Please click here to read an essay about Nancy in Belles Lettres, Washington University's literary review.
YOU NEVER KNOW
Nancy Harrow's You Never Know is as notable for the name above the title as it is the accompanists credited on its sleeve. Boasting contributions from modern icons including pianist John Lewis, altoist Phil Woods, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Connie Kay, this unusually dark, poignant album is as challenging as any vocal jazz session ever issued on a major label, its exquisite melancholy the product of both uncommon sensitivity and consummate skill. Lewis also wrote much of the material, and his nuanced, economical approach yields performances that balance complexity with clarity. The austere settings offer the perfect context for Harrow's imaginative vocals, which exhibit the kind of restraint rare for a stylist with such abundant talent. A great if supremely overlooked LP.
Jason Ankeny, www.AllMusic.com
THE CAT WHO WENT TO HEAVEN
THE CAT WHO WENT TO HEAVEN
A STORY IN JAZZ FOR CHILDREN AND ADULTS
"This treasure is not a cast album per se, but is very much worthy of special mention and one of the year's most captivating. It is not based on a staged show, but rather a book, and has narration and songs.
"Jazz is the genre for the very gentle tale of The Cat Who Went to Heaven, an enchanting enterprise that I fall a little bit in love with each time I hear it. Based on a children's book by Elizabeth Coatsworth, it's been transformed into a jazz musical with captivating music and lyrics by the singer Nancy Harrow, who sings the title role. Appropriately, her singing is warm and fuzzy and sinuous. The cast includes Grady Tate, Daryl Sherman and Anton Krukowski, with narration by Will Pomerantz. They're all charming, and this piece works like a charm. Musical accompaniment features well-known musicians and adds the flavor of its setting of Japan.
"Computer-compatible, the enhanced CD comes with access to the printed score and the directions to produce the piece. With elements of mystery and melancholy (an animal dies as a main event), plus Buddhism, this is far from just a "kiddie" event. It's a loving story, and very good, low-key jazz music."
ROB LESTER, www.TalkinBroadway.com
"What a remarkable and unique achievement we have in The Cat Who Went to Heaven . It is an exquisitely delicate delight, lovingly done and I'm totally enchanted by it. This charming cameo of a musical is based on a 75-year-old children's book of the same name by Elizabeth Coatsworth. As the story is set in Japan, judiciously used Japanese instruments add flavor within this score which is very much a jazz journey. Mostly gentle, it has its joyful and jaunty tunes and is not without humor. A certain simplicity will appeal to children, but this is not by any means some kind of sugary, bouncy, commercial kiddie fare (nor does it resemble any other musical about Cats, despite the plot point about Heaven). The melodies are instantly attractive, some sinuous and others hypnotic by virtue of their sweetness. The composer-lyricist is Nancy Harrow, whose recorded work as a jazz singer over the years has always appealed to me. The class and modesty in her singing is also seen in her writing."
"She shines in the role of the cat with her warm and fuzzy voice, especially effective when expressing contentment and shyness. The adorable The Adventures of Maya the Bee, recorded as a cast album and running as a puppet show for the last six years in Greenwich Village, is Nancy's other musical for families. She has other albums inspired by the work of other writers (Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathaniel Hawthorne) and is reunited with several of the same singers and instrumentalists here. Her son, Anton Krukowski, has an open, clean vocal quality in his two songs; although some may feel he sounds too "youthful" to be an imposing Buddhist priest, I find his sound to be disarming. His "The Perfect One" is a real highlight. From the Maya recording come two longtime favorites of mine: jazz veteran Grady Tate, who was for decades one of the premier drummers and has also had a side career as a smooth, deep-voiced and very hip vocalist, which is now his sole focus. He sings the role of the painter who gradually comes to care for the cat in the role that has the most vocal variety. He meets the challenge with flying colors. And Daryl Sherman brings emotion and flair, as well as her customary honey tones, to the part of the housekeeper."
"Daryl is most often found playing the keyboard for herself on Cole Porter's piano at the Waldorf-Astoria and elsewhere, but here the piano work is by the sensational Kenny Barron, a strong presence throughout the CD. Other major jazz names are on hand as well, such as Gerry Neiwood (clarinet and flute), George Mraz (bass) and guest spots by Frank Wess (sax and flute) and the great Clark Terry (not only on flugelhorn but with a very cool scat vocal). In addition to drums (Dennis Mackrel) and the Japanese instruments, there are some strings and horns on some tracks. It's all restrained, focused and economical. Kenny Werner, whom some readers will know as Betty Buckley's musical director, did the piano scores and Michael Mossman is the arranger and conductor for all the songs. Will Pomerantz's narration, with background music, sets and keeps the tone of the simple but emotional tale. The sound is clear and warm (the album producer is John Snyder, another frequent collaborator with Nancy Harrow). Special features on the CD can be accessed by playing it on a computer. The full lyrics and sheet music (full score) can be seen, as well as stage directions and narration, plus a short video and access to related website information."
"This is all meant to be an invitation for groups to stage the musical. Further information and sound samples are available on the websites for Nancy Harrow and the label: www.nancyharrow.com and www.artistshousemusic.com. I urge you in its direction."
ROB LESTER, www.TalkinBroadway.com
"As the creator of Maya the Bee - the popular puppet show now in its sixth season at the Bleecker Street Theater - jazz singer and composer Nancy Harrow knows a good kids' story when she reads one. This time around she's set her sights on a Newbery award-winning book, The Cat Who Went to Heaven, by Elizabeth Coatsworth. Written in 1931, this story of love, integrity and compassion continues to resonate today.
"Grown-up fans of rock and roll seem to have plenty of fun kids' options, but those who favor jazz haven't always been so lucky. Until now. Through original compositions, lyrics and narration, The Cat Who Went to Heaven integrates the story line with an accessible, but sophisticated jazz score that pleases everyone.
"Harrow has been composing, performing and recording innovative jazz music for decades, with 14 records to date. Here she draws on her connections to assemble a roster of talented artists that includes Grady Tate, Kenny Barron and Frank Wess.
"The Cat Who Went to Heaven was produced in New Orleans. Touched by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, Harrow has decided to donate five percent of sales to Music Cares, a nonprofit offering relief to children who have lost everything because of the destruction.
"Music that's sure to be family affair and also helps an important cause. Sounds like jazz heaven."
"Harrow's writing has wit and sophistication...The songs on Winter Dreams deal with love and loss, ambition and status, lost dreams and the span of time. Poetic and moving, it's an unexpected gem."
Alan Lankin, Jazzmatazz
"Harrow investigates the hopes, dreams, excitement, excesses and sadness of the great writer and the era in which he lived. The resulting work is wonderful. This completely original musical adventure is a hip and adventurous journey investigating the nooks and crannies of Fitzgerald's tumultuous life...Winter Dreams is enjoyable from start to finish with some particularly outstanding songs. "This Side of Paradise" is a terrific, upbeat song in which Tate swings out hip lyrics...The starry-eyed optimism of the opener is contrasted with the epic sadness of the title song and the ennui of "My Lost City"...Harrow creates an engaging song cycle that reaches beyond the vistas of the life and times of F. Scott Fitzgerald by tapping into the emotions behind the story. Winter Dreams is a tremendous recording."
Michael Dominici, Whereyat
"Like Nina Simone, Nancy Harrow has never known the meaning of the word compromise. She has spent four decades fighting the dragons of pop puerility. Her reward? Perhaps one percent of the recognition she truly deserves. Harrow's latest Winter Dreams: The Life and Passions of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Artists House), has about as much chance for widespread appeal as caviar blintzes at McDonald's. The wise minority with the wisdom to recognize the clarity of Harrow's vislon will, however, be
richly rewarded. The album's 12 tracks, all written by Harrow, are less a musical biography than a gallery of hand-tinted X-rays that lay bare the hopes, dreams, fears and self-loathing of Fitzgerald's checkered life. Grady Tate, surely the finest jazz baritone since Billy Eckstine, is cast as F. Scott, with Harrow playing an assortment of supporting roles, including Zelda, Sheila Graham and Daisy Buchanan. These dozen snapshots capture a bracingly broad spectrum of emotions, extending from the youthful idealism of 'This Side of Paradise' (I'm young /I'm smart/I'm making cash from art") and naked ambition of "You'll Never Get to East Egg" to the money-hungry tap dance of "Dear Max"and the haunting desolation of the title track. A stunning achievement, Harrow's jazz-tinged salute to the most iconic of ail Jazz Age figures is made all the more admirable by her commitment to donate all proceeds to the not-for-profit Artists House, supporting her unflagging commitment to "rescue the recording business from egregious commercialism."
Christopher Loudon, JazzTimes
"Nancy Harrow has been on the jazz scene for more than 30 years as a vocalist,
earning the devotion of a dedicated following of fans and enormous respect among jazz musicians. But she is
also a talented composer and librettist, having created song cycles from such classics as Willa Cather's Lost
Lady. Here she wields her magic pen to create a musical passion play from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble
Faun. Hawthorne's tale is one of murder and its effect on its three major characters. This is a Greek tragedy
put to music. Harrow composed the words and music and Sir Roland Hanna shapes it with his arrangements.
"The respect she commands among jazz players is obvious given the top musicians who have joined her in this
project. These fine instrumentalists are completely attuned to the thrust of the story and each tune (chapter)
that comprises it. "What the Romans Do" spoofs certain habits of the privileged citizens of the Roman Empire.
Here the singers are backed by Dave Bargeron's majestic tuba. The story also has application to today's war
between the sexes. "Strong Women," sung by Harrow to the melancholy sax of Frank Wess, is a warning of
what has happened since Biblical times to women who exert themselves, refusing to assume a traditional
weak, subservient role to men. Wess on flute creates the necessary solemn mood for Anton Krukowski's plea
to one of the protagonists to abandon his life of solitude in his tower and return to the world.
" But it is the quartet of singers who carry the load. In addition to Harrow and Krukowski there is Grady Tate and
Amy London. They come together beautifully when singing as a quartet (as on "Carnival"), and are ear-catching
when soloing. Marble Faun recalls A Little Night Music. Not that the latter had anything to do with murder. But
the music reflects the cynical, worldly, and brooding aura that dominates Stephen Sondheim's libretto. The
similarity between the two shouldn't be surprising, as the latter was also based on the work of another
explorer of the dark corners of the human mind, Ingmar Bergman. Nancy Harrow's album is innovative and
entertaining, and is recommended."
Dave Nathan, All Music Guide
"Having successfully adapted Willa Cather on her previous 'Lost Lady,' Nancy Harrow has now tackled Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel 'The Marble Faun' (Harbinger). The results are even more impressive, as Harrow has crafted a suite for four voices (Anton Krukowski, Amy London, Grady Tate, and herself) where both music and text intertwine. Pianist Roland Hanna creates a fitting atmosphere of decorous foreboding in his arrangements for various combinations of 13 instruments, including a string quartet, a brass trio, a synthesizer, and Frank Wess on sax and flute. The mood is true to the source, while demonstrating what a jazz musical, that rarest of birds, might sound like."
Bob Blumenthal, The Boston Globe
" Nancy Harrow cut her first album in 1960,
with the Buck Clayton All Stars. Since then, she has made about ten
albums, and this reissue, a 1986 recording originally on a Tono CD, is
one of them. During her long career, Harrow has not received the
recognition that a vocalist of her talents would seem to have earned.
Baldwin Street Music, under the direction of Ted Ono, takes one
small step in rectifying this situation. The label has been reissuing
albums of such fine singers as Mavis Rivers, Ann Richards, and Kay
Starr and now Harrow's You're Nearer has been included in the
reissue program. In addition to the songs on the original 1986
recording, four alternate takes have been added, providing listeners
with over an hour of music.
"Harrow comes from the same school of singers as Lee Wiley, Peggy Lee, Jeri Southern, Helen Merrill, and
Blossom Dearie. Each of them seem to have an intimacy built into their voice which gives their performances
a familiarity that other singers often have difficulty achieving. This intimacy lends a special texture to the
vocalists' handling of the lyrics -- a texture that wraps listeners in the web spun from their vocal interpretations.
To be effective, however, the arrangements have to center on the voice, not on the instrumentation, and this
is the case here, with Sir Roland Hanna's arrangements attuned to Harrow's vocal stylings. It also helps to be
backed by outstanding and sympathetic players.
"Hanna is on piano, while Ray Drummond's bass and Terri
Lynne Carrington's drums fill out the rhythm section, all providing world-class support to Harrow. Adding Bob
Brookmeyer's velvet-sounding valve trombone to the set was a stroke of genius; he and Harrow hit it off very
well musically. On the Ray Charles' anthem, "Hallelujah I Love Him So," Harrow speaks the lyrics for a chorus,
engaging in a conversation with Brookmeyer's trombone; Carrington's accented drums and Hanna's piano also
get in a word or two from time to time. On "Mean to Me," the voice and trombone create a sensuous emotion
that sends shivers down your back. In contrast, things get cute on "You're Not the only Oyster in the Stew."
Harrow's debt to Lee Wiley is nowhere more apparent than on "Don't Go to Strangers." The blues are given a
once over via "I Don't Know You Anymore," with Hanna's piano tinkling in the background and Brookmeyer's
trombone bursting upon the scene during the second chorus. The album's paramount performance is of Hoagy
Carmichael's poignant "I Get Along Without You Very Well." Harrow's rendition is heartfelt and personal, without
being cloying and maudlin. The snippets of conversation and laughing between alternative takes shows that
the players are having a good time at this session. Ms Harrow is an excellent singer whose work merits far greater attention than it or she has received over her long career. This album is highly recommended."
Dave Nathan, All Music Guide
"She shares a certain ease of projection with Mildred Bailey and even Billie Holiday, and a certain way of turning a simple phrase into something heavy with perilous meaning."
Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence
"Miss Harrow's perfect diction and equally clear interpretation of lyrics are accompanied by the kind of expressiveness often associated with actresses who have learned that the greatest emotional power comes from restraint.
"In "I Don't Know You Anymore" the singer effectively plumbs far beneath the surface of the blues; the expression of loss comes not only from sensitive lyrical interpretation but from subtle control of color and pitch...The words of "Mean to Me" have obviously always been a tragic expression of trampled love, but that fact somehow escaped me until I heard Miss Harrow's reading of them. Now, all previous versions, including Billie Holiday's, sound lighthearted. "I Used to Love You," a resounding romantic eviction notice from the 1920s, is indeed lighthearted. So is the deliciously goofy "You're Not the Only Oyster in the Stew," which gets an appropriately Fats Wallerish introduction and accompaniment from Roland Hanna...Oh, one other thing: the heartbreaking delivery of the final lines of "I Get Along Without You Very Well." That's singing."
Doug Ramsey, JazzTimes
"I like Nancy Harrow's singing! Nancy Harrow has a small voice with an enchanting softness and just the suspicion of a lisp. At times I get a slight reminder of Blossom Dearie. Yet on some of the tunes, such as "Don't Go To Strangers," she projects quite forcibly, with the residual effects of introducing a vibrato-like quaver into her voice and some way out notes where you think she is going to totally lose control, but she doesn't. Additionally, and with Sir Roland's help she can induce a sort of rolling lilt into her voice for numbers like "I Used To Love You" and "You're Not the Only Oyster.
"The surprising facet, however, is her ability to sing the blues. It was this, unusual then in contemporary white girl singers, which caught our attention all those years ago, when we first heard her. Åpart from the obvious "Confessin' the Blues," much of the material here is delivered with a blues inflection, not least the funkily presented "Hallelujah, I Love Him So. If you like quality jazz singing, you can look forward to an hour of complete enjoyment from this album."
Martin Richards, The Jazz Journal
"Miss Harrow is so good here, the jazz singer's singer. She uses her small, compact voice perfectly, pinching notes and bending them up with just the slightest touch of the nasal, more than a little like Mildred Bailey, especially on tunes such as Ray Charles' Hallalujah, I Love Him So and lines like "You were meant for me, Papa, I don't want nobody else." One of the best singer's albums in recent years."
R.C. Smith, Durham Morning Herald
"Well known to, and warmly appreciated by, those who are addicted to the best in jazz-oriented singing, she benefits from a good choice of material and of accompanying musicians. To say that this is a new Nancy Harrow sounds like some kind of hype, but it is literally and impressively true. Capable as she has sounded before on her few recordings, here she emerges with an added dimension not present in her previous LP's. We're informed by producer Takashi Edgar Ono in his liner notes that this transformation began with her 1984 recording with guitarist Jack Wilkins, but it's much more evident here. As Ono points out, she has become emotionally less inhibited and more willing to take chances, this attributable at least in part to her taking acting lessons for the purpose.
"The result, let it be said, is striking. The entire album, the result of three sessions in early March of 1986, is arresting. Her newly acquired depth, richness and interpretive power enhance every number whether it's the astute selection of obscure older works such as Rodgers and Hart's You're Nearer or Redd Evans' 1954 Don't Go To Strangers, or old standards with a fresh coat of paint, like Mean to Me and If I Could Be With You. There are also the new angles to songs like You're Not the Only Oyster in the Stew, known for Fats Waller's treatment, Ray Charles' Hallelujah I Love Him So, and the Walter Brown-Jay McShann special, Confessin' the Blues. She's also found some worthy new material in Lionel Richie's contemporary Hello.
"Her accompaniment couldn't be better. Somewhat different in its makeup, it has Sir Roland Hanna at the piano, Ray Drummond on bass, Terri Lyne Carrington on drums and - the difference - Bob Brookmeyer using his valve trombone for perfect accompaniment, both in solo and obbligato. All four musicians are right on target, but it's Brookmeyer's brass sound that's in a position to stand out. The pianist is always key in accompanying a singer, of course, and you can't help but be aware of how well Hanna takes to his task.
"Producer Ono obviously has affection for, and dedication to, superior songs and singers, as evidenced by his reissue of Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey, Maxine Sullivan and Anita O'Day rareties...Here he proves his taste and perception with one of those exceptional singers who may be destined for quality rather than popularity, though justice says it should be both. If you want to experience the change and impact of a new jazz sound in a traditional idiom, try this one. Between Nancy Harrow's delivery, the phenomenal playing of the quartet, the songs and the musical concepts, the listening rewards are everywhere."
Dick Neeld, Jersey Jazz
"The conjunction of Miss Harrow's intimate, expressive voice and Mr. Brookmeyer's gruffly distant tone on valve trombone is colorful and provocative even in songs as disparate as Ray Charles's "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," in which the trombone's rugged bursts of arrogance and agitated muttering contrasts with the subtle edge in Miss Harrow's voice, and the slow gentle sighing of "Don't Go To Strangers" when voice and trombone take mutual slides into old-fashioned melodrama.
"The set covers a wide and imaginative range of material. It brings out Miss Harrow's superbly Brel-like intensity on Lionel Richie's "Hello," her charming evocation of Ruth Etting's lazy, lightly nasal quality on "Mean to Me," Mr. Brookmeyer's lighthearted frolicking on "I Used To Love You" and "You're Not the Only Oyster in the Stew." Miss Harrow moves into total simplicity when, with Mr. Hanna's piano as her only accompaniment, she sings Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well" with a throaty sensitivity that, as the song says, "can break your heart in two."
John S. Wilson, The New York Times
THE BEATLES AND OTHER STANDARDS
"The Emarcy disc comes from Japan and finds Ms. Harrow singing so well that we are beguiled into believing that Ringo, Paul, John and George are legitimate pretenders to the ranks of Jerome, Johnny, Vincent, Victor, and Otto. In the end, we are only incredulous that she has been able to make tortes out of muffins like 'Drive,' 'Got to Get,' 'Here Comes,' 'Because,' and 'Blackbird.' 'Drive' comes off sounding like something Dave Frishberg might have written in an off moment, while 'Here Comes,' enhanced by Bill Easley's pirouetting soprano, is as cheering as a Summer sunrise. 'Got to Get' is slowed down, denied its usual air of hyperventilation and made marginally meaningful. Ms. Harrow manages to make something out of next to nothing with 'Something,' and clears up considerable confusion about 'Yesterdays and 'Yesterday'. The former is a masterwork by Harbach & Kern, whose perfection of lyric ('...gay youth was mine/truth was mine/joyous free and flaming life, forsooth, was mine') wed to melody is examined in great detail in a performance abetted only by George Mraz's resolute bass. The latter is Lennon & McCartney's adolescent whine ('Love was such an easy game to play/now I need a place to hide away'), but this singer elevates it to a reasonable level of maturity by dint of her interpretive resourcefulness. Together with 'Yesterday', her reading of three of the other non-Beatle tunes, 'Foolish', 'World,' and 'Know' constitute the warm, pulsating marrow of this recital, the moments during which she eschews any pretension whatever, draws on the pain and pleasure of her own experience and makes confession. With only Roland Hanna's unbelievably empathic piano lighting the way on these three tracks, we emerge from the inner passages of her psyche, abashed but slightly wiser than we were."
Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence
STREET OF DREAMS
"The Sonet disc comes from Great Britain and is most significantly, in Ms. Harrow's own words, 'a manifestation of (her) friendship with Bob Brookmeyer for almost three decades.' This disc is their joint conception, a program of music, as Brookmeyer explains, 'designed to be a concert...and not a series of extractable items.' Be that as it may, I do hope I'm not punished later on for violating this grand design in both deciding I wanted to extract certain selections and acting on that breach of artistic intention. My decision to act in bad faith was based primarily on a desire to avoid hearing Mr. Brookmeyer play one of his synthesized 'Street of Dreams' interludes (each about 20 seconds long) ever again. (The only instance in which this so-called 'interlude' makes any point whatsoever is its insertion into 'Devil,' where CD technology, ironically, makes its elimination very simple.) After that, it was just a matter of preferential choices from a roster of songs spanning quite a broad range. Though standards by Kern & Hammerstein II, Arlen & Koehler, Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin, Berlin and Porter dominate, Ms. Harrow once again reaches out into the pool of contemporary pop 'songature' (my latest word invention) to retrieve minor gems by Glenn Frey & Don Henley ('Desperado'), Tom Waits ('Barney' & 'Innocent'), and Bob Dylan ('Lonesome'). Meanwhile, the singer's inexplicable fascination with things Beatlematic is manifested by the inclusion of one of Lennon & McCartney's more interestingly oblique trifles, 'Fixing a Hole.'
"Brookmeyer's use of the synthesizer certainly does open up a Pandora's palette of possibilities in the instrumental mounting of each selection, and he uses the electronics so judiciously that the vocal is never scathed, much less overwhelmed. Even so, it is pure pleasure to hear his trombone burring in on the opening of 'Mischief.' Each song is lovingly framed. In view of the planning that seems to have gone into the production of each track, it's easy to understand Ms. Harrow's comment about beginning 'in April and (seeing) the seasons change twice before (they)were finished.' Although recording was completed in July, mixing continued through the middle of October.
"Ms. Harrow's style, so natural and speech-inflected, can be traced back to Lee Wiley and Mildred Bailey, and not as far back, perhaps, to Irene Kral and Teddi King. In her notes, she acknowledges her responsibility as an actress in both choosing song-roles and making them 'meaningful and personal.' She is a marvel at it. She has honed a style which is absolutely distinctive without relying on affectation. The listener is drawn into a circle of intimacy proscribed by the power of her quiet conviction.
"So, with the reservations already stated - the overabundance of Beatle borscht on the first CD, and the over fussiness and failure of the 'Street of Dreams' thematic thread on the second - I find so much to admire and enjoy on both releases that they will most surely be in the collection I someday leave to posterity."
Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence
"Nancy Harrow is in excellent form throughout this continually colorful set. The inventive jazz singer is joined by pianist Dick Katz, bassist Ray Drummond, drummer Ben Riley and occasionally Clark Terry on flugelhorn; C.T. also sings on a humorous "Hit the Road, Jack." The repertoire reaches back to the 1920's/'30s (including Guess Who's In Town, Pennies From Heaven and Someday Sweetheart) and also features some veteran obscurities and five recent Harrow originals. One of Nancy Harrow's best later recordings, the CD does an excellent job of showing off her talents."
Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
"Nancy Harrow has a double treat, an album of standards with some originals (Secrets Soul Note) that suggest she has considerable compositional talent ('So Why Am I Surprised?'), and what I can only call a concert, Street of Dreams with the brillliant Bob Brookmeyer. The first is a button-popping quartet session featuring Clark Terry and Dick Katz. The second is quite an experience, with Harrow and Brookmeyer - on valve trombone and synthesizers - weaving an extraordinary tapestry of music. Street of Dreams is simple spell-binding."
R.C. Smith, The Herald-Sun
"Nancy Harrow's Secrets (Soul Note) is another serious contender. Harrow is joined by pianist Dick Katz, who spices this all-star small-group date with pungent solos full of mad left turns. The singer's little-girl voice titillates, as do her original songs, melody-rich and lyric-smart. 'A crushed geranium will tell,' she warns, 'just by its smell.' Secrets contains many such flowers."
Joe Vanderford, Durham Independent Weekly
"Nancy Harrow hasn't been singing quite as long as Rosemary Clooney, but she has been making jazz recordings over a span of three decades. Two recent releases offer two different views of her. The more successful one is Secrets, where she uses her distinctive voice and approach to the best advantage. On the plus side is the presence of Dick Katz's sensitive and inventive accompanying from the piano, with the assistance of Ray Drummond on bass and Ben Riley on drums. Additionally, Clark Terry shows up on some of the tracks to flavor the performances with muted punches, growls and caresses.
"She has an ability to create her own different and original interpretations of long-familiar standards while still serving the song's meaning and structure. Thus we get a new look at Andy Razaf and J.C. Johnson's Guess Who's in Town, a notable success for Ethel Waters, and Johnny Mercer and Matty Malneck's If You Were Mine, made immortal by Billie Holiday. The same holds true for Pennies from Heaven, introduced by Bing Crosby, and Noel Coward's I'll Follow My Secret Heart. Moving away from the ballads, she takes the message from Havin' Myself a Time and does exactly that with pieces like Rock it for Me and Hit the Road, Jack. Mixed in with the standards are several of her own compositions, well worth a close listen.
"Whatever she sings, the unique qualities of her voice and delivery always offer rewards. This is a carefully crafted album that should be listened to with the same sort of attention that went into creating it."
Dick Neeld, Jersey Jazz
"A sly, sure, delicate veteran, Nancy Harrow sounds in seventh heaven on Secrets (Soul Note 121233-2; 50:43: ****). No wonder. She hasn't recorded in such ripe company in current memory. Darting Clark Terry, supple Dick Katz, Ray Drummond, and Ben Riley strew flowers before her intimate Lee Wiley-ish walks through delectably recherche´ standards (1938's 'Rock It For Me') and worldly originals. No kid writes tunes like her 'So Why Am I Surprised,' 'Sea Change,' 'Skeleton Trees,' 'Secrets.' You need the golden patina of experience to run across (then tackle) top-notch, untouched B. Holiday gems like 'If You Were Mine' and 'Havin' Myself A Time.' Terry growls duets with her coo, and Katz changes his chameleon skin quick and handsome. Adult fun."
Fred Bouchard, Down Beat
"Sometimes winsome, always warm and sensuous, sometimes bright, bubbling and sophisticated, Nancy Harrow is an engaging, compelling jazz singer. She stretches her voice and the notes of the songs to make them her personal property for the duration of this CD. So Why Am I Surprised, along with Secrets, Skeleton Trees, Sea Change and I'm Back were all written by the vocalist and they are fine melodies.
"A good measure of the success of this enjoyable album is due to the skilled and imaginative support furnished by Katz and the rhythm section. They lay down a smooth rhythmic carpet for Nancy's sonorous vocals and the pianist has some flowing, delicately poised solos.
"Another big bonus on this sterling release is the witty, crackling trumpet and flugelhorn work from Clark Terry. He growls and slurs, rattles off some blistering muted solos, plays gentle obbligatos behind the singer and joins her vocally for an amusing, lighthearted Hit the Road, Jack."Listen particularly to Nancy's warm reading of Noel Coward's I'll Follow My Secret Heart, not an ideal song for a jazz singer but she makes it work wonderfully. Good fun, good jazz and heartily recommended."
Derek Ansell, Jazz Journal
"This is the kind of sophisticated jazz that makes most contemporary music seem inane...Harrow can swing, she works with fine musicians and she's a skillful songwriter.This suite of 12 songs is inspired by the Willa Cather novel 'A Lost Lady,' about a young woman married to a wealthy Colorado railroad builder. Harrow puts her own twist on the story and shares the singing/narrating with New York cabaret artist Vernel Bagneris. Phil Woods is in superb form on alto and clarinet, Dick Katz is the pianist/arranger, Ray Drummond the excellent bassist and Ben Riley the subtle drummer. The title track has an intelligent lyric about 'losing definition, looking for fruition, watching the horizon for a sign.' 'Starting over' is Sondheim-goes-bebop, while other singers will want to cover the catchy 'Self-Esteem.'"
Jeff Bradley, The Denver Post
"Nancy Harrow, a favorite among musicians for decades, has never been more eloquent than on 'Lost Lady' (Soul Note). This is her version of the Willa Cather novella 'A Lost Lady,' a 13-part cycle of original words and music for male and female vocalists plus instrumental quartet. The songs exude an unforced period feel and are trenchantly performed by the author, Vernel Bagneris (known for 'One Mo' Time' and his cabaret tribute to Jelly Roll Morton), and the more familiar supporting band of Phil Woods, Dick Katz, Ray Drummond and Ben Riley. A unique jazz experience."
Bob Blumenthal, The Boston Globe
"Your intelligence will savor her serene, less-is-more approach to lyric reading, with just a slight ritard (such as in the middle of Cole Porter's Anything Goes) pointing up internal rhymes that probably never struck you before. Your body will probably learn a great deal about the art of sensuous relaxation from Harrow's laid-back, slightly lascivious run-through of the old Ma Rainey song See See Rider, in which she demonstrates what pop/jazz singing can do when it's really good: namely, create a space and mood in which the listener becomes the protagonist.
"Finally, your soul can't help but be refreshed and enriched as you hear Nancy Harrow glide and turn, soar and flutter through such gems as I Wished on the Moon, with its Dorothy Parker lyrics, or the stoically lovely Arlen/Mercer ballad Come Rain or Come Shine, or maybe the best damned performance ever of He's Funny That Way. Her exceptional line and rhythm and pace mark her as a thoroughbred...a beautiful, truly elegant album."
Peter Reilly, Stereo Review
WILD WOMEN DON'T HAVE THE BLUES
"She sings for the sheer fun of it - not to be glamorous, not to knock our musicians, but just because she's got a feeling she wants to get across. Repeated hearings bear this out - her long, strong phrases; the ironic power of her understated emotions; the stripped, supple timbre of her voice, straight as a clipper's keel. And I say we've got a rare thing here - a woman who has made grand what's common to us all. I think that's what they call art."
The Washington Post
"In the category of vocalists (female) there are not many who truly sing jazz, and, even as to the few there are, there are endless arguments. The reaction to jazz singers (female) is intensely personal, as though their ability to evoke desire, pain, or a remembered mood were high among the standards they are judged by...Rather than evade the issue entirely, I have put the two at the top who seem to me most satisfactory, Helen Humes and Nancy Harrow, both aristocrats of their exacting craft."
Eric Larrabee, Harper's
"How refreshing it is to have a singer who: (a) sings for the tune's sake rather than her own amazement; (b) doesn't belt, shout or whine through her nose; (c) doesn't imitate Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday; (d) avoids cute or contrived mannerisms; (f) carries on the art of jazz singing in the delicate tradition of Mildred Bailey and Lee Wiley; (g) sings like Nancy Harrow."
San Francisco Examiner
"This is the third time this session has been reviewed in Jazz Journal. In August 1962 Sinclair Trail was full of praise for the LP; in May 1986, Eric Townley was equally enthusiastic except that he said that whilst better than most white women singers, our Nancy was a long way behind black women in intonation, etc. That might be considered racist today, but those of us who remember dear Eric will understand. Some of us may remember him arguing in Nice that a band composed of young men all born and bred in New Orleans, didn't play New Orleans music! Enough said. Let me put it on record that Nancy Harrow is a first class jazz singer who whilst swinging like mad has a deep understanding of the jazz idiom itself – which is a darn sight more than can be said for many of the much-hyped current crop of females we hear, many of whom think a little bit of amateur scat singing makes them a jazz vocalist. Ms. Harrow is a pleasure to listen to with a grasp of the blues inflections and of course aided considerably by one of the finest jazz combinations you could hope to find. All arrangements are by Buck Clayton whose trumpet work is, of course, first class, plus some searing tenor solos by Buddy Tate, terrific piano from Dick Wellstood, typical swinging trombone from Dickie Wells, with some beautiful ‘liquid' clarinet from Tom Gwaltney (remember him from Bobby Hackett's band?) The remaining rhythm section: Kenny Burrell, Milt Hinton and dear old Oliver are steadfast as a rock in support. All of which adds up to making this a 100% must for my record of the year selection. How did I miss this recording first time around I'll never know. She has a beautiful laid back and relaxed style on ballads eg: All Too Soon, Can't We Be Friends; a raunchy delivery on Wild Women Don't Have the Blues and all in all this is a hugely entertaining CD, highly recommended."
Eddie Cook, The Jazz Journal Review
"This record exudes a natural hipness. You get the feeling that Miss Harrow is an instrumentalist-storyteller. Oh, she's a singer all right, but she never comes on as if she's trying to lay some hip theatrical trip on you and some scooby-doo nuances just to make things jazzy. There's an inevitable rightness about her phrasing, enunciation (with those broad Billie Holiday-like vowels), timbre, dynamics, interpretation, and interplay with her partner Wilkins. The guitarist has big ears and the sensitive technique to respond proportionally. He breaks up his accompaniment to keep you even more involved, and his few solos are distillations of various styles - Django Reinhardt on Sweet Georgia Brown, chorded on There'll Be Some Changes Made, synoptic-melodic on the intro to Easy Living . . .All very masterful, unforced, and delightfully surprising. Miss Harrow first recorded in the early '60s on the Candid label. John Lewis produced her second album, for Atlantic, soon after that debut. The demand for good music did a slow fadeout beginning in the late '60s and lasted most of the 70s, a period during which Miss Harrow stopped singing in public. This is her third album since her return to the scene in the late '70s, and it's a triumph of her art over the general contrivance that usually passes for jazz singing. Listen and revere.
Owen Cordle, JazzTimes
"Some listeners will be taken with the repertoire, a delightful mixture of familiar songs, such as "Lover Man" and "Easy Living," and some neglected ones, such as Bob Dorough's lazy lament, "Small Day Tomorrow." Others will find guitarist Jack Wilkins' empathic accompaniment and plump tone particularly enjoyable. And then there's Harrow herself, a marvelous jazz singer, blessed with a piquant voice that is warm and agile, sometimes poignantly expressive, and always, always, distinctive.
"If Linda Ronstadt ever hears Harrow's gorgeous and knowing version of "I've Got a Crush on You," she may hop right back on the rock bandwagon. Harrow makes the lyrics entirely convincing, as in all of her ballads. And when the pace quickens, her voice skates gracefully along the lush surface provided by Wilkins' guitar. You're not likely to hear a better jazz vocal album this year."
-Mike Joyce, The Washington Post
"Two's Company,' another dalliance with Wilkins, has seven recent performances (Do/Walk/Eyes/Pie/Long/Anyone/Beautiful) added...they are woven into the recital, instead of added at the end, strengthening the impression of consanguinity between the old and the new. After almost seven years, Harrow and Wilkins were able to recapture the felicity of their original date. The singer's penchant for updating her repertoire is exemplified by the inclusion of Bob Dylan's rollicking 'Country Pie' and Sondheim's insightful 'Buddy's Eyes,' which, in Nancy's hands, works surprisingly well outside the context of its show (Follies). With such spare support afforded by Wilkins' understated chordal style, the Harrow approach is clearly revealed in all its speech-inflected, dramatically-nuanced, improvisational subtlety..."
Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence
NANCY HARROW'S LIVE PERFORMANCE
"In the exquisite company of the duo of Roland Hanna & Paul West, Harrow sang an artfully varied set with Irving Berlin's "Maybe It's Because I Love Him Too Much" the highlight among many wonderful standards. In recent years, Harrow has also become quite a remarkable composer. She sang a couple of songs from her latest CD, Lost Lady, in which she enjoys the marvelous assistance of fellow vocalist Vernel Bagneris, reedman deluxe Phil Woods, and the captivating Dick Katz/Ray Drummond/Ben Riley rhythm section. Willa Cather's novel is the inspiration for what is essentially a song cycle successfully delivered in the jazz vein. Harrow is a musician/singer with taste, swing, and variety. She also performed some of her charming tunes inspired by the children's story, "The Adventures of Maya the Bee." Here's hoping for more NY area gigs for this first-rate talent."
"The only damnable thing about Nancy Harrow is that she doesn't sing enough in public places. No doubt she whips off a few choruses at home, but the public is not invited into her shower.
"However, we got lucky. Wednesday night she appeared with pianist Dick Katz, bassist John Goldsby and drummer Arto Tuncboyaci at Jan Wallman's and a lot of the public showed up. One hopes the scene will be repeated when she returns to Wallman's next Wednesday for another go-round, for Harrow is a singer of substantial resource."The most striking aspect of her performance is her complete lack of artifice. Harrow just stands there and sings. She leans against the piano, her hands round the mike, and that's about the only expressive gesture she makes. She issues no funny asides or biographical data. She doesn't exchange banter with her musicians. She doesn't even announce the titles of her songs, which doesn't matter much because we know most of them. Stuff from Lennon-McCartney (four of them), Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and, from one of the blues empresses, Ida Cox' 'Wild Women Don't Have the Blues.'
"Her forte is a quiet intensity that burrows through into your chest, whether it's a slow, deeply felt 'My Foolish Heart' or a sly Cole Porter observation that 'Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love (They just try to kick it around.) Yet, there is a proud joy that breaks through on 'Wild Women' that makes you want to march along with her.
"For years Harrow used to be thoroughly in thrall to Billie Holiday. No objection here because Holiday was one of this century's greatest song interpreters. But, in view of her own substantial gifts, it seemed somewhat of a shame that she didn't move completely out of the Holiday shadow. Now, however, she has shed this ghost and is thoroughly Nancy Harrow. In Dick Katz, Harrow has a superb accompanist with a keen sensitivity to the needs of jazz singers. And in his solo on 'You Go To My Head' he achieves an almost bell-like clarity that, set against shimmering cymbal play by Tuncboyaci, reaches the innards of the song.
If you have some spare bucks to spend, Harrow and Company is a solid investment. The woman has blues in her soul. When she sings, "Don't Meddle in My Mood," stay back. She'd probably knee you. Tough, yes, but lurking beneath and brought out by vocal nuance, is a tender sadness that bewails the fact she's in that mood in the first place."
Don Nelsen, Daily News
"She shapes her phrases beautifully and floats them on an easy beat as she builds her songs into smoothly colored sketches. They might almost be pastels except for a suggestion of roughness in her voice that, combined with a slightly nasal tone, gives songs the touch of tartness they need. Many of her songs are heard so rarely now that it is a pleasure simply to hear them. But Miss Harrow compounds the pleasure by singing them with a warm appreciation of the way they sound best."
John S. Wilson, The New York Times
"...another fine singer has reappeared here - Nancy Harrow, a Mildred Bailey-Billie Holiday singer, with a small direct voice, a genteel vibrato, and a neat, canny way of phrasing."
Whitney Balliett, The New Yorker
"Knitted together neatly but not too tightly, the selection of blues and almost-blues tells a story of loneliness, followed by the excitement of romance, the inevitable break-up and finally into the philosophicald aftermath, and the audience dug it all the way - indeed cried out for encores. Nancy Harrow unraveled a breathtaking casualness as she stalked through her selections. In Wild Women Don't Have the Blues the notes seemed to roll off her tongue like marbles."
"When she gets to more subtle lyrics, she brings such revealing re-emphasis to the familiar lines of "Lover Man" and "How Long Has This Been Going On?" that they take on a fresh glow that is complemented and sometimes stimulated by Mr. Wilkins's provocative guitar."
John S. Wilson, The New York Times
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