Jeri Southern, vocals – Blue Note Chicago, March 1956 – Uptown

Jeri Southern – Blue Note Chicago, March 1956 – Uptown mono UPCD 27.84 67:06 ****:

A torch singer who resided in the style without the regret.

(Jeri Southern – vocals, piano; Al Bruno – bass; Dominic “Mickey” Simonetta – drums)

There was a period in the 1950s, when most of the female singers of any note found their initial success coming out of the big band tradition. Easily recognizable names were Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, June Christy and Chris Connor. The latter three names were also classified as interpreters of the “cool” sound because of their vibratoless tone.

Into this mix came Jeri Southern although she had no big band connection, never having worked in that genre. Nevertheless the “cool” designation seemed to be appropriate as she sang in a very intimate way, primarily in a small group format which capitalized on her excellent skills as a pianist and mostly supported by a bassist and drummer. This live session from the Blue Note in Chicago recorded March 4-8, 1956 captured Southern mid-career as she withdrew from the business in 1962.

According to Kirk Silsbee who wrote the extensive liner notes, the recording was done by Blue Note owner Frank Holzfeind with what appears to be a single microphone which produced reasonably good results under the circumstances. However as with most club owners of the day, little attention was paid to the tuning of the piano and thus the artist is left with trying to turn dross into gold with only some success.

While Jeri Southern’s alto vocal range was limited, she did enunciate beautifully and effortlessly, with a contrastive approach to the music. The material she chose to work with, while not exactly melancholy, revolved around love lost and found, betrayal, disillusionment  and disappointment. A perfect example of this is “You Better Go Now” which in 1951, became her first hit and had the following lyric :You better go now/ because I like you much too much/You have a way with you. Her casual, dejected approach to the material continues with the Rodgers & Hart tune “Dancing On The Ceiling” and George & Ira Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me”.

While the soubriquet “torch singer” more or less might apply to Southern’s approach to the material she uses, that does not mean that she does not punch-out a lyric when the material demands it. For example, on Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and “It’s De-Lovely”, Southern is quite comfortable in her up-tempo versions of the material. In fact, on the latter number, she takes an extended piano improvisation, demonstrating that the fifteen years of piano classical musical training did not go to waste.

It is unfortunate that Southern’s disillusionment with the music business led her to decide very early to abandon her career. Her experience to that point, would have indicated that she had a broader potential yet unfulfilled.

TrackList: I Hadn’t Anyone Till You; Jeri Introduces Her Trio Members; Mad About The Boy; You Better Go Now; I’m In Love With The Honorable Mr. So And So; Dancing On The Ceiling; I Get A Kick Out Of You; Too Late Now; This Can’t Be Love; Miss Johnson Phoned Again Today; One Day I Wrote His Name Upon The Sand; It’s De-Lovely; September In The Rain; When I Fall In Love; Ev’ry Time; He Was Too Good To Me; Someone To Watch Over Me; Scarlett Ribbons; Too Marvellous For Words; Something Wonderful; I’ve Got A Crush On You

—Pierre Giroux

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