Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Portraits of Jennie
In early August I received an email from a Japanese music critic, Seiichi Goto, about jazz singer Jennie Smith:
Dear Mr. Bill Reed, How do you do. I was very much surprised and highly pleased to find Jennie Smith's information in your blog recently. Like you, I also have been searching to find out about how she is getting along. In addition to the access of internet, I have tried every possible means such as making an inquiry to the former far-east manager of Dot records. But, it was in vain. I am a strong fan of Jennie Smith here in Japan. I have four LPs of her own. I have been fascinated by her precise, clear, extended, and even charming voice. I am also a writer and in 2004, I introduced her as a wonderful vocalist to Japanese jazz fans. I feel she has been underrated. Thank you very much for your efforts to find her. By way of showing appreciation, I would like to send you my article about Jennie Smith if you let me know your address. Also, if it is OK, please send one more issue to issue to Jennie Smith. Anyway, I am very happy to know that she is living right in L.A. I am waiting for your reply. Thank you
Mister Goto's allusion to my "efforts to find" Jennie refer to the fact that since retirement sometime in the 1980s, she has maintained an exremely low profile, so much so that no amount of search engineering and Googling will yield an answer to the question "Whatever Happened to Jennie Smith?"
However, eventually I did track down Smith's whereabouts a year or so ago. I started out by writing every person in the United States bearing her real last name---Gakkkkk---and proceeded from there. Eventually I published the results of my search in this blog.
A couple of weeks later, I received the Japanese magazine, Jazz Critique (July 2004), had the article translated by my friend Jay and sent it to Jennie Smith. I would also like to post the translation here.
note: Although I don’t find Joni James (see below) ALL that terrible---better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick---I still can’t grasp why a major Japanese jazz critic would hold her up as jazz vocal standard bearer.
By Seiichi Goto
For the first in this series I will discuss Jennie Smith. Currently, I am very much taken with her Dot album. In Jazz Critique Magazine, 78th issue (no longer available) Yasukuni Terashima wrote an introductory article about her. But he dealt only with the RCA and Columbia recordings, not the Dot album. Terashima wrote that the RCA lp finds Smith still in a developing phase of her artistry, but that the jacket itself is wonderful. By the time of her Columbia album, however, Terashima views her as remarkably matured as a singer. Therefore, he says, in order to understand her charms, one needs to listen to both albums. I agree with that.
I was motivated and started to look for her records after I read Terashima’s article. And then I encountered the Columbia lp. The first track is “Love Among the Young.” As soon as I heard it, I was hooked. (If the first lp I heard was the RCA, things might been different). I was fascinated with her clear voice, meticulous pitch, and her rapport with the orchestra. All of these combined to make her a first class singer with great ability that makes her if not greater at least equal to Doris Day or Eydie Gorme, the latter who has a similar tone of voice.
I have played the Dot lp for several professional female jazz vocalists and they all agree that it is a good album from which to learn. Yet, Jennie Smith is not even in the Jazz Critique book, "Introduction to Female Jazz Vocalists." One would wish to ask critics why, alas, this is so. Maybe the critics just want to keep her to themselves. I have listened to so many female vocalists over the years and have acquired my favorites. However, please don’t think me promiscuous, but since I became aware of Jennie I have switched my allegiance almost exclusively to her. Terashima uses Joni James as a standard by which to measure other singers. However, mine is now Jennie Smith. Later I bought her Canadian-American lp and became fascinated all over again. Then last year I obtained the Dot lp and realized that she had grown even further as a singer. And the jacket shows her also having matured into a beautiful woman.
It is safe to say that that Jennie Smith has become something of an obsession for me, awake and asleep. However, to keep her all to myself is just not right. And so I need to tell others how good she is.
She was born in West Virginia in 1938, so she is 66 this year. She was recognized by the god of vibes Lionel Hampton when she was singing with a local band at the age of 14. With her parents’ approval and backing she moved to New York. While she was working as a secretary for Look Magazine she passed an audition with arranger Ray Ellis and made her professional record debut. She also received rave reviews from jazz pianist, arranger and composer Steve Allen who described her as “the best interpreter of my songs.” She also appeared on the Allen show as a regular. After Dot, she is said have recorded for GNP. In reality, however, the Dot lp is the last and best album by her.
The well-known photographer Hiromichi Yamamoto, known for artistic pictures in many magazines, has said that Jennie is a [actress] Kyoko Fukada lookalike. The photo of Jennie, with a cute smile, on the Dot lp finds her looking very happy . The photo still appears so fresh. It is unbelievable to think that it was taken 40 years ago. In the 78th Jazz Critique, Mister Terashima remarks that “Not just Jennie, but the cat also appears to be looking at something in particular.” Indeed, this jacket captures the beautiful Jennie and the cat’s brilliant moment. It is a perfect example of a beautiful Sixties woman. It seems to me that Jennie and the cat are staring at eternity. [!]
The contents of the Dot album are all Steve Allen’s songs. All twelve express the emotion of a woman in love. However, this album is difficult to obtain. If you ever see it in a record shop…buy it! For those people who don’t have it, I wish them the best of luck and I hope the CD becomes available. BTW what is Jennie Smith doing now? I hope she is having a happy life.
Mister Goto, I am happy to inform you that she IS "having a happy lfe."
My web site
Posted by Bill Reed at 3:25 PM