Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mary Ann McCall

Here is repeat from this blog of Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Mary Ann McCall

Today is the birthday of jazz singer Mary Ann McCall. She was born in 1919 and if still alive today (she died in '94) would be. . .oh to hell with it, you do the math. McCall is one of the most underestimated of the big band era singers. I don't think she recorded too much on her own after that: I have a Jubilee lp, Detour to the Moon and a Coral lp, Melancholy Baby, both circa late fiftes - early sixties. Also an album and a few odd singles for the Regent label in the fifties. All of the Regents were arranged by Ernie Wilkins. She also appears on the 1977 LP of the Woody Herman 40th Anniversary Carnegie Hall Concert, produced for records by my deeply-missed friend, the late Nat Shapiro. Herman's band, of course, is the one most closely associated with McCall.

I’m glad I had the good sense to check her out sometime during the early 80s when she was singing at a little bar in the airport Hilton, near LAX. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the little squib in a local handout announcing her appearance. "Oh," I thought, "they must be keeping it very low key to keep the crowds away." And so I arrived there extra early. That is how naive I was a mere two decades ago. You've probably already guessed the rest: with the exception of myself, there was practically no one else there. I had McCall and another equally great jazz artist, Nat Pierce, her accompanist, pretty much all to myself. And I went back again and again, weekend after weekend and got to know her pretty well. She would always sit with me between sets and schmooze. Even at this late grandmotherly stage in her career she was one of jazz singing's best kept secrets. I wish I had brought a tape recorder along with me to capture those extraordinary sets. She and Pierce had been musical cohorts for nearly four decades by that time. And it showed: No muss, no fuss, no killer lounge act pyrotechnics, just straight-ahead jazz singing and piano. She just sang the songs and went home!

5/06 addenda

In October 1999 I Interviewed singer Pinky Winters for the web Songbirds magazine. Here's what she had to say about Mary Ann McCall:

Winters: They used to have in Los Angeles, seven, eight, nine years ago, these luncheons in a hotel for, I think, singers. Anyway I went to a couple of them, and she [Mary Ann McCall] was my seat-mate at one of them. And I was just blown away. She didn’t look like a band chick. Fun to talk to.

Songbirds: She was married to saxophonist Al Cohn.

Winters: I had to ask her about that, because Al Cohn’s my hero.

Songbirds: I think she was married to several famous musicians or at least had long term affairs. Sort of like a jazz Alma Mahler.

[Note: Alma Mahler was an early twentieth century "scene-maker" who managed the extraordinary feat of serially marrying three noted and varied artist/intellectuals: author Franz Werfel, architect Walter Gropius, and composer Gustav Mahler.]

Winters: We try to do that if at all possible. [laughs] She was fun. I think I asked her about Al. Al had his eye problems. That was when they first got married.


lynne canata said...

Mary Ann McCall was a cute, short, husky voiced bartender on the corner of Hollywood Blvd and Western Ave called the '49er from 1974 - 1976. This was a huge diversified bar with male and female nude dancers in the front bar, gays and lesbians in the back bar and Mary Ann entertaining in the middle bar..She was great..poured terrific drinks and sang to the customers. She did a special concert down on La Cienega Blvd at one of the more prominent clubs and of course all of her '49er customers arrived to cheer her on...Needless to say we were all blown away by the terrific way she sang jazz..she put you in mind of Chris Conners and June Chrisie...she is missed... said...

Mary Ann McCall was a friend of my father's. I met her when I was the ripe old age of around 10 or so. She tried to help fill in for the mother I had lost temporarily to illness. She was a neat lady and I really looked up to her for years.