Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ernestine Anderson: [Still] Incomparable

When this piece on Ernestine was first published on 9/13/2011 [where does the time go?], we had not discovered this photograph of her by William Claxton.

As you will hear on the concluding video, Ernestine was one heckuva belter.

But she has enormous range, too: one minute she's "taking you out" with some filthy blues and the next minute she's caressing you with a beautifully rendered ballad.

Ernestine Anderson is somethin' else, especially when she is in the company of pianist Monty Alexander and bassist Ray Brown.

To use a phrase favored by the late New Orleans trumpeter, Henry "Red" Allen, Ernestine is "one of the all-time greats."

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be fun to add the Claxton photo and reprise this feature on Ernestine, whom, Richard Cook and Brian Morton, in their The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., once described on her many CD's on Concord as less a Jazz singer and more of a "rhythm-and-blues shouter, a belter," upon whose voice "pianist Monty Alexander's knowing vivacity acts as a tonic." [Another of my bad puns?]

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

"The voice —that rich, warm, sultry, infinitely sensitive voice —is the embodiment of Ernestine Anderson.

To hear her sing is to know the woman who loves television soap operas ("I have to have my soaps"), old people ("I just relate to old people; they've seen a lot"), children ("We're kind of on the same wave length"), and Ray Brown.

"I trust Ray's judgment',' she says. "He knows I won't do something I don't want to do, and I have to want to sing a song to do it justice But Ray, now, he's a pretty good salesman.

"I came into this recording session with a list of songs and arrangements I wanted to do, and Ray took one look at it and started crossing out things, moving stuff around, changing everything. I knew it was going to happen, and it all came out right. It's beautiful, what he does!'
- Edith Hamilton, Jazz Critic, The Miami Herald

Anderson knows how to transform and restructure a melody so thoroughly that it takes on a vital new life.”
- Leonard Feather, Jazz Critic, The Los Angeles Times

“… with her tasteful, slightly gritty, moderately swinging contralto; she's someone who … always gives you an honest musical account.”
–Richard Ginell

“She can sing the blues. She can sing a ballad. She can swing you out of the country!
- Etta James, Vocalist

Ernestine has always been one of our favorite vocalists and we wanted to remember her on these pages with this brief piece and the video tribute below it on which she sings Never Make Your Move to Soon accompanied by Monty Alexander [p], Ray Brown [bass] and Frank Gant [drums].

Ernestine provides spaces in her singing that makes the lyrics “feel” warmer and more casual. Her command of the music is so strong that she makes every song she sings sound like it was written just for her.

I know it’s quite common to compare singers to “Billie, Ella and ‘Sassy,’” and they are all dynamite, but with Ernestine you get Ernestine.

The way she sings is incomparable.

Ernestine is still “on” the Jazz scene and we hope she digs our brief presentation.

She put a lot of good music out there over the years and this is our small way of saying “Thank You.”

© -Time Magazine, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“…. The scimitar eyes may close, the slender hands seem to carve the phrases out of the choky nightclub air. And the voice, sweet and strong above the rhythm section, curls around the lyrics like a husky caress. The voice belongs to singer Ernestine Anderson, at 29 perhaps the best-kept jazz secret in the land.

Although she has been singing professionally half her life, Ernestine has caused so little public stir that she only recently caught the ear of the record makers (a first Anderson album, misleadingly titled Hot Cargo, was issued this summer by Mercury).

Last week Ernestine was singing once a week for $25 at Los Angeles' Little Avant Garde Club. She gave the patrons mostly standards—But Not for Me, Gone with the Wind, Take the A Train—that dramatically displayed her talents. She can swing upbeat ballads in a light-textured voice or noodle a bit of the blues in tones as soft as velvet. She can modulate with shrugging ease, swell or diminish volume with a sure instinct for melody and lyrics.

Most important, she has the rare ability to play the kind of emotional brass that shivers the spine. Ernestine singing My Man somehow makes believable a woman's capacity to suffer a man who "isn't good, isn't true," but to whom nevertheless she will "come back on my knees some day."

Ernestine Anderson was born in Houston, the daughter of a construction worker. In the neighborhood Baptist church she used to sing hymns with her grandmother. At 13 she was singing at the El Dorado, a big ballroom, and after the family moved to Seattle, she became a regular with local bands. She went on tour with Bumps Blackwell's band, then with Johnny Otis, finally with Lionel Hampton, who took her to Manhattan. For a while she had a "steady gig" at a Greenwich Village spot, but she never attracted real attention until she went to Sweden in 1956 with an "all-star" jazz group headed by Trumpeter Rolf Ericsson. The Swedes loved her and mobbed her concerts. When she got back to the U.S., choice dates were still hard to come by, but West Coast jazz critics, notably the San Francisco Chronicle's Ralph Gleason, started to take note of the best new voice in the business.

Partly because the market for good jazz singers—i.e., singers who phrase and improvise in the manner of instruments in a jazz band—is remarkably small, Ernestine has remained a critical success and a popular failure. She is inevitably compared to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday. Ernestine invariably rejects the comparisons. "I wish," she says, "they would let me be just me." She is, and "just me" is plenty good enough.”

August 4, 1958

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