Monday, July 31, 2006

TVJAS Sneek Peek

When I visit Japan again in December, I will be presenting a talk before the Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society. My program, entitled "One Shot Wonders" will be devoted to good-to-great singers who only recorded one LP under their own name. I do not speak Japanese, but will be reading from a romaji script translated for me. Giant magic-markered cue cards with a flash light? Teleprompter? Earphone prompt? Hoho heehee haha. Here is the opening:

The one thing that nearly every one of these artists (with one or two exceptions) that I will be playing for you this afternoon have in common is that they recorded only one album bearing their name, and mostly between 1955 and 1960. This was the time when rock music was coming along and beginning to commercially blow every other kind of recorded music out of the water. There was simply no room for peaceful mutual co-existence. If an artist like Peggy Lee or Frank Sinatra was established by this time, for the most part they were able to maintain careers as recording artists, but for a great number of others just beginning to come along during this period it was over almost as soon as it began.

The one thing that nearly all have in common, as well, is that they were uncommonly talented. But it was all to no avail. Most continued to perform---many on the Holiday Inn and Playboy Club circuits---or teach music, but some gave up music altogether. I have done my best to track down the whereabouts or the outcome of these singers, but in a couple of instances they seem to have just fallen off the edge of the earth.

The first singer I’ll play this afternoon is Marlene Cord. She is a prime example of what a friend of mine in the U.S., Fred Stack, calls the "Lost Ladies of Dot." That powerful little independent label seemed to specialize in One Shot Wonders, especially of the female variety. They include: Althea Gibson, Easy Williams, Dori Howard, Sue Evans and the singer I’ll open up with today, Marlene Cord.

One of eight children who grew up in Springboro, Pa., a small town where her father worked as a farmer and tool and dye maker, Cord, born Mary Fabiano, began taking piano lessons at 12. For many years she toured the country as a jazz singer, singing and playing piano. She recorded her Dot album in Chicago when she was 19 in 1957.


But while on the road, Cord met her husband, Nick, who owned a jazz club in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Cord took time off from her singing career to help him open a restaurant in Milwaukee. She ended up waiting tables, keeping the books and tending bar for 18 years, trading her singing career for love and family. She never went back on the road again. Today, she is a waitress at the Colannade Restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida where she has worked for the last twenty years. While waiting on actor Jack Nicholson recently, she sang “I Could Write a Book” for him. Maybe he gave her an extra-large tip? But that is just about the extent of her singing these days. [David Ehrenstein suggests that Lili Tomlin would have a field day with a character like this.]

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