On one of her best Concord recordings, Ernestine Anderson (who is joined by tenorman Red Holloway, pianist Gene Harris, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Gerryck King) is quite soulful and bluesy throughout this strong program. She makes such tunes as "Someone Else Is Steppin' In," "In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down" and "I Love Being Here with You" sound as if they were written for her, while "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" is heard in a very rare vocal version. Actually, all eight songs (which also include "Goin' to Chicago Blues" and "Down Home Blues") are well worth hearing.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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The reference to chanting in the poem Blues for Ernestine (back page), can be taken almost literally. At a low ebb in her career, Ernestine Anderson discovered the Nichiren Buddhist religion and its chant, "Nam myoho renge kyo." She spent countless hours repeating this incantation and swears that this turned the tide in her fortunes. More work came along, more peace of mind, and, in due course, the Concord contract that has brought her back to prominence on records.
Though most of her material has been drawn from the pop and jazz standard repertoire, she is no stranger to the blues. (Long ago, on Mercury, she revived Ma Rainey's "See See Rider," and on Concord her selections have included "All Blues" and "Never Make Your Move Too Soon.")
"When I was growing up," she recalls, "I was into Dizzy and Bird, but my parents loved the blues, so I heard B.B. King, Dinah Washington -and, before I left Houston, a lot of country and western too."
For her first blues recording, Ernestine and Carl Jefferson were resourceful in the selection of material. The result is a judicious mixture of straight-ahead blues in the 12-bar tradition and variations in the form of songs that have a blues mood or orientation/without staying rigidly within that venerable pattern.
The choice of musicians was another important decision-making process, since the greatest blues singer in the world can be diminished by insensitive accompaniment. (Even Esther Phillips had to deal with this problem on some of her later albums.) The selection of Red Holloway as hornman for this occasion could hardly have been more appropriate. Arkansas born, he played with Roosevelt "Honeydripper" Sykes in Chicago, toured internationally with John Mayall's blues band, and has shown his adaptability to every jazz and blues groove.
"I worked with Red," says Ernestine, "when he was playing, and doubling as musical director, at the Parisian Room in Los Angeles. He always sounded wonderful, and I knew he'd be just right for what I was trying to achieve here.
As for Gene Harris, he's always been at home with the blues. I worked opposite him many times when he was leading the Three Sounds."
Of Ray Brown, she says: "Just the best. You can always count on Raymond. And Gerryck King is a sensitive drummer who's been in a lot of blues situations, working with Joe Williams among others."
The program begins with a nostalgic look at the Basie days, when Jimmy Rushing co-wrote Goin' to Chicago and sang it on one of the Count's best remembered records, in 1941. Ernestine renovates it by adding some new lyrics of her own.
Someone Else Is Steppln' In, a blues with a bridge, came to Ernestine's attention when, during a visit to Houston in May of 1984, she heard it on jukeboxes sung by the composer, Denise LaSalle. "They play a lot of blues down there; I went out and bought a lot of her things. It was also recorded by an incredible blues singer out of Chicago, Z.Z. Hill, who passed away a few months ago. I have three of his albums and three of Denise's, and I love them all." Ernestine and Red capture a tremendous sense of blues vitality and authenticity on this irresistible performance.
The next cut is an ingenious medley, starting with Ernestine's wordless revival of Duke Ellington's I Don't Know What Kind of Blues I Got. She sings Barney Bigard's subtone clarinet chorus almost note for note. From there she segues into When the Sun Goes Down, Leroy Carr's 1935 classic (actually, it may be of traditional origin, but Carr had the hit record). After Red's steaming solo comes a variation on another old Basie-Rushing song Good Mornin' Blues, with some Anderson lyrics added for good measure. Then it's back to the wordless theme and to the Leroy Carr lines.
I Love Being Here With You, by Peggy Lee (whose recording Ernestine heard years ago), has a pop-song construction, but its main phrase is strongly suggestive of the blues. Ernestine's gutty approach, and the second chorus, complete with references to everyone from Fred Astaire to Count Basie, lead to solos by Gene and Red that further enhance the flavor.
It's back to the unqualified, deep-dish blues for Down Home Blues, which Ernestine also heard sung by Denise LaSalle and Z.Z. Hill. The blues is still close at hand on Duke Ellington's Lucky So and So, despite the 32-bar construction. Al Hibbler introduced this with the Duke's band in 1945; Ernestine gets even deeper into its indigo essence. The Gene Harris solo may recall, for some, the much-imitated blues style he established on records in the Three Sounds days.
Alone On My Own is another blues-in-spirit-if-not-in-form composition, which Ernestine heard sung by Maxine Weldon. The semi-shuffle rhythm lends this treatment a special coloration.
As for Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, it seems unlikely that many students of the blues realize that lyrics were ever written to this work, originally an instrumental written by Joe Zawinul when he was Cannonball Adderley's pianist and arranger. Here, too, there is a departure from the conventional pattern, and a tune that has a very distinctive sound within the boundaries of the blues. "I never heard anybody sing this," Ernestine says, "and I had a hard time finding words to it. I understand there are two different sets of lyrics. Anyhow, I finally got the sheet music." (Actually, there was a vocal version in 1967, recorded by Marlena Shaw) Red Holloway's solos and obbligatos update Cannonball's own memorable contribution.
What we have here is not proof-for proof was never needed -but a soulful reminder that among her many gifts, Ernestine Anderson has more than a mere penchant for the blues. She has a deep-down, abiding love for it- which is precisely the feeling I have about this recording.
- Leonard Feather