Celluloid Improvisations logo Jazz on Film Mark Cantor

Nancy Wilson “Happy Talk”

In 1964, driver’s license firming in hand, I began to make exploratory journeys to local thrift shops in search of shellac and vinyl. West Los Angeles was not a hotbed of jazz at the time, but there were treasures to be found here and there.

The scene: The Goodwill Thrift Store on Sawtelle. Lots of 78s, but most in poor condition, the LPs generally in better shape. At the time it seemed like every third album was a discarded copy of Vaughn Meader’s runaway hit that went South after JFK’s assassination, THE FIRST FAMILY. Also multiple copies of LPs by Gloria Lynn, 101 Strings, and jazz performances on the Crown label. The latter were always of high interest. of course. Also, one Saturday many decades ago, an album titled CANNONBALL ADDERLEY AND NANCY WILSON.

At the time I was firmly under the sway of the great Swing bands, and I did not know much about these two performers. But the album was inexpensive and almost new. What a terrific introduction to a great bop soloist and a fabulous singer. What was just as special, however, was the tune selection. Again, at the time I was into the big bands and I was largely unfamiliar with songs like “Never Will I Marry,” “The Old Country,” and “A Sleepin’ Bee.” Only “Happy Talk,” from South Pacific, was familiar to me. And I certainly did not know the tune in the swinging manner presented by Wilson and Adderley.

Flashback four years earlier: 1962 boasted a couple of fine jazz programs emanating from Los Angeles. There was Frankly Jazz, hosted by Frank Evans, and Jazz Scene USA, with Oscar Brown, Jr. serving as host. This latter series was the brainchild of one of the hippest of musical minds, Steve Allen. The series ran more than two dozen entries and the music was diverse, ranging from Dixieland to blues to modern jazz. Among the featured vocalists were host Oscar Brown, Lou Rawls, Mark Murphy … and Nancy Wilson.

The program featuring Nancy Wilson included backing by Lou Levy (piano), Al McKibbon (string bass) and Kenny Dennis (drums, and husband to Ms, Wilson). “Happy Talk,” in the same arrangement as the recording with Cannonball, swings from beginning to end.

Explore More