Dinah Washington and Quincy Jones
I knew of Dinah Washington’s multiple marriages well before I fell for her voice. I was 10 when she married her 7th husband, Dick “Night Train” Lane, the All-Pro defensive back of the Detroit Lions. The Lions were then, as now, a staple of Thanksgiving television and a most welcome diversion from the press of people crowding my grandmother’s house. Lane was a fearsome cornerback whose penchant for tackling opponents around the head came to be known as a “Night Train Necktie.” Contrary to popular belief, however, he earned his colorful nickname not from Jimmy Forrest’s r&b classic, “Night Train,” which was a hit during Lane’s record-setting rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams in 1952, but because he took trains at night rather than risk flying to games in other cities. This I learned later; what stuck in my young mind was the news that Lane’s wife had been married six previous times.
Quincy Jones never tied the knot with Miss D, but they tied one on early in Quincy’s tenure as her arranger. Around the time he was preparing charts for Dinah’s 1955 EmArcy release, For Those in Love, Miss D asked the 22-year-old, “Is your wife married?” and seduced him over a tray of cocktails. “She used to call me ‘grasshopper kid’ because I was young and green, and we used to drink grasshoppers together,” Jones recalled for Washington’s biographer, Nadine Cohodas, in 2003. After the first night of what Q called their “tryst,” Dinah rang up Quincy’s home to recount what had gone down between them a few hours earlier, only it was Q’s wife Jeri who answered the phone. Call it an instance of life imitating art.
A decade earlier, on one of her earliest hits, “Blow Top Blues,” Dinah sang,
“I got high last night, and took my man to his wife’s front door/
“I got so juiced, I took my man to his wife’s front door/
“But she was a 45-packin’ mama, and I ain’t gonna do that no more.”
Quincy devised the most effective arrangements Dinah ever sang on For Those in Love and her follow-up release, The Swingin’ Miss D. Following her discovery by Lionel Hampton, with whom she made her recording debut on “Evil Gal Blues” in 1943 at age 19, Dinah recorded extensively with jazzmen, including Clifford Brown, Maynard Ferguson, Junior Mance, and Cannonball Adderley. Throughout the 50's, her working trio included Wynton Kelly, Keter Betts, and Jimmy Cobb. For Those in Love was her most jazz-oriented date, an album of ten standards played by an octet that included Clark Terry, Jimmy Cleveland, Paul Quinichette, Cecil Payne, Barry Galbraith, and her trio.
Jones understood that Dinah’s intrinsic, blues-based approach could breathe a different kind of life into songs by Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, Raye & DePaul, Leo Robin, and Dorothy Fields. In Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones, he said, “Dinah could really apply a blues interpretation to a pop song; she just knew how to bend all the notes and take it away from the melody just enough so that she put her trademark on it. Nobody could sing a version like that but her.” His charts supported Dinah's expressiveness while allowing ample solo space for her illustrious sidemen. Tunes include “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Easy Living,” “This Can’t Be Love,” "My Old Flame," and “Ask a Woman Who Knows;” on the latter she interpolated a couple of lines from “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good).” We'll hear several in tonight's Jazz a la Mode.
Here's a series of clips of Miss D in action, beginning with "Lover Come Back to Me," the standard she'd recorded with Brownie in 1954.
From the same show, Dinah sings "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair," the classic blues she'd recorded on her Bessie Smith tribute in 1958.
Here she is introduced by Ronald Reagan and accompanied by Louis Jordon on a 1960 television appearance. The illusion is that they're at the Apollo, scene of countless appearances by the Queen of the Blues, but they're actually on a soundtsage in Hollywood. Dinah sings her hits "What a Difference a Day Makes" and "Makin' Whoopee."