Ennis Anyone? Ethel Ennis, Live at Montpelier! (2005)
Winner of the Washington Area Music Association Award for BEST JAZZ RECORDING OF 2005!
- Mark Russel, Bass
- Ryan Diehl, Drums
- Stef Scaggiari, Piano
- It’s a Wonderful World
- When You’re Around
- Mr. Roachman Blues
- In the Days of Our Love
- Honeysuckle Rose
- Danny Boy
- Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt)
- Everything Must Change
- Livin’ in the Shadows
- Hey You
- But Beautiful
“Hey, you! Are you doing what you want to do?” Ethel Ennis is a force of nature. The purity of her voice is a phenomenon of biology and physics. Her compositions, perfect in meter, tone and melody are like mathematical formulae, yet her performances are philosophical, emotional, and even spiritual. Although her lyrics and her in-concert song introductions deal with the most critical issues of life including death and aging, she overwhelms the issues with wit and wisdom. Because of her remarkable ability as a comic actress, she forces the audience to consider these difficult issues while they roar with laughter.
Along with Buck Hill, Keter Betts, and Charlie Byrd, Ethel Ennis was instrumental in building the reputation of the Montpelier Jazz Series by performing here at least once per year since 1988. The Montpelier Cultural Arts Center and the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission are eternally grateful. I am grateful that once a year she asks that question- “Are you doing what you want to do?” It certainly helps me take time to reflect on my choices and focus on what is important in my life. One thing is sure: no reflection is needed to consider the question if one narrows it to the moment it is asked: “Are you doing what you want to do right now (listening to Ethel)?” I and the entire audience would answer with a resounding “YES!”
- Richard Zandler, 2005
Baltimore native Ethel Ennis is a national treasure. Critics have hailed her as the “most accomplished jazz singer performing today.” That stature was earned by her magnificent voice, her brilliant compositions, her lively performances, and her collaborations with the finest musicians.
No other living singer possesses her credentials. Ethel Ennis first won national recognition for her recording “Lullaby for Losers” in 1955. She won international acclaim in 1958 when she was selected by Benny Goodman as the female vocalist for his all-star band which toured Western Europe. Later, she was chosen as a featured singer on the Arthur Godfrey Show where she worked for eight years. After performing at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival (backed by Billy Taylor, Cozy Cole, and Slam Stewart), she appeared with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra on television’s “Bell Telephone Hour.” She followed those notable achievements by wowing them at the Monterey Jazz Festival in duets with Joe Williams. She returned to her hometown to perform in concerts with the Count Basie Band and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. During the same period, she shared the bill with Cab Calloway at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre and played supper clubs and concert halls all over the country including appearances in Las Vegas.
In the 1970s, she continued to perform in great music venues including the Persian Room at New York’s Plaza Hotel. She founded the practice of singing the National Anthem a capella at Richard Nixon’s 1973 presidential inauguration. She also performed at the White House for both the Nixon and Carter administrations. Acting as Baltimore’s official cultural ambassador, she presented American jazz and sang Chinese folk songs at the International Music Festival in Xiamen, China. Through the Sister Cities program, Ethel represented Baltimore by performing in Rotterdam several times. In the 1980s Ethel ran Ethel’s Place, an internationally known music club, with her husband, writer Earl Arnett. They presented the world’s greatest jazz musicians and broadcast live concerts to national audiences. After selling the club in 1988, the couple returned to music and writing full-time. Ethel Ennis continues to perform all over the world including trips to Turkey for the Ankara Music Festival, and the to U.S. Embassy in Bonn, Germany for a farewell gift concert to the city before the Embassy moved to Berlin (in 1999). Ennis has recorded more than a dozen major albums and a dozen singles for major labels (Capitol, Atlantic, RCA, and BASF) as well as several under her own label.
In addition to her collaborations with the jazz greats of the past (e.g., Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Joe Williams, Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Stephane Grappelli, Ray Brown, and Milt Jackson), she continues to work with today’s jazz icons (e.g., Wynton Marsalis, McCoy Turner, Phil Woods, and Keter Betts). The late Ella Fitzgerald praised Ethel as her favorite; Billie Holiday personally encouraged her; Frank Sinatra described Ethel as “my kind of singer,” and Joe Williams called her “little sister.” A Chicago Sun-Times critic raved about her “…smoldering jazz contralto with phrasing that leaps, lifts, and melts into a lovely dying fall…” A Downbeat reviewer said it best, “her voice runs deep, exuding the personality of a sage who has lived many lives.” Learn more about Ethel by reading her biography, Ethel Ennis, the Reluctant Jazz Star by Sallie Kravetz (Gateway Press, 1984).