Elli Fordyce – No More Blues

by R27 CREATIVELAB on Monday, 27 April 2009

A quick note before we begin - you can hear samples of Elli's music at the end of the article and download desktop images.

Before we go any further I'll introduce two much loved books in my collection. These two books were bought 10 years ago and I still find myself flicking through them. Actually they were bought on the 29th April 1999 (fancy that just found the receipt in the back cover). The type layout, colours and photography came together in a very unique way, well for me anyway...

The Cover Art of Blue Note Records: v. 1 (Paperback) by Graham Marsh (Author)
The Cover Art of Blue Note Records, Vol.2 (Paperback) by Graham Marsh (Author), Glyn Callingham (Author)

Product Description: Over a period of 50 years, the jazz-record company "Blue Note" has acquired a reputation for producing fine album covers, and this is a selection of some of the best. It includes a concise history of the company and a portrait of Reid Miles, who designed almost 500 record sleeves. Some jazz enthusiasts consider a Reid Miles sleeve to be as evocative of the jazz scene as the trumpet timbre of Miles Davis or the plaintive phrasing of Billie Holliday, and his innovations in typographical design have influenced magazines such as "The Face", "Blitz" and "ID".

And now back to Elli...


Blue note Records - Do you have any of these?
I never was a record buyer, didn't pay attention to labels and probably never had any Blue Notes. Uncle Alan was an RCA Victor exec and had one of everything they released. When I was 12 and 45 RPMs were phased over to 33-1/3 RPMs, he gave me my choice of his 45s. I wound up with 2 stacks each 2-1/2 feet high. It included early Belafonte (who was not yet known, but I loved his voice), knock-off B'way-show cast albums, a few minor jazz vocalists, re-issues of quite a few major big-band era albums from the '40s and I don't remember what else mostly from '50 and before. I had so much to listen to, soon adding great NYC jazz-radio DJ's to learn from, that I didn't need to spend money on many records. When I did, they weren't albums since I only had the portable 45 player my uncle had given me for Christmas. With that, I could roam our small apartment, toting it and my 45s from one room to another to continuously play "my" music and thereby avoid my parents, with whom I didn't want to spend any more time than necessary. Music was my haven, passion and excuse for being anti-social and downright rude at 14, and "my" music became my lynch pin. If you didn't agree with my choices, so much for you!

Who was/were your influences and why?
Up to when he moved away from the city when I was 5 (and died a year later), my Grandpa Matty always sang "You Are My Sunshine," "Look For the Silver Lining" and other songs; we were very tight and I loved our singing time together. My parents and I lived in a small railroad flat in an ancient brownstone on the Upper East Side of Manhattan near the East River, a block from my grandparents. 'My" room was the pass-through from my parents' combination living room/bedroom to our combination dining room/kitchen and adjoined bathroom, so we never shut the doors -- fortunately for my musical exposure. Before I knew anything about jazz, I remember surreptitiously listening in at night from the next room, when I was supposedly asleep, hearing Jerry Southern doing songs like "Dancing on the Ceiling," which style really resonated with me as a 9-year-old, so there was already the germ of a pattern.

Actual Jazz influences began with Chet Baker when I was 14 and first introduced to jazz radio programs: soft, swinging, romantic, he resonated for me and I already loved his trumpet-playing flavor. His first album was on trumpet, his second was vocals of all the same songs, same arrangements, which I adored. (I saw him live once, when in my 30s.)

Sarah: There were two Sarah Vaughns: the commercial Sarah, who sang in what I thought of as a church-singer tone but which actually was more semi-classical; and the jazzy Sarah, who sang softly and swung hard or sang romantic ballads in a moving way. I liked her singing less as I matured; to my ear later, her voice got in the way of both the communication and the music. (I saw jazzy-Sarah live when I was 15 at a 52nd St. club matinee where they allowed underage kids in.)

Ella: She was the first singer I heard improvise, moving away from a recognized melody, getting just far enough away to find her way back, then actually finding her way back; repeat, repeat, repeat. That was when I knew my "game" and I never recovered from that realization. I didn't always love Ella's choices as my ear matured, but her skills were incredible. I never felt her ballads emotionally, but loved her swing and verve. When I came to Yonkers to check out an apartment to move to from NYC last summer, seeing a statue of Ella in the little park next to the railroad station, I thought this was probably "the place." And this weekend I met the sculptor, whom I'd heard also lived in the building -- and who may come to a forthcoming gig -- and told her that story. (I saw Ella live in '70 from a light booth in a Vegas show room; she was jolly and interacted a lot with the band but not much with the audience; tho she already had sight issues by then, it was great to see her and practically from the stage.)

June Christy: I first heard her at 14 and fell in love (also fell in love with Chris Connor who followed Christy into the Stan Kenton Orchestra when Christy went solo with "Something Cool" in '53). At 17 I listened incessantly to "Something Cool," which is the title tune on my first CD "Something Still Cool," released in 2008.

Carmen McCrae: her voice and swing grabbed me from the git-go and as she matured her voice became the one in any genre I most admire to this day, tho I don’t always like her take on the material she sang. (I boycotted her for 25 years after seeing her live in '69 in a show room in Puerto Rico because she was so bitchy to that audience and later to me when I went backstage to speak to her. When I came back to singing jazz in the '90s, hers were the CDs I got most of and I have nearly all of her music from the '60s on. When I met her nephew with whose extended family Carmen lived earlier, and told him about meeting her, he immediately said, "She was a bitch, right?" What was more interesting was that he had met Billy Holiday and all Carmen's other close jazz pals when he was young, and to this day he's a huge female jazz-vocals-from-that-era aficionado, his favorite being "Something Cool," by June Christy. When he told me that, we clutched each other, screamed and jumped up and down like a couple of teenaged girls! He did my make-up on the Dave Chappelle show, on which I appeared twice in the second season.)

Sinatra: He had so many eras, styles and sounds. As a teenager, I heard his initial popular records on the radio as "The Voice," the skinny kid from Hoboken that teenage girls had gone manic about when he began his career. He hit a point, as I began tuning into singers, when he could barely get arrested (well, if we're talking Sinatra, he could nearly ALWAYS get arrested, according to some reports), but he put out some records that were, to my ear, his best. "In the Wee Small Hours" and "Softly" are two songs on my new CD which came to me from that Sinatra era and sensibility, which I love to this day. Around that point he came back into his own after doing the film, "From Here to Eternity." (In '67 I got a chance to see him perform live tho I was in a bar watching it more comfortably on a monitor than thru the window so far from the stage. What blew me away was how he sang so much with only occasionally some brief patter between songs; he sang and sang and sang, one great tune after another. He hadn't gotten into his sillier stuff yet (such as "These Boots Are Made for Walking" with Nancy and "Strangers in the Night," which I detested and sang a gazillion times by request later)).

Brazil '66: during 6 months singing and doing cruise-staff duties on a small ship in '68 in the Caribbean, with nothing but a small portable record player at hand, I listened to "The Look of Love" album ad infinitum and absolutely adored it; still do, tho I have only half of it on their greatest hits CD. (I briefly met Sergio Mendez a couple of times, which he wouldn't remember, but never saw him play live. I did, however, sit in a lot with Walter Wanderly, another Brazilian music hero, in '70 in a little Hollywood club where a lot of Sergio's and Herb Alpert's musicians would drop in and add percussion by banging on anything available, and one of Brazil '66's male singers was the Maitre D' after retiring from the road to be with his young family.)

Fifth Dimension: in '65, when they came to great popularity, I resonated with them and felt that the world was finally ready for me to actually go pro, which I soon did. I loved Maralyn McCoo's voice and felt my voice was naturally more similar to hers than anyone well known that I'd heard, tho she didn't do jazz. I did "One Less Bell to Answer," "A House Is Not a Home" and a few of her other hits around that time, blending current major hits with my musical sensibilities on Top-40-cover gigs.

Roberta Flack: she came to popularity when I was doing my Top-40 touring-lounge-group thing, and her songs from that genre/era fit my voice and soul the most of any I heard. For a year, I opened with a jazzy version of "Feel Like Makin' Love" and always sang "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and "Killin' Me Softly," all of which both listeners and I loved, tho many of the young musicians -- who wanted to be playing heavy metal, R&B or bebop -- often found them boring. Later in NY, I worked some with a guy who was with her in the '70s for 9 years on keyboards, the amazing Harry Whitaker. He urged me to record and when I began planning my first CD 3 years later, I hired him to play piano and musical direct my first CD.

Keeley Smith: Those who have heard her in the past 10 or 15 years in jazz venues, or on CDs and the radio, hear a jazz vocalist, one with whom I share a number of similarities (age, musical background, tone, to some extent flavor). I'd heard her on the radio singing with Louie Prima enough in the '50s that when, in a show band twenty years later, the leader wanted to do a send-up of Louie and Keeley with me, I was all for it and found it very easy. I soon began adding her physical humor and attitudes. People who'd seen them in-person (whereas I'd only seen bits on TV) when the pair were on-going for many years one of the most popular acts in Vegas, would tell me about other mannerisms and things she did on-stage which I'd then add to my impersonation. I often got more attention for the Keeley Smith imitation than my singing, from folks who loved Louie and Keeley. Keeley came back to singing solo about when I started singing jazz again in NY in the '90s and I was delighted to hear where she took that, still really enjoying her today.

Nancy LaMott: was a NY cabaret singer (I saw live a few times) who died in the '90s at a young age and in her prime. When I need to relax and open my throat, I listen to Nancy and sing along instinctively, not even thinking about doing it; it's very helpful. I often think of her connecting to the James Taylor song, "The Secret O' Life," admiring her chutzpah in recording that wonderful lyric (which she did SO well) when probably already knowing she was not long for this life. Her versions of "Where Do You Start?" and "A Child Is Born," both on my new album, "Songs Spun of Gold," completely hooked me on those songs.

Do you have any stories about buying your first record, what was it?
At 14, on Jazzbo Collin's show on WNEW AM, I heard Stan Getz and Johnny Smith doing ballads like "Tenderly" and "Autumn In New York" and tho I don't remember which tune it was, I bought my first 45 of one of that series in the early '50s. So romantic. To this day I love sax and hired Aaron Heick on a few cuts on my second CD. He's also on one of my YouTube clips, done in the studio a year earlier but which was not included in the CD, although another take of the song is - click here

When was the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio, what did it feel like?
I don't remember the first time I heard one of my cuts on the radio, altho I listened for weeks to MusicChoice, a 40-channel music provider on TV, after learning from my radio-promo person, Kate Smith, that my music would be in the rotation on their "Singers & Standards" channel. The cut continues to play there occasionally, of which I get reports on Twitter and by email (once from a musician friend who heard it in Puerto Rico). Usually it's from another singer or musician wondering how to get their CD on. Kate, who accomplished it somehow, is amazing: she quickly got my first CD on many public and college radio stations all over the world. I didn't hear them but received reports of many plays from her, which was very exciting, as were quotes from DJs about "Something Still Cool." The first DJ feedback was from Joost van Steen in The Netherlands whose shows are on www.jazzbluestour.nl. He said: "A great CD from a 'Jazz-Diva,' at least that's my opinion listening to Elli’s great CD!!! She has that full, mature vocal style which most young vocalists cannot bring (yet), so I really like what I hear and the CD will be an asset to my program." When I read that on my computer screen in Kate's email, I sat there and bawled my eyes out, believe me. That is the last thing I ever expected when making the CD.

The weird thing is I barely listen to music after ODing in the '90s, trying to catch up with my fellow-singers and others in the jazz workshop I attended for two years who seemed to know everything; I inundated myself with what I'd missed while not involved for 15 years, mainly keeping my distance, working in my type shop (see article - "What's Your Type") and at that point not singing. Wbgo.org, where so far my music hasn't been played, played what I needed to hear then. I hope my second CD will fare better on BGO, an important venue for the international jazz world. What's been fun is doing several interviews where cuts from the CD were included. You may check out those that follow:

Jim Bouchard's PowerPod show: click here to listen

2-part interview with John Simna/Elli Fordyce, on WCLV in Cleveland, taped 8-19-08 -
Part 1 | Part 2

Michael Foster and I had a great time speaking about, then meeting the following week at the Unicity Festival in Middletown, Delaware, on 8/2/08. Catch our interview here

WBAI's Arts Magazine interview with Marianne Miller on 4/1/08 - Click here to listen

Catch an interview that aired on the Vince Tracy Show which he recorded by phone from Spain - Click here to listen

You may also want to read the following articles covering Elli's life:

Elli Fordyce – What's your type?
Elli Fordyce - Still very cool
Elli Fordyce – In the light she dances...

Useful Links

Elli Fordyce's Website: www.ellifordyce.com
You can follow Elli on twitter @ElliFordyce
Management: Redwood Entertainment [see artists page]

CD and samples available from | iTunes | CD Baby | Amazon | Napster | AmieST |

Free Wallpaper Images

On behalf of Elli - download your desktop wallpaper images by [clicking here]

Available in the following screen sizes 1280x960 | 1024x768 | 800x600

If there are any other sizes that would suit you more then leave a message and I'll arrange it for you...

Certain images are provided and owned by © 2009 Elli Fordyce |
Desktop images and text created by R27 | © 2009 R27 Creativelab

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Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Best Regards Rajesh