Remembering the Jazz Side of Etta James

Remembering the Jazz Side of Etta James

Although her songs better recall blues than jazz, Etta James, who died last week, was also noted for adding jazz undertones to most of her catalog and even won a Grammy for "Best Jazz Vocal" in 1994 for  a tribute album to jazz legend Billie Holliday. As for Etta's own albums, "Blue Gardenia," was perhaps her most pure jazz album.

Since so many modern people only know the late legend for bluesy R&B music such as "At Last" and "I'd Rather Be Blind," I think it's important in the aftermath of her death to underscore her jazz tunes.

Besides the title song, the 13-song collection "Blue Gardenia," released in 2001 and partially an homage to jazz singer Dinah Shore who also had an album by the same name, contains James' interpretation of the following jazz staples:

  • This Bitter Earth
  • He's Funny That Way
  • In My Solitude
  • There is No Greater Love
  • Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying
  • Love Letters      
  • These Foolish Things     
  • Come Rain or Come Shine           
  • Don't Worry 'Bout Me   
  • Cry Me a River  
  • Don't Blame Me              
  • My Man              

If you listen to nothing else on the album, choose the first three reflective, haunting songs which are by far the most moving.  Clearly, her penchant was for ballads and dark, pessimistic tunes. That's understandable since her life was rough and she ran away from home during her teenage years, finding her fame on a road filled with drug addiction and abusive lovers.

On Saturday, the day of Etta James' funeral at a church in Gardena, California, I will be listening to the entire album.

The beauty of Etta James' music is that it's can't really be confined to simply one genre.  The 74-year-old legend prided herself on merging a variety of sounds with jazz and blues, including rock, gospel. and even country.

Listen to Etta sing the jazz-tinged "Bitter Earth" below: