Bev Kelly Live At The Jazz Safari, a world premiere release, was recorded on April 13 and 14, 1979 at the Jazz Safari, Long Beach, CA, a club owned by drummer Al Williams. Bev had been working with Al Williams and his quintet since 1976, thus the CD was recorded with musicians whom she knew well and shared a musical compatibility. The CD features Dwight Dickerson, Piano; Leroy Vinnegar, Bass; Al Williams, Drums; Richard Madariaga, Guitar; and Rudy Johnson, Tenor Sax. In comparison to her records of the late fifties and early sixties, there are significant changes in her singing style. She sings much more soulfully and freely on this recording. By this time, she had listened to a lot of instrumental jazz as well as early blues, resulting in a very mature and fully confident approach.
Bev Kelly was born in Ohio. She studied classical piano from the age of five through high school. At age fourteen, she began classical voice studies, which culminated into a four-year vocal scholarship at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. While there, she began her professional singing career with the Teddy Raymore Trio. The trio performed not only jazz, but comedy, show tunes and popular music, an invaluable learning experience for Bev, giving her a solid background in show business.
Next she teamed up with gifted pianist, Pat Moran, a classmate from the Conversatory. After the successful duo was featured on Steve Allen‘s Tonight Show, they moved to Chicago and added drummer Johnny Whited and bassist John Doling to become the Pat Moran Trio featuring Bev Kelly. The trio plus Bev also sang four-part harmony.
At this time, the group was discovered by an A&R man from Bethlehem Records and they signed with that label. In 1956 the group participated in the prestigious recording of “Porgy and Bess” with Mel Torme and Frances Faye in Los Angeles, California. At the same time, they recorded their first LP “The Pat Moran Quartet.” The next year, while performing at Birdland in New York City, they made their second album “While at Birdland.” And in December 1957 Bev recorded “Beverly Kelly Sings,” on Audio Fidelity, the first album under her name. On this recording, Scott LaFaro was featured on bass. After the Audio Fidelity recording, Bev left the group and began working jazz clubs with other musicians. Pat Moran is still playing better than ever recording mostly gospel music under the name of Patti Moran McCoy.
In 1959, Bev recorded “Bev Kelly Love Locked Out” for Riverside.
During a record promotion tour of the West Coast in 1960 she had an auto accident. Thus, she ended up staying in San Francisco where she performed at the Coffee Gallery and recorded her second album for Riverside, “Bev Kelly In Person.” On this recording she is accompanied by the Pony Poindexter Quartet featuring the talented composer/musician Flip Nunez on piano. As a result of these recordings, she broke into the popular vote poll of Down Beat and Playboy.
In 1961, she moved to Long Beach, CA and retired from active performing in order to spend more time with her son, Greg. During that time she wrote music and poetry, did ceramic pottery, raised German Shepherds, worked as a vocal coach, and did some professional photography. She also did some commercials and session singing. In 1972, Bev recorded songs on three albums for Reader’s Digest in London. She sang the opening and closing theme for the classic Robert Benton film “The Late Show” released in 1977.
In the midst of all of this she went back to school and was awarded a Doctorate in Psychology in 1984. Dr. Bev is currently in private practice in Long Beach, CA.
All of these attributes combined make her quite a multi-talented individual. In the sixties she sang in a few clubs, but a serious comeback didn’t occur until 1976 when she began working with Al Williams and his quintet.
The Bev Kelly album from VGM, “You Go to My Head,” was recorded in 1959 in St. Louis, MO without her awareness and is not an official album.
In 2002, Bev released a CD entitled “portrait of nine dreams” on her own label, jimeni records, which features reflective and autobiographical tone-poems written by her, and co-written and arranged by Jimmy Felber.
The Jazz Safari concert album begins with “Lonesome Road” accompanied by Leroy Vinnegar’s walking bass. The song was written in 1928 by Gene Austin who made a big hit, “My Blue Heaven” in the 1920s. The lyrics are by Nathaniel Shilkret. The song describes someone walking down a long road with heavy baggage, and getting tired of journeying alone. Bev interpolates new words into the original song, adding phrases of her own or prolonging phrases and progressively building it to an exciting climax. The next track begins with “music I recently wrote,” she tells us. This song, “Welcome to My Heart,” portrays the world of her beliefs and philosophy, and one senses that the song must have come to her in a dream. However, she sings it in a very light and swinging fashion. The subsequent song, “One Day,” is preceded by an introduction: “This song was written by the very extraordinarily talented Frank Howren, and I feel very lucky and honored to have this song in my possession.” The essence of this ballad, “One Day,” is that “One, day I will have to leave you.” Bev sings with plentiful emotion accompanied by out-front bass support.
The familiar tune of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” is sung in a very free manner as Bev reworks the song’s melody. Richard Madariaga’s guitar solo is excellent. At the end she improvises “Bye Bye L.A., see you later, hello New York,” adding up to a track that’s lots of fun to listen to… the kind of thing that makes this a true “live” album. The next track opens with Bev telling us: “I wrote this about a very special person at a very special time in my life.” The song is called “Reflections.” Just with the accompaniment of Dwight Dickerson’s sensitive piano, Bev sings, “Time has passed so swiftly. Where have all the hours gone? You were in my arms just a moment ago, it seems.” This memory of love is sung with a gentleness that represents a complete change in mood from the previous selection. The next song, “Nonchalantly”, was written by tenor player Teddy Edwards. Every girl turns their eyes to the flamboyant central figure of the song. But one day he is going to pick a girl, Bev sings, and the girl is going to be her. Bev performs this Girl from Ipanema-ish style number joyfully and lightly.
“Drinking Again,” was written by Doris Tauber and Johnny Mercer. This song depicts a narrator with a broken-heart who sits around in a bar cadging drinks and cigarettes from strangers while telling jokes. But it’s all related in a highly dramatic fashion. Indeed this is one of her favorite songs and contains a beautiful piano solo by Dwight Dickerson. The next track opens with Bev describing “Do Nothin’Till You Hear From Me” as “the never forgettable Duke Ellington.” With lyrics by Bob Russell, it is based on “Concerto for Cootie.” Here Bev sings with tongue-twisting gutsiness. Rudy Johnson’s tenor is very effective. At the end it fades out with bass only.
“Our Time to Love” is based on Eddie Harris’ “There Was a Time” to which Bev added lyrics. She sings convincingly this rather funky melody that contains a lyric to the effect that: “We should never say goodbye because someday we‘ll love each other again and we’ll love each other forever.” She is accompanied by Rudy Johnson on tenor sax. The next song, “Lament,” is a song Bev got to know for the first time on the Miles Davis album, “Miles Ahead.” This was written by J. J. Johnson, with lyrics by Jon Hendricks. Here she sings this elegy accompanied only by the solo piano of Dickerson. She sings this song in a very distinctively drawn-out manner.
The next song she begins with the phrase, “This is a song about a girl who’s gone to Wonderland,” and then launches into “Alice in Wonderland,” written by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard, the theme song from the Disney movie of the same name. Here Bev sings very freely in a quick tempo in a style that is immediately identifiable as one that is all her own.
After explaining the song’s connection with Kermit the Frog on the popular TV show “Sesame Street,” next comes “Bein’ Green.” It’s a song about a frog with a complex about being green. Here Bev wonderfully gets into expressing the feelings of Kermit. The song that follows is “Soul Eyes,” written by Mal Waldron with lyrics added by Bev herself. The track includes an excellent guitar solo by Richard Madariaga. “Soulful eyes,” she sings, “you warm my heart with just a look. Could we have been in love once before in another time? It seems that I know you so well.“ A very impressive song that Marlene Ver Planck and Vanessa Rubin have also recorded, with Kelly’s lyrics. After this song, she introduces the band members while they play “Milestones” in the background, thus ending the live set.
All in all a terrific concert, with Bev Kelly singing at her best in her own unique style.
Translated from a review by Japanese Jazz Critic, Keizo Takada