Carmen McRae: Still We Dream


Still We Dream


Carmen McRae (vocals)


Carmen Sings Monk (Bluebird RCA 63841)

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Carmen McRae (vocals),

Eric Gunnison (piano), George Mraz (bass), Al Foster (drums)


Composed as “Ugly Beauty” by Thelonious Monk. Lyrics by Mike Ferro


Recorded: New York, April 1988


Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Ralph J. Gleason once wrote of McRae that "Carmen occupies a place in the hearts of jazz musicians that is a very special place...." He quoted Miles Davis, who, upon seeing a billboard crowning Ella Fitzgerald as The Queen of Jazz, "grunted and then growled 'If Ella Fitzgerald is The Queen of Jazz, what the fuck is Carmen?'" McRae's sophisticated approach to singing had more than a little basis in her schooling as a pianist; one of her own piano accompanists, Norman Simmons, said that her soloing style on the keyboard was like Thelonious Monk's. Her idea to sing lyrics set to Monk tunes was a natural, her edgy, laid-back and world-wise voice a perfect complement to Monk's own unique voicings.

Of the 13 Monk tunes on the recording, Mike Ferro's lyrics to "Ugly Beauty" and McRae's interpretation of them are among the standouts. (The intricacies of music publishing necessitated that each newly lyricized Monk composition be given a new title.) "Still We Dream" deals with the end of a love affair and the resulting regret and resignation. Carmen sings it as if bravely trying to hold back the tears and emotion, while also honoring every odd interval and note of Monk's melodic creation. Her subtle variations in dynamics and vocal inflections are enticing, such as after Gunnison's lilting piano solo, when she returns by repeating a word with a timbre that intimates the sound of a trumpet. Ferro, who has also written lyrics to many Django Reinhardt tunes (Django by Ferro), is brilliant here, his lines both moving and in keeping with the mood and spirit of Monk's lovely ballad.

          Dim the light and let's go on pretending
          That this time it's real
          So round and round
          The carousel is winding down
          And still we dream of love

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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