I always for non-too-obvious reasons thought that the singing of the ladies in the jazz era outshone the equivalent male; maybe it was simply that there were more of them, certainly the big band era had a whole bevy of great singers fronting these bands and many were launched into their solo careers after many years of “learning the ropes” in front of some great musicians and bandleaders.
Ella was of course the stand out performer and it is easy to forget she started recording in 1935 first with Chick Webb Orchestra and in the same year Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson's Orchestra , so both had been around a long time when I first heard them in the sixties.
For me Ella became such a big star her music became somewhat “as expected” in later years. Her early work is not easy to find but this example is exquisite.
I vowed to only put up items with videos but with the older material it is not always possible and the later Ella works don’t have this purity.
Of course with Ella the output was enormous and several articles on her alone would not be enough to cover her work.
Billie Holiday falls into a completely different category: an appalling life of prostitution as a youngster and drugs finished her in the end but not before such from-the-heart numbers as this - the words in this number were indeed so much her.
Sarah Vaughan was always my favourite female artist. The Divine Sarah was indeed just that in her youth and the voice matched, she later had a pop interlude and a big success with Billie Eckstein and “Passing Strangers” before returning to her roots later, a lot bigger in person but having lost none of ability. This again is an earlier number with video, not the best of her catalogue but the best I could find with video; not only is she sublime in this but the diction is nigh perfect.
A lady who is often overlooked but was a huge star of the time is June Christy or “cool” Christy as she was known. She sang with one the great bands of the time, Stan Kenton and had this clean cut style she made her own.
Again videos with Kenton are few and quality poor but this whilst not my favourite Christy number shows her where she was at her best fronting Kenton's Orchestra.
I have tried and will keep this short intro to the ladies of the time and will put together another item with some later additions, many of course who cross over.
But I will include this slightly off topic June Christy number for one reason that having Nat King Cole on the piano which is where he started out and Mel Torme, my favorite male singer on drums is something of a coup and shows that at the time she was a huge star, indulge me on this one.
Helen Humes was an early singer with Basie and here she is with the man and a small group, she came from a blues gospel background and much of her later work was in that context, but here she is enjoying herself.
Smooth is how I would describe Julie London and in this ‘64 rendering of Cry Me a River she certainly is.
There are several versions available of this but I wanted to keep it as of the time.
I always felt that Dinah Washington was a lot better than a lot of the schmaltz and strings numbers she punched out in later life; this number she made her own though not the first to record it. I finish with another videoless offering, despite several versions of this none are ‘live’, so you will have to just suffer the glorious tones of Dinah's voice on its own.
And another non video to finish, Helen Merrill, a lady much respected at the time but not so well known now. Here she is singing with the trumpeter Clifford Brown whose own career sadly ended at the age of 25 in a car crash.
There were of course many others from this “Golden Age “ of jazz but these ladies were a big part of a wonderful era.
Many thanks for the above piece by guest contributor Wiggia, who also posts on Nourishing Obscurity http://www.nourishingobscurity.com/about-wiggia/ and AKHaart (e.g. http://akhaart.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/wiggia-on-wine.html)