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Etta Jones & Houston Person : Don’t Misunderstand

For the over 30 years they worked together (Jones died in 2001), the billing was actually Houston and Etta, and the tenor saxophonist and vocalist achieved a rare collaborative synergy akin to that celebrated in Lester Young and Billie Holiday. They did it largely beyond the purview of most jazz critics and the kind of mostly white, middle-class fans who flock to jazz festivals and concerts, criss-crossing the country by van and playing mostly in black urban clubs on what was once called the chitlin’ circuit. This is a rare live snapshot of the duo, with B3 organist Sonny Phillips and drummer Frankie Jones, recorded in New York on one of their few appearances outside of Harlem, at the short-lived Greenwich Village club Salt Peanuts, in 1980.

In this typical set, the instrumental trio kicks it off with “Blue Monk,” Person weaving quotable blues lines through his solo and Phillips ranging beyond the usual organ stops to give a quirkily Monk-ish feel to his own. Tenor sax sets the table for Jones’ rendition of the title ballad, limned with her trademark tart tone and direct emotional engagement of the lyric. One of the most rhythmically adept and agile of all jazz singers, Jones swoops and swerves around the beat on “Exactly Like You,” playing slip-behind and catch-up games with the time as Person cushions it with his tenor sax, while she also displays her hipness by flatting the word “waited” in the lyric. Tenor and voice intertwine on a swinging “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” as Jones alternates legato with staccato phrasing. Person and Phillips collaborate on a slow “I’m Glad There is You,” marked by lush, sensual sax, before the trio closes the set with a blues and a Benny Golson tune in the soulful groove that made this band such a favorite among urban audiences.

Originally Published