Beverly Kenney Sings For Playboys
Decca Records, 1958
“A word to Playboys: I would not recommend this album as Music to Make the Romantic Approach By. You’re apt to get more interested in Beverly than the girl you’re trying to impress.” —Steve Allen
1950’s lady jazz vocalist Beverly Kenney looked like she had it all going for her. She had performed with many of the jazz greats of her day, and was even part of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra for a time. The musicians and artists in New York City’s Greenwich Village scene respected her musical talent, and jazz fans from the period perceived her to be an heir apparent to Billie Holiday. She had even appeared on national American television, rounding out a May 18, 1958 episode of The Steve Allen Show. But on the evening of April 13, 1960, this promising and lovable vocalist committed suicide by ingesting a lethal mixture of Seconal and alcohol. She was only 28 years old.
To this day, jazz enthusiasts still ask amongst themselves: why did she do it? It’s a question that we still don’t have a complete answer to. But what we do have is a body of recordings that provide a whole new way to hear the vocal jazz genre. And of Beverly’s six LP’s, the true masterpiece is Beverly Kenney Sings for Playboys (1958), an almost perfect album that everyone who loves Vintage music needs to own.
Imagine a calm evening when you are up late, wrapped in a cozy blanket, with a book, the glow of a reading lamp, a crackling fireplace, and the moon peeking through a window as your only companions. You are thinking about someone you love, who is away and cannot be with you, and you wish so much that they could be there at your side. Beverly Kenney Sings for Playboys is this situation’s unofficial soundtrack. The melancholy solitude, the disarming warmth, the romantic longing—they’re all here on this album. And the album gently spills it all forth as effortlessly and quietly as the night itself.
The instrumentation is sparse—Beverly Kenney on vocals, Ellis Larkins on piano and celeste, and Joe Benjamin on bass (there are no drums or percussion). But there may not be a better example in the world of “less is more”. Beverly Kenney’s voice is so uninhibited and human, and as delicate as a fine crystal figurine. She does not worry about singing notes perfectly, or at least not in the way that we are trained to think “perfect” to be. While other jazz artists obsess over perfection and technique, Beverly lets you fall in love with the vulnerable, fragile, and slightly sad little girl that she is, and makes you want to wrap your arms around her and keep her safe from the world. No amount of perfectly sung notes stand a chance next to something—someone—this soft, this gripping, this tender—this real.
Listening to Beverly Kenney Sings For Playboys for the first time may end up being the longest and shortest 35 minutes of your life, all at the same time. The album opens with a playful, light-hearted version of the Gershwin standard “Do It Again”. Then track two, “A Woman’s Intuition”, unleashes the stilling, arresting intimacy that dominates the album. The song grips you like a kiss or touch that comes at just the right time and in just the right way—or rather the memory of this kiss or touch from someone who has since left your life. The album continues to grip you in silence, leaving you bordering on tears from the gently aching romantic void that it opens up. Occasionally another light, playful track gives you a slight break before Beverly and her accompanists go in for the kill—a soft, gentle kill, but a kill nonetheless—all over again. As another famous standard (which she covers on this album) says, “It’s Magic.” Unbelievable, absolute magic.
After many years of being available solely as an expensive Japanese import, Beverly Kenney Sings For Playboys is finally available in the US as an inexpensive MP3 download from Verve Reissues. Beverly Kenney and Beverly Kenney Sings For Playboys have together changed this writer’s life to the point that he will never be able to hear lady jazz vocals in the same way again. He will wager that Beverly Kenney may end up becoming one of your favorites as well. So do as yet another track on the album suggests, and “Try A Little Tenderness” by downloading a copy of this record and letting it work its magic on you. You’ll never forget it.
Do It Again
A Woman’s Intuition
You’re My Boy
Mama, Do I Gotta?
What Is There to Say?
A Lover Like You
A Summer Romance
Life Can Be Beautiful
A – You’re Adorable (The Alphabet Song)
Try A Little Tenderness
It’s A Most Unusual Day
David Gasten is the producer of the upcoming compilation This is Vintage Now, which features the track “Tea For Two” by Beverly Kenney.