b/w So In Love
(Written by Billy Eckstine)
Motown boss Berry Gordy had once lost a lot of money running a failed jazz record store, and his attempt to launch a successful and credible jazz label – Workshop Jazz Records – had foundered in the spring of 1962 with two failed singles, Hank and Carol Diamond’s Exodus and the Earl Washington All Stars’ Opus No. 3. His desire to succeed in the world of jazz still burned bright, however, and so at the start of 1963 Gordy and Motown A&R chief Mickey Stevenson relaunched the project, their PR efforts implying this was a brand-new venture and quietly drawing a veil over the failed first two singles.
For the label’s relaunch, the best part of a year after its first abortive steps, Gordy and Stevenson decided to reach for a universally-known jazz “standard” straight away. This song – part of the regular live repertoire for many jazz legends of the time, most notably John Coltrane – was written and originally performed by legendary bandleader and entertainer Billy Eckstine, Mr B himself, one of the first black recording artists to enjoy significant crossover appeal in America (and later, in the mid-Sixties, a Motown signing). Mr B’s version had appeared in 1946 for a longer remake of his 1945 “soundie” short, Rhythm In A Riff, and it’s that version which Paula Greer covers faithfully here.
Paula Greer was an excellent choice to lead the new and improved label’s relaunch push. A veteran of the Chicago jazz scene with several years of experience in that city’s clubs and bars, Greer has a fine contralto voice for this kind of material, low, sinuous and smoky; unlike the Workshop Jazz label’s previous foray into jazz vocals, Hank and Carol Diamond’s borderline-MOR cover of Pat Boone’s Exodus, this is very definitely a proper jazz record.
Greer does well with it, and it’s a nice tune, but my reaction to this is the same reaction I have to almost all vocal smooth jazz – it’s pretty, works well playing in the background, but lacks verve and punch, lacks excitement. It goes on for nearly four and a half minutes, and feels almost double that. Paula gives a highly competent reading, but it’s just not my cup of tea; your mileage may vary.
It’s well-produced, and there’s much to enjoy in Greer’s vocal – the central bit, “The moon and the stars / The objects on Mars” bit, is particularly good – but it’s hard to escape that flat, Forties feeling, as though this could have easily been released fifteen years previously. Timeless, or dated? Certainly it feels dated now, at any rate.
As it turned out, this wasn’t used as the spearhead of the Workshop Jazz revival at all – the single was inexplicably shelved, both sides also being left off Paula’s upcoming Workshop Jazz LP Introducing Paula Greer. She, and the label, would get another chance.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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“So In Love”