Beryl Booker


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During a recording career that only spanned about 15 years, Philadelphia-born pianist and vocalizer Beryl Booker recorded some 45 titles. These fit nicely into two volumes released by the Classics label in 2006 and 2007. Recorded between October 8, 1946 and March 13, 1952, the 26 tracks that comprise the first installment elucidate Booker's stylistic solidarity with Erroll Garner. That similarity can clearly be heard in her upbeat playing on "I Wished on the Moon" and "Stay as Sweet as You Are," and on any of this compilation's 12 slow instrumental ballads. Also like Garner, Booker read no music and was almost entirely self-taught. Note that this compilation contains no less than seven examples of Beryl Booker the ballad singer. During the '50s she worked as an accompanist for Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington; their combined influences certainly colored her delivery, although Booker had her own earthily intimate style, which mingles beautifully with the mature Lady Day vibe on "You Better Go Now." As far as instrumentalists went, Booker almost invariably worked with some of the best on the scene. Tracks one through four -- her first session as a leader -- feature Booker in the company of guitarist Mary Osborne and bassist June Rotenberg. Recorded sometime during the year 1948, tracks five through ten bring on guitarist John Collins and bassist Slam Stewart, whose combo Booker joined in 1946 and with whom she would work on a semi-regular basis through 1952. Tracks eleven through fourteen represent recordings so rare as to be entirely absent from several standard discographical session indexes. Fifteen through eighteen showcase tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson and also feature Don Elliott, who blew the mellophonium and doubled on vibraphone. Only two of the last eight selections on this disc are upbeat; the rest are languid examples of Booker's dreamily lyrical approach to the art of the instrumental ballad, which again has a lot in common with the whimsicality of Garner. Perhaps the high point of her entire recording career was to take place in Paris in February 1954 when she had the opportunity to collaborate with tenor saxophonist Don Byas. Those recordings -- and what appears to be the rest of this woman's recorded legacy -- can be found on volume two of her complete works on the Classics Chronological Series.

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