HAL SINGER (By Dave Penny)

Born Harold Joseph Singer, 8 October 1919, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Died 18 August 2020, Chatou, France

An extremely important musician in the evolution and history of jump blues and R&B, Hal Singer played with the legendary South Western and Mid Western territory bands of T Holder, Ernie Fields, Tommy Douglas and Jay McShann. He lent his torrid tenor saxophone style to R&B hits from Wynonie Harris' "Good Rockin' Tonight" in 1947 to Little Willie John's "Talk To Me, Talk To Me" in 1958, and conducted his own successful recording career from 1948, kicking (or rather booting) off to a spectacular start with Cornbread - a title that would provide an instantly-recognisable nickname for the next several years - in addition to playing with the best of the last remaining big bands in the late swing era; including Lucky Millinder and Duke Ellington.

Born Harold Joseph Singer in1919 in Tulsa, he studied violin as a child, but by the time he was a teenager, he had switched to the reed instruments; learning clarinet, soprano and alto saxophones, as well as the tenor sax, which became his instrument of choice. At the age of 19, after a junior year at Hampton University, Hal Singer joined the local band of trumpeter Terrence "T" Holder and spent the next several years moving through the ranks of other local bands led by Geechie Smith, Ed Christian, Ernie Fields, and Nat Towles, before going to Kansas City with the Lloyd Hunter Orchestra in 1942. Staying in KC, Singer played with Tommy Douglas' band prior to joining Jay McShann's fine orchestra in 1943 and travelling to New York City where he stayed, studying with Garvin Bushell, Frank Fields and Eddie Barefield and playing in the bands of Willie "The Lion" Smith, Chris Columbus, Earl Bostic, Roy Eldridge, Big Sid Catlett, Don Byas, and Henry "Red" Allen between 1943 and 1946.

In 1947, Singer joined Hot Lips Page's band where he was teamed up with a kindred spirit in Tom Archia, the pair making musical fireworks on a series of wonderful sessions stockpiled by King in late 1947, behind Mabel Smith, Lonnie Johnson and, especially, Wynonie Harris. Leaving Page's group in early 1948, Singer formed his own quartet, which played on some blues sessions for Savoy Records - including the Brownie McGhee R&B hit, "My Fault" - which resulted in Savoy's A&R man, Teddy Reig, signing Singer and his band to a recording contract with the Newark-based independent in June 1948. Both musician and executive were instantly rewarded with a #1 Billboard R&B hit from their first release, the influential "Cornbread". The follow up release, a similarly tasty "Beef Stew", failed to reach the lofty heights of its predecessor, but climbed to a respectable #11 in March 1949.

The Savoy contract lapsed later that year - although he would record again for the label for a longer term from 1952 to1956 - and in the meantime Singer recorded for Mercury (1950) and Coral (1951/52), as well as playing back-up on countless R&B and rock 'n' roll sessions. From the late 1950s into the early 1960s, in addition to touring extensively with many jazz, R&B and rock 'n' roll package shows, Singer recorded for DeLuxe and Prestige and between 1958 and 1961 he played in the famous New York club "Metropole" with Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Shavers, Henry "Red" Allen, Cozy Cole and Claude Hopkins.

In the mid 1960s, after touring Europe with Earl "Fatha" Hines' band, Singer stayed in France to settle near Paris, taking piano lessons with Art Simmons and Bernard Maury. There he resumed his recording career on Black & Blue, Polydor, Futura, Atlantic, Pathé Marconi, Polydor, Le Chant du Monde, JSP Records, CBS, Adès, Carrère, Fnac Music and Azzura Music as a leader and has toured extensively throughout the intervening years, including tours in Africa where he played 28 countries during the 1970s, European tours with the group Rocket 88 (featuring Ian Smith and Charlie Watts) or with Duke Ellington's musicians and Asian tours with his own quartet. Hal also appeared in the award winning 1990 feature film "Taxi Blues" and was, himself, awarded the prestigious title of "Chevalier des Arts" in 1992, from the French Culture Minister, Jack Lang, then "Commandeur".

At the time of writing, Hal - a sprightly 85 year old - has just played "the Jitterbug Ball" at Ealing Town Hall, London; the first of what will hopefully be many visits. I was on holiday at the time and couldn't make it.can anybody give a report of the gig?

Recommended listening:

Hal Singer 1948-51 (Classics 5073)

This, the first CD of Hal Singer's recordings in his own name from Classics, features his two culinary Billboard R&B Hits from the late 1940s - "Corn Bread" (successfully covered by the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra in 1949) and "Beef Stew" - amongst his consistently fine output from his first tenure with Savoy Records. The compilation also features his lone Mercury coupling, featuring "Spo-Dee-O-Dee" Sam Theard, his first Coral coupling from 1951, and two late 1940s Savoy sessions on which he accompanied pianist Sir Charles Thompson and blues shouter Chicago Carl Davis, respectively.

With grateful acknowledgement to the valuable help given by Mr Hal Singer and Mrs Arlette Singer.

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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