Irene413

The Band and I marked an exciting moment in the career of Irene Kral, a then-budding pop-jazz singer who would wind up a cult icon. Kral’s first album, made in 1958, teamed her with another up-and-comer: trumpeter-bandleader Herb Pomeroy, whose tight, swinging orchestra had graduated from its native Boston to the Newport Jazz Festival. “I don’t want to get emotional and say that Irene was my favorite white female singer,” remarked Pomeroy in 2006, “but she was right there at the top.”

Stubbornly anti-showbiz, Kral sang in a cloudless alto, impeccably musical and edged with skepticism. But here, as she glides through arrangements by Ernie Wilkins and Al Cohn, one can hear the smile in her voice. No great improviser, Kral was much more committed to honoring intelligent lyrics. She seldom veered from the high road, and bumpy it was; only in the ‘70s, while fighting a losing battle with cancer, did her worldly-wise singing gain broader acclaim, including three Grammy nominations.

Her partner on
The Band and I had toured with Lionel Hampton and Stan Kenton before launching his own orchestra in 1955. Their debut LP, Band in Boston, earned five stars in Down Beat; from there they played Birdland, the Apollo, and Newport. Two producers from the brand-new United Artists label, Monte Kay and Jack Lewis, invited Pomeroy to New York to make two albums: one instrumental and the other with Kral, who had just left the Maynard Ferguson band. Pomeroy found her “delightful to work with – no prima donna, no Anita O’Day, none of that crap.” The song choices were hers, and favored the unfamiliar, notably the work of Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman, witty Beat-era hipsters she adored.

Strangely, Pomeroy never worked with or even saw Kral again. But today, this esteemed elder statesmen of Boston jazz looks back on
The Band and I with deserved pride: “It’s stood the test of time,” he says.

-- James Gavin, New York City, 2006