Herbert Jeffries
b. September 24, 1911 (Detroit Michigan) -
d. May 25, 2014

When Herb Jeffries walked into the RCA Victor Studio in Chicago on December 28, 1940 for a Duke Ellington recording session, he had no idea that his future was predestined. Ellington had called him in at the last minute to record one song, a tune called Flamingo (written by Ted Grouya & Edmund Anderson). Herb had never sung or even heard the song before, yet he felt such a personal relationship with the lyrics and melody that he recorded it in one take. Flamingo did not impress Leonard Joy, the Victor producer. Finally released in June 1941, it became an immediate radio and juke box hit.

Herb had by then, left the Ellington band and gone off to do his bit for Uncle Sam in WWII, but the song catapulted Herb into the highest echelon of popular singers. His three previous recordings of Flamingo have sold over 14 million copies and counting.

The Duke and I constitutes a reunion of Herb Jeffries and Duke Ellington on the 100th birthday year of the famous composer and band leader. In his tribute to Duke Ellington, Herb has selected very special Ellington material and spiced the outing with a couple of non-Ellington tunes that are worthy of inclusion because they have endured along with Duke and Herb. When Herb opens his pipes Basin Street Blues flows out like honey and you can feel New Orleans, taste those blackberries and smell the crawfish all red and steaming. His warm baritone caresses each word with a feeling of homesickness that only the blues can bring. Then it becomes de-ja vu, as Yogi Berra might say, all over again when Herb Jeffries once again meets up with Duke Ellington. He swings into a very sensual Satin Doll, then changes pace to show that a man has feelings. He cries his heart out with I've Got It Bad and That Ain't Good, (originally recorded by Ivy Anderson with Duke Ellington) as he essays every man's response to unrequited love.

Without a pause he turns the studio into a juke joint with a 1932 Ellington classic , It Don't Mean a Thing if You Ain't Got That Swing, Herb treats Ellington standards, Solitude and Sophisticated Lady with the same softness one caresses love letters from a long ago flame, evoking a sense of sweet nostalgia. He treats Old Black Magic, Bye Bye Blackbird and Old Man River like vest pocket buddies who have been around the block several times and back. Angel Eyes is vintage Herb Jeffries. He embraces every line as though she may reappear because he wills it so. And, of course, no Herb Jeffries recording session would be complete without his signature song, Flamingo, which he delivers as effortlessly as a butterfly hovering over a sweet magnolia blossom.

He is backed by the big band of Ted Herman. However, it is pianist Cal Bezemer, who has been with Herb for more than 25 years, who flavors Herb's vocals with just the right touch of Ellington. It's like the Duke reached down and touched his fingers as they tinkled the ivories.

I sat and listened and marveled at Herb Jeffries through this record session at Park Hill Music Recording Studios in Hemet, California and came away mesmerized that this was the same Herb Jeffries I'd listened to as the boy singer with Duke Ellington's big band in the early forties. He is nearly 88 buts looks 50, sings like and energetic 25-year old with a range of 4 ½ octaves. It's almost like time stands still when, as he says, "The chops are right!" "On tour six months out of the year, he defies the laws of time and space. Duke Ellington must be very proud of his creation, indeed.
Raymond Strait, August 1999



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