Marlene VerPlanck: Ballads…Mostly

Among jazz vocalists, long absences between albums are hardly uncommon, but vocalist Marlene VerPlanck surely holds the record for extended heel cooling. In 1955, a 22-year-old VerPlanck found herself surrounded by such notables as Kenny Clarke, Hank Jones and Herbie Mann when she cut her debut LP. Then … nothing. She toiled as a studio backup vocalist and sang the occasional ad jingle, but didn’t release a follow-up album until 1979. Another decade passed, and a third platter appeared. Since then, VerPlanck has been making up for lost time, filling the last two decades with 19 discs.

A few months shy of her 80th birthday, VerPlanck still sounds as warm and inviting as she did at 22, maintaining a polished jazz-cabaret panache that suggests a cozy amalgam of Sheila Jordan and Rosemary Clooney. Though rarely presented as such, her albums tend to be thematic, typically focusing on a specific tunesmith or two. This time around, the spotlight is on the Cy Coleman and Harry Warren songbooks. Guided by two of the best accompanists around, alternating pianists Mike Renzi and Tedd Firth (with Ron Vincent on drums and Jay Leonhart and Boots Maleson swapping bass duty), she may sound a fraction of her age yet exhibits a well-seasoned trouper’s interpretive instincts. Whether caressing “My Dream Is Yours,” embroidered by special guest Houston Person’s tenor sax, swinging lightly through the suburban reverie “Baby Dream Your Dream” or navigating the impish foreplay of “You Fascinate Me So,” she remains an indomitable, if underappreciated, champ.