Ethel Ennis - vocals; Billy Taylor - piano; Walt Namuth - guitar; Slam Stewart - bass; Jo Jones - drums
A superb interpreter of ballads, vocalist Ethel Ennis came to the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival on the strength of her RCA debut, This is Ethel Ennis, and following gala appearances at the Village Gate in New York and on tv's The Steve Allen Show. Accompanied by Billy Taylor on piano, Walt Namuth on guitar, Slam Stewart on bass and Jo Jones on drums, she exudes class and taste on sublime renditions of the Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Huesen ballad "But Beautiful" (introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1947 film Road to Rio) and the Jerome Kern-Otto Harbach minor key ballad "Yesterdays" (from the 1933 musical Roberta), the swings with unbound exuberance on a hip rendition of the popular Harry Warren-Harry Dubin tune "I Only Have Eyes for You" (introduced in the 1934 film Dames).
Guitarist Namuth, a member of Ennis' regular working group, is a key contributor throughout this set. (Ennis' Friday afternoon set at Newport also included "The Song Is You," "I Love Being Here With You" and "Angel Eyes," though tapes of those performances don't exist). But the star of the show is Ennis, whose warm, expressive vocals and infinite capacity for swinging (particularly on "I Only Have Eyes") ignite the bandstand.
A Baltimore jazz institution, Ennis was born November 28, 1932 and began her vocal career while a pianist in a high school jazz group. Her debut recording, Lullabies for Losers, appeared on Jubilee in 1955. She followed up two years later with Change of Scenery on the Capitol label. Around the same time, she toured Europe with Benny Goodman, but eventually withdrew from road work to work exclusively in her hometown for the next couple of decades. In the mid '60s, she landed at RCA, recording This Is Ethel Ennis, Once Again, Eyes for You and My Kind of Waltztime. There followed an eight-year studio hiatus before she released 1973's 10 Sides of Ethel Ennis on the BASF label. That same year, she also sang the National Anthem at the inauguration of President Richard Nixon. Ennis next turned up on vinyl in 1980 with Live at Maryland Inn. Her 1994 self-titled album was well received by the jazz press, many of whom hailed her mellowing and maturing as an interpretive balladeer. Her last recording, If Women Ruled the World, was released in 1998. (Milkowski)