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JohnJ

Andy Bey

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PARIS There was a time when Andy Bey was known for his bitterness and anger. Calming down has been hard work.

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Bey's silky bass-baritone voice has become one of the finest instruments in jazz, and he exhibited his musicianship in Paris last week at the Sunside club. Intonation and pronunciation were impeccable. His texture resonated. He sings with an intimacy and grace that reminds people of Billy Eckstine and Nat King Cole.

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Cole was Bey's role model. "Dealing with what I still have to deal with now," he said, "and knowing what cats had to go through in those days, it humbles me when I remember how many doors Nat opened for so many of us."

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As a child prodigy in Newark, New Jersey, Bey was playing boogie-woogie on the piano by the age of 3, and he sang "Caldonia" ("What makes your big head so hard?") when he was 5. He performed at the Apollo Theater amateur night and was on "The Star Time Kids" on television before he was 18. Now 64, Bey has acquired a reputation for going in and out of focus.

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His trio, Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters, with his sisters Geraldine and Salome, worked in Europe in the 1950's and 1960's. He resurfaced in New York in the 1980's singing with McCoy Tyner, Lonnie Liston Smith, Eddie Harris, Gary Bartz and others.

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Three years as a vocal instructor in Austria were followed by one "comeback" album after another - "Ballads, Blues Bey" in 1996, "Shades of Bey" in 1998, "Tuesdays in Chinatown" (with Ron Carter) in 2001.

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"People are telling me," he said, "that 'it's good your career is on the rise and you're finally making it,' but I often wonder what being 'discovered' means. I never went anywhere. It's not like I was ever driven to be rich or a star. There are still times when I have no work."

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Last year, Bey went to a friend's studio in Augsburg, Germany, and spent several nights at the piano recording 25 standards. Ten of them - including "Sophisticated Lady," "There's a Song in My Heart" and "There Will Never Be Another You" - are on his recent CD "Chillin' With Andy Bey" (Minor Music/Germany). Listening to it, you can imagine someone working on a high wire - stretching out, leaning back, always managing to recover his balance.

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Investing heavily in each song, he tells their stories as to an old friend. Vocal variations are interwoven with his eccentric Monkish accompaniment. Bey began to look into the harmonies of Bartok and Stravinsky in high school, and he is no longer satisfied to be locked into the standard chord changes of standards. He looks for new dissonance based on the 12-tone scale, or he will add a triad based on the flatted ninth of the chord.

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A new album, "The American Song," on which he is accompanied by a horn section, is scheduled to be released by Savoy in the United States in late February. Meanwhile, "Chillin' With Andy Bey" still has no American distributor. He has had problems in general with American distribution, though he lives in New York. Fortunately, Europe is better.

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"There are still issues in this business in America," he explained. "But I don't want to harp on that because I've come to realize that the important thing is to keep moving on. The older I get the calmer I get. I've begun to understand my aggression. I think I'm getting smarter, and I know I'm singing better."

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One of the "issues" to which Bey was referring was racism. In addition, he is male and no longer young. There are not many major male jazz singers of any age or color these days (Jon Hendricks, Kurt Elling, David Linx, and a few others).

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On the other hand, starting with Norah Jones, there have been more and more albums by attractive young women. Their number alone reflects the increasing emphasis on youth and skin-deep beauty in American culture. Looking young and pretty (well-dressed comes third) wins a lot of points in the music business. An attractive journeywoman will be marketed with more enthusiasm than an older virtuoso who suffers from what Bey calls the "black male vocalist syndrome."

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The music industry has long been uncomfortable with and somehow threatened by white women listening to love songs sung by velvet-voiced black crooners such as Billy Daniels and Johnny Hartman. Bey insisted that the business "hasn't really changed all that much." He added, "If Diana Krall was black, she would definitely have more problems than she has now, and if I was white it would certainly be easier. But I've been trying to find a way to get past all that."

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He keeps reminding himself to be grateful. "Did you know that gratefulness helps get rid of fear?" he asked, without waiting for an answer. "I'm so grateful to be able to do what I love, to have a purpose in life. I could go on crying 'Black Power' and pointing my finger at things that make me angry, but I would only be defeating myself. I'll be the one who gets bitter. You have to try and control your passion."

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International Herald Tribune

Mike Zwerin

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(Sigh!) Another item for my long wish list! Always loved his voice! First heard him with Horace Silver and Gary Bartz, but I have too few of his records.

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thanks for the input. i definitely need more Bey in my life after his rendition of Peace from Horace Silver :P

Marcus Oliveira

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The new one on Savoy will be welcome. I think he's on target with his claims about attractive young white women singing jazz getting promotion at the expense of aged black male virtuosos. . . or almost any other group of jazz singer.

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