Born: 1978 | Died: 1988 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
Rare Silk began in 1978 as a 3-part harmony vocal group, much in the style of the Boswell Sisters. Their inception coincided with the beginning of local radio station KGNU. For several months, they created a weekly 15 minute local access radio show, which allowed them to build a repertoire. They met the great Benny Goodman by opening for him at Mackey Auditorium in Boulder. Mr. Goodman immediately took to the 3 women's vocal stylings and asked them to go on tour with him. Their first gig was at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival and was live broadcast on PBS. The tour included dates at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and a week in Japan at the Aurex Jazz Festival. After their tour with Benny, they were joined by male vocalist Todd Buffa and began restyling their approach to a more modern 4-part harmony sound. They were soon discovered by a Polygram scout and recorded their first album, 'New Weave' in 1983. This album was nominated for 2 Grammys and reached #2 on the Billboard Jazz charts.
From Jim Meredith:
Had I been a member of the vocal group Rare Silk, I wonder if I'd have grown tired of hearing fans tell me, Hey, you remind me of the Manhattan Transfer. Perhaps such comparisons were inevitable. Judging by the Downbeat magazine annual readers' polls results, the Manhattan Transfer and Rare Silk were widely regarded as the top two vocal groups through most of the 1980's. Yet, to my ears, Rare Silk always seemed a little more intent upon establishing their clear identity as a jazz vocal group. On NEW WEAVE, the group's first record, they draw more heavily from the instrumental jazz repertoire than was the case with most of the 1980's Manhattan Transfer records. Red Clay [with Mark Murphy's lyrics], Lush Life, Sugar, Spain [with Al Jarreau's lyrics], and compositions by saxophonists Richie Cole, Gerry Niewood, and Eddie Harris are all to be found on Rare Silk's NEW WEAVE. Comparisons with Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross seem not at all inappropriate. Furthermore, several familiar jazz instrumentalists make appearances on this record: Gary Bartz, Bruce Forman, Ronnie Cuber, and the Brecker brothers.
Okay, so this really is a genuine jazz record. The remaining question is this: is it a good record? If one uses the Downbeat poll as a yardstick, NEW WEAVE placed eighth in the 1983 voting for jazz album of the year. Interestingly, Rare Silk was never featured, interviewed, pictured, or advertised in the magazine prior to the publication of the December 1983 poll results. Yet, remarkably this record--Rare Silk's very first--gained sufficient fan support to rank it behind only Miles, Marsalis, Metheny, Monk, and just three others. I wholeheartedly agree with that high ranking, and this record has long been a favorite of mine. The two subsequent Rare Silk records, each one a little different from the others, maintain that same high standard in terms of energy, harmony, and creativity. Having been a jazz record collector and listener for many years, I have my own mental list of I-wish-I'd-had-the-chance-to-see-them-perform-live-whi le-they-were-still- together groups. Along with Miles Davis, the Tony Williams Lifetime, and Herbie Hancock's 1970's Mwandishi sextet, Rare Silk is definitely on that list.
The NEW WEAVE lineup of vocalists includes Gaile and MaryLynn Gillaspie, Todd Buffa, and Marguerite Juenemann. Of those, the first three would appear on each of the group's records. Todd wrote lyrics for a couple of the tracks; MaryLynn is credited for writing Gaile's vocalese part on Richie Cole's New York Afternoon.
The Manhattan Transfer's acclaimed 1985 VOCALESE album was probably that group's most jazz-oriented record from this period, including their versions of Killer Joe, Move, Airegin, and others. True, jazz vocal veteran Jon Hendricks had a hand in the making of that record; but I still like to think that with VOCALESE the Transfer was, in one sense, following Rare Silk's lead.
The three Rare Silk records were issued on three different labels. I suspect that the best way for an interested collector today to hear this music is to try to locate and to buy the original records. Like so many other jazz treasures from the LP era, I do not assume that this music will be reissued in any widely-available form soon. Fans of vocal jazz should check out this group and this record particularly.
Awards:1983 - Grammy Nomination (2) 1985 - Grammy Nomination
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