On a sunny Memorial Day weekend in 1999, this edition of Riverwalk Jazz was captured live at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee in the historic Crest Theatre downtown close to the California State Capitol. Vocal legend Tony Bennett has described our special guest, the London-based Nina Ferro as “a fabulous performer with a knockout voice.” Bandleader Jim Cullum lauds Nina’s perfect pitch and her spellbinding vocal styling. Here, Nina joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band on a program of classic jazz standards showcasing her vocal artistry.
Born in Melbourne, Australia to Italian parents, Nina Ferro was exposed to an eclectic mix of music at an early age. Her paternal grandmother, a mezzo-soprano, introduced her to opera and inspired her study of classical voice. On her own, Nina pursued a parallel interest in soul, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz and pop. As a young woman, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Elvis Presley were the singers she enjoyed the most.
At eight Nina began formal music training on piano and embarked on the study of opera at fourteen, but her passion to express her vocal talents through soul music and jazz won out. Nina Ferro set out to sing professionally at fifteen, and five years later, was touring worldwide, performing at festivals, clubs, and concerts; and making TV and radio guest appearances throughout the US, Europe, Australia and the Middle East.
This week’s concert repertoire:
The songwriting team of Nacio Herb Brown ("Singin' in the Rain" and "You Stepped Out of a Dream") and lyricist Arthur Freed composed "All I Do Is Dream of You" for the 1934 movie Sadie McKee. Judy Garland gave the song a boost when she recorded it in 1940 as she transitioned from teenage star to adult celebrity. Recordings by Patti Page, Doris Day, Perry Como and Ella Fitzgerald ushered the composition into the pantheon of American popular song. Nina Ferro joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band to offer her interpretation to the mix.
The jazz standard "My Baby Just Cares for Me" is a product of the storied collaboration between songwriter Walter Donaldson and wordsmith Gus Kahn. It was written for the ‘All-Talking, All-Color’ 1930 movie Whoopie!, one of the first feature films shot in sound and color. The film was adapted from Ziegfield’s musical comedy, a stage production which delivered the megahits “Makin’ Whoopie” and “Love Me Or Leave Me.” The movie producers added “My Baby Just Cares For Me” to the 1930 film score where it’s sung by the consummate vaudeville star Eddie Cantor. In the 1980s the number gained even wider fame as the signature song of Nina Simone. Here, Nina Ferro lends her talents to the tune.
Hollywood songwriter and conductor Johnny Green wrote “Body and Soul” for actress Gertrude Lawrence in London in 1930; that same year Louis Armstrong became the first jazz artist to record it. Coleman Hawkins’ 1939 interpretation remains a milestone of jazz improvisation, and today “Body and Soul” is the most frequently recorded piece is in jazz. Nina Ferro joins the Band to present her unmistakable vocals on the much-loved torch song.
The songwriting team of Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk, who also wrote "Mean to Me" and "Walkin' My Baby Back Home," created "I'll Get By (As Long as I Have You)" in 1928. The song's most famous recordings are by Billie Holiday, Harry James, and the Ink Spots’ huge hit of 1944. The song has an unusual form: instead of repeated segments AABA as in many standards, the form follows the scheme ABAC. On stage at the Crest Theatre, Nina Ferro executes a stirring interpretation of this classic love song.
On this radio show production, The Jim Cullum Jazz Band takes three numbers alone: "Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise," composed in 1928 by Sigmund Romberg as a bittersweet tango for an operetta, entered the jazz world by way of a swinging 1938 recording by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra.
Isham Jones, a popular bandleader in the 20s and 30s, first recorded the melancholy "Blue Prelude" in 1934. The tune found its way into the playlists of various jazz artists through the decades, including The Jim Cullum Jazz Band, where it’s been a staple since the late 1970s.
"Always," composed by Irving Berlin in 1925 as a personal love song to his wife, was first introduced as a sedate 3/4 waltz, since that time it’s had a long history of hot jazz band interpretations in up-tempo swinging 4/4 rhythm, as The Jim Cullum Jazz Band performs it here.
Nina Ferro rejoins the Cullum Band on George Gershwin's "Somebody Loves Me," composed for the stage musical George White's Scandals of 1924. The popular jazz standard has been performed and recorded countless times by major jazz artists Nat Cole, Art Tatum and Dave Brubeck, among others.
Bessie Smith made the definitive recording of "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" in 1923, though composer credits remain in dispute. Chicago pianist Charles Warfield claimed sole credit in 1919 though his publisher Clarence Williams shows up as co-composer. Nina Ferro closes out her set with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band with a rousing version of this almost century-old tune.
Our show concludes with two tunes performed by the Fireworks Jazz Band from Australia led by trumpeter Simon Stribling. Nina Ferro’s appearances with this band have been a popular act at the Sacramento Jubilee. "Jersey Lightning" is from the hot Luis Russell Orchestra in 1930. The show closer is "Wrought Iron Rag," a tune from the playing of Wilbur de Paris.
Photo credit on Home Page: Nina Ferro. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick © 1999