Dakota Staton - vocals; Joe Saye - piano; Leroy Terry - bass; Khalil Madi - drums
A wonderful interpreter of ballads as well as an inveterate swinger, Miss Dakota Staton is one of those singers from the '50s who seems to have fallen through the cracks of time. And while she may not be as widely regarded today as jazz vocal legends like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, the sheer expressive power of her voice is undeniable and her dramatic delivery as compelling as her tough, sassy stage presence. Staton's scintillating performance at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival was one of the highlights of that Saturday evening, which also included performances from Thelonious Monk's quartet, Dizzy Gillespie's quintet, the Oscar Peterson Trio and the Modern Jazz Quartet.
She comes out of the gate with fierce conviction on the first number, holding nothing back on a hard swinging rendition of "Cherokee," a long-standing jazz jam vehicle penned by British bandleader Ray Noble in 1938 and subsequently covered by everyone from Charlie Barnet and Charlie Parker to Clifford Brown and Bud Powell. Staton injects a sense of drama into each phrase of the torch song "Trust in Me" (from her 1957 recording debut, Late, Late Show) caressing and bending each note with the soulful nuance of Dinah Washington, her most obvious role model. The ensemble swings with hard bop intensity on Jesse Stone's "Idaho," which features British piano Joe Saye stretching out on a cascading piano and drummer Khalil Madi (who later played with the enigmatic and neglected pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali) fueling the proceedings with a steady pulse on the ride cymbal. Staton delivers this R&B trifle with smoldering intensity and an inner urge to swing.
On the melancholy lament "The Thrill Is Gone," Staton expertly conveys a sense of profound sorrow in the lyrics, then generates a surging, upbeat momentum on a bristling rendition of Gershwin's "They All Laughed." And the ensemble hits a soulful accord on "Crazy He Calls Me," a poignant lament associated with Billie Holiday. Next they rock the Newport audience on a buoyantly swinging rendition of the Camden-Green-Styne chestnut, "The Party's Over," and Staton closes her vibrant set with a version of Erroll Garner's "Misty" that is positively operatic in scope.
Staton's first gig at the Newport Jazz Festival couldn't have been better timed, coming right on the heels of her 1959 Capitol release, Crazy He Calls Me. Following her triumphant at Newport, she would record two more albums for Capitol before cutting a live album at George Wein's nightclub in Boston, 1961's Dakota at Storyville, which led to a recording contract with the United Artists label. After relocating to England in 1965, her stock dropped somewhat Stateside. She returned in 1970 and launched a comeback in the early '70s with a series of recordings on the Groove Merchant label, including 1972's Madame Foo Foo, featuring the great soul-jazz organist Richard "Groove" Holmes. Stanton continued to tour and record through the '80s and '90s. Her final studio date was 1999's A Pocket of Love Letters on the High Note label. She died at April 10, 2007 age 76.
Born outside of Pittsburgh on June 3, 1930, she began singing and dancing as a child, later attending the Filion School of Music, where she starred in the stage show Fantastic Rhythm. She got her first professional experience in 1948 with local bandleader Joe Wespray and later had a lengthy residency at Detroit's landmark Flame Show Bar. After years of traveling the Midwest club circuit, she settled in New York City and began performing at Harlem's Baby Grand, where she captured the attention of Capitol Records producer Dave Cavanaugh, who signed Staton to the label in 1954. She debuted with the single "What Do You Know About Love?"and a year later was named Most Promising Newcomer for 1955 in Down Beat magazine's Critics Poll. While Staton was certainly comfortable in a jazz setting - she swung confidentially with some of the finest players on the scene - she also had the ability to cross over convincingly into the R&B camp, performing on showcase bills with the likes of Big Joe Turner and Fats Domino during the 1950s. Staton burst onto the scene in 1957 with her first full-length album, The Late, Late Show, which proved to be an enormous crossover hit. She followed up that success with 1958's The Dynamic Dakota Staton!, which scaled the R&B charts and marked the first of many collaborations with arranger Sid Feller.
After marrying trumpeter Talib Ahmad Dawud in 1958, Staton converted to Islam and for a time performed under the name Aliyah Rabia. She was also an active member of Dawud's advocacy group the Muslim Brotherhood, which existed in large part to combat the radical politics of black supremacist Elijah Muhammad. The resulting media attention interrupted Staton's commercial momentum. And though Crazy He Calls Me made an impressive showing on the charts in 1959, it paled in comparison to the crossover success that greeted her previous recordings. After ten recordings with Capitol, she jumped to United Artists for 1963's From Dakota with Love and followed up with Live and Swinging and Dakota Staton with Strings. She did not cut another record for eight years, then mounted a comeback in the 1970s. She performed into the late '90s before suffering a triple aneurysm. Her health was in serious decline for a few years before she finally passed away in 2007. But in 1959 at the Newport Jazz Festival, Ms. Staton was at the peak of her powers and conveyed that magnetic energy to her audience at Freebody Park in Rhode Island. (Milkowski)