Friday, April 27, 2012

Nancy Wilson: In The Beginning

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

There was a time when the following story as retold by Ron Grevatt was commonplace.

“One night about four years ago in Columbus, Ohio, a willowy young singer took a busman's holiday from her job as vocalist with Rusty Bryant's band to join friends for an evening at the 502 Club - a local jazz emporium where a rather remarkable, up-and-coming alto saxophone player and his swinging combo were appearing.

The girl was Nancy Wilson, and the young man with the horn was Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Their chance meeting that night will always be well-remem­bered by both of them.

"Nancy did some tunes with the band that night," Cannonball reflects, "unre­hearsed, off-the-top-of-the-head stuff. Even then, this young kid had so much to offer - tone, style, confidence -1 felt she just had to go a long way."

Adderley's prophecy of stardom for Nancy has certainly been fulfilled since that first casual get-together just a few short years ago. For today Nancy Wilson is in every way a big-leaguer, a fast-rising young singing star who is just beginning to realize her full potential as an in-person performer as well as a top recording artist for Capitol Records.

"Cannonball has helped me so many times," Nancy remembers. "When I first came to New York, the first person I called when I got off the bus was Cannon."

In New York, Nancy pounded an office typewriter by day and sang by night, the latter in a Bronx jazz spot known as the Blue Morocco. It was here (at Cannonball's urging) that John Levy, former bassist with the famed George Shearing Quintet and now the manager of Shearing, Adderley, and many other stars of jazz, first heard Miss Wilson. One listening was the clincher, and from that evening on Levy took the new singer in tow.

This was the start of many exciting developments for the girl from Columbus, not the least of which was the enthused reaction to her singing by Capitol Records' exec­utive producer, Dave Cavanaugh. Frankly, Cavanaugh simply flipped and signed her right away.

Her albums to date have won her a throng of new friends. Critics, their tastes often jaded by an endless parade of new jazz singers, have been unanimous in their praise of Nancy's remarkable phrasing, tone, control and dynamics….”

The decades following the close of World War II were chock-a-bloc with major and minor record labels all looking for talent and the next, big hit record.

It was a fun time with neighborhood cocktail lounges, clubs and even bowling alley, Moose Hall and American Legion bars everywhere featuring “live music” in the form of duos, trios and quartets, many of which fronted a vocalist for a few tunes each set.

The story that Ron relates of Nancy Wilson’s “coming-of-age,” while certainly exceptional in terms of Nancy’s talent and subsequent national recognition, was also fairly routine for many other singers and entertainers who developed local, dedicated followings.

The first time I heard Nancy perform with Cannonball, I was driving north along the Pacific Coast Highway with the late afternoon sun beginning to set in the west.

A friend had recently installed an FM radio in his car [a big deal at the time] and we were heading up the California coast from Santa Monica to Malibu for a gig.

Suddenly, Nancy and Cannonball Adderley’s quintet filled our world with the sound of Never Will I Marry - two minutes and sixteen seconds of pure enchantment.

It was over almost as soon as it started.

We looked at the radio in the car dashboard and then at one another with startled expressions on our faces and my buddy said: “Who was that?” I said: “I dunno, but I sure want to hear that again.”

Never Will I Marry forms the audio track to the video tribute to Nancy. Perhaps, if you’re like me, you’ll want to hear it again, too.  If so, go ahead and treat yourself as it is only 2:16 of …  pure bliss!