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Verve Jazz Masters, Vol. 40: Dinah Washington Sings Standards

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Album Review

Creating yet another series to justify reissuing material from its vaults, this Verve Jazz Masters entry raids albums Dinah Washington recorded for the Mercury label from 1952 through 1958. This is the second Dinah Washington compilation in this series. Although advertised as an album of standards, Washington avoids making these tunes come across as the romantic warhorses most of them are. Rather, her gospel-inspired voice conveys the song's message with a blues, funky tinge that always distinguished her from the rest of the crowd since she began her career at the age of 15. On these tracks, Washington is joined by the crème de la crème of jazz musicians who were part of the Mercury stable during these years. While some of the arrangements were not all that creative, Washington's inimitable style and the playing of her fellow musicians make up for any shortcomings. "I'll Remember April" is an 11-plus minute jam session spotlighting solos by Clifford Brown, Harold Land, Herb Geller, and Junior Mance (or Richie Powell). Washington swings hard on "They Didn't Believe Me" in front of a big band led by Quincy Jones and then goes sentimental on "You Go to My Head" before seguing into a second chorus behind a Latin beat. On the latter track Washington and the unknown group backing her is energized by the urging of a live audience. There's more Latin on "I've Got You Under My Skin" built around the trumpet trio of Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, and Maynard Ferguson. (The liner notes listing of personnel for this track are incorrect). While the album has several excellent instrumental solos, none is better than Rick Henderson's extended alto sax work on "Blue Skies." There's a relaxed traditional jazz atmosphere underlying "All of Me" with Washington chatting away in the background during solos by vibist Terry Gibbs and trombonist Urbie Green. Whatever style or beat, each tune is delivered by Washington's instantly recognizable penetrating but tender voice, buttressed by her consistently precise enunciation. This more than an hour long album is a worthy tribute to the one of a kind vocal skills of Dinah Washington.


Born: 29 August 1924 in Tuscaloosa, AL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s

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...
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