One day on my car radio I heard a singer that made me think “Now that’s how to sing jazz!” Her name was Carmen McRae and I became an ardent fan. I bought her records and went to every gig she did in San Francisco - from the Douglas Beach House to the Fairmont Hotel. She most often appeared at the perfectly-sized The Great American Music Hall, a little south of the city center. I saw her record with Betty Carter and do some Monk songs for that record. Blue Note produced a double disc album “At the Great American Music Hall” with guest Dizzy Gillespie, which to my mind is her best. work.





Some critics, I among them,  think that Carmen is at her best live. Here are some songs from her live albums:


From the 70s onward the music of The Great American Songbook was no longer the popular music of the day. It had been supplanted by Rock ‘n Roll and its off-shoots.  Jazz, some said, was dead. Jazz artists fled the US and sought work in another country. Carmen, although being a singer of standards, recorded contemporary songs for Atlantic, giving them the Carmen McRae touch.



“Tender and warm with a ballad, Carmen McRae was one of the great singers of jazz, finding the depth of feeling in the lyrics of the songs she interpreted.”

“A distinctive stylist, known for her smoky voice and her melodic variations on jazz standards. Her scat improvisations were innovative, complex, and elegant…McRae is remembered for her elegance and her ability to invest herself emotionally and intellectually in a song’s lyrics. Jazz critic Ralph Gleason described a McRae song as an ‘exercise in dramatic art.’”

—Encyclopedia Britannica