Sathima Bea Benjamin sings with the clarity of mellowed church bells. One is not apt to misunderstand a single word in any of her songs. It’s that particular asset that truly impressed Duke Ellington four decades ago.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1936, Benjamin in her teen years was influenced by the recordings of American pop and jazz figures including Nat Cole, Doris Day, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Upon leaving school, the young singer joined Arthur Klugman’s traveling show Coloured Jazz & Variety
for a short period. She found work wherever she could and returned to Cape Town in 1959 where she met and married pianist/composer Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim). Due to the political and racial situation in South Africa at the time, the pair joined many others of their countrymen in exile in Europe. Benjamin and her husband chose Zurich and brought along some other members of their band.
In Europe, she had the opportunity to work with a number of American jazz stars including John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, Don Byas, Bud Powell and most importantly, Duke Ellington. Ellington was immediately taken with Benjamin’s brilliant vocal prowess, much as he had earlier with the Swedish singer, Alice Babs.
The Duke produced a recording session, "Duke Ellington Presents The Dollar Brand Trio" but it languished in the record company’s vault for decades. It was finally issued in 1996 under the title A Morning In Paris
and is no longer available.
Sathima Bea Benjamin returned to Cape Town in 2002, where she recorded the album we review today. Musical Echoes
features the vocalist with her longtime accompanist Stephen Scott and two of South Africa’s finest jazz players, bassist Basil Moses and drummer Lulu Gontsana. The session includes the compositions of Gershwin, Noel Coward, Rodgers & Hart, Irving Berlin and three by Ellington. "Musical Echoes" is penned by Benjamin and Stephen Scott. A quick glance at the tune listing below will attest to this singer’s infallible good taste.
While this is the first opportunity for this reviewer to hear Sathima Bea Benjamin, it’s easy to understand why she has the admiration of so many jazz musicians. She has a sound and style that is all her own and it’s quite beautiful. Musical Echoes
is recommended listening and sound samples can be heard at Amazon.