TERESA BREWER WITH COUNT BASIE & THAD JONES -THE SONGS OF BESSIE SMITH/DUKE ELLINGTON WITH TERESA BREWER-IT DON’T MEAN A THING IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING.

TERESA BREWER WITH COUNT BASIE & THAD JONES -THE SONGS OF BESSIE SMITH/DUKE ELLINGTON WITH TERESA BREWER-IT DON’T MEAN A THING IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING.

Eighteen years after releasing her debut album Music, Music, Music on Coral, Teresa Brewer was signed to Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. Theresa’s career was now into its fourth decade. The former teen idol, was now in the process of reinventing herself as a jazz singer. This started in 1973, when Teresa entered the recording studio with Count Basie and Thad Jones.

By then, Count Basie was sixty-nine. The pianist and bandleader was looking forward to working with Teresa Brewer. It was a challenge, one he was looking forward to. He was the leader of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band. They would accompany Teresa Brewer on her 1973 album The Songs Of Bessie Smith. Billed as Teresa Brewer With Count Basie and Thad Jones, this collaboration was the start of the reinvention of Theresa Brewer.

The start of the reinvention of Teresa Brewer was The Songs Of Bessie Smith. This continued on Duke Ellington With Teresa Brewer collaboration It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing. These two albums have been released as a two on one by Boplicty, an imprint of Ace Records. It’s marks the beginning of the reinvention of Theresa Brewer, which began with The Songs Of Bessie Smith, in 1973.

The Songs Of Bessie Smith.

Having spent so much of her life singing popular music, by the early seventies, Teresa Smith was tired of being pigeonholed. She wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. So, with her husband Bob Thiele’s help, Teresa set about reinventing herself as a jazz singer. 

Bob a producer, who owned his own record label, Flying Dutchman Productions could make this happen. He had the means and the contacts. However, he could only make this happen if his wife Teresa Brewer had the potential to make it as a jazz singer. To Bob, and those around him, it was obvious Teresa had the potential to switch to jazz. 

Over the last four decades, Teresa had enjoyed unrivalled commercial success and critical acclaim. She seemed to have the ability to breath life and meaning into a wide range of songs. So, switching from pop and standards to jazz didn’t seem beyond Teresa Brewer. The only way to find out, was to have  Teresa release her jazz debut, The Songs Of Bessie Smith.

For her jazz debut, Teresa Brewer decided to revisit the songbook of Bessie Smith, The Empress Of The Blues. She was, without doubt, one of the greatest female blues singers ever. Her recording career began in the twenties, and before long Bessie was the highest paid African-American performer of the twenties. So, Teresa chose nine songs made famous by The Empress Of The Blues for her jazz debut.

Teresa was spoilt for choice when she visited the Bessie Smith songbook. Eventually, she chose nine songs. This included Trombone Cholly, Gulf Coast Blues, Down Hearted Blues, Baby Won’t You Please Come Home and St. Louis Blues. Other tracks were After You’ve Gone, I Ain’t Got Nobody, Gimme A Pigfoot and I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle, these tracks became The Songs Of Bessie Smith.

When recording of The Songs Of Bessie Smith got underway, Teresa Brewer was accompanied by Count Basie and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band. Arranging and conducting the nine tracks was Thad Jones. Bob Thiele produced The Songs Of Bessie Smith, where Theresa pays homage to The Empress Of The Blues.

Before the release of The Songs Of Bessie Smith, the critics had their say on the reinvention of Teresa Brewer. Critical acclaimed accompanied The Songs Of Bessie Smith.They hailed the reinvention of Teresa Brewer. This was Teresa Brewer as she’d never been heard before. Critics were spellbound.

Sadly, music lovers weren’t. There was a reason for this. On its release in 1973, The Songs Of Bessie Smith wasn’t a commercial success. With only a few discerning music lovers buying The Songs Of Bessie Smith, most people mussed out in what was the start of the reinvention of Teresa Brewer.

Teresa couldn’t have picked a better track to open The Songs Of Bessie Smith, that Trombone Cholly. Her sassy vocal breathes new life and meaning into Trombone Cholly. All the time, she’s accompanied by blazing horns, bursts of drums and Count Basie’s understated piano. He’s the perfect foil for Teresa, as her vocal veers between sassy, to a feisty roar. From there, Teresa has you captivated.

Gulf Coast Blues is given a similar big band makeover. Teresa combining melancholia and power, makes the song her own. She doesn’t want to be compared to Bessie Smith. After all, there was only ever one Empress Of The Blues. Stylistically, the pair are far removed. Bessie sounded as if she’d lived the blues she was singing. Teresa wasn’t a blues singer, and her career as a jazz singer was in its infancy.

You wouldn’t realise that as Teresa interprets the heartache of Down Hearted Blues. Especially, when accompanied by Count Basie and the Orchestra. They provide a smokey, late-night arrangement. This continues on Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, where Teresa delivers a needy, hopeful vocal. Then it’s all change.

On St. Louis Blues, Teresa, accompanied by braying horns, grabs the song and makes it swing. At this moment, Teresa’s reinvention was complete. She delivers a vocal powerhouse, before ensuring After You’ve Gone swings, and then some. It’s an irresistible sound. Especially, when the big band for company. Later, they take centre-stage, and prove a perfect foil for Teresa. No wonder, with Count Basie as bandleader and pianist.

Count Basie, whose playing has been understated, but has played a crucial part in the success of The Songs Of Bessie Smith so far, delivers one of his best solos on I Ain’t Got Nobody. Teresa drops the tempo, and with a vocal full of loneliness and regret, swings her way through I Ain’t Got Nobody. Then when her vocal drops out, up steps Count Basie. He delivers a masterclass on piano. This continues on Gimme A Pigfoot, a Bessie Smith classic.

Realising that there was only one Empress Of The Blues, Teresa doesn’t try to copy Bessie Smith. That’s been the case throughout The Songs Of Bessie Smith. Instead, kicking loose, and combining power and passion, she reinterprets Gimme A Pigfoot. With the big band for company, Teresa pays homage to a true blues legend, Bessie Smith.

I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle closes The Songs Of Bessie Smith. Teresa digs deep, and embraces the role of jazz singer. With the big band for company, she produces one of her best performances. There’s even a bluesy hue to her vocal. Teresa almost struts her way through the lyrics, delivering them with a defiance. This seems a fitting finale to Teresa Brewer’s homage to Bessie Smith.

The Songs Of Bessie Smith was the start of the reinvention of Teresa Brewer. After four decades singing pop and standards, she was determined to change direction. It was a case of needs must. 

No longer was Teresa enjoying the commercial success she enjoyed in the forties and fifties. While she enjoyed a degree of success during the sixties, by the seventies, Teresa Brewer’s career had stalled. She had no option, but to reinvent herself as a jazz singer. This was a risky move.

Not everyone could switch seamlessly from pop to jazz. Many had tried, and many had failed. So, Teresa was putting her career on the line. After all, she risked alienating her loyal fans. However, their numbers were greatly reduced, so Teresa felt she’d nothing to loose.

Unfortunately, The Songs Of Bessie Smith wasn’t a commercial success. It didn’t sell, and initially, it seemed as if the reinvention of Teresa Brewer had been a failure. Then Teresa Brewer’s collaboration with Count Basie and Thad Jones was heard by another jazz legend, Duke Wellington. 

So impressed was the Duke, that he asked “when are we going to make a record?” Teresa didn’t need to be asked twice, and they would collaborate on It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing.

It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing.

When the collaboration between Teresa and Duke Ellington began, the Duke was seventy-four. He was one of jazz’s legendary figures. In a six decade career, the Duke had achieved just about everything.  Critical acclaim and commercial success had accompanied the Duke throughout his career. However, during the early seventies, his popularity had declined. Maybe, working with Teresa Brewer, could rejuvenate his career?

For Teresa, who’d enjoyed a four decade career, but who was a relative newcomer to jazz, working with Duke Ellington, was one of the highlights of her career. It was an honour and privilege. In less than a year, she’d worked with Count Basie and now, Duke Ellington. Surely, it couldn’t get better than this?

For her collaboration with Duke Ellington, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing, Teresa chose ten tracks penned by the Duke. He’d written I’ve Got To Be A Rugcutter and cowrote the other nine tracks on It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing. This included classics It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, Satin Doll, Mood Indigo and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. Other tracks included I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues, I’m Beginning To See The Light, I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good, Tulip Or Turnip, It’s Kinda Lonesome Out Tonight and Poco Mucho. These ten tracks became Teresa’s collaboration with Duke Ellington, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing.

For recording of It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing. The usual practice for a Flying Dutchman Productions’ session, was that Bob Thiele brought in his favoured musicians. However, this time, Bob Thiele’s rhythm section of drummer Bernard Purdie, guitarist Joe Beck and percussionist Mtume only played on three tracks, Tulip Of Turnip, Mood Indigo and Poco Mucho. Replacing Bob’s favoured players, were some of the Duke’s sidemen. While this may have put a few of Bob’s sidemen’s nose out of joint, it was most likely the Duke’s way or no way. So, between 4th-6th September 1973, the ten tracks that became It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing were recorded and were released as 1973 drew to a close.

At the end of 1973, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing was released. The album was well received by critics, who remarked that It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing featured a much more mature Teresa Brewer. She was no longer a pop singer. Her, transformation to jazz singer was complete on It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing.

What better way to start It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, than with the title-track. Teresa and the Duke, accompanied by stabs of blazing horns, swing their way through the classic. Later, the Duke and Teresa even add a scat, which seem to inspire them to greater heights, on a blistering version of a classic from the Great American Songbook.

On I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues, Teresa lives the lyrics, as she combines blues and jazz. Accompanied by the big band, it’s a reminder of another age. So are covers of two of the Duke’s best known tracks, Satin Doll and Mood Indigo.

From the opening bars, Satin Doll swings. Teresa takes the song in a slightly different direction. With stabs of braying horns, the Duke’s slinky piano and an understated rhythm section for company, new life is breathed into an oft-covered classic. The same can be said of Mood Indigo. With the help of Bob Thiele’s rhythm section, Mood Indigo is reinvented. Especially with Teresa delivering a vocal that veers between sultry and sensual to moody and wistful. The continued reinvention of the Duke Ellington songbook continues with Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. From the get-go, it takes on an old school jazz sound. Teresa doesn’t hold back, delivering a vocal that’s a mixture of power, regret and emotion. After this, there’s a change in direction.

Encouraged by the Duke, I’m Beginning To See The Light literally explodes into life. Teresa’s urgent vocal and the Duke’s piano play leading roles. It’s fast and furious. Despite this, it’s a flawless performance, as the reinvention of Teresa Brewer and the Duke Ellington songbook continues. I’ve Got To Be A Rug Cutter has a similar urgency as it unfolds. With its vintage sounding arrangement, jazz and blues merge into one, before Teresa and Duke Ellington swing their way through I’ve Got To Be A Rug Cutter.

I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good has a moody, late-night sound. Teresa’s voice is transformed. She sounds as if she’s living the hurt and heartache in the arrangement. Behind her, understated arrangement compliments her vocal, on what’s one of the highlights of It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.

Tulip Or Turnip features the return of Bob Thiele’s rhythm section. The Duke’s piano and Joe Beck’s crystalline guitar join the bass in producing a jaunty arrangement. Atop it, sits Teresa and the Duke’s vocal. They swing their way through the track, before Joe Beck almost steals the show with his guitar solo. However, this inspires Teresa and the Duke, who proceed to raise their game.

The two final tracks on It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing had never been released before. Stabs of piano open the wistful sounding It’s Kinda Lonesome Out Tonight. Soon, the arrangement unfolds and the Orchestra frame Teresa’s heartbroken vocal. They’re like yin and yang on this hidden gem, complementing each other perfectly. Poco Mucho is the other unreleased track. Here, Bob Thiele’s favoured rhythm section and the Orchestra join forces with Teresa. She delivers another jazzy vocal powerhouse. Meanwhile, the Duke adds another understated performance on piano. He takes care not to steal the show, as Teresa Brewer’s produces another captivating performance.

It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing was a landmark album for Teresa Brewer. Her transformation from pop to jazz singer was complete. The reinvents of Teresa Brewer was complete on It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing. However, it was a bittersweet moment.

Despite proving a talented jazz singer on The Songs and Bessie Smith and It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing, which were recently reissued as a two on one by Boplicity, an imprint of Ace Records, neither album was a commercial success. Lightning it seemed, had struck twice. Following the disappointing sales of The Songs and Bessie Smith, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing fare much better. It seemed that Teresa Brewer’s decision to move from pop to jazz had been in vain. 

That’s despite releasing two underrated albums The Songs Of Bessie Smith and It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing are two hidden gems in Teresa Brewer’s discography. These two albums marked a turning point in her career. After The Songs Of Bessie Smith and It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing, Teresa Brewer concentrated on jazz music. These two albums marked the birth of a jazz singer. However, for Duke Ellington, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing was his swan-song.

Less than six months after the release of It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing Duke Ellington died on May 24th 1974. After a long and illustrious career, jazz music lost one of its legendary figures. Fittingly, on what proved to be his swan-song, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing, Duke Ellington was acting as mentor to Teresa Brewer, whose jazz career was in its infancy. With the Duke Ellington and Count Basie’s help, Teresa Brewer enjoyed a long and successful career. However, the albums that launched Teresa Brewer’s career as a jazz singer, were The Songs Of Bessie Smith and It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Don’t Have That Swing.

TERESA BREWER WITH COUNT BASIE & THAD JONES -THE SONGS OF BESSIE SMITH/DUKE ELLINGTON WITH TERESA BREWER-IT DON’T MEAN A THING IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING.

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1 Comment

  1. You have some interesting information, like about the sales. Do you have some special sources?

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