Favorite Jazz Ballad Vocal Performances?

I was sitting on the porch at my lakehouse with the lovely Mrs. JC yesterday afternoon and we were listing to a playlist I had made for my iPod of various ballad performances. Yes, I do have an iPod and other various digital devices and I do not only listen to music playing on a turntable, although that is always the preferred method when available. Anyway, as we were listening, one of the tracks was “Jim” from the Sarah Vaughan album with Clifford Brown, Emarcy 36004. I mentioned quite randomly that many jazz fans and jazz collectors consider this track to be one of the greatest jazz vocal ballad performances of all time. I’m not sure where I came up with that information, but it was definitely lodged in my brain somewhere: Perhaps there was a vote somewhere, or perhaps it had just come up in late night discussion over a few beverages. Anyway, I thought it might be an interesting topic for a lazy weekday afternoon in August, so I’m throwing it out there for the Jazz Collector community. Favorite jazz ballad vocal performances. Okay, go!


  • That’s a tough question, because there are some many great contributions to that field.
    I think, that “Over the rainbow” by Lorez Alexandria is quite memorable, as well as the performances of John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, especially “Dedicated to you.”. This is so mellow and relaxed and you’ll get into that mood instantly. Trane is just wonderful!
    I like the record of Anita O’Day with The Three Sounds pretty much, because Gene Harris plays so tenderly and heartfelt on all these tunes. “Fly my to the moon” is gorgeous. And last but not least, “My funny valentine” sung by Chet Baker.

  • Al-favorite ballads? Here are four(I’ve got dozens that I absolutely love),in no particular order: “Love Me” Sarah Vaughn(1958). I’m playing this as I write-tenor fills by Zoot,arrangements by Quincy Jones and Sarah at the top of her game.
    “Why Can’t You Behave?” Ella Fitzgerald(Cole Porter Songbook)This gets my vote for the perfect ballad recording,if such exists.
    “Come Sunday” Andy Bey(The Searcher) This is hidden away on saxophonist Bob Malach’s 1988 cd. Worth tracking down for Bey’s performance alone.
    “That Sunday,That Summer” Betty Carter (Look What I’ve Got)Betty was a favorite,and her ability to convey a sense of loss,of reaching for something just beyond your grasp,is on full display here. The tune ends on such a note-which always makes me look for the ‘repeat’ button.

  • Man, you’re asking for it by posing a question like that! Like Ceedee I have dozens. But if I have to pick just one it’s Coltrane/Hartman “My One and Only Love”, not just for the vocal but for Trane’s breathtaking playing. In fact, I’m reading a history of Impulse records right now where it’s claimed that the first take of that tune was blown when Hartman, so mesmerized by Coltrane’s intro, forgot to come in on time.

  • indeed, there is only one and that will be: Ella Fitzgerald and Ellis Larkin- Someone to watch over me

  • Helen Merrill with Quincy Jones AND Clifford Brown:What’s new,1954.
    Lady Day:Body and soul.
    I do prefer instrumentals but I’ve everything sung by Billie Holiday.

  • Tough one Al !!!

    …Favorite Jazz Vocal Ballad:

    (1.)”Solitude” (or “I’ll Be Seeing You”) by Lady Day

    (2.)”What a Diff’rence a Day Made” by Dinah Washington

    …Favorite Jazz Instrumental Ballad:

    (1.) “Autumn Leaves” by Cannonball Adderley from the classic LP Somethin’ Else

    (2.)”Central Park West” by John Coltrane from the LP Coltrane’s Sound.

  • …But seriously, to answer your question properly Al: If I actually had to choose but ONE Jazz vocal ballad to accompany me to, ohhhh to let’s say a deserted island, or perhaps a secluded lake house with the wife for example… It would definitely be “These Foolish Things” by Billie Holiday.

    I believe this debate is actually documented in Dante’s Devine Comedy somewhere under one of the circles of hell if I am not mistaken !!!

  • Yes, this was a bit of a silly assignment, I guess, but it’s kind of fun to think about these things once in a while. Of course I never weighed in with my favorites. I’m at a slight disadvantage not being home with my records, but I’ll choose a few off the top of my head:

    Ray Charles and Betty Carter, Everytime We Say Goodbye (this was my wedding song)
    Coltrane/Hartman, You Are Too Beautiful
    Billie Holiday, Crazy He Calls Me
    Sarah Vaughan, Jim, as previously mentioned
    I’ll come up with something by Ella, probably from one of the Song Books (Rodgers and Hart, or Cole Porter perhaps), but I can’t think of one now. Rather, I can’t think of JUST one now.

  • …This really leads us into that whole “What if you could only take one Jazz LP ?” debate as well Al ! (The phrase “All or nothing at all” comes to mind in these scenarios…) How do you choose on a moments notice after collecting and enjoying this music all your life ? The ballad debate got me thinking once I got home from the office and started looking through my own collection. I have a feeling I would probably keep something predictable like ‘Kind of Blue’ or ‘Blue Train’ despite my love affair with Lady Day… One of the albums that first lured me into to this wonderful music to begin with would probably end up as my keep-sake I suspect.

  • Ahhhhh what the hell… I’m taking ‘Kind of Blue’ !!! I know its not a Blue Note, but with Miles, Coltrane, Cannonball and the rest of the lads how can you go wrong ?!

  • indeed ,what the hell, at one time or the other this topic is bound to come up..it must!
    BN: Somethin’ Else
    non-BN: art farmer-from sweden with love

  • …Great call on Cannonball’s Somethin’ Else LP there Maarten ! It’s a worthy selection that’s for sure.

  • ALERT! Guys,don’t forget the theme-“favorite jazz ballad vocal performances”. Favorite LPS are another matter entirely(unless,of course,it’s a jazz VOCAL lp!) Incidentally,when I listed a few cuts I tried to avoid the perennial favorites like Coltrane/Hartman(in a class by itself). Ah,heck-here’s one more: “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out Of My Life” Natalie Cole (Take A Look). A beautiful arrangement which has the added benefit of featuring Herbie Hancock on acoustic piano,John Clayton on bass,Jeff Hamilton on drums. This 1993 release is consistently rewarding-a keeper!

  • “The folks who lived on the hill”..JO STAFFORD, (Album “Jo+Jazz”)

    Best regards,

  • Nice one,Marmarosa! Now,how about that same tune”The Folks Who Live On The Hill” as done by David Allyn? Beautiful(if you can find it)!

  • Before I upset anyone let me say I have all the Ella songbooks and every Sarah Vaughan album/CD but I’m goinbg to choose Lush Life by Donna Summer. Written by Billy Strayhorn who worked for Ellington when he was only about 18. Try it!

  • Don’t Explain by Helen Merrill. “Hush now” whisper-sung into a close Mike leaves by dead silent in listening rapture, and then Clifford Brown comes in with a solo that will make you weep for the day that this was put to wax. I have the crappiest original pressing, full of noisy scratches but will play it, and often, stylus be damned.

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