Etta James: (I Don't Stand A) Ghost of a Chance (With You)


(I Don't Stand A) Ghost of a Chance (With You)


Etta James (vocals)


Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday (Private 82114)

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Etta James (vocals),

Ronnie Buttacavoli (flugelhorn), Kraig Kilby (trombone), Red Holloway (alto sax), Cedar Walton (piano), Josh Sklair (guitar), Tony Davis (bass), Ralph Penland (drums)


Composed by Bing Crosby, Ned Washington & Victor Young


Recorded: Los Angeles, CA, date unknown; released 1994


Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

The film Cadillac Records, which opened in December 2008 to mixed reviews, chooses to portray only one of the two Chess brothers (Leonard) and only one side of Chess Records' output: blues and R&B. The label's ignored jazz side (on its Argo and Cadet imprints) featured such respected artists as Ahmad Jamal, Gene Ammons, James Moody, Sonny Stitt, and Ramsey Lewis. Etta James grew up on gospel and jazz, admired Billie Holiday, but as a rebellious teenager in the '50s was ultimately drawn to R&B. "Besides," she said, "jazz required discipline, and I wasn't about to be fenced in." In the '60s at Chess Records, James's recordings of tunes such as "Stormy Weather" and "A Sunday Kind of Love" hinted at her affinity for jazz, but it was some 30 years later that she finally got to participate in her first undiluted jazz session, no less than a salute to the singer she had so idolized, Lady Day.

James's approach to "Ghost of a Chance" is far removed from feisty tunes like "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind," her intensely exclaimed '60s R&B hits. This is a more low-key, mature Etta James, inspired by Cedar Walton's expert arrangement and producer John Snyder's sensitive encouragement. James still sings primarily in her naturally soulful style, but when she isn't delivering bluesy note bends and sighs, more sophisticated jazz phrasing predominates. Here, she restrains herself from more powerful outbursts until the final chorus. Cedar Walton's effective intro and vamps for the horns, and Ronnie Buttacavoli's mellow flugelhorn solo, help elevate the impact of this notable track. Mystery Lady brought Etta James a Grammy for best jazz vocal album.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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