For many, Nancy Wilson will always be thought of as a jazz singer, breaking onto the scene after sitting in on a gig of Cannonball Adderley’s in the late fifties in Columbus, Ohio. John Levy, Nancy’s career-long manager, was also Adderley’s manager, thus leading the way to Nancy securing a recording contract with Capitol at age 22 and a fond association with Levy throughout her outstanding career. "John is one of the nicest people in the business and the greatest thing is that we are still together. Even when I was 15, he had the best reputation and because he is a musician, he always has the right concern," said Nancy.
From her first Capitol release "Like in Love" in 1959, Wilson earned an early jazz reputation, especially from her collaborative 1961 album with Cannonball Adderley, with Wilson dazzling listeners on selections like Save Your Love for Me
. "I never considered myself a jazz singer," explained Wilson. "I still don’t! The things I did in the early days perhaps, but they put new labels on things. I’m not ‘jazz’ in the tradition of Betty Carter or Sarah Vaughn. I’m more jazz-oriented, but I sing ballads. That’s what I love," she said.
Ballads certainly have been Wilson’s forte, represented in the outstandingly gorgeous 1969 reissue "But Beautiful," complimented by a backing of notables: Hank Jones on piano, Gene Bertoncini on guitar, Ron Carter, bass and Grady Tate on drums. Even more widely representative of her jazz-tinged and popular ballad standards is the 60-track set "Ballads, Blues & Big Bands/The Best of Nancy Wilson, Capitol 1996. You couldn’t include a finer set of Wilson’s expertise to your collection. You might be surprised at Nancy’s all-time favorite songs/album. It didn’t receive as high a rating as most of her other albums, but her reply was adamant. "Lush Life the entire album," she answered.
Nancy’s association with Capitol during the 60’s was a productive one, coming in second behind the Beatles in revenue for the label. It was during this time that she branched out recording the pop standards of the era, producing over 30 Billboard chart albums for Capitol. Not skipping a beat in her recording popularity, Nancy had her own Emmy Award-winning series "The Nancy Wilson Show" on NBC, and was a favored guest for variety, quiz, sitcoms, and late night television.
Her live performances have always been a thrill for her most cherished fans. "The venues I like don’t exist any more," lamented Wilson. "They were the old dinner clubs in San Francisco, New York City, even the old Las Vegas the way it used to be. Those were the best," she recalled.
Her contemporary Columbia releases still found Nancy in the forefront of popularity, pairing with Barry Manilow for the Johnny Mercer tribute CD. They were well written and beautifully performed. It was also during this association that Nancy returned to the periphery of jazz with tributes to jazz’s admirable ladies--Ella, Billy, Carmen, Dinah and Sarah as well as being featured with other Columbia jazz artists and the duet CD produced by Ramsey Lewis, "The Two of Us."
It would seem almost natural that after 44 years of all-encompassing success and award-winning commendation, Nancy Wilson would prove to be the obvious choice to host National Public Radio’s poignant "Jazz Profiles" Series. "I did a two hour special on Ella Fitzgerald in New York," said Nancy. "Tim Owens (Jazz Profiles producer) also produced that. So, then they asked me to do the Jazz Profiles show," she explained.
No one could host the series with more style and magnetism than the lovely Nancy Wilson, conveying the stories and careers of jazz masters, most who are, or were, still living and performing at the time of presentation. It is a wonderful and fitting legacy to jazz and our American heritage. "I find out things I didn’t know before," said Nancy. "People assume you know all these things being involved in the industry. Sometimes I find myself saying, ‘I didn’t know that that is really interesting!’ Of course, the music is the most important part of the show," she said.
Jazz Profiles was inspired by a comment made by Barry Harris at the funeral of jazz pianist, Al Haig. "The time to think about Al Haig was while he was still living," said Harris, "and each of us should do whatever we can to see to it that these people are celebrated before they die." The weekly broadcast is heard over 200 NPR affiliated stations throughout the country and Nancy hosts a wealth of information on topics that include instruments of jazz, jazz cities, places, families and a host of archival recordings with interviews and narration. "It is not time consuming at all," said Nancy, "only a couple days a month. I’m only doing the narration. Each show takes me about an hour and a half to record at NPR in Santa Monica. I’ve been doing the show for five years now," she said.
Nancy has pretty much done everything she ever wanted to do, including spending time with her three adorable grandchildren pictured here accompanying this review. "It’s never been easy for a woman in the industry. I think a female is a little different in the way she looks at things. I wanted to do the music, but not at the expense of being happy," said Nancy.
One thing she is particularly happy about is the new release of her first Christmas album "A Nancy Wilson Christmas" Telarc 2001. All proceeds from the sale of this album go to benefit Bill Strickland’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Jazz Program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "I believe so strongly in Bill Strickland’s vision of investing in the human spirit, that I personally wanted to contribute to the mission and work of this remarkable organization," said Nancy in her liner notes.
Friends joining Nancy on this benefit holiday album are the Nancy Wilson Trio, the New York Voices, the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Band, Herbie Mann, Monty Alexander, Claudio Roditi, Ali Ryerson, James Moody, Jimmie Heath, Jon Faddis, Earl Garner, Antonio Hart, Renee Rosnes, Slide Hampton and countless others. It’s a good mix of timeless Christmas standards and inspirational selections benefiting a most noteworthy organization and adding to the already impressive attributes of the elegant Miss Wilson...humanitarian.
Human as the next person, but most elegant in nature, JazzReview extends a sincere thank you to Miss Wilson who suffering from an extreme case of jet lag after just returning from Switzerland and two weeks in Japan, graciously consented to this interview.
Help Nancy Wilson in supporting the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Jazz Program by purchasing Nancy’s first Christmas album, and look for a full-boxed set coming out on Capitol, and a CD with Ramsey Lewis to be released next Spring. For more information on Nancy Wilson, her tour schedule and discography, please visit www.missnancywilson.com and National Public Radio’s Jazz Profiles at www.npr.org. Bibliography:
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