Pearl Bailey


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Pearl Bailey was a magnificent jazz singer and comedienne. Check her out in front of the Cootie Williams Orchestra! That's Bud Powell back there behind the piano. Cleanhead Vinson and Lockjaw Davis are in the reed section. Pearl seems perfectly at home with this early modern-sounding big band, and Cootie puts extra sass in his horn to complement the lady's personality. Herman Chittison leads a much smaller and more intimate ensemble for "He Didn't Ask Me," a subtly soft-spoken lament with wistful incidental whistling. Pearl attracted a lot of attention by being unusually tough, candid, and outspoken in ways that few pop vocalists had ever dared to pursue. For a black woman to assert herself in this way anywhere near the mainstream was particularly refreshing during the late '40s. Pearl's high-stepping improvisations on "St. Louis Blues" are spectacular, but her relaxed conversational musings on "Tired" are perfectly timed theater, naturally hip and funny as hell. "I Ain't Talkin'" has a similar easy perfection about it. Some of this material is pure entertainment. "Personality" turns out to be a metaphor for booty. "That's Good Enough for Me," "Say It Simple," and "Get It Off Your Mind" are clever routines. Some of this stuff seems like it was inspired by Cole Porter's high camp. The Mitchell Ayres Orchestra likes to pour on a little extra glitz, and low-tech reverb makes it seem like Pearl is performing in a gymnasium. Finally, there's a two-part duet with Frank Sinatra. They sound at ease with each other: two actors with seasoned pipes who enjoy tearing apart a slow song note for note and phrase by phrase.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:05
2 2:36
3 3:10
4 2:37
5 2:14
6 3:20
7 3:05
10 3:16
11 3:12
12 3:12
13 2:52
14 2:55
15 3:19
16 3:06
17 3:07
18 3:13
20 3:07
21 3:27
22 3:08
blue highlight denotes track pick