Betty Carter: Mean to Me

The year after she recorded this track, Betty Carter would get a career boost from her collaboration with Ray Charles on a high-profile release. But jazz insiders had taken notice of her ever since she started singing with Lionel Hampton under the name Betty Bebop (a label she detested) at the close of the 1940s. Here she covers a Billie Holiday classic, and makes it her own. We have all the key ingredients of Carter's greatness: her stylized delivery, an odd cross between intimate cooing and declamatory oration, her daring reconfigurations of the written melody, and her bold phrasing, which moves effortlessly behind and ahead of the beat. The best part of the song is the opening, when Carter struts her stuff with just bass as accompaniment. Soon the rest of the band enters, and tries to make this track sound like a conventional pop record. But with this idiosyncratic artist fronting the ensemble, there would be little chance of that.

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Benny Goodman & Jimmy Rowles: Mean to Me

Every serious jazz fan has heard of the Benny Goodman Quartet and the Benny Goodman Trio. But what about the Benny Goodman Duo? This 1947 pairing with pianist Jimmy Rowles deserves to be far better known, and shows both of these players in fine form. A few months after this session, Goodman would embrace modern jazz, half-heartedly, in a band that brought the King of Swing face-to-face with some young boppers. But this gently swinging version of "Mean to Me" makes no pretensions to keeping up with the times. Rowles plays an unreconstructed stride bass, with a few nods to his hero Art Tatum. Meanwhile, Goodman's tone is sugar and spice and everything nice. Not even a bit of meanness on this "Mean to Me," just two masters at work.

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Billie Holiday: Mean to Me

ďI guess Iím not the only one who heard their first good jazz in a whorehouse,Ē Billie Holiday recalled of a childhood running errands for a Baltimore madam. Billie later turned tricks herself, but didnít take to the life. Music was her salvation. Here she demonstrates what distinguishes jazz singers from other vocalists. She takes liberties with the melody, but remains true to the song. And her rhythm! In an age of delivery as stilted as a filibuster by Senator Fogbottom, Billieís is playfully conversational. Her stylistic sophistication is matchless. Madam, nobody ever heard jazz like this in a whorehouse.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments


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