Pamela Rose‘s new album Wild Women of Song: Great Gal Composers Of The Jazz Era makes a compelling case for the enduring contributions of women to America’s treasure trove of popular music. It features the music of women songwriters – particularly those of the Tin Pan Alley and Blues eras – whose contributions Rose was determined to celebrate, artists such as Ida Cox, Dorothy Fields, Peggy Lee and Kay Swift. Says Rose of her ambitious project, “I have a few agendas here. It seems to me that the least we can do is be slightly familiar with some of their names. I would love it if the people who loved this music knew that these girls were out there too. They’re part of the great American songbook.”
And she transformed the Bull’s Head in London on Tuesday night with a delightful and original show using photographs and slides alongside her top-draw all-female band. Your reporter was totally unprepared for the feelgood spirit emanating from this gig – what a relief to see musicians enjoying their work so readily. Rose herself was nothing short of electrifying, belting out these deceptively simple songs with sass and very original phrasing. Pianist Tammy Hall injected an uproarious, joyous blues feeling into the proceedings while Ruth Davies found a deliciously round tone on acoustic bass. Drummer Allison Miller was quite simply a revelation in only her third gig with the band, propelling the music along with DeJohnette-like dynamics and a very subtle brand of swing.
The show was beautifully structured. Rose’s stories about the artists were augmented by a stunning collection of photos. There were many standout anecdotes, like the revelation that Alberta Hunter‘s ‘Down Hearted Blues’ (made famous by Bessie Smith) sold an astonishing 780,000 copies but she only saw $368. Or that Maria Grever (co-writer of ‘What a Difference A Day Made’) studied composition with Claude Debussy, not to mention the astonishing list of standards featuring lyrics written by Dorothy Fields(‘Just The Way You Look Tonight’, ‘I’m in the Mood for Love’, ‘Pick Yourself Up Dust Yourself Off’, ‘Hey Big Spender’ etc). This was a refreshing, very different kind of jazz gig, featuring just the right balance of song-craft, improvisation and storytelling.
Born in Los Angeles, Rose was drawn to music at a young age. She grew up a few roads away from the Troubadour, the West Hollywood nightclub that became a mecca for the emerging singer-songwriter scene in the early 1970s and regular hangout for the likes of Jackson Browne, The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. Singing professionally in touring R&B bands and for a lucrative radio and TV jingle market kept her busy for some years but she’s always had a hankering to return to her first love – jazz and blues.
Wild Women Of Song has been a challenging musical project for Rose but also an ongoing cultural history study with a dedicated website filled with previously unknown details about the composers. And Rose’s favourite song of the set? “I love singing ‘That Ol’ Devil Called Love’ best, the Doris Fisher/Alan Roberts song. It’s so complex and interesting to me.”