Bev Kelly

Bev Kelly in Person

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The history of jazz is full of talented singers who, for whatever reason, never became as well-known as they should have been. That is certainly true of Bev Kelly, an obscure Bay Area-based vocalist whose influences ranged from Anita O'Day to Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. It's safe to say that the vast majority of jazz lovers have never even heard of Kelly, but the singer did have an enthusiastic supporter in Orrin Keepnews, who produced this live date for Riverside. Recorded at the Coffee Gallery in San Francisco in 1960, In Person was out of print for a long time but finally became available on CD when Fantasy reissued it for Original Jazz Classics in 1999. Kelly had a raspy yet sweetly vulnerable delivery, and that approach serves her well on tasteful, introspective performances of well-known standards like "My Funny Valentine," "Long Ago and Far Away," and "Body and Soul." Kelly swings, but she does so in a subtle fashion. Thankfully, the singer has sympathetic accompaniment in alto saxman Pony Poindexter, pianist Flip Nunez, bassist Johnny Allen, and drummer Tony Johnson. Some bop-oriented instrumentalists have a hard time backing singers, but these Bay Area jazzmen enjoy a strong rapport with Kelly. So why was a singer as expressive as Kelly so obscure? One can only speculate. The music business is incredibly competitive as well as extremely political, and a lot of talented, deserving people inevitably fall through the cracks. In Person makes one wish that Kelly wasn't one of them.

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