A Dream Come True: The Best of Trudy Desmond
Just a Memory
Back when Diana Krall was still struggling to attract an audience in tiny Vancouver Island bars, Canadian jazz fans rightly considered Trudy Desmond their foremost chanteuse. Actually, though, Desmond was born south of the 49th parallel, in Brooklyn. She struggled to make it as a jazz singer, so Desmond quit the business to focus instead on interior decorating. But she missed music too much and, sometime around the mid-’80s, finally started getting the breaks she needed—in Toronto. Four sterling collections of standards followed, as did the devastating news that she had Hodgkin’s disease. After a hard-fought, 12-year battle, she finally succumbed in February 1999 at age 53.
Now, the reissue arm of Montreal’s Justin Time label is paying tribute to Desmond with this 17-track compilation culled from her quartet of discs. Though she could suggest both the crystal-clear sangfroid of Jo Stafford and the soft swingin’ sultriness of Peggy Lee, Desmond most closely resembled, in both sound and spirit, Ann Hampton Callaway. Like Callaway, she ably blended jazz smarts with cabaret showmanship.
Surrounded by several of the best Canadian jazzmen of her era—bassist Neil Swainson, pianist Roger Kellaway, guitarist Gene Bertoncini and pianist/arranger Don Thompson among them—Desmond could traverse anything from Cole Porter’s bouncy “You’re the Top” to Blossom Dearie’s coyly obsessive “I’m Shadowing You” with equal professionalism. The real standouts here are two 1995 tracks that pair her with an exuberant Bill Charlap, particularly a sparkling “You Better Love Me” (from the 1964 Broadway musical High Spirits) that, sadly ironic in retrospect, had Desmond playfully teasing, “You better love me while I’m here/I’ve been known to disappear.”