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 allmusic.com
“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.
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
Moving things forward a bit, the following insert notes by Edith Hamilton contain more information about Ernestine. At the time of their writing in 1981, Edith was the Jazz critic for The Miami Herald. Edith wrote these for Ernestine’s Concord CD Never Make Your Move Too Soon [CCD 4147] which was a Grammy Finalist that year for the Best Jazz Vocal Performance by a Female. The album features Monty Alexander on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Frank Gant on drums. It has remained one of my favorite Jazz recordings because it always makes me smile and serves to lighten my heart. When that happens, I know I’m listening to Jazz at its best!
“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"
It's beautiful, what everybody does on this recording. Ernestine does two of her favorites — Old Folks and Poor Butterfly — Ray does his creative arrangements and his fitting bass, Frank Gant gives subtle support, and Monty Alexander plays what must be the perfect accompaniment. He and Ernestine are two parts of a felicitous whole in a sparkling contrapuntal showcase for voice and piano.
The lady also loves the blues, and they kick things off with a rouser. Never Make Your Move Too Soon, in the old original unabashed vein. Some call it dirty blues, some call it raunchy, but everybody calls for it. It's quintessential E. Anderson, sassy, husky, close to a growl at times, with Monty's piano stomping out the chords in a raw, stop-beat tempo reminiscent of the old hard-times rent parties in the South. Polished up in the final chorus, it still doesn't stray too far from its good old roots.
The pace-changes in the recording rollercoaster through never-a-dull-moment modes. In What A Diffrence A Day Made, voice and piano share the same crystal enunciation on a joint plateau. Ernestine does a honeyed taffy-pull with the lyrics, coasting in a lazy, emphasized swing, trading off with Monty in the bridge, ending with her prolonged, humorous "ummmmmm" going into the last breathy chorus.
As Long As I Live is a fast, up-tempo swap-out, with Ernestine's rapid, funny scatting doing a fadeout at the end. The touching lyrics of Why Did I Choose You? are given their well deserved full measure in a gorgeous ballad that seems almost to have been written for the singer.
The mixed tempo My Shining Hour with its fast bop intro sliding into crisp swinging and back out again, has Ernestine's voice bridging the changes as beautifully as the Golden Gate spans San Francisco Bay. The melancholic Just One More Chance is replete with the delicate nuance of Frank Gant's subtle brush work on drums. Ray Brown's bass speaks softly in the intervals while Ernestine wraps that big, tender voice around the words, talking to the piano, and Monty's keyboard talks back. If this is sadness, we need more of it.
"I've always loved Poor Butterfly'' Ernestine says. "But I kind of forgot about it, and then somehow it came back into my environment." It certainly did, but this Butterfly has undergone metamorphosis, emerging as a meld of blues and bop. Monty uses a wild and crazy drum technique on piano, and Ernestine takes a slow stroll into a big sashay coda.
But her pick of the tunes in this recording is Old Folks, and anyone who hears it will know why. The daring arrangement is in the high-wire realm, for who in his right mind would back this lovely old 1938 Hill-Robison song with a Fender Rhodes, and get away with it?
The answer is Monty Alexander and the inspirational blend of old and new is pure beauty. Ernestine's empathy with "old people" gives die song an emotional glow of great intensity, while Monty plays the Rhodes as it should be, but seldom is, played. The notes have the lingering bell sound of a giant dulcimer, hovering under and around the words in a yin-yang of musical perfection.
We can't wait for the next time Ernestine Anderson comes into a recording studio with list in hand, and Ray Brown starts changing things around again.”
-EDITH HAMILTON Jazz Critic, The Miami Herald
Ernestine passed away in 2016.
Ernestine passed away in 2016.