Monday, August 12, 2013



Singer Harvey died this morning at 8 a.m. at her West Hollywood home after a somewhat protracted battle with cancer.

In all likelihood, she was holder of the "record" for the longest sustained career in the history of the phonographic medium. She began recording in 1944, with Benny Goodman, and only recently, 69 years later, completed a new CD of Ellington material, soon to be released. In between there were a half-dozen or so albums, and more singles than you can shake a stylus at ('member them?). Harvey also maintained a "live" performing career during much of that period.

Even before linking up with Goodman as his vocalist, she had been a "pro"---under the tutelge of her stage mother---working first as a child entertainer a la Baby Rose Marie ("Baby Phylis), then as a "chaser" singer in burlesque, whose job it was to try and restore order in between the more sexy and hectic portions of the show with the baggy pants comics and the "girls." But she was so attractive that the rowdies in the audience, for the most part, were so tolerant of her turn, even with her clothes on, that they resisted the regulation sundry vegies and fruits often hurled to hasten the return of dames en deshabille. After that, she appeared with several other outfits, including that one of well-known bandleader of his day, Ray Herbeck. Also, before Goodman, she had a sustaining radio show on the Mutual Broadcasting System.  The affiliation with Benny came about as a result of the intersession of uniquivocally the greatest talent spotter of all time (Billie Holiday, Basie and Bob Dylan for starters) jazz critic/record producer John Hammond.

"When I was singing at Cafe Society, John brought Benny Goodman in to hear me," Jane recalled not long ago to a jazz journalist in Japan. Afterward, without any warning, Goodman said, 'I would like to have you sing with my band. Are you available for rehearsal tomorrow?' 'Of course,' she said. "I wasn't with the band for a long period of time. One day there was some commotion over whether or not I would sing 'She's [He's] Funny That Way.' Another time, when I had throat problems, the band used some other singer instead of me. Nevertheless, despite whatever happened, in my heart, the fact that I was with Benny Goodman is something of which I am very proud." Harvey recalled that Goodman never demanded anything technically of her singing: All he ever instructed me to do was keep up with the tempo. I personally like to sing a bit more freely."

It's too bad that Jane never got around to writing her memoirs. Her early career highlights also include being the the first face ever broadcast on NBC-TV by virtue of being chosen in 1947 as their “Tele-Queen” for the very first week of network broadcasting. As such, she led a parade down Hollywood Boulevard, wearing---she still remembered---“a gold lamé dress. Later there was a party in my honor at the home of [pioneering radio manufacturer] Atwater Kent.”

A few years after she was chosen NBC's "Tele-Queen," she made vid history again when she was chosen, in 1950, to be the "girl" vocalist on the first late-night network TV show Broadway Open House, forerunner to The Tonight Show. She got along just fine with her sensational co-star Dagmar, by the way, the same for which could not be said of all of her four husbands along the way.

Her initial two marriages, first to the son of Hollywood press agent and discoverer of Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Hyde, and then to jazz super-producer Bob Thiele can only be called, as charitably as possible, problematic, and placed an on-and-off damper on Harvey's professional activities throughout the 1950s and most of the sixties. The best thing that came out of those alliances was the birth of her only child Bob Thiele, Jr. with whom she maintained a close relationship.

In Harvey's case, third time wasn't a charm, but the fourth was when, in 2002, she wed L.A. lawyer Bill King and things marital finally fell into place.

Four years ago I accompanied Jane and Bill to Tokyo where Jane was booked for exactly one engagement, which also might constitute a record of one sort or another? Longest distance travelled for one nightclub set.

Over the years, I jotted down notes regarding various aspects and of Jane Harvey's life and times. They included:

* Blue Angel nightclub engagement - NYC 1946

* 1947 Banned from Twentieth Century-Fox lot after verbal battle with studio music chief Alfred Newman

* 1947 Signed to RCA Victor

* 1947 Billboard magazine reported a "change of attitude" on Harvey's part. She had become "easier to work with," it said.

* In an instance of press agentry run wild, in 1948 Billboard Magazine reported a "bad case of burn" caused by too much exposure to sunlamp (!)

* Signs w/ MGM Records 1948

* Bless You All on Broadway 1950

* 1951 screen test Paramount

* 1953 Bell Records

* 1953 Columnist Earl Wilson headline: "Singer Jane Harvey Back from Alabama with One of Those 24-hour Divorces"

* Much 1950s press coverage of her tumultuous marriage to jazz super producer Bob Thiele

* Appearance at Gregory’s - NYC in 1972 with pianist Ellis Larkins

* 1973 Surabaya - NYC w/ William Roy

* L.A. Times news 2008 item: "singer [Harvey], who cast her first presidential vote for Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, works the phones for Obama"

But to Jane's way of thinking---and a number of influential critics---the high point of it all came in 1988 when she recorded, for Atlantic Records, a Sondheim songbook with pianist Mike Renzi, bassist Jay Leonhart, and drummer Grady Tate.

But the road to hell---as recently as 1988---was paved with good (including artistic) intentions, as witnessed by what happened to the recordings of the sessions. For when the album was released shortly thereafter, at the very last minute, to Harvey’s extreme displeasure, an overdub of arrangements by Ray Ellis was added by Atlantic to all tracks, which were originally trio performances. Not that there’s anything wrong with the wonderful Ray Ellis. But in this instance, the addition of his large ensemble charts essentially defeated the jazz intentions of the album.

However, Harvey was eventually able to convince Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun, just before his death in 2006, to let her have back the rights to the album, and it was released in Japan on SSJ Records. Now, with this 2009 release (in this case, “reissue“ is not really the right word), those overdubs were gone! In addition, medleys were arbitrarily sliced and diced by a house producer, leaving the floor littered with a remaining 43 minutes; the current version is 59 minutes. It should be noted that the brilliantly engineered release (overseen by SSJ's Yasuo Sangu) was somehow effected from cassette dubs rather than master tapes, which are lost. The '09 "Send in the Clowns" bonus track was recorded by Jane acapella in her son's studio, with the Robbie Kondor keyboard backing added later!

In between husbands 3 and 4, she helped support herself by operating as an antique dealer, and also she tried to pitch a book project, How to Marry a Married Man. (Best book title ever?) Here's hoping one might eventually shuffle aside enough sheet music, clippings, memos, etc. and excavate some writings of Jane Harvey, which she revealed to me, included some attempts at autobiography.

In the liner notes for her 2011 CD The Undiscovered Jane Harvey, jazz journalist Will Friedwald writes that in his interview with her for the album, "[Harvey] is forever reprimanding herself for bad career choices. 'I was an idiot,' she must have said those four words about a dozen times in the hour or so that we talked. 'I always made the wrong decision.'" 

But a listen to the 96 tracks included in her 2011 five CD restrospective release on Little Jazz Bird Records leads one to respond, "Not always, Jane, not always."


Ken Breger said...

A bright and vibrant woman and an artist of the first rank.
I saw Jane perform many times in NYC in the '80s and early '90s at Elaine's, Danny's Skylight Room, Freddy's and Fortune Garden Pavilion, among others. She had a rare and deeply committed presence, absolutely sui generis. And through a common friend I had the pleasure of knowing her personally. She was a profoundly sensitive and generous spirit.

Unknown said...


Thank you for all you have done to keep Jane's work alive for listeners around the world


Bill Reed said...

Whether Jane was recording, perfoming "live", or just hanging out, she was a total gasssss! There was a "live" performance of hers from a couple of years ago at a club here in L.A., the M Bar, that seems to have been overlooked in most of the obituararies. She was reallllllly cooking that night. I suppose I am the last person to have presented Jane "live" in the Gershwin show I co-produced in February at the Jazz Bakery. Thanks for your kind words. She'll be missed.

Otis Foster said...

I never heard Jane live but went to Gregory's whenever I was in NYC. It was a tiny place at 62d and 1st (doing this from memory) with an intimate 5-6 seat wraparound bar. The piano was literally behind the bar at the end. Hod O'Brien was more or less the house pianist but Al Haig was there quite often. (This was I believe during his pre-Spotlite revival). Chuck Wayne was another frequent visitor. The room couldn't support more than a pianist and an occasional vocalist. Wish I could remember her name.

Just some reminisces of a wonderful music venue, gone like so many others.