‘The Queen Of The Jukeboxes’ was another of her titles by Blues & Rhythm

“Dinah Washington, ‘The Queen Of The Blues’, was the most outstanding blues artist among female jazz singers and the greatest female jazz vocalist to sing the blues!” – so writes Patrick Frémeaux on the back sleeve of this double CD, and it is this lack of a real, precise pigeonholing of Dinah as either a blues or a jazz artist that probably indicates why, despite being one the best-selling Black artists of her time (‘The Queen Of The Jukeboxes’ was another of her titles), most blues fans overlook her. Some readers may own the four CD Proper box set, ‘The Queen Sings’, released in 2002, and several of her tracks have been anthologised recently, but even today she is still not really given her due by the r&b crowd.
And that is most certainly the audience that should be most interested in the music of the first CD on offer here. It opens with Dinah’s well-known recording of British-born jazz producer/ critic Leonard Feather’s number made with Lionel Hampton, and then runs on up to material made in 1952, with most of it brassy, at a mid-tempo, and squarely in the mood of the times: boastful, brash, confident, often downright rude – dentists filling cavities and the like – and you can hear the delight of the former gospel singer/ pianist Ruth Lee Jones in her vocals. Though some have tried to put her in the lineage of Bessie Smith, her 1951 version of ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business’ owes far more to Jimmy Witherspoon’s hit of a couple of years earlier. Vocally, Dinah is almost always far cleaner and clearer than the Empress, though she is indeed close to Bessie’s style of phrasing on 1955’s ‘There’ll Be Some Changes Made’. Even on the first CD though, traces of the “commercialism” (as the jazz press termed it) that was to become much more evident towards the end of the fifties can be heard: ‘I Won’t Cry Anymore’ has strings which scream “worst aspects of the fifties” loud and clear.
Like Joe Williams (the Count Basie vocalist), Dinah was just as adept at straight jazz singing as she was at the blues – and both are overlooked for it. With Dinah, the general rule of ‘the earlier it is, the bluesier it is’ holds true, more or less, though even in the time-span of the first CD, it is a question of looking at the titles or composers – so ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ is of course an out-and-out jazz performance. The second CD ranges across June 1953 to October 1957 and here the rhythm and blues material is in the minority, though even the penultimate ‘Blues Down Home’, one of a brace on the track listing recorded with saxman (and one of Dinah’s husbands) Eddie Chamblee leading a sophisticated big band, is a fine blues number. It is worth noting that Dinah utilised some of jazz’s biggest names in her bands: witness here the likes of drummer Max Roach, Charles Mingus, and Milt Jackson, for starters. Then there are the saxmen: John Coltrane (no less), Lucky Thompson, Tab Smith, Ben Webster, Wardell Gray, Paul Quinichette, Cannonball Adderley, are just a few… Dinah was a huge influence and inspiration for many black female singers-most obviously perhaps Esther Phillips, but Aretha Franklin is more often mentioned - and she certainly deserves to be represented in any discerning rhythm & blues collection. This set does present plenty of excellent r&b and her talents in the jazz field are also plain to hear; there are fine notes and packaging to top things off. If you currently have little or no Dinah Washington on your shelves, this is a good way to rectify that oversight."