by Pierre Crépon
“From what I could see, I was the only authentic jazz singer in the show,” Phyllis Hyman told Jet in 1981, discussing Sophisticated Ladies, a Broadway tribute to Duke Ellington. It was not the most obvious statement to be made by a singer who never recorded “pure” jazz projects. Hyman’s breakthrough had come with her vocals on Norman Connors’ 1976 cover of “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” and she contributed the following year to the album the drummer produced for his former employer, Pharoah Sanders. Hyman also sang on a 1982 project by McCoy Tyner, but the crossover orientation of those efforts was manifest and commercial success was what Hyman strived for when crafting her own albums. It was what she applied herself to in the studio, but the depth of her background was always apparent. In Strength of a Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story, biographer Jason A. Michael writes that one of the numbers making up Hyman’s repertoire in early 1970s Miami clubs, before her New York breakthrough, was Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” “I never heard anyone sing with such freedom,” bandmate Hiram Bullock says in an Unsung episode devoted to Hyman. “We would end up playing some, you know, Miles Davis, Bitches Brew jams, and Phyllis would do the parts of Miles’ horn, those weird horn parts.… She would have no fear in that way.” She did not make records in that vein but that freedom remained, in the agility with which she handled her material and in the smoothness with which she moved across genres. The following selections, taken from her first years in the recording industry, hopefully make a good case for Phyllis Hyman, authentic jazz singer.
Tracklisting (listen below):