A girl from Detroit who grew up listening to the French light operas composed by her great-uncle, who sang with dance bands until she got a music scholarship to Wellesley, graduated, came to New York, made a 78 for a tiny label with some very good trad jazzmen -- Cutty Cutshall, Eddie Barefield, Peewee Erwin -- then found herself on two of the hottest modern jazz labels in New York, first Riverside, then Prestige, for whom she went out to Hackensack and Rudy Van Gelder's studio twice in 1956 (winning Down Beat's best new singer award), then four more times in 1957. Then a long hiatus, during which she worked as an actress and a teacher, until the late 1970s, when people started remembering that here was a singer who cared deeply about the best American popular songs, and could interpret a great lyric like no one else.
And, as always, every session is different, and the story of the leader on the date is only part of the story. Barbara Lea had recorded five days earlier with a trio. On April 24th and 26th she was back in the studio with a seven piece band. It included Dick Cary, who played on all of her sessions, and Prestige veteran Jimmy Raney.
It included some of the finest accompanists of jazz and popular singers. Jimmy Lyon was best known as Mabel Mercer's accompanist, but also worked with June Christy, Polly Bergen and Connie Haines. Beverly Peer began his career with Ella Fitzgerald in the Chick Webb orchestra, and also worked with Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Johnny Mathis, and Barbra Streisand. Osie Johnson played on a session with Dinah Washington.
Lea called upon the services of some of the greatest songwriters in that American Songbook. Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer (for the obscure and wonderfully titled "Sleep Peaceful, Mr. Used-to-be") and others. She had the services of some wonderful musicians and some very interesting arrangements. And she delivered.
All of these were issued on the Lea in Love album. "Mountain Greenery" became a 45, along with "A Straw Hat Full of Lilace" from a subsequent session.
Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.