Monday, June 6, 2011

Ozzie Bailey Too


Six months ago I posted a brief piece titled "Ozzie Strays," an introduction of sorts to Ozzie Bailey, a littleknown vocalist who sang with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra around 1957-58. Ozzie performed on Duke's 1957 television special A Drum Is a Woman as well as the accompanying long-play record. He toured with the band around then, appearing overseas and at Newport with Duke in 1958 (his feature was a French/English version of "Autumn Leaves" arranged by Billy Strayhorn), and slightly later Ozzie also recorded some songs, demos maybe, for a Strayhorn project.

Then he seems to have vanished from the Jazz scene. My post asked the basic questions--who was this guy? what became of him?--and I asked for additional information from anyone who happened to read the piece and could help. Time went by and then two weeks ago, a man named "Art Serating" submitted the comment I am about to reproduce. I've sent a couple of emails to Mr. Serating's odd return address, but no further communiques have been forthcoming. So I offer his emailed comment now without having verified any of it...

I met Ozzie in New York in 1971. He and I worked together as sales clerks in the record department in the Doubleday Bookshop on Fifth Avenue & 53rd Street. He was extremely shy and spoke very little about his experiences with Duke Ellington but other employees already knew of his incredible talent. We played music in the store all day and he frequently sang along to everyone's delight. His favorite lunch was a Smithfield Burger from the hamburger shop down the block.

I never saw him lose his cool. He was a real gentleman. Ozzie had a great musical memory and he would always help customers find what they were looking for. Famous New York entertainers frequently visited Ozzie at the store and we were all impressed with his circle of friends. Ozzie passed on some years ago but his beautiful voice goes on forever.


From band vocalist to bookstore clerk just a decade later. In the unanswered emails I asked Serating if any of Ozzie's Ellington reminiscences could be shared... what celebrity friends visited him at the store... when precisely he had died... and so on. But no response.

So the world may know more about Ozzie Bailey now--or not--but the mystery surrounding his curious life continues...

12 comments:

all ways 11 o'clock said...

Great post.

-this is heart breaking and beautiful at the same time. i have
"Woman Is a Drum", play it often and now thanks to you have a little history.

so many artists go this way don't they? and why not as long as they live a life fulfilled and only they know this. let us all hope.

~robert

all ways 11 o'clock said...

i have a link you might like.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98bmkRc6f2s

I Witness said...

Thanks for the words and link. Always a treat to connect with all ways 11 o'clock site and bossman.

David Sherr said...

I just heard a live Ellington recording (on WKCR New York) of "Star Crossed Lovers". Duke announced a wordless vocal by Ozzie Bailey. It sounded great. I googled him and came almost immediately to this site. There doesn't seem to have been a mention of that track in these entries. Duke had a few obscure singers. I worked with two of them: Lil Greenwood who was part of a team at that point (1965) with René Robin; and Angeline Butler, who fully deserves her obscurity. I wrote about the experience with Lil Greenwood briefly at http://www.belairjazz.org.

David Sherr said...

I just heard a live recording (on WKCR in New York) of Star Crossed Lovers in which Ellington announced a wordless vocal by Ozzie Bailey. It was beautiful. I googled him and came to this site.

The track I heard might have been issued recently. Duke had a few obscure singers. I worked with two of them, Lil Greenwood (I wrote about that at www.belairjazz.org in the entry on Sonny Criss) and Angeline Butler, who fully deserved her obscurity.

I Witness said...

Mr. Sherr also sent yet a third version of the same general information, which I am happy to receive--just not three times in a row with no added explanation or directions asking me to delete or ignore the (perhaps) earlier versions. But good to know about Ozzie's vocalise a la Adelaide Hall.

PDS8232 said...

My correct email address is
aserating@nyc.rr.com

I Witness said...

Belated but potentially a major source for Bailey fans. Now it's up to you and Mr. Serating!

Barry Moton said...

Hi, I'm just getting into Ozzie! I keep listening to "Love Came" over and over. There's mention of him in the Billy Strayhorn Biography : Lush Life By David Hajdu. Page 158 talks about him and Billy.

I Witness said...

Random bits keep trickling in, for which I say, Hooray, Hoorah, Huzzah, and Thanks, much! Even Ducal vocalists were not automatic candidates for the Lush Life.

gar said...

Barry beat me to it, but I, too, was going to refer to the Hajdu's Billy Strayhorn Biography. On P. 158, Hajdu states that Ozzie was a black cabaret singer, that he was 31 (in 1956) and that he was gay. One of Strayhorn's old friends also commented that Ozzie was "a dear boy, but he wasn't for Billy." Because of this, I never thought there was any questions about Ozzie's orientation.

Being black and gay myself, I have always been intrigued by Ozzie Bailey and wanted to know more about his life with the Ellington Orchestra and afterwards. I don't have "A Drum Is A Woman," but I do have the famous Red Baron Strayhorn album. Similarly, Ozzie appears on Vols. 2 & 6 of "The Private Collection," the stuff that Ellington recorded, or in this case was recorded for him, but was never released during his lifetime. Vols. 2 & 6 were recorded at performances at military bases in California in the late 1950s.

Ozzie also participated, says Hajdu, in the June 1965 concert which Billy gave at the behest of the Duke Ellington Jazz Society.

As have many, I found your website after doing a search for Ozzie Bailey. Thank you for what you have written and for bringing us Bailey fans together.

I Witness said...

Excellent! Thanks for your take and info, Gar. If anyone has conferred with Art, address aserating@nyc.rr.com , please post any additions here or at previous intro piece referred to up in the text of this one. It's a small bit, granted, but Ozzie fans are actually expanding the Story of Jazz, and of Duke, and of the quiet vocal wizard himself!