Carol Sloane was born to Claudia and Frank Morvan on March 5, 1937, in Providence, Rhode Island, the older of two daughters, but she never lived in that city. Instead, she spent her happy childhood in the small town of Smithfield, just a few short miles north of the city. Her parents worked steadily through the years of World War II in the textile mill near their home.
Carol was the lucky member of a large family of cousins, aunts and uncles who all possessed natural singing voices. Only one uncle ever received formal musical education, and he played the tenor sax. In 1951, her Uncle Joe arranged an audition for her with a society dance band led by Ed Drew, and she began singing the stock arrangements of popular hits of the day each Wednesday and Saturday night at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet Ballroom, located in Cranston, Rhode Island.
In 1955, Carol married a Providence disc jockey named Charlie Jefferds, and almost immediately, the couple found themselves at Fort Carson, Colorado where Charlie endured the rigors of basic training followed by a one-year obligatory tour of duty in Germany. They returned to the US in January 1958, and were amicably divorced in that year.
Carol continued to sing in small bars and clubs until she met the road manager of the Les and Larry Elgart Orchestra, which was touring the amusement park ballrooms in the southern New England area. She auditioned for Larry Elgart, who then asked her to come to New York with his band. The brothers had recently split the organization, Les taking the territory west of Chicago, Larry to handle everything east of Chicago. Larry Elgart suggested she change her name to Carol Sloane.
The “road years” with the Larry Elgart band continued until 1960, when the road simply became too boring and too difficult for her. After two years on the road, she was still unknown, and there were no singing engagements to be had. She took various secretarial jobs booked through Manhattan temp agencies. She continued her working relationship with the former road manager of the Elgart band, who had become an agent in the office of the legendary Willard Alexander. This man, Bob Bonis, arranged for Carol to sing at a jazz festival in Pittsburgh in 1960, at which time she met Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
Jon Hendricks asked Carol if she could learn the LH&R book in order to be prepared to take Annie Ross’ place if that ever became necessary. Carol agreed to study the group’s exacting material, and continued her secretarial gigs. Then, one night in early 1961, when attending a performance of LH&R at the Village Vanguard, Jon asked Carol to sing a couple of tunes on her own, after which the legendary proprietor Max Gordon asked her if she’d like to sing at the club the following August as opening act for Oscar Peterson. In her own words, “I stammered an acceptance, and walked five feet off the ground on the way home”.
Another auspicious move was quietly being made for Carol in 1961, without her knowledge: Jon Hendricks made a very persuasive argument to the producers that Carol should be included in that year’s Newport Jazz Festival as part of the “New Stars” program. On the afternoon of that presentation, Carol had the use of the Ike Isaacs Trio which backed LH&R. The pianist, Gildo Mahones, didn’t know the verse to the Rodgers & Hart song “Little Girl Blue” so Carol blithely suggested she would sing it a cappella, and did so. The New York press unanimously praised the young woman’s talent, exceptional intonation and pitch, and she was also heard by a representative of Columbia Records. Her first album,”Out of the Blue” was recorded a few short months later, with arrangements by the legendary Bill Finegan, and an orchestra boasting Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer among the soloists.
In the 1960’s, Carol Sloane sang in major clubs such as Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago where she opened for Jackie Mason and the Smothers Brothers; at the hungry I in San Francisco where she opened for Bill Cosby, Godfrey Cambridge and Richard Pryor; she also opened for Phyllis Diller, Stiller and Meara and Jackie Vernon at the Blue Angel in New York; she appeared regularly on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and became a regular member of the radio cast on Arthur Godfrey’s CBS weekly program. She continued to record and make club and concert appearances during this decade until the Beatles and rock ‘n roll began to consume the popular culture, forcing some jazz venues to the edge of ruin. In 1969, Carol accepted an offer to sing in a club in Raleigh, North Carolina, found the atmosphere in that city very much less hectic than New York, with an audience eager to hear and support jazz artists. She relocated to the south at the beginning of 1970.
Carol worked both as a singer and a legal secretary for the next several years, eventually returning to New York to begin a turbulent relationship with a legendary jazz pianist, Jimmy Rowles. Jimmy’s reputation as a master accompanist and soloist was solid and undisputed, but his alcoholism made their situation often stormy. He did, however, pull himself together long enough to play for Ella Fitzgerald when Tommy Flanagan left after almost twenty years of accompanying the great singer. Jimmy’s tenure was much shorter: only two years at the outside. He then decided to return to Los Angeles, and did so at the end of 1980. Carol also left New York, this time returning to her beloved New England.
She arrived in Boston in January, 1981, accepted a job in a prestigious law firm, and promptly threw away the idea of an “ordinary” life when a friend asked her to return to N.C. to help him in his new supper club recently opened in Chapel Hill. The venue was beautiful, comfortable and truly a perfect setting for any artist, and Carol booked her friends into the club: Shirley Horn, Joe Williams, George Shearing, Marian McPartland, Anita O’Day, Jackie & Roy, and of course, the great Carmen McRae. This club managed to last all of two years, a remarkable accomplishment. Carol also hosted a radio show at the NPR affiliate in Chapel Hill. In 1984, while singing in a Boston club, she met the man whom she would eventually marry.
Her marriage to Buck Spurr took place in November, 1986, and Carol has lived in the Boston area since that time. She recorded two albums for Contemporary in 1988 and 1989, then signed with Concord Jazz in 1991, recording six solo albums and touring Japan many times as part of the Concord-Fujitsu Festival. Carol stayed busy making her debut with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Boston in 1998, then with the New York Pops Orchestra in 1999, and recorded a tribute album to Duke Ellington on the DRG label that same year. In March 2000, she began a second career in radio, hosting The Jazz Matinee, a four-hour jazz program, five days a week on WICN-FM, the NPR affiliate in Worcester, Mass. This jazz show took a full year’s time to produce, until, in the spring of 2001, a heavy performance schedule made it necessary for Carol to leave WICN to resume touring and also record a new CD. In 2001, Carol signed a contract with the famous HighNote Jazz label which issued the first cd titled “I Never Went Away”. This has been followed by “Whisper Sweet”.
Carol’s latest recording, “Dearest Duke”, is recently released in April of 2007 on the Arbors label. Featuring Brad Hatfield on piano and Ken Peplowski on tenor sax and clarinet, this cd contains 15 tunes of Ellington material plus Billy Strayhorn’s “Day Dream”.
Ms. Sloane’s favorite flower is the white rose.
1940: Carol on her first tricyle, looking very pleased to have her own “wheels.”
1953: Quonset Point Naval Air Station, QP, Rhode Island. Carol Vann singing with Ed Drew’s band.
1961: 30th Street Studio, New York: Taken during the recording of her first album “Out Of The Blue.” Photo: Burt Goldblatt.
1975: Raleigh, North Carolina. Singing at The Frog & Nightgown Jazz Club. Photo: Unknown
1988: New York. Publicity picture for Contemporary Records. Photo: David Gahr
1998: Seattle, Washington: Singing at Jazz Alley. Photo: Tom Siddall.