This almost half-hour set is audio, not video (I wasn’t allowed to go to New York jazz clubs yet); some of the personnel is unknown. However, Bobby is in splendid form and the sound — taken from a microgroove transcription disc, possibly the GUEST STAR series — is superb. It also offers us a second chance to meet the intriguing and little-documented singer Roberta Peck.
The Riverboat was a restaurant with jazz in the basement of the Empire State Building, where Bobby, Urbie Green, Stan Rubin, and other groups played — with their brief programs recorded by CBS radio and transcribed for distribution to “the men and women of our armed forces,” and to sell U.S. Savings Bonds. Except for Roberta Peck, the personnel is not identified: my guess is Eddie Barefield, alto saxophone; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Ernie Hackett, drums.
This just in: Ernie Hackett, who might be the sole survivor of this lovely band, says he recalls hanging out with Eddie Barefield between sets. So that’s three out of six plus Roberta.
The songs are BERNIE’S TUNE / EMILY / ‘S’WONDERFUL / Savings Bond promo / FINE AND MELLOW (Peck) / TIME AFTER TIME (Peck) / WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE / SAINTS (incomplete) //. The photograph of an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert is spiritually connected but not factually so.
Bobby — in glorious form — needs no explanation beyond our rapt attention. But Roberta Peck deserves some admiring words.
Thanks to her older daughter, Karen Iuliano, and Roberta’s niece, Carol Vater, for their generous help. The stories below come from my lively conversation with Karen.
Her debut effort (not on CD, although much of it is on YouTube) was produced by John Hammond, and had Clark Terry, George Benson, Buck Clayton, and Frank Wess on it, uncredited arrangements by Quincy Jones, and it received five stars from our own Dan Morgenstern in DOWN BEAT. Roberta died at 90 in late January 2019. Here is her obituary — a life well-lived, to me. Roberta the singer needs to be distinguished from another person with the same name, whose art is visible online. Karen says, “I don’t even remember my mother doodling.”
Karen wasn’t there at the Riverboat this night in summer 1967, but she remembers the restaurant — she, then fourteen, was there during her mother’s gig, and she recalls when a distinguished visitor — his name is Tony Bennett — danced with her.
“My mom was in addition to a beyond talented vocalist, a fabulous pianist, composer of hundreds of pieces of music including spiritual, children’s and a musical about The Flying Wallendas, an enlightened teacher of piano, vocal and performance skills for all types of students.”
Roberta was the oldest of seven children. Her father, a part-time builder, played the saxophone. During her brief success, Roberta toured and performed in Chicago and Nashville as well as other cities — she performed with Red Norvo at the Rainbow Grille in New York. But before her success, she had composed a piece that a local musician, Ray Beller (altoist with Benny Goodman and others) who ran a music shop, encouraged her to send to Pete Seeger, who was delighted by it. Roberta met Pete at the Village Gate in New York City; he heard her sing and told her to make a demo tape and send it to John Hammond at Columbia Records. Karen and I agreed that John was always on the lookout for new talent, and the result was this recording. I think that Columbia might have seen her as a jazz version of Barbra Streisand: a fine young singer who looked lovely on the cover as well.
After such an auspicious start, although she kept gigging into her seventies, Roberta didn’t become a star, but that had nothing to do with talent, everything to do with shifting musical tastes. Now, it’s a given that young singers of the jazz persuasion will perform repertoire like Roberta’s, but I think after 1967 the venues for such music were slowly vanishing. When Roberta was a promising talent, her husband gave up being a music teacher to act as her road manager for a year, creating a debt for both of them that it took some time to shed.
Roberta went to Hampshire College in her fifties and became a teacher of “performance skills,” her classes attended not only by aspiring musicians but by executives who wanted to know how to present themselves well before an audience. She also composed a great variety of music . . . and lived a long life, remembered with love by her family. We catch one musical glimpse of her — Karen says her mother sounds nervous, but I don’t hear it. What I hear is a young woman singing with fervor, comfortable standing next to Bobby Hackett, who knew and admired melody. As do we.
May your happiness increase!