There’s a performer you’ve probably never heard of named Rebecca Parris who died at the age of 66 this week. She grew up in the Boston area and the Globe described her as a jazz singer of uncommon range and emotional depth. “Ms. Parris wove together jazz inflections, freewheeling scat singing, andan endless palette of vocal shadings into something all her own.”
The New York Times explained her “problem” back in 2000. “She’s a New England favorite who hasn’t quite been able to develop a national constituency. And that’s unfortunate, since the veteran… singer has quietly evolved into a highly skilled jazz artist… Parris sang a set of familiar standards with the confident musicality of a performer with both the talent and the imagination to fully express her ideas.”
The singer experienced some physical ailments, making it hard to sing while standing up early in the century, but as this 2006 Globe story suggested, ‘It’s been a drag,’ but it’s spring, again, for Parris.
From a November 2007 review in the New York Times: “If Rebecca Parris … who is playing a rare New York engagement at Birdland, were a blues-rock artist, she would belong to the school of gutbucket mamas whose delivery is the vocal equivalent of wielding an ax. Her voice, a rich contralto with a baritone resonance, is so commanding that when a song’s attitude is combative, she can scare you. But when the mood is playful, she can also enfold you in a musical bear hug.
“Most revealing was a rendition of the old Doris Day hit “It’s Magic,” in which Ms. Parris’s stressing of the words “the magic is my love for you” transformed a girlish swoon of enchantment into the narrator’s grown-up awareness that she is creating her own happiness.”
Rebecca Parris On Piano Jazz (with Marian McPartland, NPR, 2008, 56 minutes)