she was coaxed out of the audience by a guitarist friend at Henri’s Room at the San Francisco Hilton to sing a song, and she immediately got a job from Conrad and Barron Hilton. Part of her repertoire stems from the music she heard growing up in the Fillmore District of San Francisco, and with five of her musician friends (and educators themselves), she regularly performed at Rasselas in the Fillmore District. Margie’s friends here include Fred Berry on trumpeter; Omar Clay on drums; Duncan James on guitar; John MacKay on the Hammond B3; and Don Ramsey on saxophone and flute. They bring a depth of blues and jazz experience here.
Her newest CD, Margie Baker and Friends Live at Rasselas is subtitled: “A Musical History of the San Francisco Fabulous Fillmore District of the Forties.” As she explains in the accompanying booklet: “I gave the musicians one ultimatum: the three hour gig must consist of the music that nurtured me… African-American music of the 1930’s and 1940’s (sometimes referred to as race music). And the music includes a number of familiar songs associated with Louis Jordan, Faye Adams, Duke Ellington, Joe Liggins, Percy Mayfield, Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, Billy Eckstine, Roy Milton, Nat Cole, James Moody, and Buddy Johnson and Billy Holiday, with performances that are rooted in the swing and jump blues era but given a seventies organ lounge flavor.
Margie Baker is a wonderful singer who puts plenty of feeling in her singing while maintaining a relaxed quality to her delivery. This is notable on the fine rendition of “Shake a Hand where saxophonist Ramsey and guitarist James make their presence felt. On Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Berry takes a nice muted solo with MacKay laying the foundation on the B3 while Clay keeps the groove in the pocket. Another Ellington ballad I Got It Bad and That Ain’t No Good, shows Baker in a subdued mood along with some nice chording from guitarist James and muted trumpet accompaniment from Berry.
Next up are a pair of tunes from the Louis Jordan starting with Early in the Morning, with Clay setting forth the groove before Don Ramsey rips off a tough tenor sax solo raising the temperature of the performance. Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying is among my favorite of the ballad performances by Jordan with Berry’s trumpet responding to Baker singing about “Mama got salty, you made her so sore.” She really caresses the lyric here and one also appreciates how the band does not feel the need to fill in every space around the vocal. MacKay gets to take his B3 down in the alley on this. Joe Liggins’ I Got a Right to Cry, is taken at a moderate tempo with Ramsey taking another tenor sax solo with the organ and guitar comping under him. James tastefulness as an accompanist to Baker’s strong singing, is perhaps best shown on his playing on Please Send Me Someone To Love. Fine Brown Frame beings a more playful vocal (in the vein of a Nellie Lutcher) along with bouncy backing with Berry playing wide open.
Billy Eckstine sang the ballad, I’m Falling For You, with Earl Hines Orchestra although it is not as familiar as the famous blues associated with him, Jelly Jelly, on which Baker also gives her interpretation to. On the latter tune Ramsey sets the tone with some potent tenor during the opening choruses before she delivers this uptown blues classic. Her vocals on these sandwich a punchy rendition of Roy Milton’s R.M. Blues, with a booting sax solo. The rendition of the Charlie Parker blues, “Parker’s Mood,” is with the lyrics King Pleasure added for his classic vocalese rendition.
The King Cole Trio’s Straighten Up and Fly Right, with a nice jazzy guitar break is followed by Baker’s terrific rendition of the Buddy Johnson ballad Since I Feel For You. She really delivers the goods on this ballad and she is equally home on another Buddy Johnson lament I Wonder Where Our Love Is Gone. Another highpoint is her rendition of Billie Holiday’s God Bless The Child, that opens with a verse from Herbie Nichols, Lady Sings the Blues.
Margie Baker is a wonderful singer who with her wonderful group celebrated the music of the 1940s and 1950s with plenty of feeling and enthusiasm that 2003 evening at Rasselas and we are thankful that over an hour of this joyous performance is available for listeners.
This review originally appeared in Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 334, March 15-May 1 2011) and I am pleased to now post on the blog. Margie provided me with the review copy. A week ago I posted review of Margie Baker’s Live at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society which I am supplementing with this post.