Barbara Lea (1929-2011) was one of the finest jazz singers of the Fifties and early Sixties, with a marvelously poised gift for phrasing, a laid-back swing, and a distinctive voice with a thrilling lower register.
The Great American Song Book was her natural home and when, in 1956, Down Beat's critics voted her Female New Star Singer of the Year, it seemed she was headed for public acclaim as one of the great jazz vocalists. But the rise of pop groups thrust her, like so many superior singers, to one side and though she had a good career, with some detours into acting and teaching, she never made it big.
The fine recordings from 1955-57 collected here to show she deserved better. Her direct, warm approach is beautifully complemented by some excellent soloists, with trumpeter Johnny Windhurst outstanding, along with pianists Billy Taylor and Dick Cary (who also plays alto horn) and the stellar talents of guitarist Jimmy Raney, reedman Ernie Caceres and trombonist Cutty Cutshall. Lea's singing retains a timeless quality, redolent of an era without sounding dated.
Album Co-Producer Owen Keepnews said "Barbara works with a voice that is warm, relaxed, sensitive and true. She is a very good and very moving singer.
Not the least of the virtues of this album is the perceptive backing provided by a group of highly skilled musicians. Billy Taylor is one of the most brilliant jazz pianists; he has only rarely been heard as an accompanist, but he displays here a talent for handling that difficult assignment in an inventive and consistently helpful fashion.
The rhythm section also includes guitarist Jimmy Shirley, and Taylor's regular bass player and drummer, Earl May and Percy Brice, who have developed into a superbly meshed team during the course of many long and successful engagements. Johnny Windhurst is a young trumpeter of great strength and imagination, who has worked with a variety of jazz groups and who happens to have a distinctively personal style that refuses to be limited to any single jazz category.
All five men provide a lilt where that is called for, tenderness when needed, and firm, integrated support at all times. Taylor and Windhurst also have their share of fine solo touches (listen particularly for Billy on I Didn't Know About You and As Long As I Live; and Johnny on the latter tune and on Woman Alone with the Blues, where he takes what might be called the best tenor sax chorus ever played on a trumpet).
It can all be fairly summed up by saying that this group provides a setting that any vocalist could be jealous of and that Barbara Lea sings well enough to deserve nothing less than that."
Note: 8 of 11 tracks are Mono, 3 are Stereo