On Today, Tomorrow, Forever, Nancy Wilson lights up a set of the usual mid-'60s pop standards: "One Note Samba," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "Wives and Lovers," "Our Day Will Come," and "On Broadway," among others. They're all good choices for her breathy voice and occasional improvisations, especially "One Note Samba" and "Wives and Lovers." On them, Wilson plays with the notes and rhythm, making a pair of lighthearted songs even more playful and irresistible than they had been previously. The arrangements (by her husband, Kenny Dennis) are less reliable, however. Most are sympathetic and unobtrusive (as they should be), but a few are reliant on goofy organ leads that don't quite mesh with Wilson's voice - and were probably inserted merely for commercial reasons. On the songs where it's possible to focus just on Wilson's voice, she's simply enchanting. Considering the dozens of traditional jazz-based singers unfamiliar with their place in the middle of the turbulent '60s, Today, Tomorrow, Forever is an accomplished album that sounds almost effortless. [A 1999 two-fer reissue by Capitol/EMI paired Today, Tomorrow, Forever with Wilson's 1966 LP A Touch of Today.]
- John Bush (All Music Guide)
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The Last Cinderella of Capitol's golden age was Nancy Wilson. All of a sudden she appeared in 1959: an unknown band singer from Ohio, twenty-two and gorgeous, who had come to New York only months earlier and won herself a Capitol recording deal. With a voice of vinegar and ice, a glamorous wardrobe, and a glowing smile, Wilson became visible fast. She rose above the small-club grind to play Las Vegas showrooms, the Coconut Grove in Hollywood, the Copacabana and the Waldorf in New York. Columnists wrote about her star-studded openings, and TV embraced her - particularly on January 4, 1964, when she appeared on the first Hollywood Palace show along with Bing Crosby and Mickey Rooney.
In an age when black entertainers still suffered under the burden of racial indignities - and when singers in general tended to burn out fast - Wilson had a team to protect her. Kenny Dennis, her husband and drummer, created Wil-Den Enterprises, a corporation that handled her affairs; while John Levy, her manager, helped ensure that Wilson receive first-class treatment. "The history of this business was not one that 1 wanted to emulate," she explains today. "I watched women die. 1 thought, 1 want to be surrounded by people who care about me, and I want proper management. This is why I'm still alive at this point, still valid and vibrant, looking fine, and able to do my show. Because 1 really worked hard at doing it right.
Throughout the '60s, Wilson made so many albums - two or three a year - that it was hard to keep up with them. Yet a lot have endured: jazz collaborations with George Shearing (The Swingin's Mutual), Cannonball Adderley (Nancy W1lson/Cannonball Adderley), and Gerald Wilson (Yesterday's Love Songs, Today's Blues); string sessions with Billy May and Oliver Nelson; best-selling albums of showtunes (Broadway -My Way; From Broadway With Love) and movie songs (Hollywood - My Way). In that company, Today, Tomorrow, Forever was overlooked. Recorded in 1964, this set of then-current hits by other artists - Steve Lawrence, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones, Ray Charles, the Drifters - seems, on the surface, like a run-of-the-mill '60s pop album. In fact, Today, Tomorrow, Forever is a wonderfully relaxed, intimate display of Wilson's R&B-inspired jazz singing. For a singer so indebted to Dinah Washington and Little Jimmy Scott, Wilson found a way to make every one of these songs her own. Working with just a quintet, sax, and trombone, she improvises freely with a light, bluesy touch, stretching notes play fully while keeping a tart, dry-eyed view of the words.
And she did it in just two sessions - this in an era before pop stars had begun spending months in the studio cobbling tracks together phrase by phrase. "It was real easy," says Wilson of her early record dates. "It wasn't any big thing like, OK, we need a concept!" she adds, laughing. "Dave Cavanaugh and I sat down and chose the songs that we liked at the moment. There was such a wealth of material then. There was always something coming out of Broadway that was
singable. We got keys, talked to the arranger. Everybody was professional then; they took care and did their job. We knew what we were doing when we went in the studio. Studio time was valuable, and we used it to record, not to rehearse." Kenny Dennis, a sensitive drummer and arranger, provided the musical direction, but the sessions were so informal that Wilson doesn't even remember charts, just lead sheets. Yet every track has its distinctive touches: the tuneful wordless motif she sings on an R&B-tinged "One Note Samba"; the lullaby feeling of "Go Away Little Boy," with a childlike celeste played by pianist Lou Levy; the airy waltz treatment of "What Kind of Pool Am I?," Anthony Newley's scenery-chewing number From Stop The World - I Want To Get Off; the funky pairing of Jack Wilson's organ and Bill Perkins's tenor on "Unchain My Heart," Ray Charles's top-ten hit of 1962. The albums only rarity is "Tonight May Have To Last Me All My Life," one of a handful of obscure songs that Wilson's friend Johnny Mercer wrote with Don Borzage in the 60s. John Gray, the Oklahoma-born guitarist who had recently toured with George Shearing, gives tender support.
Capitol issued the album in June 1964, the same month that "How Glad I Am," Wilson's biggest pop single, hit the charts. Down Beat went on to give today, Tomorrow, Forever three stars, calling it "quite mediocre" and "rather antiseptic" - typical criticisms against Wilson from the jazz press, who faulted her for not remaining a "pure" jazz artist "People really wanted to pigeonhole you," she says. "This to me was not a jazz album by a long shot. Most of the things I've done are pop. You can put jazz musicians behind me all you want; that doesn't change what I'm singing. 1 would have sung this the same way with eighteen pieces. Jazz purists did not accept me as a jazz singer, so why should 1 say that's what I'm doing?"
Yet no vocalist of her generation has had a stronger impact on younger female jazz singers. Recent CDs by Caecilie Norby (of Denmark), Paula Owen (of Indianapolis), and Rebecca Parris (of Boston), to name just a few, all reveal a debt to Wilson, traceable back to her early Capitol albums. Is Wilson surprised at how those records, with their simple and unfussy production, have held up ? "Not at all," she says. "I still think that was the best way to do it. I think that the professionalism spoke for itself And 1 don't see that today. 1 have a hard time trying to figure out what takes so long. I think, 'What are you doing? You really believe that manipulating machines is music? That this is better than having live, phenomenal, professional people who know their craft without having to guess?' You can't sing whole songs anymore. 1 just don't get it." Luckily we have this reissue of Today, Tomorrow, Forever, an album that took about eight hours to make, yet more than lives up to its title.