Monday, February 20, 2012

Margie Baker's Sassy Jazz and Blues Vocals

Born in a dirt-shack in East Texas, Margie Baker grew up to earn a Doctorate in Education and become a jazz and blues vocalist, being mentored by Dizzy Gillespie. After getting coaxed out of the audience by a guitarist friend at Henri’s Room at the San Francisco Hilton to sing a song, she immediately got a job from Conrad and Barron Hilton leading to her singing two nights a week (5 nights during the Summer) at Henri’s Room as well as occasionally at other Hilton’s. Former Paul Butterfield pianist Mark Natfalin often had Margie sing with his band at festivals and Jimmy Lyons booked her not only at the Monterey Jazz Festival but at festivals worldwide.

At the age of 68, CAP Records has just issued her first nationally-released album, Live at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, a two-cd release with two sets from the Half Moon Bay venue just south of South Francisco. Guitarist Rodney Jones, Ruth Brown’s East Coast bandleader, is the best known of the backing band. Alan Steger and Shota Osabe are each heard on piano on one disc and synthesizer for the other disc while Harley White on bass and Omar Clay on drums completes the rhythm section. Horns are played by Fred Berry on trumpet and Michael O’Neill on saxophone.

This is a pretty diverse program including songs associated with Louis Jordan (Let the Good Times Roll), Bessie Smith (‘Gimme’ a Pigfoot), Count Basie (Goin’ to Chicago), Duke Ellington (It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing), Jimmy Reed (Baby ‘Whatcha’ Want Me to Do), Nellie Lutcher (Real Gone Guy), Willie Nelson (Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away), Charlie Parker (Parker’s Mood), Antonio Carlos Jobim (Favela), Julie London & Esther Phillips (Cry Me a River) and other blues and ballad standards.

Given her experience in performing over the decades, one should not be surprised how well she delivers this fairly eclectic repertoire with nice support and some very solid solos adding to the musical mix. There is plenty of sass and spirit as well as tenderness in how she can caress some of the lyrics and she is one of a many excellent older women vocalists (Alberta Adams and Odessa Harris from Detroit are two others that come to mind) that are similarly having careers blossom at this stage in their lives when they can go out and perform with a bit more regularity.

While this should be available at better stores, it is also available at

This review originally appeared in the March 15 - May 1, 2011 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 283). I subsequently have reviewed another album by Margie, the self-produced, Live at Rasselas that was issued in 2010. I will post that review a week from today. In addition to, also carries this.

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