(Artists: Etta Jones, vocals; Frank Wess, flute, tenor sax; Richard Wyands, piano; Skeeter Best-guitar; George Duvivier, bass; Roy Haynes, drums)
Etta Jones began singing professionally in the mid-40s, touring with Buddy Johnson, Barney Bigard, and for three years with Earl Hines. She recorded for RCA in 1946-1947. But it was not till 1960 when she signed with Prestige and had a huge hit with Don’t Go to Strangers, that she really broke out from the pack. She recorded several more albums for Prestige between 1960 to 1965.
Prestige has re-released Don’t Go to Strangers as part of its series of Rudy Van Gelder remastered collectibles, and it is a welcome addition to this series. This album was both a hit on pop and rhythm and blues charts. It’s easy to see why as Jones has an ease of phrasing, and a sweet voice that really can’t be categorized except for the fact that she can take her time with lyrics, caressing them like Shirley Horn.
The title cut is exceptional in its haunting manner. Both Skeeter Best on guitar and Frank Wess on flute add their special touch to this tune. Jones’ playing with the lyrics on I Love Paris makes you want to visit that magic city and Frank Wess’ flute adds an exotic touch here as well. Etta’s reading of Billie Holiday’s Fine and Mellow, done as a blues features some nice piano lines by the underated Richard Wyands, and a swinging tenor solo by Wess. Both Where and When, and the closing track, All the Way, confirm Jones’ status as a true jazz singer ranking up there with the likes of Dinah Washington.
Skeeter Best on guitar has many opportunities to take center stage as on If I Had You. In Frank Wess, Jones has hit the jackpot as the Basie sideman can float above the melody on flute or grind out a strong tenor solo when called upon.
Special mention must be made of her rhythm section as they are all top notch and an indication of how important an addition to their roster that Prestige felt Jones provided. For this record Prestige spared no expense for their new vocalist.
Jones ended her career recording for Muse being backed and produced by her husband, Houston Person. She passed away from cancer in 2001. Don’t Go to Strangers, remastered beautifully from the original analog master tapes by Rudy Van Gelder, is the CD to buy to begin your Etta Jones collection.
Songs: Yes SirThat’s My Baby, Don’t Go to Strangers, I Love Paris, Fine and Mellow, Where or When, If I Had You, On the Street Where You Live, Something to Remember You By, By Bye Blackbird, All the Way
– Jeff Krow