VOICES Notes and news on Jazz Vocals releases
03 SEP 07 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Keely Smith was the queen of Vegas in the '50s, blithely ruling the Sahara lounge with her manic clown prince Louis Prima. Best known for her nonchalant reactions to Prima's wild-man antics (surely the inspiration for Sonny and Cher's act a decade later), she played the poker-faced straight woman so brilliantly it may have taken attention away from her singing. Clean, clear and, like her contemporary Anita O'Day, practically vibrato-free, her vocal skills didn't truly take center stage until she and Prima split and she began appearing as a solo artist, which you can check out on Keely Swings Basie-Style... With Strings. On the release, Smith finds herself mixing with royalty -- the crowned heads of Los Angeles studio musicians and arrangers.
Performer/arrangers Dennis Michaels, Don Menza and Frank Collett pay homage to the Basie tradition with hard-swinging charts that come charging out of the gate and never flag. Soloists Pete Christleib and Menza on tenor sax and trombonist Andy Martin add energetic dynamism to the session, perfectly balancing Smith's trademark laid-back style. Now in her 70s, the strength and clarity of her voice have not faltered, and her no-frills approach has kept her sound current and fresh. And she's enjoying a third act in her career which includes a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, a Touchstone Award, induction into the Cherokee Nation's Honor Society and a sold-out appearance last spring at the Cafe Carlyle in New York.