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Pearl Bailey - Takes Two To Tango
A Centenary Tribute – Her 26 Finest
rec. 1944-53 New York

Pearl Bailey had a long career, not only as singer, but also in films, theatre and TV. Officially she retired in 1975 but she returned to business temporarily, her last assignment was Peter Gunn for TV in 1989, the day before she died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

She was born on 29 March 1918, so her centenary day was close to when I listened to this tribute disc, which covers roughly the first decade of her career as gramophone singer. Tess’s Torch Song (tr. 2) was from her very first session on 6 January 1944 with Cootie Williams & his Orchestra, and Cootie exhibits his growl trumpet in a solo. There were a substantial number of great jazz musicians in the various orchestras accompanying her. At this first session a 19-year-old Bud Powell occupied the piano stool – this might have been one of his first recordings – and later on Charlie Shavers, Billy Butterfield, Taft Jordan and others played at various sessions.

Pearl Bailey’s voice is in the mould of the contemporaneous Lena Horne and the somewhat younger Sarah Vaughan, maybe less personal than the other two, even less than the divine Ella Fitzgerald, also belonging to the same generation. Even so there are some really good songs, mostly jazz standards and evergreens. St. Louis Blues always makes its mark and with composers like Jimmy Van Heusen, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and even Duke Ellington there is a fair share of high class music here. Vagabond Shoes, a song I hadn’t heard before, stands out, not least for the arrangement by Gil Evans and a fine trumpet solo by Chris Griffin. In Jerome Kern’s Who? there is a nice clarinet solo by Johnny Mince and there is a lot more to admire. But there are also flops. The duet with Frank Sinatra is a mess, long and uninteresting, and the two duets with trumpeter and showman Hot Lips Page are rather laboured. I have a feeling that Pearl Bailey was even better in the period after this first decade. The obvious hit was of course Takes Two to Tango from 1952, and it is also placed first on the disc, thus breaking the chronology.

The transfers are excellent and as usual in this series Peter Dempsey provides well-researched, interesting and illuminating notes. Fans of Pearl Bailey should of course grab the opportunity and add this disc to their collections.

Göran Forsling
1. Takes Two to Tango, 1952 [3:00]
2. Tess’s Torch Song, 1944 [2:33]
3. He Didn’t Ask Me, 1945 [2:52]
4. St. Louis Blues, 1945 [2:09]
5. Tired, 1945 [3:17]
6. Fifteen Years and I’m Still Serving Time, 1945 [3:02]
7. I Ain’t Talkin’ Though It’s All Over Town, 1945 [2:42]
8. Personality, 1945 [3:11]
9. Legalize My Name, 1946 [3:09]
10. I’s a Woman’s Prerogative, 1946 [3:08]
11. Row, Row, Row, 1946 [3:03]
12. A Little Learning Is a Dangerous Thing, 1947 [6:29]
13. I’m Lazy, That’s All, 1947 [2:37]
14. Don’t Ever Leave Me, 1947 [2:14]
15. Who?, 1947 [2:46]
16. Ma, He’s Makin’ Eyes at Me, 1949 [2:40]
17. Baby, It’s Cold Outside, 1949 [2:56]
18. Ain’t She Sweet, 1949 [2:56]
19. Johnson Rag, 1949 [3:00]
20. Saturday Night Fish Fry, 1949 [2:52]
21. Vagabond Shoes, 1950 [2:31]
22. Nothin’, Nothin’ Baby Without You, 1951 [3:19]
23. Let There Be Love, 1952 [2:46]
24. As Long As I Live, 1953 [2:29]
25. Me and My Shadow, 1953 [2:42]
26. She’s Something Spanish, 1953 [2:50]

Frank Sinatra (vocals)(tr. 12), Hot Lips Page (vocals)(tr. 17-18), Moms Mabley (vocals)(tr. 20); Orchestras led by Don Redman, Cootie Williams, Mitchell Ayres, Axel Stordahl & Gil Evans; Raymond Tunia (piano & Quartet)



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