Ernestine Anderson, “Just In Time” from Swing the Penthouse (2015): One Track Mind

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In February 1962, as Ernestine Anderson took the stage at Seattle’s Penthouse jazz club, the then-34 year old should have been consolidating her early successes.

After all, earlier associations with Johnny Otis (at just 18), Lionel Hampton, Gig Gryce (on his terrific 1955 album Nica’s Tempo) and Rolf Ericson had finally led to a 1958 solo debut, Mercury Records’ Hot Cargo. A Down Beat new artist award followed, then two more well-received Mercury albums into 1960. But, even then, rock music was emerging as the voice of a new generation, and old-school jazz singers (even those as bluesy and true as Ernestine Anderson) were falling by the wayside.

She wouldn’t issue another studio recording for some 17 years. But Ernestine Anderson never stopped working, splitting time between Europe and the U.S., singing her heart out on nights like this one in Seattle — where the Houston native had moved with her family when she was a teen in the 1940s. And she never stopped touching audiences, even if they became smaller. Ernestine Anderson Swings the Penthouse, newly released on HighNote Records, makes that abundantly clear.

Appearing with a lithe trio that included pianist Dick Palombi, bassist Chuck Metcalf and drummer Bill Richardson, Ernestine Anderson tears into “Just In Time” as a vocalist at the peak of her powers. She’s also remarkably free of bitterness, something wholly unexpected considering the unkind turn of fate visited upon her. The now 86-year-old Ernestine Anderson was simply born too late.

A few decades before, she might have been a seen as jazzier Bessie Smith, and become a justifiably huge star. Recordings like this one, never issued before in any format, ought to finally right that wrong.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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