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Etta Jones, where Blues meets Jazz


As was the case with many who got interested in jazz in the 1940's, it started with boogie woogie. Eventually, if we were lucky, we got down to the hard core and looked for sides by Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, Speckled Red, etc. Pete had recorded an album and a couple of singles for National Records and one of the tunes was a switch on a pop song of the era, I May Be Wrong (But I Think You're Wonderful). On Pete's record it was reversed: I May Be Wonderful But Baby I Think You're Wrong. My first hearing of a blues sung by Etta James. Recorded in 1946 w. Hot Lips Page and Budd Johnson.

So when I found some 78's on the Black & White label of Etta with a Barney Bigard group I knew they were worth picking up because I knew Barney from his records with Duke and Louis. (I was so innocent that I didn't realize that producer Leonard Feather was covering tunes that had been Dinah Washington hits: Blowtop Blues, Salty Papa, Evil Gal. Hell, in Wichita we whites didn't even know who Dinah Washington was. When I first heard Dinah's Evil Gal I thought she was copying Etta.)
Etta moved up to RCA in late `47, but I had not really learned to appreciate ballads as much as blues. Testosterone maybe?

A decade went by before Etta recorded again, this time (4-18-57) w. Jerome Richardson, Bill Jennings, Tommy Potter, etc, The album is one of those rare Kings which, like the Roland Kirk, seem to exist only in the discographies, King 544 (later #707 w. a stereo overdub). Syd Nathan at King, like Leonard Chess in the early days of Argo, would press a small quantity and then delete if it didn't hit.

When she did her first Prestige album in 1960, Don't Go To Strangers (Prestige 7186, now OJC 298), I had bought Seymour's Jazz Record Mart and it was one of the few albums we'd buy in quantity. It was and is the kind of standard that establishes an artist, at least in the black jazz community. I was proud of St. Louisan Oliver Nelson's appearance on it.

Four other albums followed on Prestige: So Warm, 7204 (w. Mal Waldron and Nelson arrangements); From The Heart, 7214 w. a full Nelson Orchestra; Lonely And Blue (#7241 now OJC 702); and Love Shout w. Larry Young's piano and Kenny Burrell's guitar. She also made a 3-track appearance on Gene Ammons'Soul Summit (7275 now OJC 702). I could never understand why they didn't sell as well as Don't Go To Strangers.

Roulette Records tried to break Etta Jones out of the jazz mould with Etta Jones Sings (24329) in 1965, a time when that operation seemed to be trying for major label status. Joe Newman, Junior Mance, etc. were at their best but the record is undeservably rare, has only been reissued once (in Japan, of course) to my knowledge.

Another decade went by before Westpound, the other Detroit soul label, issued Etta Jones `75 featuring a Large group led by tenorman Houston Person. Another scarce item. This signals a relationship with Person that lasted 33 years.

Muse Records was started by a very hip guy named Joe Fields about the time Prestige, m having been sold to Fantasy, virtually dropped their New York recording program. Joe'd traveled as a salesman for Prestige and knew the hardcore jazz market like few others. He signed both Houston Person and his vocalist to one of the longest-running relationships: 1976 until Joe sold the label c. 1992. He backed Etta with some of the greatest jazzmen of the time: Melvin Sparks, Cedar Walton, George Duvivier, Joe Newman, Jimmy Cobb, etc...

...except for a gospel album on the Arrival label, The Heart & Soul Of Etta Jones, #5600 c. 1985 with an unknown combo & choir. Anbother rarity.

Bob Porter was nice enough to take me to some jazz bars in Newark,NJ which reminded me very much of the South Side blues bars I had becomed accustomed to. Houston Pearson's group was there with Etta Jones. I guess I'd heard them at the Jazz Shwocase a few times but somehow in that context it was especially intriguing. The fact that Don Patterson was at the organ and the drummer was also a Prestige vet didn't hurt matters.

I remember being pissed-off that the New York jazz writers never let us know about these Jersey clubs. (Across the street, another small bar had Grant Grant with Rahsaan Roland Kirk coming the next week.)

After selling Muse, Joe started High Note and Etta Jones continued to have a home there from 1993 until her death last October of breats and lung cancer.

The May 5th New York Times featured an interview with Houston Peroson states that "he has no immediate plans to work with a vocalist".

You don't replace an artist like Etta Jones. - Bob Koester