Vocalist Mary Stallings comes to The RRazz Room from February 2 to 5. Showtimes are 7pm on Friday and Saturday and 5pm on Sunday. Her band will include David Udolf on piano, Akira Tana on drums and Ron Belcher on bass. I last saw Mary at Yoshi’s Oakland and her show was amazing.
According to the New York Times, “perhaps the best jazz singer singing today is a woman almost everybody seems to have missed.” That woman is Mary Stallings, a Bay Area native who established a name for herself as one of the finest jazz singers of the 1960s, performing with such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Cal Tjader, Billy Eckstine, and Count Basie.
After taking a hiatus from her recording career in the 1970s to raise her daughter and work as a clothes designer, Stallings stepped back into the national jazz spotlight in 1999 when the owner of the famous Village Vanguard nightclub in New York heard a recording of her singing and eventually tracked her down at her home in San Francisco. Ever since then, jazz fans have had the pleasure of rediscovering Stallings, whose voice and phrasing continued to mature and improve during her long sabbatical. In 2006 she was presented with the San Francisco Jazz Festival’s Beacon Award for her contributions to jazz in the Bay Area.
“I had a huge voice when I was just eight years old,” says Mary Stallings about her beginnings as a singer. It was a voice too big to ignore – spanning almost four octaves. Few could. By the time she was 11, she had made her first solo recording and while still in high school she joined Louis Jordan’s Tympani Five. She came of age in the big band era, and was invited to tour as vocalist with most of the major names of the time. “It was the best musical education I could have had,” explains Mary, “I was fired from lessons for playing everything from memory.” Instead, her education came a bit more unconventionally, including stints with the Grover Mitchell – Earl “Father” Hines band, three years touring the U.S. and Europe with Count Basie, and sharing the bill with Joe Williams, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald. “I met all the heroes of the music and then got a chance to work with them,” she says.
Although Mary took time off from touring and recording during the ’70’s, she never stopped singing. So when she re-emerged back onto the jazz scene reinvigorated, with a sound that gave homage to her past but held a freshness and vigor, she immediately caught the attention of the music press, who called her “stunning” and a “jazz vocal sensation.” During this period, she released several critically acclaimed CDs, one which made many of the year-end “best-of” lists, another that went to the top 10 on the Gavin Jazz Chart. Today, Mary Stallings combines the grace and grandeur of experience with an undiluted passion for performing in her Live At The Village Vanguard release. With its blend of old and new, smoky standards and take-your-breath-away ballads, the CD, in many ways, reflects this current milestone in Mary’s career. “This is the right time for me to be singing these songs,” she says. “I pick songs that feel delicious to me, songs that I relate to at the time, songs that I love. That’s what you’ll find here.”
Photo Credit: James Knox