Corrections or additions?

Nancy Wilson, Song Stylist

This article by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on Wednesday, May 20, 1998. All rights reserved.

Pop vocalist Nancy Wilson recalls setting her sights

on becoming a singer when she was just four years old. Born in


Ohio, in 1937, Wilson took her cues from the singers who frequented

Cleveland and Columbus in the late 1940s, singers like


Jimmy Scott (who left East Orange only recently to move back to his

hometown of Cleveland), Dinah Washington, LaVern Baker, and "Miss

Rhythm" Ruth Brown.

"I was singing from the time I was three, and professionally from

age 15," Wilson explains in a recent interview from her home in

Los Angeles. "The only question by the time I went to college

was whether or not I wanted to be in show business."

The singer appears in concert with her band in "Nancy Wilson:

An Evening of Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and Pop Classics," presented

by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, at the New Jersey Performing

Arts Center in Newark, on Wednesday, May 27, and at the State Theater

in New Brunswick, on Thursday, May 28, respectively. She performs

with Llew Matthews, her pianist and music director for the past nine

years, Roy McCurdy, drums, and John B. Williams, bass.

Wilson entered Central State University in Ohio in 1956, studying

to become a teacher. Yet that plan proved short lived as word got

around the clubs in Cleveland and Columbus about how great a vocalist

she was.

"I had a scholarship to go to college, so it never occurred to

me not to go to school. But it was very difficult once I was there,

when I knew full well I was never going to teach," she says,

" —

at least not as my primary occupation."

While she was supposed to be in college, Wilson was educating herself

as a singer, working the clubs in Columbus. She left for New York

in 1959, but adds that wasn’t a big break for her, just something

that jazz musicians did in those days.

"I knew that I wanted John Levy to manage me, and I didn’t go

to New York to record with anybody other than Capitol Records. At

first I wanted to play supper clubs. I figured if I could be managed

by Levy, have MCA agency booking me and be recording for Capitol,

then things would work out," she recalls. Fortunately, she knew

saxophonist Cannonball Adderly from the clubs around Cleveland and

Columbus, and he looked after her as a father might.

"I didn’t just go to New York in a vacuum. I had a showcase my

first weekend and within a few weeks I was recording, first with Ray

Bryant, a little demo tape. My first and second albums were with the

Billy Mays Big Band, and my third album was with [pianist] George

Shearing," she recalls. Since then, Wilson has recorded more than

60 albums. Her most recent, "If I Had My Way," was released

in 1997 for Sony Music.

In recent years, the best of Wilson’s huge recorded output has been

issued in compact disc boxed sets, including the 1996 volume,


Blues and Big Bands: The Best of Nancy Wilson."

While you’re likely to find the name Nancy Wilson in any good jazz

encyclopedia, ask the veteran singer, whose career spans more than

five decades, and she’ll tell you she’s never considered herself a

jazz singer.

"I’m a song stylist," she explains. "I’ve never said I

was a jazz singer. I’m jazz oriented, but this way, `song stylist’

gives me the freedom to sing what I want to sing, whether it’s blues,

R&B, ballads, or pop tunes."

Critics say Wilson has an extraordinary sense of


and well-defined articulation, complemented by the lush


i.e., strings, that can be heard on her 1994 release "Love,


and many of her other albums. Her knack for picking and stylishly

interpreting good songs is widely considered to be the key to her

long career as is her ability to perform a big band tune or in a small

group setting with equal dexterity.

But Wilson is also a storyteller. Consider "Guess Who I Saw


the 1959 song that for many people put Nancy Wilson on the musical

map. In it, Wilson, backed by the Billy Mays Big Band, takes a


pace in chronicling for her husband an encounter she witnessed between

a man and his new flame at a romantic haunt as shopped downtown. She

withholds the identity of the man until the end of the song, singing,

"Guess who I saw today, I saw you."

Wilson’s first bona-fide hit, "Save Your Love For Me," was

released on an album with saxophonist Cannonball Adderly in 1962.

She hosted her own television show in the 1960s, and for the last

four years, has hosted "Jazz Profiles," a syndicated show

on National Public Radio. Her 1991 album, "With My Lover Beside

Me," which showcased previously unpublished lyrics by Johnny


and set to music by Barry Manilow, earned her a Grammy nomination.

At the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and State Theater, Wilson’s

repertoire will include mostly selections from "Love, Nancy,"

produced by Grammy-award winning producer Andre Fisher. Of her recent

album, Wilson says "after sitting down and choosing songs for

the album, we realized that most of the tunes had the word `love’

in them. After that, we pretty much knew where we were going with

the record, and the title `Love, Nancy’ became obvious."

"Song stylist means I may sing anything," Wilson says, though

like her prime influence, Jimmy Scott, she likes songs that tell


"If it’s a song that I find myself humming a lot, I record it.

I like a song with some content. For years people were just dealing

with a hook, but that doesn’t appeal to me," she explains. "I

like a story. Basically, I’m a singer of ballads."

— Richard J. Skelly

An Evening with Nancy Wilson, NJPAC, Newark, 800-ALLEGRO.

$10 to $45. Wednesday, May 27, 8 p.m.

State Theater, New Brunswick, 800-ALLEGRO. $10 to $45. Thursday,

May 28, 8 p.m.

Previous Story Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments