May 28, 2019. Mary Stallings sounds great—for any age, but, particularly, for hers. She’ll be 80 in August. This could be because she took so many years away from being a jazz singer, disillusioned by music business politics, to focus on raising her daughter, R&B singer Adriana Evans.
Listening her new album, Songs Were Made to Sing, you can hear the self-assuredness that accompanies freedom from everything but the music itself.
“Give Me the Simple Life,” serves well as the anthem for both the album and Stallings’ personal philosophy. It’s just vocals and piano accompaniment here—simple enough to live up to the tune’s title, but plenty soulful and bluesy thanks to David Hazeltine’s intuitive coloring of Stallings’ wistful yet unapologetic message.
Stallings’ Latin-tinged take on Tadd Dameron’s “Lady Bird” is notable for the presence of veteran percussionist Daniel Sadownick (who’s worked with Steely Dan and Michael Brecker, among others) and trumpeter Eddie Henderson, the latter of whom was a high school classmate of Stallings’s in San Francisco. Saxophonist Vincent Herring joins fellow Smoke Session recording artist Henderson to form a nice little percussive and harmonic horn section. And Henderson’s inspired—and extended—solo halfway through reminds that Stallings isn’t this album’s only illustration of musical exuberance defying advanced age.
Drummer Joe Farnsworth gets to show off his up-tempo swing on a version of Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” thrown into overdrive. Herring and Henderson again trade solos, after which they lay back and let the rhythm section take Stallings home. And who can blame them—I’m gassed just listening to these guys!
Songs Were Made to Sing comprises ten additional tunes, mostly American songbook classics, comfort food to the jazz listener. Elegant nonchalance, sophisticated simplicity. Like a chef who asks you to taste the food first before sullying it with a bunch of condiments. Come to this one as you are, and enjoy the music as is.