WINTERS Pinky 1994

Phyllis Wozniak was born in Michigan City, Indiana. Young Phyllis studied piano for twelve years as a child, starting at age "four, four-and-a-half. I gave my first concert when I was five."
Her first influence was..."Oh I loved listening to Frank Sinatra. As a kid I was crazy about him and got every record I could find... I listened to him on the radio. Then I loved Judy Garland. Give me a break! Loved her in the movies. Thought she was just so special and real." Pinky used to listen to Dinah Shore and the Andrews Sisters on her dad's wind-up Victrola. She fondly remembers one of the first Great American Songbook albums she owned was Ella Sings Gershwin with Ellis Larkins.
Following high school, Pinky worked for a few years in an office until her girlfriend said, "We gotta leave this town!" Off they moved to Denver in their Nash Rambler convertible.
Upon arriving in Denver, they went to a club called "Dante's Inferno" that had a band. Pinky's girlfriend asked the drummer (Shelly Rims) if her friend could sing. "Oh, ok, what's her name?" "Phyllis Wozniak." "WHAT?" "Well, it's really Pinky Winters." Pinky's stage name was born. The pianist that night was Dick Grove (who became one of the country's foremost jazz educators). Pinky took piano lessons from and performed in Denver with Dick.
Dick (and Pinky's first husband to be Jim Wolf [a bassist]) moved to Los Angeles and soon convinced Pinky to follow around 1953 where she settled in Manhattan Beach. In her early days in LA, Pinky worked with Stan Levey and Bud Lavin. She performed in a club on Western Avenue called "Starlight".
Pinky divorced Jim Wolf and got an office job to make money to raise her daughter. Eventually she met and married Bob Hardaway (who was on NBC staff as a saxophone/reeds player), had another daughter and happily raised her children in their lovely home in Hollywood Hills. During that time, she didn't sing for thirteen years.
1980 brought a return to the stage for Pinky. Lanny Morgan, the saxophone player, got Pinky back into the fray with a gig at Donte's. The piano player on the gig was Lou Levy. 1980 also brought a divorce from Bob Hardaway. Pinky self-assesses her life as "more straight-laced than not. I've been married twice, and (had) a relationship with (the late) Lou Levy (beginning in) 1982". Lou Levy, in addition to being a renowned pianist, spent the better part of his career as regular accompanist to three of the great voices of the century: Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Ella Fitzgerald - and for the last couple of decades... Pinky Winters.
In 1983, Pinky was invited by Joel E. Siegel to perform as part of the Great American Songwriters series at Washington, DC's Corcoran Gallery - a prestigious series that would feature such greats as Shirley Horn, Chris Connor, Mark Murphy, Carol Sloane, Blossom Dearie, Dave Frishberg and Sheila Jordan.
Pinky unabashedly now cites her favorite singer: "I'm crazy about Shirley Horn. I can't help it!" She also cites Al Cohn as "my hero".
Since her return to active performing, Pinky has enjoyed stellar recordings and continues to be be featured in choice concert settings to the delight of her fans. Pinky's 2002 release was a joint effort with Oscar nominee Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (who has written such film scores as Murder On The Orient Express and Four Weddings And A Funeral) on piano with Bob Maize on bass.
February 2006 saw the release of her The Shadow of Your Smile: Pinky Winters Sings Johnny Mandel. . .with Lou Levy.

VISIT PINKY WINTER'S SITE HERE

Interviewed by Bill Reed (Los Angeles) from the Songbirds Website. Winter 2000.

To have established herself as one of the doyennes of American popular song interpretation within the span of four albums, made over a period of forty years [there is 4 more since this interview], is quite an accomplishment. (And, perhaps, some kind of record: the fewest recordings released over the longest period of time.) But that’s exactly what Pinky Winters has managed to do. When you hear a singer like this who, with only the assistance of a piano and bass, can rivet you and raise the hairs on your arms with all the force of the Basie band, it really makes you think. I used to favor the pyrotechnic kind of singing as exemplified by Betty Carter, but now I think that the less-is-more singing Winters traffics in is just as hard to do.
There is an intrinsic quality in the voices of some singers that invariably/inexorably attracts you, and if they can swing and have their pitch under control, what more do you need than a piano and, of course, a beautifully crafted song? Winters had all of those balls in the air on her "return" album of 1985, "Let’s Be Buddies", her first album in almost thirty years. With its blue chip repertoire of Porter, Gershwin, Arlen, Mercer, Mandel, Jobim, Frishberg, et. al., and the solid pianistic support of Lou Levy, subtly assisted by bassist Monte Budwig, Winters managed to jump-start a career that had been mostly dormant for more than a decade. The album drew glowing reviews and attention in inverse proportion to its mom-and-pop-label status. Issued on San Francisco’s Jacqueline Records label, alas Buddies is now out-of-print.
A similar fate has also befallen her follow-up album with Levy, "This Happy Madness", which finds the singer in the company of not only piano and bass (the late Eric von Essen), but, also, drums (Joe LaBarbera) and tenor sax (Pete Christlieb). Released on Polygram/Verve in 1994 to rave reviews, it was mysteriously withdrawn from circulation almost as soon as it appeared. Winters is alternately baffled and chagrined by the fate of these two highly praised outings. Her discography is rounded out by two 1950's albums, an eponymously-titled 10-inch set from 1954 on the Vantage label; "The Lonely One", on the Argo label, from 1959; and a clandestinely-recorded bootleg with Zoot Sims, whose genesis the singer could not manage to place when first she heard it. Winters' repertoire throughout these four official and one unauthorized releases is uniformly Great American Songbook, or GAS-pending. No Eleanor Rigby for her.
Winters is unquestionably the least-known indisputably great Songbirdus Americanus. When This Happy Madness was issued, the critic for the French publication Jazz Hot wrote, "Her anonymity in France in inexplicable." And while it’s tempting to chalk Winters’ relative obscurity up to mass-cult musical bad taste, it must also be admitted that she’s never been very "hungry" for a career. This is not the case when it comes to most of her contemporaneous compatriots in song, including the late Irene Kral, to whom she bears a passing stylistic resemblance.
The late jazz critic Leonard Feather, a staunch supporter of Winters, once wrote: ". . .given her impeccable choice of material and [Lou] Levy’s always reliable backing… the results have a flavor that can scarcely fail to please the jazz-trained ear." Under duress Winters will admit to never having received a bad notice in all her years of performing. "I got a mixed one once, though," she confessed, with a wink, at one point during our chat.
Winters’ conversational style is not at all like the cool, laid-back woman on record. Lots of Words Per Minute, confiding and upbeat, even when touching upon some of her less salubrious moments on the planet. Skips the personal pronoun half the time, and articles. While not exactly evasive, she tends to pounce on questions from oblique directions. (Q. Your real name is? A. My real name is… Do you have to know?)
While I had seen Winters perform "live" a number of times, this was the first time I’d ever spoken with her. We met on Saturday, August 21 over lunch at a mutually favorite restaurant of ours, Chez Nous, in Toluca Lake, in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.
1954

Songbirds: It was the only time I ever did anything like this, but I went to June Christy’s memorial service in the summer of 1990. You sang My Shining Hour.
Winters: That’s a touching piece to do for someone who’s left us.
Songbirds: I didn’t know her, never saw her perform "live," but she was such a central part of my late adolescence.
Winters: I was a Kenton admirer as an older kid. I lost the connection with the band later on when I heard be-bop.
Songbirds: How well did you know June Christy?
Winters: Not really well, but OK. I considered her a friend.
Songbirds: It always amazed me that she was so attractive, yet never went into films like some of her contemporaries, Doris Day, Peggy Lee.
Winters: The thing that I learned when I had my first girlfriend conversation with her, and it was so surprising to me, was that she was painfully shy. She was awfully sweet. She had eye problems late in her life. Not a big deal, cataracts. She knew that I had the surgery many years ago when I was young. Kind of a fluke. Most people get cataracts when they’re older. It was just when the new surgery had come into being. She wanted to know about it. I told her all I knew. She was encouraged. She had it. It didn’t turn out as well. It doesn’t always. One time she came to one of my gigs with Lou [Levy] and I was thrilled. She’s sort of an icon. Not my favorite singer in the world…
Songbirds: Who is?
Winters: I’m crazy about Shirley Horn. I can’t help it.
Songbirds: On my way over here I picked this up [I reach in my pocket and pull out a copy of the new Verve release Songs for Hip Lovers]. Are you aware of how good a singer Woody Herman is?
Winters: You know, I met him at [long-running North Hollywood jazz club] Donte’s. People used to hang out there. And he was so sweet. He gave me his phone number, and I was honored. Maybe he was happily married, or happily widowed. I don’t remember. But he was just so nice. I had seen him before in New Orleans with the band. He had a long run there. I was then married. My husband was working with somebody else at some other place and I went alone to Woody’s performances. It was such a kick to hear him with a new, young Thundering Herd. What a guy! And what a dresser! What shoes!
Songbirds: Speaking of Woody, Mary Ann McCall is the singer most closely associated with Herman's band. I’m glad I had the good sense to go hear her during the early 1980s when she was singing at a little bar in the Airport Hilton, near LAX. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a teensy ad in the paper announcing her appearance. "Oh, they must be keeping it very low key to keep the crowds away," I thought. And so I arrived there extra early. But with the exception of myself, there was practically no one else there. I had McCall and another equally great jazz artist, Nat Pierce, her accompanist, pretty much all to myself. I went back again and again, weekend after weekend. Even at this late grandmotherly stage in her career she was one of jazz singing's best kept secrets.
Winters: He was such a talented guy and underrated.
Songbirds: Woody Herman?
Winters: No, Nat Pierce. They used to have in Los Angeles, seven, eight, nine years ago, these luncheons in a hotel for, I think, singers. Anyway I went to a couple of them, and she [Mary Ann McCall] was my seat-mate at one of them. And I was just blown away. She didn’t look like a band chick. Fun to talk to.
Songbirds: She was married to saxophonist Al Cohn
Winters: I had to ask her about that, because Al Cohn’s my hero.
Songbirds: I think she was married to several famous musicians or at least had long term affairs. Sort of like a jazz Alma Mahler.
[Note: Alma Mahler was an early twentieth century "scene-maker" who managed the extraordinary feat of serially marrying three noted and varied artist/intellectuals: author Franz Werfel, architect Walter Gropius, and composer Gustav Mahler.]
Winters: We try to do that if at all possible. [laughs] She was fun. I think I asked her about Al. Al had his eye problems. That was when they first got married.
Songbirds: You say "We try to do that." Have you been associated with other musicians in a, uh, non-musical way?
Winters: What do you mean?
Songbirds: What do you mean "What do you mean?" You imply that "we" try to become involved with famous musicians. "We" meaning…?
Winters: Rephrase that.
Songbirds: I can’t possibly…
Winters: Could you be a little clearer, then?
1954

Songbirds: How about a little blunter? Have you had affairs with a lot of famous musicians? I thought that’s what you meant.
Winters: No, no, no. No! In fact, I’m more straight-laced than not. I’ve been married twice, and I’ve had a relationship with Lou [Levy] since about 1982, 1981… One of those dates. I don’t remember.
[Note: Lou Levy, in addition to being a renowned pianist, has spent the better part of his career as regular accompanist to three of the great voices of the century, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Ella Fitzgerald. He has also backed, at one time or another, nearly every other singer of note. Including, for the last couple of decades, Pinky Winters.]
Songbirds: You have kids [from earlier marriages], right?
Winters: I have two daughters.
Songbirds: How old are they?
Winters: One is forty. One is thirty. Around that.
Songbirds: I hate to be so pedantic, but where were you born?
Winters: [pointing at a sheaf of papers which she has just pulled from her bag and placed on the table] It says right here. Let me check. I was born in Michigan City, Indiana. I write my own bio ever since I lost my PR person, and I must say I do them quite well. [continues searching through her bag] Look what I found. A review from the Washington Post from a long time ago. Oh, and here’s something from a French jazz magazine when This Happy Madness first came out. Look here! On the French jazz chart! I’m number twenty-nine.
Songbirds: You charted.
Winters: I did. I charted! Here are a couple of Japanese jazz reviews that my neighbor across the street translated for me. She’s a singer also.
Songbirds: What’s her name?
Winters: Michie Sahara. I’ve never heard her sing. We sing quietly in our houses.[reading from a Japanese jazz review] "Her voice is becoming more husky and in some areas she is shaky." That’s because I hadn’t had a thing to drink. I’m kidding. [continues searching through her bag] And here are some French reviews translated by Richard Rodney Bennett.
Songbirds: What happened with This Happy Madness? It came and went so quickly.
Winters: I have French friends and I should ask them. [The album was a production of the French wing of Polygram.]
Songbirds: Polygram has gone through so much recently – downsizing, restructuring, upsizing. When did you cut your very first album?
Winters: Do you mean The Lonely One [1959] or the other one?
Songbirds: The other one, called Pinky Winters. On the Vantage label
Winters: I had a piano player who wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, who was not inclined to play like I liked. But I was just a dumb cluck and didn’t know how I could say anything.
Songbirds: This is the late fifties, right?
Winters: Yeah. [Note: Later I checked; it was released in 1954.]
1958

Songbirds: Okay. You were born in Indiana. You got turned on by which singers?
Winters: My first influence was… oh, I loved listening to Frank Sinatra. As a kid I was crazy about him and got every record I could find by him in my small town. I listened to him on the radio. Then I loved Judy Garland. Give me a break! Loved her in the movies. Thought she was just so special and so real. And I used to listen to my dad’s Dinah Shore records. That was fun, too. Not too shabby. My dad had a wind-up Victrola and I’d go down to the basement and listen to the Andrews Sisters. I thought they were hot. And, Dinah. I don’t think he had anything else that appealed to me.
Songbirds: You took piano lessons, too.
Winters: When I was little. Four, four-and-a-half. And I gave my first concert when I was five.
Songbirds: Recital or concert?
Winters: Concert.
Songbirds: All by yourself?
Winters: Yes.
Songbirds: You must have been, uh, not an idiot savant… a prodigy to give your first concert after studying for just half a year. A wunderkind, a genius.
Winters: No, no. I was a good little girl who did what they told me to do. I loved my teacher. I played some, some classical things. I have a picture of me somewhere with my little feet sticking out. I was adorable. I didn’t do badly and I played with feeling, because my Indiana teacher said [in a deep voice] "You must playyyy with feeling."
Songbirds: Your real name is…?
Winters: My real name is… Do you have to know?
Songbirds: I know it’s something Polish.
Winters: Yes, it is. It’s Phyllis Wozniak. Yes, it is.
Songbirds: Pinky Winters is a very good Ellis Island-style transliteration of that.
Winters: I didn’t know it at the time, but when I got my new name I found out later that criminals use their first initials when they got their aliases. So I was no different.
Songbirds: So you’re fairly well-grounded in piano?
Winters: I took for twelve years.
Songbirds: When did you know that you wanted to become a singer?
Winters: I know exactly when it was. Well [I knew] two times. There were these little gigs. My mother would let me play with these older boys. They had a band, you know. They couldn’t find anybody who could read the stock arrangements… the Stan Kenton arrangements. They were terrible. I was horrified. I didn’t feel comfortable.
Songbirds: This was in high school?
Winters: Yes.
1985

Songbirds: What was "terrible?"
Winters: I just didn’t feel comfortable. I was scared of the whole thing. That I wouldn’t do it right. I didn’t have any confidence. I didn’t enjoy it that much. But I enjoyed hanging out, going to the gig. I was just really dumb and young. So I did that. Then one summertime I was playing with a small group at the local country club, not in Michigan City, but LaPorte [Indiana]. And we were playing and we had these chord books. Just chords. No melody. And so I’d play and one time I got in big trouble because I couldn’t take a solo. I just couldn’t. Too much. Too overwhelming. So I said, "May I sing my chorus?" The song was Guilty – "Is it a sin, is it a crime loving you, dear, like I do?" Okay. Here comes my turn. I sing "Is it a sin, is it a crime?" And it was. It was in their key and it was real low. But having said that, I realized that was a cool way to do stuff. Sing! Then at the job with the big boys my mother would let me ride with the trumpet player. We would always stop at the trombone players and he’d have… he said, "You gotta hear this!" Fred Sherwood. And Fred put this record on. I’ll never forget. We were standing there and this thing came on and it was Sarah Vaughan singing Lover Man. I didn’t know that Bird [Charlie Parker] was on there. I just thought, "I’ve never heard anything like this in my life." My god! You can do that! And I just went home walking on stars. It was really uplifting. From that time on… My family did not know of any ambitions that I had. I was ashamed and embarrassed to tell them because… they were good but I didn’t think they’d understand. I just kept my little secret. I didn’t have any friends who liked that stuff. Except those musicians, but they were older and I didn’t hang out with them. So then when I was in high school I’d go to the dime store and they had records. 78s. That was my thing. Then I found Ella! Well! Ella Sings Gershwin with Ellis Larkins. I bought my first real album. Oh! That put me away. How lucky I was to just luck upon those things. What if I had never heard… What if, instead, I had heard something that wasn’t up to that level?
Songbirds: Well there was Dinah that you listened to. Ella is a whole lot better than that.

Winters: Well, yeah. I met all those people when I grew up. One time when I at Frank’s [Sinatra] when Lou was playing a party and I met Dinah. I almost fainted. There she was. And so, I’m a little shy but I know what I’m supposed to do when there’s a person standing there. But before I could do anything she came up to me and said, "Hello! I’m Dinah Shore." And I said, "How do you do? I’m Pinky Winters." I thought is was a riot. And I didn’t want to tell her of my admiration for her, because I had been so young. I didn’t want to make her feel like she was so old. But she wouldn’t have cared.
HAPPY MADNESS 1994

Lou LEVY p, Pete CHRISTLIEB ts, Eric Von ESSEN b, cello, Joe La BARBERA dr,
Recorded in Los Angeles


Songbirds: She looked great right up to the end.
Winters: Oh, she was wonderful. So down to earth.
Songbirds: So when you got out of high school you’re supposed to do something to make a living.
Winters: Yech! I did. I worked in an office. And did that for a couple of years.
Songbirds: In Indiana?
Winters: Michigan City. I worked in a real weird place. The only thing that made it okay was that my girlfriend and I… I also got her a job there.
Songbirds: Just to backtrack for a minute: Lou [Levy] was Peggy Lee’s accompanist for a number of years. You got to meet her, too. Was she an influence?
Winters: Not really. Isn’t that weird? I went whole hog for these other people.
Songbirds: But you like Peggy Lee?
Winters: Of course! But she was not an influence, because I was into Sarah and Ella. I couldn’t help it. I can’t change my history.
Songbirds: But you’re not really an "out" singer like them, to use loose terminology.
Winters: I used to be "outer" than I am now. I used to scat. I know how to change the melody. I don’t feel like doing that.
Songbirds: Anymore, or…?
Winters: I’m in a different place. If you could hear some of the weird stuff I used to sing you’d probably say, "Check, please." I was fearless.
Songbirds: It comes through in your singing that you can do anything you want to do. I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.
Winters: Okay.
Songbirds: We have to get you out of Michigan City. .
Winters: My girlfriend and I said, "We gotta leave this town. We gotta go. This is just not good." We told our parents. And I had the best car. A Nash Rambler convertible. We moved to Denver. Neither one of us had been anywhere.
Songbirds: Was it because Denver sounded hip?
Winters: No! We knew a person who lived there. So we moved there and the first night we went out, we went in my car to the state capitol and we looked at the capitol building and we were all just…. Ooooh! here we are! Some guys were there and we were young and cute and impressionable and they said, "Do you want to go for a beer?" So we went to this place – my girlfriend and I went in our car – to this place and it was a strip joint. It was called Dante’s Inferno. There was a band and there wasn’t anybody dancing and my girlfriend went up to the drummer and said, "Can my girlfriend sing?" And he said, "Oh, okay. What’s her name?" And she said, "Phyllis Wozniak." He said, "What?" And she said, "Well, it’s really Pinky Winters." I had just made my [stage] name up. I had been writing my name on pieces of paper, uh, what will I be named? Pamela Wolf, uh…?
Songbirds: So this was the first time you had used the name publicly?
Winters: Yeah, but my roommate knew about it. So she told the guy so he wouldn’t think I was a dumb hick. When they came to ask me up there I sang a medley of my hits, Perdido – "woo-woo-woo-woo, Perdidio" – whatever I’d learned off of Sarah’s records.
2001

Songbirds: Was it a good band?
Winters: It was! The drummer was a black guy, Shelly Rim. Rim, get it? I don’t remember the bass player, but the piano player played okay. The piano player said, "Do you have a number where you might be reached sometime?" Well, he was pretty cute. He was wearing these horn-rimmed glasses. Maybe he likes me. I’d found romance my first night in Denver. So we went back to our hosts, a couple of days passed, we started finding the want ads on the breakfast table as a hint; "Why don’t you guys get out of here?" Then I got a phone message to call this guy [the piano player from the strip joint]. I did and I got his wife. It was Dick Grove. Do you know who that it is?
Songbirds: Yeah! That’s who that was?
Winters: It was Dick Grove!
[Note: Aspiring songbird Phyllis Wozniak, I mean Pinky Winters, had just met up with a struggling jazz pianist who was destined to become one of the country’s foremost jazz educators. In 1973 he founded the Grove School of Music in Los Angeles and guided this highly regarded institution into the top rank of leading contemporary music schools. Before that happened, however, both Winters and Grove had miles to go and dues to pay.]
Songbirds: Scuffling away in Denver as a young guy?
Winters: Yeah! He was from Indiana, too. But I sure didn’t know him from there. So I met Dick and he had a wife, Alice, who played the accordion. He worked with her at hotels in Denver. So by the end of my first week in Denver I had one of Alice’s gigs. I worked with Dick and the really good players in Denver. They were a group of people who were pals, smart people… You know how you wanna have friends who always understand you and that like the same things that you like? It was like a miracle. They took me into their group. And my roommate, too. We hung out all the time. It was wonderful. I was there a year-and-a-half. My roommate and I got an apartment. We could see the capitol dome from our living room. Then, Dick had me come over and start taking piano lessons.
Songbirds: At what was, in effect, the Rocky Mountains campus of the Dick Grove School of Music. Did the two of you come to Los Angeles at about the same time?
Winters: Dick came first along with my husband to be, Jim Wolf.
Songbirds: He’s a musician?
Winters: He’s dead. He was a bass player. He encouraged Dick. Oh, you’ve got to come to Los Angeles. The streets are paved with gold… You’re going to be sorry if you don’t… You’ll be a star, blah, blah, blah. Dick talked his wife into coming. And I came soon after. I really wanted to stay in Denver. I was having fun then. But I came anyway. I missed my friends.
Songbirds: That was nineteen, uh, fifty-eight?
Winters: No, it was before that. ’53, ‘54. I settled at Manhattan Beach.
Songbirds: With Jim Wolf?
Winters: With Jim and some friends that he knew. We had some place to come to. He was staying with them then. Shortly after that we did marry. Life was hard. He was a pretty good bass player. He also wanted to write. He had a rehearsal band, before I knew what that was. But that just got to hard. I had a baby. Just too hard. I couldn’t deal with it. It was getting too weird.
Songbirds: What was Dick Grove doing at this point? Was he beginning to get established?
Winters: I sort of started to remember when I went to that memorial service for him. [Grove died the day after Christmas, last year.] He worked with the King Family. John Davidson. He wrote Little Bird and that won a Grammy. Pete Jolly’s record. He always still taught. He was very sought after as a teacher. I divorced Jim and they [Dick and Alice] were my friends again.
Songbirds: What was the first gig you had out here?
Winters: Probably something awful. I don’t remember.
2002

Songbirds: Where was your first album, Pinky Winters, done?
Winters: In Hollywood. That was a product of the deal that Bob Andrews had. He had a record store called Recordville, in the South Bay area. A lot of jazz musicians were always hanging out there. He always had some deal going. And he had me record with these people. My first drummer on two of the dates was Stan Levey. I was impressed. I’d heard that name before.
Songbirds: Who was the pianist?
Winters: Bud Lavin. He was a protege of Anita’s [O’Day]. We did some dates. I worked around a little bit. I worked in a club on Western Avenue called the Starlight. It was Anita’s – kind of – gig. She was cute. She’d come in. We’d talk. I found out that I’m on her list of singers that she likes. She always says my name.
Songbirds: You don’t sound ambitious. Were you ever ambitious?
Winters: No, no. And I don’t really know why. Life got in the way. You know Shirley’s [Horn] story.
[Note: Shirley Horn essentially gave up, from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, a burgeoning international career to remain in Washington, DC with her husband and daughter, limiting her performing mostly to that locale.]
Winters: Mine’s very similar. I just couldn’t see… there was an unknown factor to need to think about getting gigs, being on the road. That’s what it involved: working in some dopey bar. When I divorced [Jim Wolf] I had to make a living for my baby. So I just, you know, I just hung out and got my office job thing going and raised my child and I had some weekend gigs of my own. Had my friends. It wasn’t like I was totally out of the loop. Eventually I married Bob Hardaway. He adopted my daughter. We had another child. I lived the good life as a very happy and grateful housewife. I was so happy not to have to go out and work and take care of all the details of child-raising on my own. Terrific. We had a beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills. It lasted quite a long time. Eighteen years.
Songbirds: Were you singing during that period?
Winters: That’s the funny part. I didn’t sing at all.
Songbirds: Bob Hardaway. He’s a record producer?
Winters: No. Bob Hardaway [whom Winters divorced in 1980] was on NBC on staff. He was a saxophone player. Oboe, doubled in the staff orchestra at NBC under Irwin Kostal or Peter Matz or whoever it was. He had a little album a long time ago. And he’s appeared on lots of [other people’s] albums. Anyway, we cooked a turkey yesterday. He’s a friend, a good friend to me at this point. [pause] Where was I? I didn’t work anytime for thirteen years. I didn’t miss it. It was fine because we had musical friends. We had parties at people’s houses. [Pianist/arranger] Bob Florence was always around. So, Bob and I would do stuff. Bob loved doing that. It was fun, it was cute. I kept my hand in it. But I certainly didn’t have a gig. What led me back into the fray was a phone call from Lanny Morgan, the saxophone player, who asked if I’d like to work with him at Donte’s.
Songbirds: This was in the mid-1980s.
Winters: No, ‘80. So anyway, I said, "Sure, fine. What do I have to do?" He said, "Pick out five tunes and the keys that they’re in." I had no music. I don’t know whether you have any idea how dumb some singers can be. I showed up at the rehearsal and the piano player was Lou Levy. He scared me to death. He was so off-putting and so hip, you know. I showed him my list of tunes and said can you do blah-blah and blah-blah. And, of course, he could. I said, Folks Who Live on the Hill with the verse." He said, "I don’t want to do the verse." [laughs] "Oooo-kayyy." So I was a success at my little gig. I just started working at various places again. I started thinking, "You don’t have anything for next week. You better look into that."
Songbirds: You were still married?
Winters: Oh, yeah. So I booked these gigs. One night I was working with Bob Florence – do you know a place in Hollywood that used to be called Two Dollar Bill’s? It was on Franklin. A little dorky place that had no piano. You hadda bring your own. I had a gig there with Bob Florence and he… brought his own.
2006

Songbirds: Like… a Wurlitzer?
Winters: Yeah. And it was semi-OK, but he wasn’t happy with something that night. With the people or something. And I was all flustered, red-faced and that’s the night Richard [Rodney Bennett] came and I met him.
Songbirds: What was he doing there? Why did he come there?
Winters: He came to hear me.
Songbirds: He knew you?
Winters: No!
Songbirds: He saw your name in the paper and said, "There’s a jazz singer. I want to go hear her."
Winters: He probably had my record. Anyway, there he was. This guy sittin’ there. He was wearing a white shirt. It was very hot in there. And so I gotta go talk to this guy because he’s, you know, he’s… a fan or something. And so I went and talked with him. So I’m there and we’re talking. "I have your [Pinky Winters] album. I think you’re so wonderful." Very shyly he said, at the end of our conversation, "I’ve just started singing and playing for myself."
Songbirds: You still didn’t know who he was?
Winters: Well, noooo. I didn’t
Songbirds: But he’s a peer of realm.
Winters: Well, I know, but… he wasn’t quite then. He had been presented or something
Songbirds: Oscar nominee…
Winters: Oscar nominee. You’re quite correct. So he said, "Well, I have an album and it shows what I can do." He said, "It’s not recorded very well." So he mailed it to me. He was right. I could hardly, you know, figure out what he was doing. And I think the next time I saw him was, maybe – Oh! I know – The second time was in New York. This was when I was in Richard’s apartment. Tea time had just turned to cocktail hour. The phone rang, Richard answered it: "Yes, Miss Pinky is here. It’s for you." It was [Washington, DC journalist] Joel Siegel inviting me to be a member of his troupe. It was fun to have him break the news to me this way. It came as a total surprise to me.
Songbirds: This was… 1985?
Winters: Maybe even before that. ‘82 I think. People on that list were special. Jackie and Roy, and Shirley Horn…
[Note: And a who’s who of jazz and jazz-related singers. Margaret Whiting, Chris Connor, Sheila Jordan, Carol Sloane, Mark Murphy, Blossom Dearie, Julie Wilson, Dave Frishberg, Bob Dorough, Carol Fredette, Sandra King, Richard Rodney Bennett, Buddy Barnes, Rose Murphy, Ronny White, Susannah McCorkle, and several others appeared during the two-year run of this Great American Songwriters series at Washington, DC’s Corcoran Gallery.]
Songbirds: You’re doing the Bonaventure Brewery here in L.A. in October. You played there last year, too. Did you have a good crowd?
Winters: It was windy and cold, but enough. Not as many as would come on a nice evening. Lou [Levy] came. I didn’t work with Lou. I worked with Ron Anthony.
2006

Songbirds: I don’t know who that is.
Winters: He’s a guitar player. He worked with the old man.
Songbirds: The "old man" being…?
Winters: Frank Sinatra.
Songbirds: Were you around Frank much?
Winters: No, not that much. But enough for him to know who I was. And enough for Barbara [Sinatra] to say, "Hello!"
Songbirds: Remind me sometime to tell you [singer] Nancy Marano’s fairly hilarious stories about the time she finally met her childhood idol, Frank Sinatra. It’s fairly long and complicated but the punchline is simply that, after they’d been talking for several hours, she told him that her father used to be his accompanist when Frank was still a scuffling singer in Jersey. And Sinatra’s reaction was not, "Small world," or "How interesting," or "You’re keeping the flame alive," or "He was the greatest," or "How is he?," or "Send him my love," or "He was the best accompanist I ever had," or, even, "He stank." Instead, there was no reaction at all. Nada. Zip. Later that evening when she left the Waldorf, unaccompanied, he tried to give her his gun for protection.
[Note: In the chaos of the laughter that followed, I forgot to ask Winters an obvious question: Had Sinatra ever heard her sing?]
Winters: He was always, "No, you should sit over here," "Are you comfortable?," "Can I get you anything?"
Songbirds: Speaking of Nancy Marano, she just released an album with the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra. You did an album with them, too, didn’t you? Several years ago?
Winters: I did five tracks and Lou did five.
Songbirds: They’re going to release it, though?
Winters: A guy who runs a jazz festival here told me that he saw on the Internet that ours will be out in November.
Songbirds: That’s great.
Winters: They’re [the Metropole] just special. They’re fabulous.
Songbirds: You don’t work that much.
Winters: Not really.
Songbirds: Do you want to?
Winters: I’d like to work a little bit more, yeah. It’s not laziness. It’s just that, I have my life, my little part time job, happy with friends that I have, busy with family once in a while. I need somebody to push and shove me to get it together. I guess that’s a really dumb thing to say but it’s true. I need a keeper. I don’t know how to do it.
Songbirds: For all our sakes, I hope you find that person.

At which point, we took our leave, Pinky with her doggy bag, and I with memories (and a MiniDisc recording) of a pleasant afternoon spent chatting with one of the greatest living and swinging exponents of American Popular Song. Won’t somebody, please, get this woman a record contract and her own TV talk show?

To be continued...

7 comments:

GIBSON L5 ( RAZ ) said...

Daniel ,
i never heard Pinky and i'm waiting unpatient to listen to this album.
thanks alot
raz

btw - people all over the globe are just the same !!!
don't quit !!!
just take it easy and don't expect any kind words from the bloggers.
the only bloggers that realy care about friendship are those who writes comments and wish for dialogue .
lets try to educte the people , together.
i also have hard time in my blog , thousands of dl's but little comments....i won't quit becuase i want as many people as possible to be influenced by jazz culture !!!!

i hope you enjoyed the mountain dear Daniel and i'm sending you a friendly hug from here !
peace and love
jazzy razzy

thomasm said...

Thank you for another great album by a singer unknown to me. Of course after all of the wonderful information you posted with the music --I almost feel like I know Pinky now ! What is great about this album is the intros to many of the songs that many singers don't use. It makes it more enjoyable--particularly the intro to Where or When on this album. Thanks again Daniel and I hope you enjoy your day in the snow.--Tom

soilworker said...

Nice album but I would have started with the older albums from the 50s which are - in my opinion - even nicer.

pete said...

I've never heard of Pinky either and am looking forward to hearing her too. Thanks once again.
Pete

Luis Torres said...

I must admit that I had never heard of Pinky and that she surely deserves much better recognition, for she levels with the upper league. In this record I think that her performance is not helped by the sound engineer, because there is too much reverberation (is this the right English word?) coming from Mr. Von Essen instrument. I would like very much to listen to one of her former works and try to realize why her career didn't take off. Daniel, please do your home work. Luís

Jazz Miscellanous said...

LUIS, YOU'LL GET MORE OF PINKY WITH THE TIME. YOU CANNOT SAY THAT HER CAREER DIDN'T TAKE OFF. IT IS TRUE THAT SHE COULD HAVE RECORDED MUCH MORE. SHE HAD THE CAREER SHE WANTED AND RAISED HER CHILDREN. SHE IS STILL IN THE RACE... AND RECORDING.READ HER INTERVIEW, YOU'LL GET MORE EXPLANATIONS. BEST. DANIEL

littleblueyellow said...

As I mentioned to you before, I would love to download "Let's Be Buddies" if possible.

Kiken