigadoon opened on Broadway in 1947. This song from the show must have captured Mildred Bailey's attention, though recording details are sketchy. Like Alec Wilder's "It's So Peaceful in the Country," "Heather on the Hill" is a love song to an imagined place, an oasis in a difficult world.

Reviewer: Sue Russell


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