Pearl Bailey: Takes Two To Tango - Her 26 Finest 1944-1953
Pearl Bailey’s voice is in the mould of the contemporaneous Lena Horne and the somewhat younger Sarah Vaughan, maybe less personal than the other two, even less than the divine Ella Fitzgerald, also belonging to the same generation. Even so there are some really good songs, mostly jazz standards and evergreens. St. Louis Blues always makes its mark and with composers like Jimmy Van Heusen, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and even Duke Ellington there is a fair share of high class music here. Vagabond Shoes, a song I hadn’t heard before, stands out, not least for the arrangement by Gil Evans and a fine trumpet solo by Chris Griffin. In Jerome Kern’s Who? there is a nice clarinet solo by Johnny Mince and there is a lot more to admire. But there are also flops. The duet with Frank Sinatra is a mess, long and uninteresting, and the two duets with trumpeter and showman Hot Lips Page are rather laboured. I have a feeling that Pearl Bailey was even better in the period after this first decade. The obvious hit was of course Takes Two to Tango from 1952, and it is also placed first on the disc, thus breaking the chronology.
For many I am sure Pearl Bailey's occasional appearances in films such as PORGY AND BESS, THE LANDLORD and especially CARMEN JONES have left an indelible impression and her recording career has perhaps not achieved the same level of appreciation. However, as this 26 track compilation shows, she was a highly individual performer whose sly humour permeates many of the tracks here. Her big hit from 1952, TAKES TWO TO TANGO kicks off proceedings before we backtrack to 1944 and her version of TESS'S TORCH SONG. Her duet with Frank Sinatra A LITTLE LEARNING IS A DANGEROUS THING took up both sides of a Columbia single in 1945 and is a perfect example of the 'special material' which characterised much of her output at this time, others being such as the two titles by Doris Fisher and Allan Roberts, TIRED and FIFTEEN YEARS AND I'M STILL SERVING TIME. However, she did turn to standards as well with the two Kern-Hammerstein songs, DON'T EVER LEAVE ME and WHO showing her as being well capable in this area. Gerry Stonestreet, June In Tune
Drawn from her early years, these tracks indicate where Pearl Boiley was heading. Backed by a variety of swing-style groups, she gives fairly straight renditions of the songs, few of them classed as standards, but breaks them up with the witty asides one has come to expect, the duets with Sinatra (A Little Learning Is A Dangerous Thing) and Page (Baby, ft's Cold Outside) being obvious examples. Her film career did not take off properly until after these recordings and she is one jazz singer whose gifts were enhanced by production values associated with big band extravaganzas. A worthy introduction, nonetheless. Jazz Journal