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The Blues and the Human Voice
Miss Waters was a great favorite among jazz musicians. Jimmy McPartland has recalled: "Bix Beiderbecke made a point of taking me to hear Ethel Waters . . . We liked Bessie Smith very much, too, but Waters had more polish. . . . She phrased so wonderfully, the natural quality of her voice was so fine, and she sang the way she felt."3
Jazz singing until the late 1920s was largely confined to the Negro artists, and, despite occasional exceptions such as Arm­strong and Waters, was limited in substance to the form of the blues. The break on both levels may have been said to be completed with the advent of Mildred Bailey. Where earlier white singers with pretensions to a jazz identification had cap­tured only the surface qualities of the Negro styles (Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker had all the vintage, aged-in-the-wood quali­ties of prohibition bathtub gin) Mildred contrived to invest her thin, high-pitched voice with a vibrato, an easy sense of jazz phrasing, that might almost have been Bessie Smith's overtones.
Some of the early Mildred Bailey repertoire had a blues flavor (Rockin* Chair, Lazy Bones), some a pseudo-spiritual touch (Shoutin' in the Amen Corner, Is That Religion?), but by and large her lodestone was the popular song of the day (You Call It Madness, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams). It was the effortless blend of this material with the warmth and vitality of the great blues singers that started a new CHAPTER in jazz singing. Mildred made her record debut in 1929; the next year, Jack Teagardens first vocal side was cut. Teagarden, too, was to lend a rich jazz timbre to songs of minor intrinsic merit, though his earliest hits were either genuine blues (Beale Street) or closely related forms (Basin Street). But from his debut (After You've Cone with Red Nichols) Teagarden provided a burred, slurred, Texas-tinged sound that gave jazz a new vocal aspect, a parallel for the throaty croaks and completely unacademic plaints of Louis Armstrong.
After Mildred Bailey and Jack Teagarden, no important new voices in jazz were to be heard for several years. Though she made one record with Benny Goodman in 1933, it was not until two years later that Billie Holiday, through her long series of discs with Teddy Wilson's recording orchestra, gained national