The Boswell Sisters (Connie, Martha and Helvetia) were a vocal trio of true sisters whose recording career started in 1925. As a jazz group they weren’t particularly groundbreaking. Their arrangements were, for the most part, standard fare for the time period. What they were indispensable in jazz for, however, was bringing a high level of execution to the music. Up to and through that time jazz was much more about the feel than execution. As an ensemble the sisters were one of the first responsible for moving jazz towards the making of musical excellence and exactness an important facet in recordings and live performances. Later swing groups (such as those led by Claude Thornhill and Glenn Miller) made excellence of ensemble precision a hallmark of their bands and were certainly influenced by the care and attention to detail in everything the Boswell Sisters put on vinyl.
This collection of some of the sister’s best recordings is presented chronologically beginning with a barebones version of Nights When I Am Lonely. Accompanied by only Jaques Lubowski on piano, all the hallmarks of their later performances are displayed including interesting, for the time period, harmonic and tempo changes along with tight harmonies rendered, except for a few small spots, meticulously. Since the girls were just teenagers on this date some inaccuracies can be excused. They usually performed in that same format but with Martha on the piano and a recording of Heebies Jeebies from 1930 is included showcasing the group in this setting. Here again the use of varied tempos are explored and expertly pulled off. There are also a number of nice melismas in the arrangement demonstrating how much the sisters had improved during the five intervening years. Their perfect intonation and excellent swing feel is made all the more impressive when placed against Martha’s understated stride accompaniment.
While every cut is superb, a true later highlight is a 1932 recording of Minnie The Moocher’s Wedding Day. Here again the melismas are impeccable and the singers maturation into fully soulful singers is complete. Their mournful harmonies during the opening slow sections are truly heartfelt and the uptempo ending turns into a riotous joyride.
Sometimes the easiest way for people to judge the excellence of particular artists is to see who they recorded with. This holds true for the Boswell’s as well as others of any jazz era. Included on the disc are accompanying performances by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, guitarist Eddie Lang and his many times cohort violinist Joe Venuti, trumpeter Bunny Berigan and the underappreciated guitarist Bobby Sherwood, as just a few of many examples.
While Connie would continue on for decades as a solo artist to much acclaim, after Martha and Helvetia retired in the mid-30s, it’s great to hear this influential group in their best performances.