MISS LEE WILEY, 1959 and 1972


I had never seen this photograph before — Lee Wiley, after her “retirement” from music, at the Grandview Inn in Columbus, Ohio, on September 21, 1959.  The candid shot was taken by the late Ed Lawless.  More of his jazz photographs appear at the website of the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California — http://www.nojcnc.org/nojcphotos.html.

I also have to say a few words about the only time I saw Miss Wiley perform — at her last public appearance, during the two “Newport in New York” concerts in summer 1972 devoted to the music of Eddie Condon and his remaining friends — called EDDIE AND THE GANG.  The Gang included Wild Bill Davison, George Brunis, Barney Bigard, Dick Hyman, Joe Thomas, J.C. Higginbotham, Max Kaminsky, and others.  For those with copies of Hank O’Neal’s EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ, a photograph of the closing “Impromptu Ensemble” ornaments the back inner cover.  The first half of the concert, if I am correct, was a set devoted to the World’s Greatest Jazz Band — all of its members with solid Condon associations: Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Vic Dickenson, Eddie Hubble, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Ralph Sutton, Bob Haggart, Gus Johnson, who played their familiar repertoire expertly.  Much of the instrumental music that followed was a reminder of how many years it had been since the Town Hall concerts and the glory days of the Fifties . . . as older musicians went through their paces, backed by an over-miked piano that tinkled and rattled.  Thomas and Hackett played beautifully, but they weren’t asked to do much; the others roared and circled. 

Miss Wiley had one set to herself — where, happily, she was backed by Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Bucky Pizzarelli, George Duvivier, and Don Lamond (if I recall).  She seemed rather nervous at the 5 PM concert but everything was in place — her unmistakable timbre, warmth, and vibrato — for the second concert at 9 PM.  I don’t recall how she was dressed, except that she, too, had changed somewhat since her glamorous portraits of the Thirties and Forties.  But her voice, although more husky, was still beautiful, as you can hear on the Jazzology CD that captures her short set. 

But Miss Wiley did something unforgettable.  Stu Zimny and I were in the first or second row, way off to the side, surrounded by men and women who seemed to have been Condon fans in the Forties and Fifties.  I had my concealed cassette recorder, and was perhaps (in retrospect) so concerned with tape-recording the music that someone without such concerns might have enjoyed it more.  And my tape of the 5 PM session fell apart and vanished, as objects tend to do.  But during Miss Wiley’s WHEN I FALL IN LOVE, I closed my eyes for a moment, a hopeless romantic even then.  I knew, in some rational way, that I was another anonymous face — if she cared to look down and see me — at best.  Performers at Carnegie, I would guess, don’t see people in the audience all that well.  But, with my eyes closed, basking in the lovely warmth of her sound, I could imagine that she was singing directly to me.  I knew it was an illusion then and know it is one now.  But that’s the effect Miss Wiley had on people who heard her . . . and it comes through the recordings.  Bless her.

13 responses to “MISS LEE WILEY, 1959 and 1972

  1. Pingback: MISS LEE WILEY, 1959 and 1972

  2. this is so amazing!
    As I once told you, my only wish is to have the chance to see Lee captured on film!!! Since I’ve never found anything and many people have told me what I DON’T want to hear, that is that nothing exists, I really don’t want to believe this but if that is true, I guess that will be my only wish forever!
    You were so lucky, I wish you could tell me how she was, her gestures or I don’t know…I know many years have passed since that day but if you remember something else, please let me know 🙂 Lee will always be my idol and biggest inspiration, thanks for answering my email and for posting about this.
    I really hope you can find that tape!
    Thanks again!!

  3. in the current (summer) issue of The Hudson Review, there is a 16 page article on the life and career of Lee Wiley. It is excellent (my husband wrote it). The article says that Wiley appeared on Jack Paar’s “Tonight” show in 1959, and that audio of that performance is available. So there may be a kinescope of the video as well.

  4. Wow! Please send details — the title of the article and your husband’s name, too. I know I’ll want to read it and others will, too.

  5. The article is titled, “Sugar: the Life of Lee Wiley”. It is the Summer 2009 issue of The Hudson Review at pages 267-283. The author is Jack Heinz. I don’t think the article is available online, at least not yet — maybe later. Anne Heinz

  6. Wow Anne, I want to read it!! !!!
    Please let us know if there’s a way for us to read it! I want to know everything, so the audio is available? :O I really hope there’s a video too!! Tell your husband that I thank him for writing about Lee, even though I can’t read his article, I really hope to find it online pretty soon!

  7. A Goodby Kiss- (Summer 1975)
    Dill Jones, pianist, and I were hanging out together and hit a favorite Madison Ave. bar of his before we stopped in to see Rudy Powell who was in a midtown hospital. We then walked across 57th Street and passing Miss Wiley’s apartment building, Dill asked if I’d ever met her. “No… Would you like to?… Yes!” Dill rang the buzzer and Lee invited us up. I met her husband Nat Tshenkle (I think I have the last name correct and the “T” may have been silent. He made me a very stiff Scotch on the rocks. After pleasantries Lee asked Dill to play for her and she sang “Sugar” standing next to the piano and facing her husband and myself. It was lovely! When it came time to leave, Miss Wiley came over to me and brought her face toward mine. As I went to kiss her on the cheek she politely took hold of my chin and steered me to her lips. That’s how to kiss a Jazz Singer gentlemen… on the lips… she taught me that. I didn’t know it was a goodby kiss. She was gone in the Fall. Rudy went off in ’76 and I damn near did too. But I’m glad I didn’t… and Michael Steinman came along and wrote this little essay about her which reminded me of that Summer day with Dill and Lee. And, yes, I did see her perform at one of the Eddie Condon Town Hall Concerts in the early ’50s. My mother (born in ’08 as was Lee) bought tickets for my brother Jules and I… and was there to see and hear her in ’72 with my wife Patty. Blessed was I.

  8. OMG!!! Mike you lived such an amazing experience!! You met her and you spent a lovely time with her! You’re so lucky, you can’t imagine how much I enjoyed your story, I adore Lee, you’re so lucky aaawww 🙂

  9. Thank you, Renata, and thank you, Jack Heinz — it’s always a delight to read a writer who’s in love with his (or her) subject. But there are Wiley recordings worth searching out: her live performances at the Condon Town Hall concerts, collected on a CD on the Jazzology or Audiophile label. And the twnty-plus CDs of the concerts (in Jazzology sets) are irreplaceable listening themselves.

  10. In the original version of my article about Lee Wiley, I included a selective discography with short comments. The Hudson Review didn’t want to publish that, however, so the article only has references to a few of her records. Because some of the readers of “Jazz Lives” may be interested in other materials, here is my list. It is not exhaustive. A more complete inventory of Wiley’s recordings (as complete as was possible) was compiled by Len Selk a few years ago and was published in Len Selk and Gus Kuhlman, Wiley: A Bio-Discography, 1997.
    Jack Heinz

    The biggest package is Lee Wiley: Manhattan Nights, the Complete Golden Years Studio Sessions (Definitive Records, DRCD11157). This four CD set includes the early recordings with Leo Reisman, the Dorsey brothers, and the Casa Loma band, the songbook albums, “Sugar” with Spanier and Stacy, the great work with Eddie Condon, and “A Night in Manhattan.” It ends in 1951 with the Berlin and Youmans albums with two pianos.
    The 1954 Rodgers and Hart album is on Black Lion BLCD760911, Lee Wiley – Ellis Larkins: Duologue (four solo piano recordings by Larkins of songs by other composers are arbitrarily inserted to fill out the CD to full length).
    The Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers and Hart, and Arlen albums of 1939-43 are on two Audiophile CDs, ACD-1 and ACD-10. These albums include good notes.
    West of the Moon has recently been reissued on a Mosaic single CD, MCD-1008. It includes the original liner notes, an update, and two songs recorded with a different combo, which were not on the LP.
    A Touch of the Blues, from 1957, is on RCA 74321903012, produced by BMG Special Products, Spain. There is also an expensive Japanese reissue.
    Back Home Again, from 1971, is on Audiophile ACD-300, along with the six songs recorded by Wiley and Joe Bushkin as a demo tape in 1965.
    The Carnegie Hall concert, her final public appearance, is available on Audiophile ACD-170. The album is filled out with a tape of a rehearsal at the Storyville nightclub in Boston in the early 1950s.
    An excellent selection of her work from 1934 through 1951 is Lee Wiley, S’Wonderful, on Proper Records PVCD141. This 2 CD set includes much of the songbook material, the Spanier and Stacy “Sugar,” all eight of the “Night in Manhattan” songs, and four selections from the piano duo albums.
    In 1944 and 1945, Wiley sang at several concerts at Town Hall in New York organized by Eddie Condon. Her performances at those concerts are collected on Lee Wiley, Live on Stage, Audiophile ACD-39, and the CD concludes with a 14 minute radio interview from 1972.
    Lee Wiley Rarities, Jass CD15, includes the two songs from Jack Paar’s TV show in 1959, as well as broadcast material from the 1930s and ‘40s and recordings made at a New Jersey nightclub in the early 1950s.
    An interesting compilation of broadcasts is on Lee Wiley: Music of Manhattan 1951, Uptown Records UPCD27.46. This includes excellent notes by Will Freidwald and excerpts from interviews he conducted with Joe and Fran Bushkin, Mitch Miller, George Wein, Stan Freeman, and Ted Wiley, Lee’s brother.
    Lee Wiley: As Time Goes By, on RCA Bluebird, 3138-2-RB, is a collection of material from the “West of the Moon” and “A Touch of the Blues” albums.
    True scholars can gain some insight into the process of producing an album by listening to Lee Wiley: Completists’ Ultimate Collection Volume 4 (Devil’s Music DM-6004), which presents the entire 1940 session in which the Cole Porter songbook was recorded, complete with all of the incomplete takes (“breakdowns”) and some rehearsal discussion among the musicians.

  11. Please make it #12. (Comment)
    Dear Michael, Renata, Anne & Jack Heinz-
    Jack’s “Sugar” (Hudson Review) was a delight. I’d leave this comment there if it were not such a hassle to do so. Thank you all! I learned much of Miss Wiley’s recorded oeuvre. Let me begin by saying I bought the 12″ vinyl Columbia “Night in Manhattan” album when I was a teenager and loved every blessed groove of it. Jack’s great article (page 8) states: “Unfortunately, management (probably Mitch Miller…) (isn’t he on some of the Mildred Bailey sides?)- decided to have her accompanied by a piano duo, playing in the full cabaret mode. The pianos are noisy, very busy, heavily arranged, and intrusive- not at all jazzy.” Ouch! Radio was “it” for this young country boy growing up in the sticks, Pine Plains, NY, 100 miles up the Hudson from The Apple. “Piano Playhouse” was one of the few programs I could pull in and it featured Cy Walters and Stan Freeman. I dug ’em! So when I saw these two pianists behind Lee, I knew I was going to hear something extraordinary. I never thought them “noisy and/or intrusive.” I sensed, and do to this day, a sophistication unparalleled in Lee’s work. Why, the three of them are having the time of their lives! Please listen to them bubble along, if not outrightly swing, on “Rise and Shine”– or that lazy lilt we hear on “Why Oh Why.” I like to think Miss Wiley loved those recordings. They were such a marvelous contrast to “the band” format. Some numbers even go out of tempo adding variety, a juxtaposition, such color. Well, thank you all for the education. And an additional thanks to Lee, Cy, and Stan for making my heart sing… Mitch for having the foresight to put it together the way he did. mb

  12. Hi, Michael. Just discovering this post now, having searched for “Lee Wiley discography” online. Thank you all. On to the Heinz article; can’t wait. This Internet thing does have its moments.

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