Bessie Smith’s Overtones: Everybody Should Enjoy Mildred Bailey Every So Often

I acquired Henry Pleasants’ wonderful book, “The Great American Popular Singers” at Manny’s Books in Pune, where it rested, long-ignored, on a small shelf with other publications about Western music. The books on Indian music were in another section of the store; the only customer who went routinely to both shelves was me. I bought the book and began reading it in the rickshaw to Deccan Gymkhana. By the time I got home I’d learned things I never knew about Bessie Smith, Al Jolson and Bing Crosby (all of whom I’d heard, and heard of), and about Mildred Bailey, an unfamiliar name. Pleasants rhapsodized about her musicality, whetting my appetite.

Opportunities in India to hear Mildred Bailey’s music were nonexistent….so it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I found a 10″ lp in the collection of my friend Gene Nichols, and taped it for my own enjoyment.

And enjoyment was definitely what resulted. Bailey’s pitch, her sense of swing, her deceptive melodic simplicity, the subtlety of her ornamentation and phrasing…she sounded like a trumpet, or an alto saxophone.

Leonard Feather: “Where earlier white singers with pretensions to a jazz identification had captured only the surface qualities of the Negro styles, Mildred contrived to invest her thin, high-pitched voice with a vibrato, an easy sense of jazz phrasing that might almost have been Bessie Smith’s overtones.”

(Feather — The Book of Jazz)

Or, as Leonard Feather says, like Bessie Smith’s overtones.


Thanks for the Memories

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