Teddi King - vocals; Ellis Larkins - piano; Al Hall - bass; Josh Gerber - drums
As part of a Philharmonic Hall program entitled "A Jazz Salute to the American Song," jazz and cabaret singer Teddi King joined with pianist Ellis Larkins, bassist Al Hall and drummer Josh Gerber to interpret the witty, sophisticated lyrics and sumptuous music of Cole Porter. A George Wein discovery (she had played at his Storyville club in Boston in 1953 and appeared at the second Newport Jazz Festival in 1955), King's luxurious style has drawn comparisons to such popular singers as Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley and Kay Starr. Displaying crisp articulation, impeccable intonation and an exquisite Sarah Vaughan-influenced vibrato, King also flaunts relaxed, behind-the-beat phrasing on three gems from the American Songbook.
King opens her 1973 Newport set with a languid take on Porter's devilishly clever "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love," in which she runs through a litany of all God's creatures that partake in 'the natural act' (…"birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, let's do it, let's fall in love/sponges they do it, oysters down in Oyster Bay do it, let's do it, let's fall in love…"). Larkins, a consummate accompanist who had previously worked with such great vocalists as Ella Fitzgerald, Maxine Sullivan and Chris Connor, turns in a superb piano solo on this opening number. Switching from droll to dramatic, King turns in a stirring, intimate performance on Porter's mournful ballad "I Concentrate on You," accompanied only by Larkins' subtle chord voicings and glistening fills. Larkins also excels with the trio on the closing number "Dream Dancing with You," which has King emoting with her signature crystal clear delivery.
Born Theodora King on September 18, 1929 in Boston, she got her start after winning a singing competition in Boston that was hosted by Dinah Shore. She made her first recording with pianist Nat Pierce in 1949 and later toured with pianist George Shearing. Impresario George Wein signed her to his Storyville label in 1953 and also took up managing her career. King had two records out on Storyville by the time Wein placed her on the bill at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival. That year she was also named Best New Artist in the Down Beat Critics Poll. As New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett once described her: "She was barely five feet tall, but her voice was large and relaxed. She had a rich contralto and a wide vibrato, and a peaceful, spacious way of phrasing. She never hurried a note, even at fast tempos, and she gave each song a serenity that carried it though the noisiest room."
After releasing three records on Wein's Storyville label, King jumped to RCA in 1956 and scored a hit that year with the single "Mr. Wonderful" (from the album Bidin' My Time), which was originally written for a Sammy Davis, Jr. Broadway production of the same name. She followed up that success in 1957 with another hit single, "Married I Can Always Get." During the 1960s, King performed in Las Vegas and at the Playboy Club and made one final appearance at Wein's Newport Jazz Festival in 1973 as part of "A Jazz Salute to the American Song." She passed away in 1977 following a bout with lupus. At the 2002 JVC Jazz Festival, George Wein dedicated a concert to her billed as "We Remember Teddi King," which was a benefit to support lupus research through the S.L.E. Foundation.
-Written by Bill Milkowski
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