- Essentially, Carmen MeRae is
a jazz singer, a product of the jazz environment. First 'discovered',
when a teenager, by Irene Kitchings Wilson, the first wife of
pianist Teddy Wilson, Carmen is not a novitiate at her craft.
A band singer with the Benny Carter, Count Basie and Mercer Ellington
bands in the, 'forties', then an intermission pianist in various
night-spots, and an associate of many of the great modern jazz
musicians during and after the hop revolution in jazz, Carmen
has tended to the musicianly, inventive approach to popular songs
she found in the,inusic and musicians around her.
The jazz trail, not always smoothly paved or lined with gold,
with many turnings in the road, rewards travelers with talent.
The time spent paying tolls, however, is often long and wearying
. . . There were those times for Carmen McRae, and detours made
to clerical and typist jobs to pay for food and lodging.
In 1953, the tide started to turn: record sessions for small
companies; the chance to sing with a good group-the Mat Mathews
In 1954, the tide turned into a positive flood, and Carrhen played
top jazz clubs, did several jazz concerts, won the Down Beat
critics' poll -'Best New Female Singer of the Year'-and signed
with DECCA Records.Since then, this singer who comes from jazz
- the school whose graduates generally delineate the story content
of a set of lyrics; value taste and musical integrity - has come
to grips with material outside the jazz area, bequeathing it
with all the 'soundness' and quality that have identified her
The combination of native warmth and musical intelligence, plus
the wealth of understanding jazz has the peculiar facility of
engendering in its devoted students, has made Carmen McRae more
than just a jazz.
In her treatment of this assemblage of tunes by Noel Coward,
her individual, emotionally-tinged sound and knowing lyric readings
bring reality to the material, extending even to whimsey, i.e.,
"I Can't Do Anything At All," and the impression that
this is not merely a 'hip' jazz singer is reinforced. The instrumental
backdrops created by Jack Pleis are to he noted in that they
simultaneously establish tenor of material, and flatteringly
set off Miss McRae's voice ... A most memorable voice, at that.
"Noel," the late Gertrude Lawrence once remarked, "is
As was noted in the preface to Mr. Coward's second volume of
autobiography, Future Indefinite: "Once in a while there
appears an individual who is the embodiment of the Renaissance
man ... a personality so rounded, a life so full, a talent so
varied that he seems not of our time at all. In an age of one-track
specialists and earthbound experts, Noel Coward is such a man."
Prolific is the all defining word for Mr. Coward. In a recent
interview with Ward Morehouse in Rex Magazine, Mr. Coward commented
he was never completely happy when he wasn't working. Resultant
of this drive to produce on various levels of creativity, he
has written forty plays running from farce to serious drama,
a novel, three volumes of autobiography, a book of verse and
numerous short stories. In addition, he has written six musical
revues, an operetta, and lyrics and music for eight hundred songs
"ranging from the romantic to the ribald," as Mr. Morehouse
so appropriately put it. As is the man, so is his music: romantic,
"Loving is more important than being in love. If one can
grow from the other, you're all right chic and intelligent -"
of the songs are immortal, but perhaps even my dear detractors
will say some of my stuff has been better than fair."
This man who first found fame for the creation of 'naughty skits'
for musical revues in London's West End, is an international
figure of 'terrifying and purposeful chic'. For years, it was
quite the thing to frown on Mr. Coward's competence as a song
writer. However, the very durability of his songs has cleared
the air of any clouds of doubt.
Though devastatingly clever in fashioning lyrics and melodies,
there is insight into life in his songs, a perfection in the
diction and balance of his lyrics growing out of a poetic quality
we have come to associate with lyricists of the highest order-
Hart, Ira Gershwin, Hammerstein.
For all his satirical irreverence, unconventional yet worldly
wit, this is a man of depthful understanding ... And such understanding
of the convolutions of romance. Burt Korall