Betty St. Claire (vcl), Phil Sunkel (tp), Billy Byers (tb, arr), Hal McKusick (cl,as), Gene DiNovi, Eddie Swanson, Stan Free (p), Jimmy Raney, Barry Galbraith, Mundell Lowe (g), Clyde Lombardi, Addison Farmer (b), Jimmy Campbell, Herbie Lovelle, Ed Shaughnessy (d)
Reference: FSRCD 909
Bar code: 8427328609098
Born Betty Waddell in Columbus, Ohio, singer Betty St. Claire (1927-1972) was hailed as a “find” when, aged 14, she made her professional debut at the Detroit Club Congo. It led to theatre and club work throughout the Mid-West and the East and, eventually, a place with Dizzy Gillespie’s 1949 big band, as well as jobs with other leading jazz groups like Erroll Garner’s trio and Howard McGhee’s quintet. Musically speaking she was quickly dining at the top table.
She brought to it some striking assets - great time, a warm, illuminating and inviting way with lyrics, and an innately musical approach. They were all wrapped in an attractively husky, even lusty, voice that placed her, as a stylist, in a spot somewhere between Anita O’Day and June Christy that she made her own.
Moving to New York she worked the nightclub circuit and 1955 debuted on record with a program of varied, sophisticated standards on two 10” albums. Made for Jubilee, they confirmed her quality in the company of some of the Big Apple’s most capable jazzmen, among them Phil Sunkel, Billy Byers, Hal McKusick, Jimmy Raney, Barry Galbraith and Addison Farmer. In 1959, now at Seeco, she was backed by a quartet that included jazz notables Mundell Lowe, George Duvivier and Ed Shaughnessy for a relaxed demonstration of her affinity with the Great American Songbook and jazz musicians.
"Continuing with bringing to light recordings by jazz artists who have been mostly forgotten, Fresh Sound has released Complete Jubilee & Seeco Recordings (Fresh Sound – 909) by vocalist Betty (Bette) St. Claire.
She worked with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Howard McGhee and Erroll Garner, made the recordings compiled on this CD, and then disappeared from the scene. Her warm sound, at times reminiscent of June Christy and at others of early Sarah Vaughan combined with a nice feeling for lyrics to produce vocals that stand up well some 60 years after the were recorded.
The musicians on the three sessions covered on this compilation include the likes of Hal McKusick, Billy Byers, Gene DiNovi, Barry Galbraith, Addison Farmer, Stan Free, Mundell Lowe, George Duvivier and Ed Shaughnessy. Her choice of tunes is of equal quality, with “Out of Nowhere,” “East of the Sun,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” “’Tis Autumn,” “You’re Laughing At Me” and “Like Someone in Love.” Whether caressing a ballad or taking the tempo up a few notches, St. Claire is equally comfortable and effective. Betty St. Claire may be a lost name from the past, but this collection should bring her happily to the attention of those wise enough to purchase it."
Joe Lang (October, 2017)
Jersey Jazz Magazine
"Fresh Sound Records keeps finding these obscure vocalists that had a brief time in the spotlight before drifting away. This latest discovery is of Betty St. Claire (1927-1972), who actually had a gig with Dizzy Gillespie, Erroll Garner and Howard McGhee before stepping out on her own. This single disc contains the material from two 10” albums, and the supporting musicians are top notch, including Hal McKusick/cl-as, Barry Galbraith/g, Addison Farmer/b, Mundell Lowe/g, George Duvivier/b and Ed Shaughnessy.
She’s got a husky R&B-ish type voice, sort of like mid career Sarah Vaughan without the operatic overtures. She feels earthy and relaxed on adventurous reads of “Out of Nowhere” and “East of the Sun.” There’s an unpolished edge to her tone as on “My One and Only Love” and “Skylark” that give them a working class feel, while “Prelude To A Kiss” has her toying with the harmonies as if she wrote the piece. She does wonders with Galbraith’s accompaniment on “ I Hadn’t Anyone But You” and bops a bit with McKusick’s alto on “Almost Like Being In Love.” This one’s worth looking for!"
George W. Harris (January 9, 2017)
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