Nancy Wilson – Something Wonderful
Five months after her debut album was recorded and one month after it was released, Nancy Wilson was back in Capitol Studios with Billy May to record the follow-up in May 1960. Despite Like In Love not charting in the US, it sold over 75,000 copies, hit number 1 in Australia and Capitol still believed they had a star on their hands. The label again tapped their top production staff and musicians, beginning with A&R head Dave Cavanaugh co-producing. At age 23, Wilson not only avoided the sophomore slump but recorded what AllMusic calls one of the best, tastiest and “most jazz-oriented sessions” of her prolific career, Something Wonderful.
Capitol Records – T-1440 (mono), ST-1440 (stereo)
The whole jazz singer/song stylist debate is so much a part of Wilson’s story that it’s impossible to ignore. Interestingly, it seems that Wilson herself largely drove the narrative of being a song stylist to control her brand and avoid being pigeonholed. “I was already a success before I ever left and went to New York, looking for, specifically, John Levy, Capitol Records,” Wilson noted in a 2010 interview for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program. “I was basically known as jazz, but I wasn’t a jazz singer. I was singing pop… I liked the people that (John Levy) managed, that he handled, and I knew that I would fit in… I wouldn’t be working in a jazz room. I would be working in a nice supper club, and John saw that too. That was a way for him to move on up and do something different, to get out of jazz rooms and get into the Coconut Grove with a singer.”
When Wilson was still moonlighting the clubs while working days as a secretary at the New York Institute of Technology, the song that captured the attention of her future (and only) manager, John Levy, was “Guess Who I Saw Today.” “He called me the next day and said, ‘We’re going into the studio, and you’re going to record four demos with [pianist] Ray Bryant,’” Wilson noted in a 2010 JazzWax interview. Levy became her manager and helped get her signed to Capitol on the strength of those demos.
Since Wilson’s first record Like In Love was selling so briskly in Australia, Levy sent her there to perform for three months, during which time Something Wonderful was released in October. While in Australia, she corresponded with drummer Kenny Dennis, whom she’d met when he was playing with Sonny Stitt. When she returned to the states in December, she married Dennis in Los Angeles before she even got back to New York. A move to California quickly followed. The marriage lasted ten years, but Wilson remained in California for the rest of her life.
Wilson worked quickly in the studio, and Something Wonderful was no exception. “It took only three days to make an album then,” Wilson noted in the JazzWax interview. “I’d hear the chart for the first time at 8 pm on a Wednesday night or whenever we’d record. The band would run it down. That would be the first time I heard how it would sound. Then we’d record three songs a night over three days.” Something Wonderful took four days for Nancy, plus three days of overdubs for the big band.
Recording began on May 5, 1960 at Capitol with Jack Marshall on guitar, Milt Raskin on piano, Joe Comfort on bass and Shelly Manne on drums. If Dreams Come True, Something Happens To Me and album opener Teach Me Tonight were tackled on day one. The second session on May 10 included the notable addition of Ben Webster on tenor sax. I Wish You Love, Stormy Monday and The Great City were cut on day two and 23-year-old Wilson handled the relatively high-profile veteran musicians with characteristic poise. “There was a lot of laughter and a lot of fun,” she noted in the liner notes of the 2004 CD reissue. “You know, when you’ve been working as long as I had - thank God I was able to take it in stride.”
On May 11, tracks for This Time The Dream’s On Me, He’s My Guy and Guess Who I Saw Today were laid down. Guess Who I Saw Today would become her signature song. Nick Deriso wrote that Guess Who I Saw Today is “delivered with elegant, breathy defiance by this ageless but underappreciated jazz singer. The guitar, perfectly circular, delivering sharp rebukes and knowing winks, is by Jack Marshall.”
Three more tracks were recorded without Ben Webster at the final primary session on May 12 - Something Wonderful Happens, What A Little Moonlight Can Do and I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out Of My Life. Critic Pete Welding said of Wilson’s rendition of What A Little Moonlight Can Do, "a song so closely associated with the sublime Billie Holiday (that) few would even have attempted it, let alone brought it off so well, with just the right blend of lightheartedness and sincerity."
Billy May came in to overdub the trumpets, trombones, flute, and vibes the following weeks in May and Something Wonderful was complete. Released in October, it sold even better than her debut. She’d already recorded most of the tracks for her next two albums by the time of Something Wonderful's release, which left her free to tour while Capitol continued pumping out the records. Just over a year after leaving Columbus, Wilson’s ascent was just beginning.
Written-By – Gene De Paul, Sammy Cahn
A2 This Time The Dream's On Me
Written-By – Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer
A3 I'm Gonna Laugh You Out Of My Life
Written-By – Cy Coleman, Joseph Allen McCarthy
Written-By – Albert A. Beach, Charles Trenet
Written-By – Elisse Boyd, Murray Grand
Written-By – Goodman, Sampson, Mills
B1 What A Little Moonlight Can Do
Written-By – Harry Woods
Written-By – Curtis R. Lewis
B3 He's My Guy
Written-By – Don Raye, Gene De Paul
Written-By – Jack Segal, Marvin Fisher
Written-By – "T-Bone" Walker
B6 Something Wonderful Happens
Written-By – Gamse, Del Guercio, Thorn
Manufactured By – Capitol Records, Inc.
Conductor – Billy May
Producer – Dave Cavanaugh, Tom Morgan
Nancy Wilson - vocals
Jack Marshall - guitar
Milt Raskin - piano, celeste
Joe Comfort - bass
Shelly Manne - drums
Ben Webster - tenor sax (A2, A4, B3, B5)
Pete Candoli - trumpet
Frank Beach - trumpet
Conrad Gozzo - trumpet
Mannie Klein - trumpet
Murray McEachern - trombone
Lloyd Ulyate - trombone
Si Zentner - trombone
George Roberts - trombone
Tommy Pederson - trombone
Emil Richards - vibes (A3, B3, B6)
Justin Gordon - flute (A3, B3, B6)