ORIGINAL ENGLISH LINER NOTES FOR Beverly Kelly Sings by Bill Reed
I’ve known of Bev Kelly for just about as long as I’ve been listening to jazz. . .which is a while. But I only, finally, met her in when I worked with the singer on the 2007 release of her SSJ Records CD Live at the Jazz Safari. At first, we conferred strictly on the phone, but the two of us finally decided that we had to stop not meeting this way. And since Bev and I both live in Southern California a relative handful of miles apart, we decided to set up a real time production conference. I must confess that when that first meeting was over, not a lot of work had been accomplished. But it was the beginning of a friendship that has continued on down to this current SSJ Bev Kelly release.
With most of her time now devoted to her chosen second profession as a practicing clinical psychologist, most of the singing Dr. Bev Kelly does these days is accomplished a cappella walking on the beach in her home town of Long Beach, CA (her last album, thus far, was 2002‘s Portrait of Nine Dreams). Which works out well for her present-day clients, but not so much for those of us who treasure the artistry of Bev Kelly, the Singer.
Bev was first heard on record, in 1956 and ’57, on two excellent Bethlehem Pat Moran Quartet albums. Also in ‘57 Beverly [she shortened it to Bev around the time of her first Riverside album in 1959] Kelly Sings became the singer’s first album with her name featured above the title. Here, too, she is backed by Pat Moran, fronting a small group.
But this release was also auspicious for another reason; it marked one of the earliest recorded appearances of the late, legendary bassist Scott LaFaro. Prior to the Kelly date, he had only appeared, at age twenty in 1956, on a handful of studio dates with the Buddy Morrow big band and on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show with Chet Baker. LaFaro also performed “live” with both groups.
In 1960 LaFaro was quoted as saying: "I don't like to look back, because the whole point in jazz is doing it now. I don't even like any of my records except maybe the first one I did with Pat Moran on Audio Fidelity." Presumably, the bassist’s remark also covers the Kelly/Moran release. LaFaro also played for a few weeks in December 1957 with the Moran group at their gig at Chicago’s Cloister Inn. (The two dates with LaFaro were recorded in New York.) Rounding out the trio on the Moran and Kelly/Moran dates date was drummer Gene Gammage.
In a conversation I had with Kelly in early November 2009, she looked back on her association with LaFaro, who would soon go on to glory during his all-too-brief (slightly more than a year-and-a-half ) but highly memorable stay with the first major Bill Evans unit, before the bassist’s death in a mid-1961 auto accident.
Kelly says she wonders just where LaFaro might have gone musically had he lived: “It was one of those terrible early losses of a major talent, like[singer] Eva Cassidy. The were both just getting started artistically when they died, yet already they had come so far.”
After LaFaro‘s death, Evans was so distraught, he did not perform publicly for nearly a year.
Bev Kelly and Pat Moran met while both were conservatory students in Cincinnati, Ohio in the mid-1950s. Soon they formed an act, headed to Chicago, where they added a bass and drummer to the group and began performing what Moran describes as “four-way vocals.”
On Moran’s web site, she shares some of her memories of Scott LaFaro: “I met [him] at a jazz club in St. Louis. He was playing with Chet Baker. It was their last night, and we were opening the next. . . one night [in Chicago] Scotty ran in and said we had to go hear this great new pianist who was playing at the Blue Note. We rushed over and it was Bill Evans. I cried the whole time he played--- it was like listening to Mozart. After Bill finished his set, Scotty grabbed me by the hand and insisted we get up and play. I was an emotional wreck, and certainly did NOT want to play after Bill Evans, but I did. I realized later, Scotty really wanted Bill to hear him!” Thus, was musical history made.
After leaving life on the “the road,” Pat Moran (now McCoy) McCoy reemerged in 1984 to write and record a children's album, Shakin’ Loose with Mother Goose which won a national children's book award. In 1989 she appeared on Marian McPartland's radio show Piano Jazz. She has since recorded two albums of religious music, but which still manage to contain just as much jazz feeling as anything from her high-profile performance years.
Moran and Kelly remain in close contact, with the latter confessing to me that she still has dreams of someday recording another album with her longtime friend. Let’s hope it works out, for considering Kelly’s placement in the Pantheon of jazz singers, her recorded output, thus far, has been woefully slim. . .only nine albums! One of the best of which is---unquestionably--- Beverly Kelly Sings. Consisting of twelve of the most firmly-established titles in the Great American Songbook, by the time it was recorded Kelly and Moran had been professionally partnered for several years. And it shows in the musical rapport between them! There’s little doubt, too, that Scott LaFaro’s participation played an integral part in ramping this this date up to full (in Swing Journal-ese) Five Star memorableness.