Tag Archives: Local Chicago Jazz

Fontella Bass: sassy soulful siren in the first degree.

Fontella Bass is an amazing lady. Not only is the trajectory of her career fascinating, but she’s arguably the archetype for what Aretha Franklin was to become: a sassy, soulful siren in the first degree.

Ms. Bass comes from the St. Louis, and is a part of a group of St. Louis native vocalists that made their way in Chicago (this includes Chuck Bernard, Little Milton, and Bobby McClure). Her voice can be described as a salt-sweet contralto that is absolutely gorgeous, in my opinion.

She is best known for the HUGE hit “Rescue Me”, which is a Chicago-written, recorded,and produced slice of 60s Soul. Her greatest hit (which she also co-wrote), “Rescue Me” has been featured in movies, commercials, and TV shows galore; but it is also too often mistakenly attributed to Aretha Franklin. Ironically, at the time of its release, Aretha Franklin was singing jazzy pop standards, a’la young Dinah Washington. 

In fact, “Rescue Me” predates Aretha Franklin’s soulful breakthrough release “Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” by a couple of years.

“Rescue Me” was released on Chess Records’ Checker imprint, after which Fontella continued to release soulful gems for the label (my favorites being “I Can’t Rest” and “Lucky in Love”) until 1968 or so.

By 1970, in a plot twist worthy of an arthouse movie, Fontella Bass was married to musician Lester Bowie and had joined him as an expatriate in France in The Art Ensemble of Chicago. There, she served as the vocalist in the group: a seminal, Chicago-based free-jazz combo… I suspect that’s her in the white face paint in the far right corner of the album pictured below.

In 1990, she heard her own voice singing “Rescue Me” on an American Express commercial and was inspired to look into her rights, and wound up suing American Express and its ad agency. She won over $50,000 plus damages in a settlement. Awesome.

Enjoy Fontella Bass singing “Rescue Me” (while looking quite Chicago Mod in a houndstooth cap and jacket) on Shindig! in 1965.

…and, below, listen for some of her vocals on a righteous jazz workout from The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Jive on!

Advertisements

Dorothy Donegan: Chicago’s own Jazz Cover Girl

Darkjive focuses mainly on soul music born and bred here in Chicago during the golden era of Chicago Soul: the 1960s through the late 1970s. Anyone who knows me, however, knows I am passionate about a variety of music that has come out of our city: especially soul, blues, and jazz.

That said, recently an old cover of local titan-of-print Ebony Magazine (from July of 1946!) caught my eye for both the byline and the cover girl:

The cover featured local jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan, and the byline read: “Is Jazz Going Highbrow?”

A graduate of DuSable High School, Donegan studied music with Walter Dyett, as did so much of our homegrown talent (like Nat King Cole). She was noted for her abundance of sass and personality (which was apparent in her stage show, but never really translated to record sales). That personality helped win her a following in Chicago’s South Side club scene which featured spots like the Crown Propeller Lounge where a contortionist named Atlantis (though some say she was called Aquanetta) performed in a fish tank (pictured at left in 1954 with King Kolax… underwater).

That abundance of personality proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff once wrote:

“Her flamboyance helped her find work in a field that was largely hostile to women. To a certain extent, it was also her downfall; her concerts were often criticized for having an excess of personality.”

Dorothy Donegan won an American Jazz Master fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1992. She was 70 years old.

Very sassy, indeed.

Below, Dorothy Donegan performing in 1945. Jive and jitterbug on!


Melodic Expansions: David Boykin Expanse with DJ Ayana… pass it on.

Psssst… David Boykin Expanse with DJ Ayana. It’s a righteous situation at a secret location. RSVP info@perpetualrebel.com for more info.


Minor Moods: ahmad jamal have i loved.

“Minor Moods” by Ahmad Jamal (1967) makes me happy, and yes I will play this at next week’s “groove conspiracy”.  Ahmad Jamal is from Pennsylvania, but a lot of his Golden Age material (including this hipper-than-thou number) is straight outta Chicago.  The Ahmad Jamal Trio was the house band of the Pershing Hotel (on the South Side) in the early sixties.  A live recording from that place and time was a hit record for Chess Records’ Argo label. 

This record is from 1967, and part of Chess’ foray into instrumental jazz with voices.  Donald Bryd experimented with this sound over at Blue Note in the early sixties (often taking it to church); but in the Late Sixties, Chess made it real groovy.  Minnie Riperton’s voice can be heard in the mix of a number of the cuts (led by luminaries including Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, and Phil Upchurch). Enjoy and Jive on!