R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal) by Nancy Wilson – reviewed by Chris Mann


This year, singer and “song stylist” Nancy Wilson celebrates 50 years in the music business. 

At 15 she won a talent show in Columbus, Ohio. The prize was her own twice-weekly television show, Skyline Melodies. In 1959, when she moved to New York, Nancy met her long-time manager John Levy who got her signed to Capitol Records, where she was to stay for 20 years. 

She could rightly be said to have been “discovered” by Cannonball Adderley and an album she cut with him in 1962 certainly established her jazz credentials.  After countless television guest appearances, NBC gave Nancy her own network series, The Nancy Wilson Show, for which she won an Emmy award for the 1967-68 season. 

One of her more interesting albums from her recent career came about in 1991, when pop singer Barry Manilow was given a stack of lyrics written by the late Johnny Mercer which the great songwriter had never put to music. Manilow added melodies and chose Nancy to sing the resultant songs.  When the NPR radio network was looking for an articulate voice with both name value and jazz credibility to host their series, Jazz Profiles, Nancy was the obvious choice. Not only does she know the music, but she also knows the artists personally.

 RSVP is an album of classic songs that Nancy has long loved but never recorded until now… 

An Older Man Is like An Elegant Wine is very mellow and centres around the classy jazz trio of Llew Matthews on piano, Dwayne Dolphin on bass and Jamey Haddad on piano, as do most of the songs here.  Jean “Toots” Thielemans’ harmonica sounds like an old friend (as ever) and Phil Woods’ tenor sax smoulders.  In contrast to the deeply romantic opener is the vibrant swing of Day In, Day Out which features the All-Star Big Band.  There’s nice vocal phrasing, showing the confidence that comes with this degree of experience. 

Why Did I Choose You is a duet with Kenny Latimore.  I love the strings and that yearning back-of-the-throat yelp from Nancy.  Though Latimore’s silky vocal reminds me of George Benson (and I love it), I’m not 100% convinced that the vocal lines combine perfectly.  The backing vocals on I Wish I’d Met You sound like New York Voices or Manhattan Transfer.  Joe Negri’s gauzy semi-acoustic guitar makes this song for me.  The atmosphere is lazy and gorgeous. 

On I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, the Big Band sound breezy again but this time the voice is more out front.  Phil Woods on alto sounds great.  The trademark vocal stylings are all over the romantic ballad, Goodbye.  The band do little more than keep time and provide melodic accents – and that’s all that’s needed on what I think is my favourite cut. 

How About Me is very bluesy and sentimental.  Paquito D’Rivera’s wistful clarinet adds such a lot to the sombre tone of the song.  The vocal by Nancy on Minds Of Their Own is my favourite vocal performance on the album.  The song has a gentle Latin lilt, which you’d expect when you see Ivan Lins’ name in the credits. 

Nancy brings something special and soulful to Little Green Apples and she sounds equally soulful – and sexy too – on You’ll See.  The singing, glowing trombone of Bill Watrous provides a great balance to the vocal stylings on this deeply touching ballad. 

The dancing snare and piano with Gary Burton’s playful, sparse vibes make That’s All a pure delight.  A woman in the prime of her life is making promises to her man.  By the vibes solo, you’re totally hooked.  Beautiful.  This is how jazz vocals should be.  Jamie Cullum did a lovely version of Blame It On My Youth on his “Twenty Something” album and  this alternative slant from a more mature performer is good to hear.  To have George Shearing on piano is also a rare treat.  This is an uncluttered arrangement and a great closer to the album. 

I first remember hearing Nancy Wilson’s fabulous voice in 1976 or so on a jazzy song called “Now”.  In the intervening years, I’ve heard her on The Crusaders’ “Good and Bad Times” album and that’s all.  This latest CD, where her voice sounds unbelievably strong, makes me realise what I’ve been missing… 

Turn the lights down, pour some ‘elegant’ wine and enjoy!



Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild – MCGJ 1013 – Producers Jay Ashby and Marty Ashby