ANDY BEY BIO
The release of an Andy Bey recording is a cause for celebration. During the last five decades Bey’s deeply engaging four octave baritone voice has taken on the character of a musical instrument. Was that a bowed bass or a ship’s horn through the fog? An Alto flute or cascading water? Born in 1939, the Newark (NJ) native was a genuine child prodigy as a pianist and singer, garnering appearances at the famed Apollo Theater and on television’s “Spotlight On Harlem”and “The Star Time Kids,” sharing stages with the likes of Louis Jordan, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, before he turned 18. He then formed a vocal trio alongside his sisters Salome and Geraldine and embarked for Europe; Andy& The Bey Sisters were celebrated regulars at The Blue Note in Paris and other venues in Europe from the late 1950s into the early 1960s, when they returned to the U.S. and continued to perform and record (for RCA and Prestige) until the trio disbanded in 1966.
For the two decades thereafter, Bey recorded and performed with such notables as McCoy Tyner, Lonnie Liston Smith, Thad Jones / Mel Lewis, Eddie Harris and others. He was featured vocalist on Gary Bartz’ acclaimed Harlem Bush Music projects and for an extended period with Horace Silver, including Silver’s The United States of Mind album sequence. In 1991, Bey returned to Europe to teach vocal instruction in Austria; he remained there until 1993, when he returned to the States to record his
“comeback album,” accompanied only by his own piano, called Ballads, Blues & Bey.
One of the great unsung heroes of jazz singing, Andy Bey is a commanding interpreter of lyrics who has a wide vocal range and a big, rich, full voice. Bey enjoys a following that swears by him; nonetheless, he isn’t nearly as well known as he should be.
The release of Ballads, Blues & Bey in 1996, and his subsequent Shades of Bey, recorded with Bartz, Victor Lewis, Peter Washington and other jazz
notables and released in 1998, heralded Bey’s “renaissance” in the business he’s been in for nearly five decades. Which leaves Bey somewhat bemused: “I never went away, actually. I don’t know about this “renaissance.” It’s…well, it’s new in a sense, but it’s not like I left the business.”
Since the critical acclaim surrounding the release of Ballads, Blues and Bey in 1996, followed by the overwhelming reception of Shades of Bey in 1999, and Tuesdays In Chinatown in 2001 much attention has been paid to the fact that Andy Bey did not record as a leader for over two decades. His absence was, as Newsday put it, “like having Ella Fitzgerald take a vow of silence.” But the truth is that Mr. Bey did not aspire to be a star, he strove to be an artist. And he has actively engaged in cultivating and manifesting his gift during his entire lifetime. Bey approaches the discipline like the great musician he is. But, his performances are more than musical exercises. Frank Wess says “What’s special about Andy Bey is that he knows how to tell the story.” Al Pryor in Jazziz wrote that Bey “reminds us of how emotionally powerful the great American song can be.” Bey’s four albums since his reemergence have become legend.
Those in the know have always known about Andy Bey. Like the playground legend who never made it to the NBA, Andy Bey was almost consigned to the fading murmurs of those who caught him in Paris in ‘59, or Birdland in the mid ‘60s. There are few left who remember when Lena, Nina and Carmen crowded into Harlem’s Shalimar to hear Bey light up the joint. That tantalizing footage in Let’s Get Lost of Bey and his sisters delighting a crowd of partygoers, including Bud Powell, gives us a clue of the years of brilliance that were never committed to vinyl. Aretha Franklin reminisces about when Andy Bey and his sisters “worked the village a great deal. Soon as I finished my gig I’d run over to hear them. Andy never got the recognition he deserved . . . jazz originals . . . brilliant and precious.” John Coltrane cited Bey as his favorite vocalist. But, we have been blessed with four records that have changed how we think of Jazz vocals. Between the notes we can only imagine what we’ve missed.
Andy Bey has been hailed as a cultural phenomenon, and has been applauded by the tastemakers of contemporary music. From Pharrell Williams to Mos Def, and Jamie Cullum, Andy Bey has become an icon for the next generation, many of whom attend his performances not only for the pure pleasure, but also for enlightenment at the feet of a master.