Carol Sloane

Jazz Singer


Measure for Measure

by Will Friedwald Village Voice, August 21-28, 2001

Writing in "down beat" in the late '60s, Carol Sloane, who launched a three-week stay at the Algonquin on August 14, advised young singers to "think of the lyric at all times and forget attempts to emulate trumpet or saxophone sounds.... It is essential to be constantly aware of the story and the words, not the sound you create." For years, that struck me as an example of how wrong an artist can be about her own work. Sloane isn't a pure lyric singer like Mabel Mercer or one of those drummerless cabaret divas. She's a hardcore jazzer, scatting and stretching notes in the tradition of the two great ladies for whom she is frequently mistaken (on the radio, that is): Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae.

But Sloane's recent projects have made me think again: "Romantic Ellington," which dwells in the ballad hemisphere of the Dukal planet, "Ballad Essentials," which gathers the best love songs of her eight Concord Jazz albums (1991-97), and the brand-new "I Never Went Away." The capper is her run at the Gonk -- ground zero for worshipers of the Great American Lyric. Here indeed is compelling evidence that Sloane is one of the best balladeers living. Even the normally high-octane "Cottontail" was delivered deliberately enough so that Jon Hendricks's lyrics could for once be comprehended. Abetted by piano ace Norman Simmons, she doesn't have to get loud to sound exciting or go soft to sound intimate. Where some singers -- like her idol, Sarah Vaughan -- seem to be giving everything they've got, Sloane always seems to be holding just the slightest bit back, lending every line she sings a feeling of mystery. It's another trait that makes her, at age 64, the youngest of the great ladies on the Mount Rushmore of jazz singing.