March 27, 2011

Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington was at once one of the most beloved and controversial singers of the mid-20th century -- beloved to her fans, devotees, and fellow singers; controversial to critics who still accuse her of selling out her art to commerce and bad taste. Her principal sin, apparently, was to cultivate a distinctive vocal style that was at home in all kinds of music, be it R&B, blues, jazz, middle of the road pop -- and she probably would have made a fine gospel or country singer had she the time. Hers was a gritty, salty, high-pitched voice, marked by absolute clarity of diction and clipped, bluesy phrasing. Washington's personal life was turbulent, with seven marriages behind her, and her interpretations showed it, for she displayed a tough, totally unsentimental, yet still gripping hold on the universal subject of lost love. She has had a huge influence on R&B and jazz singers who have followed in her wake, notably Nancy Wilson, Esther Phillips, and Diane Schuur, and her music is abundantly available nowadays via the huge seven-volume series The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury.

Born Ruth Lee Jones, she moved to Chicago at age three and was raised in a world of gospel, playing the piano and directing her church choir. At 15, after winning an amateur contest at the Regal Theatre, she began performing in nightclubs as a pianist and singer, opening at the Garrick Bar in 1942. Talent manager Joe Glaser heard her there and recommended her to Lionel Hampton, who asked her to join his band. Hampton says that it was he who gave Ruth Jones the name Dinah Washington, although other sources claim it was Glaser or the manager of the Garrick Bar. In any case, she stayed with Hampton from 1943 to 1946 and made her recording debut for Keynote at the end of 1943 in a blues session organized by Leonard Feather with a sextet drawn from the Hampton band. With Feather's "Evil Gal Blues" as her first hit, the records took off, and by the time she left Hampton to go solo, Washington was already an R&B headliner. Signing with the young Mercury label, Washington produced an enviable string of Top Ten hits on the R&B charts from 1948 to 1955, singing blues, standards, novelties, pop covers, even Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart." She also recorded many straight jazz sessions with big bands and small combos, most memorably with Clifford Brown on Dinah Jams but also with Cannonball Adderley, Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Wynton Kelly, and the young Joe Zawinul (who was her regular accompanist for a couple of years).

In 1959, Washington made a sudden breakthrough into the mainstream pop market with "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes," a revival of a Dorsey Brothers hit set to a Latin American bolero tune. For the rest of her career, she would concentrate on singing ballads backed by lush orchestrations for Mercury and Roulette, a formula similar to that of another R&B-based singer at that time, Ray Charles, and one that drew plenty of fire from critics even though her basic vocal approach had not changed one iota. Although her later records could be as banal as any easy listening dross of the period, there are gems to be found, like Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain," which has a beautiful, bluesy Ernie Wilkins chart conducted by Quincy Jones. Struggling with a weight problem, Washington died of an accidental overdose of diet pills mixed with alcohol at the tragically early age of 39, still in peak voice, still singing the blues in an L.A. club only two weeks before the end.

March 09, 2011

Simple Pleasure, Simple Love

After woodshedding with Cannonball Adderley's recordings, alto saxophonist Vincent Herring worked up the nerve to approach Nat Adderley at a gig and proclaim familiarity with if not mastery of his late brother's music. A jam on stage proved it true and led to a gig.
Herring was born in Hopkinsville, N.Y., on Nov. 19, 1964, and grew up in California. He moved to New York City in 1983, where he played in the streets and subways before landing gigs with Lionel Hampton, David Murray, Cedar Walton, Abdullah Ibrahim, Horace Silver and Art Blakey. Herring joined Adderley's group in early '90 and producer Leroy Parkins, who heard him on the street, signed him to MusicMasters. At Adderley's urging, Orrin Keepnews also took an interest in Herring and produced sessions for Landmark.

"When studying the styles of Bird, Coltrane, and Cannonball, I realized that their music is so powerful it can engulf you," Herring explained to Down Beat writer Tom Nuccio. "To avoid this, I realized that you have to be able to take from their music without letting it take you."

It was only fitting that Vincent Herring gained his first important recognition playing with Nat Adderley, for his sound is strongly influenced by his idol, Cannonball Adderley. Born in Kentucky and raised in California, Herring moved to New York in 1983, and played with a variety of major musicians (including Lionel Hampton, David Murray, Horace Silver, and Art Blakey) before joining Adderley (1987-1993). Vincent Herring, who has recorded for Landmark and Music Masters, has led his own group since the early '90s

Amy Gabriel, better known in the poetry world as a.G., was born on May 6, 1972 in Akron, Ohio. Amy is an artist, poet, blog writer and social networking diva who recently rediscovered her passion for writing at the tender age of thirty-something. Living a life that she had deemed impossible; a life filled with the beauty of words, has syllabically enhanced a happy ending.

The love of words has been a constant in Amy’s life. At a young age she discovered that reading was the greatest escape/pleasure/release/comfort that she could have ever found. As a result, words became a constant companion; swirling in a polysyllabic dance that shaped the future of her world. A multitude of years spent in hospital rooms with a sickly sibling allowed her love for reading, and consequently writing, to come to full fruition.

Overcoming obstacles is a prevailing theme in Amy’s blog Words With Sass (, as well as her written and spoken poetry. She has had difficulties throughout her life but has used them as a tool for inspiration versus despair.
A recovering alcoholic, since the age of nineteen, Amy has gleaned a take on life that only comes from a spiritual journey of sorts. Years spent in formal education and employment as an Addictions Therapist/Mental Health Counselor, perpetuates a unique take on her writings. The peculiar twists of the human condition pepper her poetry with a transient zest for the real and raw. Another blog that she authors is I Love Recovery ( A site for the clean and sober and everything in between, Amy was asked to write this by In The Rooms (, a social networking website for individuals recovering from addictions.

A seven year expedition into a marriage with “Prince Charming-Less”, surprisingly did not leave her bitter but perpetuated compassion for suffering and heartbreak. All life experience is fodder for the poetry of Amy Gabriel. Passion and the exploration of the human heart, make for an interesting foray into the vast universe that comprises the culmination of her compositional fortitude.

Amy has a full, rich life surrounded by her “mini ninjas”; three beautiful daughters who are the air she breathes. More recently Ms. Gabriel has found true love, and in turn has inspired every single line of the love poetry she has recorded. Engaged to be married, for the very first time she has discovered the existential exquisiteness of what it means to "stick the landing"; the no-matter-what-ism of forever. Her Happily Ever After (commonly referred to as “Scott” who is also a phenomenal poet), has precipitated an upcoming move from the Midwest; aka “Frigid Ohio”. Looking forward to beach living on the East Coast, Amy will continue her love affair with life and as a result her inspiring words will continue to flow freely.