Saturday, 1 June 2013

Celestial Bey

The distinctive tremolo of Andy Bey's four octave baritone voice can be instantaneously plucked out of any recording he's on, be it one in his usual jazz idiom or a gospel side with the J.C. White Singers.

Even at eight years old Andy accompanied jazz giants, like saxophonist Hank Mobley, paving the way for his early recording on Prestige, with his two sisters, Salome and Geraldine, as the functionally-named group: Andy and The Bey Sisters. After three albums and an extended tour in Europe, as seen in the Chet Baker documentary Let's Get Lost, the familial ensemble parted, although Salome and Andy reconnected a few years later while both singing on the more mystical outings produced by the Horace Silver Quintet.  

Able to draw on his childhood gospel roots, Andy established himself within the spiritual and afro-political jazz mode en vogue in the 70s. During this period he crooned with Max Roach, Duke Pearson, Gary Bartz NTU Troop, Mtume Umoja Ensemble, Horace Silver, Stanley Clarke and Pharoah Sanders.

But it's his 1974 solo album Experience and Judgment, on which he also returned to playing keys, that Andy truly separates himself every other male jazz vocalist. The entire album is laid back on a heavily heavenly deep space vibe, yet its gritty blues riffs equally draw it back to the dusty earth. I'd rather not ruin one of my favourite albums by writing anything more about it. It just needs to be heard. 

Following Experience and Judgment, Andy appeared on a spattering of other albums, then all but disappeared from mainstream recording (a relative term in jazz), as he toured with Horace Silver, preaching their niche "metaphysical self-help" sound. Some of his dates from the 1980s were collected for his quiet return to the spotlight on Ballad, Blues and Bey, released in 1996, the same year that saw the openly gay singer diagnosed with HIV.

The rosters on his newer albums since then, feature some of Andy's old pals, including Gary Bartz on Shades of Bey (1998), as well as jazz royalty, Ron Carter on Tuesdays in Chinatown (2001).  American Song (2005), which earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album, and his most recent album, Ain't Necessarily So (2007 but recorded in 1997), consists mostly of swing-era jazz standards, however, they're delivered as only Andy Bey could.

He's still sweetly, deeply, baying at the moon.


Andy and The Bey Sisters - "Everybody Loves My Baby," Round Midnight, Prestige, 1965

Discogs: 'Round Midnight

Max Roach - "Members, Don't Git Weary," Members Don't Git Weary, Atlantic, 1968

Discogs: Members, Don't Git Weary

Horace Silver Quintet/Sextet with Vocals - "Won't You Open Up Your Senses," Total Response, Blue Note, 1970

Discogs: Total Response

Gary Bartz NTU Troop - "Uhuru Sasa," Harlem Bush Music - Uhuru, Milestone, 1971

Discogs: Harlem Bush Music - Uhuru

Mtume Umoja Ensemble - "Sifa (The Prayer)," Alkebu-Lan - Land of The Blacks (Live at the East), Strata-East, 1972

Discogs: Alkebu-Lan - Land of The Blacks (Live at the East)

Stan Clarke - "Unexpected Days," Children of Forever, Polydor, 1973.

Discogs: Children of Forever

Andy Bey - Experience and Judgment, Atlantic, 1974

Discogs: Experience and Judgment

"Celestial Blues"



"I Know This Love Can't Be Wrong"


Andy Bey - "Ain't Necessarily So," Ain't Necessarily So, Nocturne, 2007

Discogs: Ain't Necessarily So

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