Jackie and Roy and Storyville Records
Neither vocalist extraordinaire Jackie Cain, who died on September 15, nor her husband and musical partner, Roy Kral, ever claimed a particular closeness to the Boston scene. But Boston did them a good turn—it housed the record company that gave them a chance to strut their stuff when they were just starting to make it as a duo act. The two albums they recorded for the Storyville label in 1955 set the tone for the two dozen that would follow in terms of musicianship and choice of material. “Finally,” wrote Jack Tracy in his review of the first of these, “Mr. and Mrs. Kral have been recorded the way they sound on personal appearances.”
The partnership of Jackie and Roy was formed in 1946 in Chicago, where Jackie was singing with Jay Burkhart’s orchestra, and Roy was playing piano with George Davis at a club called Jump Town. Bob Anderson, a saxophonist with Burkhart who had worked with Kral in earlier days, brought Cain to Jump Town to sit in. They clicked. Soon Cain was the regular singer, and people noticed. Bandleader Charlie Ventura was one, and he hired them both in late 1947. Jackie and Roy were on their way.
Fast forward to May 1954, with Jackie and Roy in Boston for a week at Storyville, where owner George Wein signed them to his Storyville Records label. In late 1954 or early 1955, the duo recorded Jackie and Roy (STLP 322) as part of the Storyville Presents series. Their backing was excellent: Barry Galbraith on guitar, Bill Crow on bass, and Joe Morello on drums. The 10-inch LP featured eight tunes, a now-famous Burt Goldblatt cover photo, and glib George Frazier liner notes.
The eight tunes included three Rodgers and Hart songs that remained in their repertoire for decades: “Mountain Greenery,” “Thou Swell,” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was;” flights of scat singing on two Kral originals; and the first of many Tommy Wolf – Fran Landesman compositions, “Season in the Sun.”
Wrote reviewer Jack Tracy (Down Beat May 18, 1955): “It’s slickly swinging vocalizing—singing that is applied to near-impeccable material—and though there is still just that bit of chilliness to it that makes you wish they’d take their hair down and not worry if they were to make a mistake, it’s all most enjoyable.” Chilliness aside, Tracy gave the record four stars.
Jackie and Roy’s popularity was not hurt by the fact they were easy on the eyes. A gushing Down Beat writer called them “wonderful looking young people; fresh, bright, and invigorating.” (He forgot “impossibly cheerful;” the duo just radiated joie de vivre.) Perhaps writers pushed the wholesome image because they were frightened by the looks of Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin in the proto-biker movie, The Wild One.
In May 1955, Cain and Kral recorded their second effort for Storyville in Los Angeles, also part of the Storyville Presents series, and for whatever reason also called Jackie and Roy (STLP 904). This one was a 12-inch LP with a formidable West Coast band and liner notes by one of their champions, composer Alec Wilder. The dozen tunes included Tin Pan Alley standards; three Wolf and Landesman tunes, including the debut of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most;” “Dahuud” by Clifford Brown; and “Lazy Afternoon,” a ballad from the then-current Broadway musical, The Golden Apple.
Nat Hentoff’s five-star Down Beat review (Jan 25, 1956) heaped on praise from the first sentence: “This is one of the most excitingly pleasurable vocal albums of this or any year! Jackie and Roy are backed superbly by Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne, and Red Mitchell, but the leading honors go to this extraordinary team whose musicianship, imagination, and taste are so magnificently consistent. Neither Roy nor Jackie has a native sound of unusual impact, but they have everything else—all the qualities listed above, plus a wonderfully swinging beat and such ears. And Roy, incidentally, blows some first rate piano.” Hentoff’s recommendation: “Don’t miss this one.”
But that chilliness… Jackie and Roy were capable of uninhibited swing, but they never did quite beat the rap that they were a little too rehearsed, a little too controlled. A typical reaction was voiced by writer Don Gold in 1957, who heard them at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago: “The Cain-Kral act contains excellent material, flawless presentation, and smooth showmanship… The well-rehearsed presentation, however, often strikes me as somewhat superficial and too contrived. More improvisation and less concern for details would give the act a genuine freshness, it seems to me. Perhaps this is what must be sacrificed in moving from the jazz idiom to the night club circuit.”
There was a third Jackie and Roy LP on Storyville, Sing Baby Sing! (STLP 915), released in fall 1956. It was a reissue of the 10-inch Jackie and Roy, with four additional tracks, recorded with Chicago musicians, date unknown. By this time, though, Jackie and Roy had a major-label recording contract with ABC-Paramount, and would soon head to Las Vegas for what became a five-year gig. They wouldn’t be back in Boston until late 1965, when Fred Taylor brought them to Paul’s Mall.
Don Gold wrote of Jackie Cain that “Her voice is a delicate, subtle instrument. It is beautifully disciplined, with a splendid sense of dynamics, a fluid approach to phrasing, and a perceptive knowledge of lyric content.” Hentoff noted that Jackie “should be required listening for aspiring young singers.” I’ve added “Lazy Afternoon,” from the 12-inch Jackie and Roy, to my YouTube channel to showcase that voice.