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ETTA JONES vocals FRANK WESS flute, tenor saxophone RICHARD WYANDS piano SKEETER BEST guitar GEORGE DUVIVIER bass ROY HAYNES drums 1 2 3 4 5


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AFTER PAYING DUES for over 15 years, Etta Jones (1928-2001) became an overnight sensation with the release of this, her first Prestige album. While the title song was the catalyst that fueled the singer’s belated discovery, not to mention one of the few singles released by an independent jazz label of the period to attain gold record status, the remaining nine tracks give equal evidence of the spontaneous phrasing and deep emotional commitment that allowed Jones to excel with such rare consistency. Blending the influences of Billie Holiday and more blues-centered vocalists, and supported by an exceptional quintet featuring Frank Wess and Richard Wyands, Jones turned Don’t Go to Strangers into the cornerstone of a career that would see her produce six more Prestige albums in the Sixties, and that kept her among the jazz vocal elite for the next four decades.

I remember the sessions well, I remember how the musicians wanted to sound, and I remember their reactions to the playbacks. Today, I feel strongly that I am their messenger. —RUDY VAN GELDER Recorded by RUDY VAN GELDER at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ; June 21, 1960. Supervision by ESMOND EDWARDS Remastering, 2006—Rudy Van Gelder (Van Gelder Studio) All transfers were made from the analog master tapes to digital at 24-bit resolution. Notes by BOB PORTER • Total Time 41:19 • Prestige Records, Tenth and Parker, Berkeley, CA 94710. π & © 2006, Concord Music Group, Inc., 100 North Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.


ETTA JONES vocals FRANK WESS flute, tenor saxophone RICHARD WYANDS piano SKEETER BEST guitar GEORGE DUVIVIER bass ROY HAYNES drums Although this is Etta Jones’s first Prestige release, she is certainly not a newcomer to the jazz world. In fact, she is pretty much, in the admittedly limited circle of jazz singers, what Joe Albany is to the world of jazz pianists. A reference and a byword among the cognoscenti, but almost unknown to the general public. With this LP, Prestige is trying to start a campaign that would end forever Etta’s fashionable obscurity. Etta started singing professionally back in the mid-Forties just after she got into the finals of one of the Apollo amateur programs. She lost the final decision in that contest, but she won a job with the Buddy Johnson Orchestra as band vocalist, on the strength of that performance. She worked with Johnson for a year, then began to establish herself as a single, working clubs and theaters. In 1948, she traveled with J.C. Heard’s group. The next year she was a single again. Then in 1949, she joined Earl “Fatha” Hines Orchestra and remained with that organization until 1952, when she got back onto the single circuit, making a few records, and numerous appearances at supper clubs

and theaters all over North America. It is certainly a truism to say that there are not very many good jazz singers . . . or for that matter, that there never have been. Although, God knows, we certainly do have our share of “stylists,” imitators, and well-paid failures. One of the reasons for Etta’s tremendous popularity among jazz musicians, and other singers, is the fact that she is one of the few genuine articles around. One of the few people around now who seem to have a feeling for the words they sing, and whose breathing, pace, and delivery seem to be based more on the way the musicians backing her up are playing, the actual music being played, rather than adhering to some hopeless arrangement somebody thought would be pretty hip. Etta lists her favorite singers as Billie Holiday and Thelma Carpenter, two very wise choices for anybody who wants to sing . . . anything. And Etta seems like she’s well on her way to the kind of recognition those two ladies had. Also, she seems one of the few people around now who could even attempt to fill the gigantic void that was left now that

Billie and Thelma aren’t around anymore. To show how much musicians dig Etta, notice that the personnel on this date are not made up of standard vocal accompanists, but form a very swinging jazz unit. Also, Etta’s choice of tunes on the date shows her marvelous taste. “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” is a real song-anddance man’s tune—Donald O’Connor, Gene Kelly, etc.— and Etta here keeps that breathless, pushing quality to the tune, a terrifically swinging pulse under each syllable. Frank Wess, one of the best flutists in jazz, keeps the mood sparkling and bright for newcomer Dick Wyands’s singing run on the piano. It’s really too much when Etta says “. . . by-aye the way.” “Don’t Go to Strangers” is a melancholy blues ballad gifted with some particularly sophisticated lyrics (as are all the tunes on this date). Too often moon/June is good enough for singers who don’t particularly care what kind of songs they sing. But these lyrics make very good sense . . . albeit a sad story. Also, Etta has that innate care that enables her to make great beautiful slurs with her lyrics and still sound clear as a bell. “I Love Paris”



is taken as an exotic, rather Latino, Latin Quarter cooker, Etta picking up steam as she goes. She has that same bluesiness that makes Dinah Washington such a groove. Frank Wess interweaves his delicate line with Dick Wyands’s “apache” piano, and the driving bass of George Duvivier. Etta’s second chorus is even more compelling . . . “because my lo-ove is near.” Dick Wyands’s fine introduction to “Fine and Mellow,” a tune Billie Holiday used to destroy me with regularly, put it squarely up to Etta who showed me once and for all that a sensitive artist can reappropriate any tune no matter how fine someone else might have performed it. Frank Wess contributes a beautifully spare tenor solo that extends Etta’s first chorus very trenchantly. Again, the lyrics of this tune are marvelous . . . “Love is just like a faucet/it turns off and on/Just when you think it’s on, Baby/it’s turned off and gone.” “Where or When” is another very elegant example of what John Lewis calls “the American ballad form.” Etta sings it light and bouncy with that kind of buoyant finger-pop-


ping quality that really gets into your feet. Dick Wyands, Frank Wess, on flute again, and the ever-present Duvivier all help make this tune really something. But all the tunes on the album are—from the unbelievably delicate “If I Had You” to the racy, almost hard-bop cooking of “On the Street Where You Live.” “Something to Remember You By” is also done real justice, as far as I’m concerned, for the first time in a long time. The tune will always remind me of an old 1940s movie called Mr. Lucky with Cary Grant as a good-hearted gambler who always used to whistle this song. I don’t know if Etta saw the film but she certainly makes it . . . and a good deal sexier than Lorraine Day (Grant’s co-star). Frank Wess’s very lovely flute backs Etta up beautifully. “Bye Bye Blackbird,” Miles Davis’s tune (I don’t care who wrote it), is another tune I have always liked a great deal. Etta turns it into a medium-tempo dance with Frank Wess. She also keeps it appropriately bittersweet and agreeably funky. The last song on the date, “All the Way,” really ought to be done more by jazz

people. The “pop” singers have monopolized it for too long and not enough really interesting people have it in their repertoires. From the moody, deliberate, tender rendition that Etta gives it here, it is finally evident just how lovely the tune can be. But that seems to be what Etta does best, i.e., to take any song and deal with it like you’ve never heard it before. The way she sings these songs seems the only way to sing them; in fact, no matter how many times I’d heard all the songs on the album they all seem to have been written especially for Etta Jones. —LeROI JONES original line notes

I WAS THE ENGINEER on the recording sessions and I also made the masters for the original LP issues of these albums. Since the advent of the CD, other people have been making the masters. Mastering is the final step in the process of creating the sound of the finished product. Now, thanks to the folks at the Concord Music Group who have given me the opportunity to remaster these albums, I can present my versions of the music on CD using modern technology. I remember the sessions well, I remember how the musicians wanted to sound, and I remember their reactions to the playbacks. Today, I feel strongly that I am their messenger. —RUDY VAN GELDER

DON’T GO TO STRANGERS REVISITED A FEW YEARS AGO, a prominent writer authored a book on jazz singing. There was not a single mention of Etta Jones. Etta’s fans were properly outraged but the lady herself paid little attention to the snub. Her nature was to look forward, not backward. It won’t take you long, once you start to listen to this album, to hear how the failure to recognize her abilities was a gaffe of major proportions. She had been a contributor to the jazz vocal scene since her teens. Her first record date was in December 1944. Leonard Feather was in charge of the session and he gave her a couple of songs previously recorded by Dinah Washington and one, “Blow Top Blues,” that the Queen herself later covered. A second session for Black & White went nowhere but she landed a deal with RCA in 1946 and cut 12 very good sides for the label, including her classic version of “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman.” All these early sessions were done with top-notch jazz guys such as Joe Newman, Budd Johnson, and Barney Bigard. She was recording a lot of blues at the time, which was what you had to record if you were a black female. The period 1948-1957 was a rough one since there were no recordings. Still Etta muddled through. She gigged with drummer J.C. Heard for a time. She then joined Earl Hines for almost four years. The band was a solid one and featured Jonah Jones, Bennie Green (from whom Etta took trombone lessons), and the husband-and-wife team of Aaron Sachs and Helen Merrill. Merrill and Etta wore matching herringbone jackets and skimmers and had a couple of numbers together in the act. In 1957, Henry Glover produced her in an album for the King label. King was red-hot at the time with artists such as James Brown, Bill Doggett, Earl Bostic, and Little Willie John, and their ability to promote the few jazz albums they recorded was well below par. Producer Esmond Edwards recalled how Prestige came to sign Etta: “It was my policy to listen to everything and to return every phone call. I got a tape in the mail from I guy I had never heard of—Warren Lanier, her manager. I listened to the tape, liked it, called him, and signed her.” Don’t Go to Strangers was her first album. The album featured several players who were well known to both Edwards and Etta. Roy Haynes had just finished a six-year stay with Sarah Vaughan and was freelancing around New York. He recorded a pair of trio albums for Prestige during this period. George Duvivier was the bassist on most of the Arnett Cobb, Shirley Scott, and Lockjaw Davis albums but in reality played with dozens of artists during the period. Richard Wyands was just breaking into the New York recording scene and his adept accompaniment soon became very

much in demand. The unit was used on Etta’s second album and on a couple of Oliver Nelson albums as well. Skeeter Best was a holdover from Etta’s King album but Frank Wess is a special case. Now at the age of 84, this Kansas City–born musician is still a vibrant presence in the New York jazz community. He has been acknowledged as one of the first and best jazz flutists but his tenor work, which was featured with Billy Eckstine, Lucky Millinder, Bullmoose Jackson, and Count Basie, has always been outstanding. He was still with Basie at the time of this recording but he was playing alto sax in the band. Wess was recorded on three Prestige albums as a leader during this time and made frequent sideman appearances with the likes of Dorothy Ashby, Joe Newman, and Gene Ammons. The song that gives this album its title was a hit single. “Don’t Go to Strangers” reached as high as 36 on the Billboard pop charts while achieving an eleven-week run on the R&B charts, peaking at #5. Esmond Edwards again: “She picked the tune. I was unfamiliar with it. Initially I thought of it as the B-side of the single. But it was the side that got all the attention.” The song broke first in Los Angeles while Etta was working there and it started on KGFJ, an R&B station. The club where Etta was working held her over for eight weeks! Ron Eyre was the sales manager of Prestige at the time: “‘Don’t Go to Strangers’ broke pretty fast nationally. It started off with R&B and went quickly into pop play. It was tough to convince the distributors because they didn’t really believe that Prestige could have a pop hit.” For that reason, among others, the album never matched the single in terms of chart achievement yet it remained a best-seller in the Prestige catalog for many years. Etta was a Southerner, born in Aiken, South Carolina. Sometimes when she enunciates certain words— “I,” “my,” or “by,” for example—you can hear this influence. Billie Holiday, from Baltimore, had the same sound. This has led many to think of Etta as some sort of Billie Holiday clone. Not true! If anything, Etta’s time is more elastic and while she claimed Billie (and Thelma Carpenter) as her main inspirations, she never attempted to sing like Billie (except when she did her extremely accurate imitation). She does include one of Billie’s blues, “Fine and Mellow.” There are some fine solo moments here from Wyands, Wess, and Best, but she doesn’t sing it anything like Billie. Rudy Van Gelder, while mastering this album, remarked to me that he thought “If I Had You” was a masterpiece. Her subtle recasting of the melody was something that came naturally to her. It wasn’t taught, it wasn’t learned, it just happens. And it happens throughout this album. There are other highlights: “On the Street Where You Live,” where she simultaneously pushes and pulls the time and makes the melody all her own before bluesing it at the end; “Bye Bye Blackbird” with the great flute solo; “All the Way,” identified certainly with Frank Sinatra, is given an equally valid treatment, demonstrating once again that in jazz there is no such thing as a definitive rendition. The Prestige period yielded seven Etta Jones albums. While there were several other albums with moments on the level of those attained here, there was no other album that featured the results of a single recording session. There were two albums with strings (Oliver Nelson arrangements) and the remainder with small groups along the lines of this date. But this session of June 21, 1960 is the one Etta Jones will be remembered for. And regardless of what one prominent writer thinks, it was one of the great jazz vocal records of all time. — BOB PORTER March 2006


1 YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY (Kahn-Donaldson) Gilbert Keyes Music/Donaldson Publ.-ASCAP 4:20 2 DON’T GO TO STRANGERS (Kent-Mann-Evans) Music Sales Corp.-ASCAP 3:49 3 I LOVE PARIS (Cole Porter) Chappell & Co-ASCAP 4:02 4 FINE AND MELLOW (Billie Holiday) Edward B. Marks Music-BMI 5:51 5 WHERE OR WHEN (Rodgers-Hart) Chappell/Williamson Music Co.-ASCAP 3:41 6 IF I HAD YOU (Connelley-Shapiro-Campbell) EMI Robbins Catalog, Inc.-ASCAP 3:50 7 ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE (Lerner-Loewe) Chappell-ASCAP 3:44 8 SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY (Schwartz-Dietz) Warner Bros. Music/Bienstock Publ. Co.-ASCAP 3:44 9 BYE BYE BLACKBIRD (Dixon-Henderson) Ray Henderson Music/ Olde Clover Leaf Music-ASCAP 3:15

ETTA JONES vocals FRANK WESS flute, tenor saxophone RICHARD WYANDS piano SKEETER BEST guitar GEORGE DUVIVIER bass ROY HAYNES drums

Recorded by RUDY VAN GELDER at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ; June 21, 1960. Supervision by ESMOND EDWARDS Cover—Esmond Edwards Remastering, 2006—Rudy Van Gelder (Van Gelder Studio) Reissue produced by Nick Phillips and Bob Porter Research and production assistance|Stuart Kremsky Project assistance|Rikka Arnold, Terri Hinte

10 ALL THE WAY (Van Heusen-Cahn) Maraville Music-ASCAP 4:39

l • Prestige Records, Tenth and Parker, Berkeley, CA 94710. π & © 2006, Concord Music Group, Inc., 100 North Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. All rights reserved.

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Etta Jones - Don't Go To Strangers_Booklet