Thursday, June 7, 2007

In August of this year, SSJ Records (Japan) will be releasing a CD version of a much-sought-after jazz vocal recording, "Here Comes Carole Creveling." In my capacity as a release producer for the label, it is my responsibility to write liner notes for the issue. But as should be obvious from the following, this has not been an easy task.
--- Bill Reed
In recent months, fifties jazz singer Carole Creveling has become an obsession for me; a “Rosebud“; a conundrum wrapped in a riddle. A post-bop Dark Lady of the Sonnets, if you will. Let me explain.

In December 2006 I gave a talk before the Tokyo Vocal Jazz Appreciation Society dealing with the subject of (for the most part) perfectly fine U.S. jazz and jazz-oriented singers who cut one album (circa 1955-1965) and then more-or-less fell through the cracks of phonographic history never to be heard from again. The complicating factor being, of course, the tsunami of rock and roll that, beginning in the mid-1950s, roared across the landscape of popular music sweeping away almost everything non-rock in its path. The “victims” included some 265 (and still counting) singers that I have thus far isolated on my master list of “One Shot Wonders,” the title---by the way---of my TVJAS presentation.

Afterward, some of us adjourned to Cafe Albert
The roster of OSW names begins with: Adams, India (movie “ghost singer” for Cyd Charisse) - Comfort Me With Apples - RCA (1959), and concludes with Yancy, Emily - Yancy - Mainstream (1965), with stops along the way, in between, for such long-forgotten and (in some instances) deceased singers as Deno Kannes (d. 2004), Betty Blake (d. 2001), et al. The one thing that nearly all on this roll call have in common is that they started out with an eye on the prize of being the next Frank or Ella, but instead ended up---if lucky---working the hotel lounge circuit. And. . . never to record again.

If my list were not strictly alphabetical, there’s no question that Carole Creveling would be at the very top. If not by dint of talent (although she’s quite good), then by virtue of the relatively large sums of money that her lone LP, Here Comes Carole Creveling, from 1955, have fetched in recent times on the collectors’market. Even for copies that appear as though they might have been run over by a Mack truck and then left out in the sun all day for thermal reconfiguration. The album jacket bore the legend “Volume One,” implying that a sequel was forthcoming. But there was never, to the best of my knowledge, a volume two. If there was, I’d love to have a copy, not only for its intrinsic musical value, but also for the nice addition to my retirement fund its eventual sale would unquestionably provide.

One of the reasons for the upwards of a thousand dollars for which “Here Comes…” has sold in recent times is its sheer scarcity. Very few copies are known to exist. It also helps that one of the players in the group backing the singer is the wonderful and widely-respected guitarist Jimmy Wyble. The Texas-born player began his career in the mid-1940s with no less than Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and never looked back throughout the coming years, appearing and touring with the varied likes of Benny Goodman, Spade Cooley, Red Norvo, and. . .Frank Sinatra (he can be heard on FS‘s “Live in Australia, 1959“).

The skimpy liner notes on the back of the LP ask “Who is Carole Creveling?“ but then as Nat Hentoff, one of the most esteemed jazz critics of the era, complains in his review of the recording in the 1/25/56 issue of Down Beat magazine, “the totally inadequate notes tell us nothing” about a singer who he goes on to praise for a “warmly promising beginning.” Thus, the skyrocketing cost of the original LP perhaps also arises not just from its scarcity, but also, perhaps, the mystery surrounding the recording. Who is Carole Creveling, indeed? More than a half-century later, it is a question that continues to cry out for an answer.

“Carole just sings,” continues Hentoff. “She doesn’t need or use gimmicks. She has taste, generally good phrasing, and a pleasant lightly husky sound.” He goes on to single out good-enough-for-Sinatra guitarist Jimmy Wyble for praise. Significantly, this is the only review of the recording, or even mention of Creveling, that I have been able to uncover in any publication of the era. I did not include the singer in my Tokyo talk. For what is there left to say about her except that. . . there is nothing to say! Thus it was that, in early 2007, returned from my latest trip to Japan, I set about, Lupin-like, to solve the puzzle of this Phantom Singer (as one Japanese blogger deems Creveling).

My first act was to ring up one-off Creveling sideman Wyble, Surely, he could help me crack the case. But with a career stretching back over hundreds of studio sessions over more than half-a-century, Wyble could remember next-to-nothing. Only that---underscoring the oftentimes ironic aspect of selective memory---“She wore glasses, came to the recording session with her mother, and hailed originally---I think---from Louisiana.” Considering that much studio time has passed under the bridge since he worked with the singer in ‘55, it is an understandable long term memory lapse.

Still, Wyble’s slight recollections were better than two of the equally highly-employed sidemen of the era, bassist Max Bennett and drummer Chuck Flores, who were part of the trio (along with pianist Lou Levy who died in 2001) heard backing the singer on her lone 45 rpm, released immediately subsequent to the LP. Unlike Wyble, they could remember nothing, not even that she might have worn a red dress to the date. My deerstalker cap knocked only slightly askew place, I forged on.

With such an obscure last name---there are only 317 Crevelings (Dutch origin Grevelink) in the U.S. phone book--- tracking down at least something about Carole would surely prove a piece of cake. I even found an address for an actual “Carole Creveling”. . . and in California, yet! But a letter to her went unanswered. And dozens and dozens of emails and phone calls to various other Crevelings around the country yielded nothing. Not even the semi-official genealogist of the family could help. And as for that “Carole Creveling” who didn’t answer my letter. No matter. “That’s my sister,“ the genealogist told me. It turns out that: “She's a school teacher, not a singer. In fact, she can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”

And those letters and emails marked only the very beginning of my quest, which also included trips to various research facilities, and attempts to contact other musicians and songwriters connected with the Creveling LP. All proved dead-ends. As for the internet. Forget about it. There’s next to nothing there.

Next, I would try to find out something about Euterpean Records (Euterpe, for those of you out of the loop, was the Greek muse of music), the label that had released “Here Comes. . ..“

Creveling’s recording---with its ETP 101 catalogue number---was most likely the label‘s first release (was there ever an ETP 102?). From the back of the LP, I learned that Euterpean had operated out of Laguna Beach, California, located some 25 miles south of Los Angeles. Doubtlessly this was the only record label ever located there. In early May 2007, I took a drive down to the laid back coastal artists’ colony.

First off, I checked old phone books (circa 1955) in the public library. Sure enough, not only was there a Carole Creveling listed (without question the dame---to employ a bit of Chandlerian argot---I was looking for), but there also resided at the same address George W. and Florien Creveling. Daughter, father and mother? Today, however, there is no longer a sign of any resident bearing that family name in Laguna Beach. (I’ll confess that I half expected her to come wading out of the Pacific Ocean a la the cover of “Here Comes. . .“).

Most likely, then, Euterpean Records was a short-lived mom-and-pop operation, with Here Comes Carole Creveling the label’s lone release. That was all that I gleaned from my first---but unlikely to be my last---expedition to Laguna Beach.

Former Creveling house in Laguna Beach

Former Euterpean Records “headquarters”
Even if Carole Creveling but dipped her toe in the waters of show biz (did she ever appear “live” anywhere?), decided that it wasn't for her after all, got married, moved to the midwest and taught high school music for the rest of her professional life?, still I am interested in her story. It can’t help but shed a bit more light on the subject of the jazz life of the late fifties and early sixties.

Carole Creveling would at least be in her mid-seventies today. I hope I can find her. Talk about falling below radar!

For future developments and updates on The Case of the Phantom Jazzette, check back here on a regular basis. And if you have any thoughts regarding Creveling's whereabouts, mo or cv, please let me know.

Link to Japanese CC site #1 (with mp3)
Link to Japanese CC site #2
Advance orders here


SSJ Releases June 2007

Barbara Lea: A Woman in Love + 2
Carl Saunders: Blues on the Side
Perry Como: In Italy
For all your SSJ needs, try Dusty Groove or All Music Services