Mary Stallings: Don’t Look Back

Just over 50 years have passed since 22-year-old Mary Stallings established herself as the finest new voice in jazz with the release of Cal Tjader Plays, Mary Stallings Sings. Since then, Stallings has released fewer albums than the average person has fingers, the earliest dating to 1990. Tempting as it is to ruminate over what could have been, it’s better to celebrate the fact that she has been steadily active throughout the past two decades and remains, at 72, the consummate jazz singer. It’s also tempting to say that her tone and phrasing are strongly reminiscent of Carmen McRae and that her warmth rivals Nancy Wilson. Both statements are true, but comparisons can imply inferiority, and Stallings is second to none.

In 2001, Stallings found an ideal musical partner in pianist/arranger Eric Reed when they teamed for her Live at the Village Vanguard. They again united two years ago for the sensational Dream. Now, for their third pairing-together with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Carl Allen-Stallings and Reed easily surpass their earlier triumphs, achieving the same sort of rare, supreme simpatico as Ella and Louis or Sinatra and Riddle. The playlist is equally marvelous, dipping into the Benny Carter, Ahmad Jamal, Mal Waldron and K. Lawrence Dunham songbooks, and including two exceptional Reed compositions, the lilting “Is That…? (This Love)” and, crafted especially for Stallings, the sassy “Mary’s Blues.”