I love Maxine Sullivan.
I know everyone loves Ella, and I’m a big fan of Sarah Vaughan myself, but Maxine Sullivan is solidly tied with both of them in my book. Her vocals are energetic and always beautifully in rhythm, and dancing to her recordings is so much fun! I have a few concert videos down below where she’s well into her fifties and sixties, and her voice ages so well – it still carries the vitality of her early recordings, while possessing infinitely more character and charm.
This 1968 concert in Japan features Maxine Sullivan singing with Scott Hamilton’s quintet. Some great swing tunes in this concert include “As Long as I Live,” “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,” “You Were Meant For Me,” and “Crazy ‘Bout My Baby.”
Hot take – Maxine Sullivan’s version of “Exactly Like You” is my favorite one. I have four versions in my library – Carmen McRae (probably the one you’ll hear most in the Lindy scene), Eddy Howard, Helen Humes, and Maxine Sullivan – and I like Maxine’s the most. The horns have a swanky energy to them, and her vocals are understated, but they have a rich, full sound – unlike Helen Humes, whose voice has more energy, but is thinner and more reedy by comparison.
In 1985, Maxine Sullivan appeared on a TV show hosted by Johnny Desmond, where she performed four songs, including two swingers – “Loch Lomond,” which is the song she’s most famous for recording, and “Ev’ry Time (I Fall In Love).”
If you haven’t heard Maxine’s rendition of “Loch Lomond,” by the way, you should listen to it. It was the song that originally made her famous, and she sang it in the 1939 film St. Louis Blues. You can see that recording in the clip below:
For dancing, I prefer this hard-swinging rendition from her album We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye, with Bob Wilber.
In this 1958 clip from Art Ford’s Jazz Party, a forty-seven-year-old Maxine sings “Ace In The Hole,” which starts out as a slow ballad and then builds into a really easy, bluesy swinger. I found this video while doing research for this post, and it makes me want to add this song to my library!
At the 1975 Manassas Jazz Festival, Maxine Sullivan did a beautiful rendition of “You Turned the Tables On Me.” I think this clip is a really great example of how you can hear the swung rhythm in her vocals – her voice has this lilting quality that perfectly mirrors what the rhythm section is doing.
For comparison, watch this clip of Maxine singing “Some of These Days.” I couldn’t find a date for the clip, but it’s clear that she’s much younger – I would guess no older than thirty-five. Her voice still has that beautiful, alluring quality, but it lacks the character of some of her later concerts. (Bonus: there’s some sweet jazz dancing in this clip!)
I have a lot of other favorite Maxine Sullivan songs, too. Here is a list of some more for you to check out:
- Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, 135 BPM, 2:56
- Blue Turning Grey Over You, 148 BPM, 2:32
- Honeysuckle Rose, 176 BPM, 3:24
- Ain’t Misbehavin’, 127 BPM, 3:20
- As Long As You Live, 145 BPM, 2:38