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Jane Harvey: One to One: Jane Harvey Sings Ellington

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Surely the most underappreciated jazz vocalist of the past half-century, Jane Harvey boasted a résumé that included stints with Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Desi Arnaz but recorded infrequently as a leader. Harvey’s record sales were minuscule at best. Among vocal connoisseurs her out-of-print albums were treasured gems, until four years ago when Little Jazz Bird compiled almost her entire output on five discs.

Between those 2012 reissues and Harvey’s death the following year, at age 88, she squeezed in one final album, a 16-track tribute to Ellington released late last year. The settings are intentionally spare, just piano and guitar, shaped by Mike Renzi alternating with Bucky Pizzarelli and Ron Escheté. As expected of a near-nonagenarian, Harvey’s voice has grown thin, her range diminished, her breathing ragged. Yet her interpretive powers remain as sharp and beguiling as ever.

In 1984, the New York Times aptly described Harvey as “a singer who carries a torch with a low flame that seems to burn all the more intensely because of her control.” Two decades on, whether navigating the ache of “Solitude,” anticipation of “Prelude to a Kiss” or contentment of “I Didn’t Know About You,” that statement still rang true. Her reworking of the usually gossamer “Day Dream” into a jagged portrait of discontentment is particularly brilliant. And there’s one unexpected delight. The Duke included “The Sky Fell Down” on his moody 1958 masterpiece, Indigo Ellington. With lyrics added by Harvey, it is beautifully transformed here into a bruised romantic adieu.

Originally Published