Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Listening to Prestige Part 164: Earl Coleman
Actually, Earl Coleman never quite returned, never quite went away. His singing style, the rich Mr. B-type baritone, faded in popularity, but he hung on, singing in what one presumes were smaller venues, but always called upon to sing in some pretty distinguished musical settings. When he died in 1995, he received a featured obituary in the New York Times, which is something not given to every veteran jazz musician. including some who one might think of as having made more of a musical impact.
Coleman broke in in 1939, singing with Ernie Fields (he could only have been 14 at the time). The '40s saw him with Jay McShann, Earl Hines, and, interestingly, the Billy Eckstine orchestra, before his 1947 recording debut with Bird, and his one hit, "This is Always." He would also record with Howard McGhee and Fats Navarro.
In the 50s, he also recorded with Sonny Rollins and Elmo Hope, in the 60s with Don Byas (in Paris). with Gerald Wilson, and with Billy Taylor and Frank Foster. In the 8os, he worked and recorded for several years with Shirley Scott.
So what kept him, maybe on the fringes of jazz royalty, but still never far from those fringes, for a lot longer than a lot of the other Eckstine acolytes?
He was very good. And I really started to appreciate how good he was, listening to this session with some much younger musicians (and a veteran rhythm section composed of considerably older musicians--a very interesting group). His sound is very much influenced by Al Hibbler, as well as by Mr. B., and what's probably most important about him is that he works very well with musicians. He doesn't improvise a lot, but he listens to what they're doing, and he gives them a solid ground to solo from. This is true for Farmer and Gryce, and especially true for Jones.
Earl Coleman Returns was made up of this session and another later in 1956, with a smaller group.
No one has posted any of the Earl Coleman Returns tunes on YouTube, so to give you a sample, here he is with Billy Taylor;