Here is a fine offering from Koch Jazz in the form of a reissue of a United Recording session from December 1964. Mavis Rivers and Red Norvo perform the music of Mildred Bailey.
Perhaps Mavis Rivers will be unknown to younger jazz fans but will be fondly remembered by those of us with grey or missing hair. Rivers was born in British Samoa in 1929 and was one of 13 children. Her father was a bandleader in the Hawaiian style. Mavis and her family moved to New Zealand about 1949 where she performed on radio and at dance halls. She later settled in Los Angeles and married bassist, David Catingub.
A recording contract followed with Capitol Records where she turned out a number of vinyl issues with arranger Dick Reynolds. Even in those early recordings, Mavis was singing tunes made popular by Mildred Bailey. One of those was "Home", penned by Peter Van Steeden in 1931 and Mildred recorded it within months.
Enough history! Let’s get to the meat of this great reissue. Mavis and Red Norvo are ideal for this session. Norvo was, as you all know, married to Mildred for years. Mavis Rivers makes no attempt to copy Bailey’s voice and style but manages to successfully capture her "essence and demeanor". There will never be another Mildred Bailey!
Here are a few of the dozen songs presented on this CD. How about "There’ll Be Some Changes Made", "Georgia On My Mind", "Rockin’ Chair", "I’m Confessin’", "Seems Like Old Times" and "Ghost of a Chance."
The musicians including Norvo, Sweets Edison, Eric Dixon and the great Bill Harris all throw in some fine solos making this a really good session. The beautiful exchanges between Mavis, Sweets and Norvo on "Seems Like Old Times" are well worth the price of the CD.
Mavis died in 1992 after suffering a stroke on-stage. Her son, saxophonist Matt Catingub, recently performed "Songs My Mother Sang" at a concert with his band in Auckland, New Zealand in September 2000.