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Andy Bey: A Risk-Taking Virtuoso

Andy Bey's new album is called <em>Ain't Necessarily So</em>
Robert Atanasovski
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AFP/Getty Images
Andy Bey's new album is called Ain't Necessarily So

Andy Bey was a child piano prodigy and teenage pop singer before he began touring in the vocal trio Andy and the Bey Sisters. Later, in the 1970s, he recorded with Horace Silver, Stanley Clarke and others. But Bey's career really took off when he was rediscovered in the '90s. The new Andy Bey live album isn't exactly new.

On Ain't Necessarily So, a belatedly issued live date from 1997, early in his ongoing revival, he brings out the gospel in the standard from Porgy and Bess. Bey has extraordinary range as a singer. He can play the romantic baritone like Billy Eckstine, but he'll also swoop over and under a baritone's normal range, from a strong falsetto to a sub-basement—and he may fade from a holler to a whisper as he does it. He doesn't mind showing off what he can do, but doesn't lapse into mere showboating.

Andy Bey has a great feeling for Duke Ellington's music—he can jab the piano like Ellington, and has recorded a few of his tunes. Duke's "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" gets knockout treatment here. Ellington loved eccentric soloists but didn't always hire the best singers. So it's tempting to imagine what he might have done with this virtuoso.

Andy Bey's made some very good records since his comeback, but this superior one gets an extra boost from the bass and drum team of Peter Washington and no-relation Kenny Washington. They lock in with Bey the pianist, and make him more of a rhythm singer—like on the upbeat version of depression-era tearjerker "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime."

Bey's taste for pushing the limits goes back to the family act he had with his elder siblings Salome and Geraldine 45 years ago. Bey fans may have missed, but shouldn't have, a recent reissue of 1966's 'Round Midnight by Andy and the Bey Sisters. There's more Ellington, more risk-taking, and plenty of evidence Andy Bey was already special way back when—even if he had to wait another 30 years for a big payday.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Kevin Whitehead
Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.