Carmen McRae ranks among the greatest bebop vocalists; a singer with comprehensive musical knowledge and training who's applied the genre's harmonic rigors to her vocal approach. Whether doing originals, standards, pop or ballads, McRae's sound, phrasing, delivery and inflections are rousing and impressive. She's a good pianist, and her early days playing in clubs helped her develop extraordinary timing and pace. McRae's a first-rate scat singer and as rhythmically accomplished as any jazz vocalist ever. McRae studied piano before joining Benny Carter's orchestra in 1944. She sang with Mercer Ellington and Count Basie's bands in the late '40s, and also worked at Minton's Playhouse as an intermission singer and pianist. During the '50s, McRae made her first recordings and won Downbeat's "Best New Female Singer" award. McRae even had chart singles with the songs "The Next Time It Happens," from the Broadway musical "Pipe Dream" and "Skyliner." She recorded with Decca and began forging a reputation for distinctive vocals. McRae toured Europe and Japan often from the '60s through the '80s, though she settled in Los Angeles in 1967. She also recorded extensively for several labels, among them Atlantic, Mainstream, Pausa, Concord, Buddah, Trio, Dunhill and Denon. Some of the people she recorded with included George Shearing and Dave Brubeck. McRae has done albums dedicated to Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan, plus a stunning late '80s work Carmen Sings Monk. Her dismay over not winning a Grammy for that date has led to some blistering interviews and comments in various articles about the music business and phony jazz vocalists. Only a few of McRae's classic albums have been reissued, though Atlantic now has The Great American Songbook on CD. Some of her early Decca dates were reissued in '92, while more recent Concord and RCA/Novus sessions are currently available.
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