Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

"We Never Kissed": A Date with Melba and Strings

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

"We Never Kissed": A Date with Melba and Strings

Article excerpt

Pianist, composer/arranger, and former bandleader Raymond Scott discovered up-and-coming jazz/pop vocalist Gloria Lynne in the late 1950s. (1) Gloria Lynne recorded her debut album Miss Gloria Lynne on the Everest Record label in 1958, and it quickly garnered the attention of noted music critics. Jazz critics Nat Hentoff and Leonard Feather gave Miss Gloria Lynne "thumbs up," which led to bookings at well-known jazz clubs in Manhattan, including the Village Gate and Birdland (see Lynne and Chilton 2000, 86). In 1959, following the success of her debut album, Lynne's label not only gave her the green light to record a sophomore album, Lonely and Sentimental, but also handed over complete artistic control. In response, she did something that was somewhat unprecedented for the time: request that a woman serve as the musical arranger for the project. Gloria Lynne's choice of arrangers was none other than another up-and-coming artist, Melba Liston. Musical collaboration between women artists was certainly a rarity, particularly for African-American women during the 1950s; most artistic decision making lay in the hands of white male producers and record executives. As Gloria Lynne reminisced, this type of partnership "was unheard of in that day" (Lynne interview, 2013). A history-making moment like this one deserves special attention. This essay explores the musical collaboration between vocalist Gloria Lynne and trombonist-composer-arranger Melba Liston for the album Lonely and Sentimental. In assessing the contributions that Melba Liston made in crafting the musical arrangements for Lonely and Sentimental, I draw extensively from oral history including personal experience narratives or "conversational narratives," memoirs, and personal interviews.

Prior to her recording date with Gloria Lynne, Melba Liston was performing with Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra around New York City. Her visibility as the lone female in the band, her proficiency on the trombone, an instrument perceived as masculine, and her role as arranger for the band, one often dominated by men, soon caught the attention of many observers, among them Gloria Lynne. Gloria Lynne recalls her first time meeting Melba Liston amidst the New York jazz scene of the 1950s: "I met Melba and I was so impressed, because she was a girl. Melba Liston was just somebody [who] you really wanted to meet and be around all the time, because, she was just that sweet, and just that nice and outgoing, and very, very talented" (ibid.). Soon after that initial meeting, Lynne was approached by Liston to perform one of her original songs, "We Never Kissed," with the singer's trio. Liston's song became a fixture in the repertoire for Gloria Lynne's trio. When Lynne's sophomore album project transpired, with the idea to record it with strings, she requested Liston as musical arranger for the entire album: "I asked her [Liston], 'Can you do strings?' It was her first string date, my first string date. I requested her; I figured that she's talented and why not" (ibid.). Raymond Scott, the producer and musical arranger for Lynne's debut album, secured Liston as arranger, and her song "We Never Kissed" was added to a string of standards for the album. According to Lynne, "I liked the song so ... we wanted to record it with strings. It's a fabulous piece of material" (ibid.).

Such collaboration between Gloria Lynne and Melba Liston was timely, considering the music industry's predilection for recording black female jazz singers performing popular songs with strings. For example, Ella Fitzgerald's 1956 album on Norman Granz's newly created label, Verve, ushered in such a concept. (2) Other singers followed suit including Dinah Washington, Della Reese, and, of course, Gloria Lynne. Like Washington and Reese, Lynne drew upon her gospel roots as expressed with pleading and melismatic lines, vocalese singing, punctuating the end of songs with dramatic vocal delivery. She balanced these approaches with her distinct phrasing, interpretive storytelling ability, and "[vocal] range and technical control" (Feather 1959). …

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