Although jazz singer Ernestine Anderson has lived in Seattle for most of the past 63 years, the Bay Area has long played an important part in her career.
San Francisco Chronicle critic Ralph J. Gleason and Oakland disc jockey Pat Henry gave the Houston-born vocalist a major boost in 1957. From 1977 to 1991, she recorded a dozen albums for the then-local Concord Jazz label.
Anderson, now 80, almost lost her family home since 1946 to foreclosure last summer. Quincy Jones, who had worked with Anderson when she was a teenage vocalist in Bumps Blackwell’s band in Seattle and later in Lionel Hampton’s band, was among a number of friends who donated $43,000 to keep her in the house.
By 1947, Anderson was on the road with the Johnny Otis Orchestra. Richmond singer Ed Reed, also 80, recalls running into Anderson at the Rex Club, a bar on 7th Street in West Oakland, not far from Slim Jenkins’ supper club, where she was appearing with Otis.
“She and I used to grin at each other,” Reed, then stationed at Oakland Army Base, says of seeing her at the Rex Club. Anderson and Reed will have an opportunity to officially meet when they share a bill at Yoshi’s in San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday, August 1 and 2. Shows are at 7:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
In 1957, while singing with the Mastersounds at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, Anderson gave Gleason a copy of her first album, “Hot Cargo,” which had been recorded and released a year earlier in Sweden. Gleason passed it on to Henry, who began playing it on Oakland station KROW. Due to their support, Mercury Records issued the album in the U.S. Anderson was suddenly hot stuff in the jazz world. Time magazine called her “the best new singer in the business.”
By 1976, when bassist Ray Brown introduced her to Concord Jazz president Carl Jefferson, Anderson had been retired from performing for a decade and was running an antique store in Seattle. “He was wonderful as a producer,” she says of Jefferson. “He let me pick the songs I love.” Among the tunes she recorded for Concord Jazz were jazz arrangements of such blues hits as B.B. King’s “Never Make a Move Too Soon,” Z.Z. Hill’s “Down Home Blues” and Denise LaSalle’s “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In.”
In 1989, Anderson was on her way from an interview at KJAZ in Alameda to the San Francisco International Airport when the Loma Prieta earthquake caused Bay Bridge to snap five cars ahead of her. Terrified, she got out of the car and ran all the way back to the toll plaza.
Anderson made two CDs for Quincy Jones’ Qwest label after leaving Concord Jazz. She now records for HighNote in New York City. “A Song for You,” her current release, was produced by Todd Barkan, former proprietor of Keystone Korner in San Francisco.