Mildred Bailey (1907 – 1951) ought to be a towering figure in the history of vocal jazz but remains largely unknown today outside fans of the music. To a degree, she is the missing link between Armstrong and Crosby. She pioneered the sense of intimacy which the new microphones allowed and which Crosby perfected. At the same time, and along with her contemporary Billie Holiday (who she resembles somewhat in timbre and phrasing), she showed that applying jazz techniques to the interpretation of popular song didn’t preclude bringing forth the full emotional import of lyrics.
Clooney, Crosby, Sinatra and Bennett revered Bailey and Frank’s pianist Bill Miller said of her that “she knew how to ad lib, I mean she never quite sang anything the same way more than once. Maybe she wasn’t quite a jazz singer, but I wouldn’t know how else to describe her.”
Here she is in late 1936 with a song by Vincent Youmans, Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu that was already well on its way to becoming a standard. The band alone takes the breath away including, as it does, Artie Shaw, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson and Dave Barbour. In what amounts to an exemplar of jazz singing, Bailey sings the tune fairly straight on the first chorus but both anticipates and delays rhythms in ways that, as well as being musically delightful, enhance the meaning of the lyrics making them both conversational and intimate. After Webster and Ziggy Elman make their mark in just 8 bars each, she comes back at the bridge and charmingly recreates the melody.