Tag Archives: Annie Ross

My Week in Style

Cary Grant onstage at the Regal Cinema, Glasgow, July 1958 (c) The Herald and Times Group

Last week was a blur of all of my favourite things – jazz, Hollywood stars (sadly only in photographic form), beauty products, getting glammed up, watching classic movies, hanging out with fascinating characters. (And all that had happened by Wednesday….).

The first part of the week was spent in the company of such glamorous, dead stars as the uber-urbane Cary Grant (pictured) – whose image, along with those of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich, I was hanging in my exhibition at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.  It’s been a labour of love for many years, this project of researching what stars did when they visited Scotland, and I’m delighted to see all the photos up on the walls in the City of Stars exhibition which opened officially on Saturday.

As I mentioned last week, two of the female stars in the collection – Judy Garland and Katharine Hepburn – were wearing Balmain when they were photographed in Glasgow, and it was a real thrill, on Thursday, to be able to talk to someone who had first-hand dealings with Balmain. The already legendary jazz singer Annie Ross was in town to attend the Glasgow Film Festival premiere of No One But Me, a new documentary about her, and to give a couple of concerts. (Click here for my review of the first gig, published in The Herald and on my jazz blog.)

At the second after-show party, she and I resumed a conversation (we began it in 2007) about how she was fitted for a dress by the great Balmain when she was appearing in a revue in Paris. During her fitting, she was tipped off that the couturier was working on a wedding dress … for a certain Rita Hayworth. Annie  “hipped me” – as the jazz guys say -to a biography of Balmain’s right-hand woman, Ginette Spanier, a few years back and I finally managed to track down a copy recently. I’ll report back once I’ve read it..

Annie may be 81 but she looks fantastic, and from observing her post- concert habits, I can only conclude that double Macallans and cigarettes are having the opposite effect on her than they have on the rest of the population. With her dark red hair, false eyelashes and terrific bone structure she is still a striking woman – and her style is fabulous. She wears colourful flowing kimonos and jackets over a simple streamlined black turtle-neck and slim trousers ensemble.

Last time I met her, at the 2010 Norwich Jazz Party, I was suffering from a bug and feeling like death warmed up. I looked washed out and puffy – never moreso than when photographed next to the glamorous and chic Ms Ross. A while after our picture was taken, I went to her room to give her the beautiful, dark shocking pink nail lacquer I’d been planning to wear – it seemed far more appropriate to give it to her than use it myself, given the parlous state of my my health and of my appearance!

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Jazz Style Icons

It’s all about jazz for me at the moment, in the run-up to the Glasgow Jazz Festival (June 29-July3) and I’ve had to neglect this blog a little  … However, I have – as always – been finding a great deal of style inspiration in jazz –  not so much from the current crop of jazz stars as from the greats of yesteryear. Here’s a selection of some of my favourite style icons, starting, above, with Chet Baker (1929-1988), the James Dean of the jazz world, who wins my style award for services to the white T-shirt .. And below is his one-time band-mate, baritone sax star Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) who was rarely without a crew cut and Ray-Bans in the 1950s.

Another super-cool jazz musician whose music and style I love is the legendary Lester “Prez” Young (1909-1959), the ethereal-sounding tenor saxophonist who came to fame in Count Basie’s band in the 1930s and made a series of landmark recordings with his friend Billie Holiday. He became a much-feted solo star in the 1950s, and his signature pork-pie hat is as recognisable to jazz fans as Lady Day’s gardenia and Louis Armstrong’s white handkerchief – possibly moreso. So indelibly linked are the Prez and his pork pie hat that Herman Leonard famously took an evocative portrait of Lester Young without Young in it: the pork-pie hat plus the saxophone (and a swirl of cigarette smoke) were enough to suggest their owner’s presence.

As I mentioned, one of the most identifiable accessories in jazz history was Billie Holiday’s (1915-1959) gardenia – which, for a decade from the late 1930s, was a key part of her look. Legend has it that the first gardenia was pinned on her head to cover a patch of hair which had been singed by tongs. It quickly became her trademark..

I also love the hair style she sported for much of the 1950s – the sleeked-back ponytail. This was how she wore her hair in the landmark TV programme, The Sound of Jazz.

Perhaps more of an all-round style icon was the lovely Lena Horne (1917-2010), a woman with exquisite taste and a sense of elegant style that lasted her whole life.  She was known for her turbans and for her gorgeous evening gowns …

Not all of the great jazz style icons have left us: Annie Ross (born 1930), the 80-year-old pioneering jazz vocalist is still performing (she plays in London next week, at the Bluesfest, and in Glasgow’s Oran Mor on July 8). And I haven’t seen a photo of her looking less than stylish. Check out this beautiful portrait from the 1950s.

And I especially love this one: three of my favourite jazz style icons captured on photo as they record the wonderful album Annie Ross Sings a Song of Mulligan (that’s Chet Baker in the middle). Cool in every sense of the word..

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My Week in Beauty

MONDAY

I’ve been recovering from my recent jaunt to Norwich for the annual “jazz party”. Jazz and parties are, as you know, both late-night affairs – organisers of this jamboree don’t take that into account when planning their concert schedule, which starts BEFORE LUNCHTIME! I should really have taken a bottle of Guerlain Midnight Secret (£58) with me – since it makes your skin look like it’s had its beauty sleep – but I was too excited at the prospect of three days of wall-to-wall jazz.

Thank goodness I did have two key weapons from my Clinique skincare arsenal with me, to help with my skin’s recovery from over-indulgence at the bar. Clinique Redness Solutions Soothing Cleanser (£15; www.clinique.co.uk) and their Redness Solutions Daily Protective Base SPF15 (£14) are both top choices for countering the effects of Gin Night, White Wine Night and, especially, Red Wine Night …  I am prone to flushed cheeks and can vouch for the fact that the cleanser takes the sting out of nippy skin, while the green-coloured base evens out the red and doubles as a great primer for the rest of your make-up.

TUESDAY

It may look as if jazz singer Annie Ross is applying nail varnish in this photo from the 1950s – and that would be entirely apt.

When I met the great lady – still a vision of glamorous chic at the age of 79 – in Norwich last week, I was impressed by her bold make-up, not least her shocking pink lipstick which looked terrific with her flaming red hair. (What is it about stylish old dames and hot pink lipstick? When I met King Kong star Fay Wray back in 1998, the 92-year-old wouldn’t start the interview until she had applied some lipstick in that colour..) So I gave her my bottle of hot pink nail polish – the now unavailable Estee Lauder Michael Kors Nail Lacquer in Bungalow Pink – to complement the look.

Anyway, inspired by Annie, I have been on a bit of a quest to find a shocking pink lipstick for myself and it turned up on Tuesday, in the shape of one of the new Dior Addict Lipcolours (£21.50) which come out at the end of May.

The Ravishing Rose shade (left) is a brilliant choice if you fancy a slash of neon colour. And, unlike many shocking pinks, it’s not flat and matte, but moist, glossy and very, very comfy.

WEDNESDAY

The promised goody bags may not have materialised but my trip into the sleek and spacious new beauty hall at Boots in Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries was not entirely wasted. I was given a very educational makeover by one of the ladies at the Lancome counter – though “zone” is probably a more apt word.

I may write about beauty but I’m still learning tips and techniques and Jackie helped me overcome my aversion to kohl eyeliner (love it on other people; find it gives me panda eyes) by using a waterproof eyeliner pencil – Lancome Crayon Khol Waterproof (£17.50; www.lancome.co.uk), and giving me a 1960s look. Not only did it look great but it lasted till bedtime – and came off easily with a bi-phase eye make-up remover.

THURSDAY

After the success of the Dior Addict Lipcolor in Ravishing Rose, I was keen to give the new Dior 5 Couleurs Iridescent Eyeshadow palette in Ready-to-Glow (£39; available May 17) an evening outing.

A book launch on Thursday provided the perfect opportunity to experiment. And I was thrilled with the results.

These colours are fantastic – they blend easily and last fabulously – and it’s not very often I can say that about eye make-up. The gorgeous shimmering shades flatter and emphasise the bone structure and add a bit of colour at the same time ..  and they look great with Ravishing Rose lips. Summer nights here we come!

FRIDAY

I finally made my mind up today about Guerlain’s new mascara, Le 2 de Guerlain Volume Mascara (£24). I love it – but only for the first couple of hours it’s on.

The latest in the French beauty house’s collection of two-wand mascaras, this one is different because its second step is painting on a glossy top coat for the lashes: after you’ve brushed on your volumising mascara and teased your lashes into the desired curve, you are supposed to go over them with the lacquer.

While the traditional first step does indeed add oomph to lashes and is perfect for creating a lash-heavy look a la Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s, I found that this mascara didn’t stay put on my lashes and I ended up with smudges below and above my eyes. Maybe, as with the kohl pencil, I need to hold out for the waterproof version…



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The Happier Holiday

Dope addict, punchbag for her partners, target of racial prejudice – Billie Holiday, who died 50 years ago at the age of 44, has long been universally known not just as jazz’s greatest singer but also one of its saddest casualties. The phenomenally gifted vocalist, whom Frank Sinatra credited as his “greatest single influence”, is associated in many people’s minds with tragedy, oppression, abuse and the blues. But the truth is that the iconic Lady Day was not – for much of her existence – a downtrodden, pathetic creature at all.
Just because the key events in Holiday’s life – a possible rape when she was ten years old, an enforced separation from her mother, working as a prostitute in her teens, getting hooked on heroin, spending time in jail and suffering terrifying racial abuse – could have made her a victim, it doesn’t automatically follow that she was. Holiday’s final years were undoubtedly tragic but one shouldn’t assume that everything that went before was too.
Her death has come to overshadow her life; the ebullience and life-affirming qualities inherent in many of her recordings and in her personality, as described by friends and colleagues, until her last decade are often overlooked, swept aside by society’s need to slot everyone into a category.
But Billie Holiday was far too complex a character to be pigeon-holed simply as one of life’s victims. For one thing, she was not the type of person to allow herself to be pushed around – at least by anyone other than her lovers. And if anyone tried, the chances are they would get a thick lip. On numerous occasions, especially in her flaming youth, Holiday squared up to bigots – walking away was not an option.
There are various tales of how Holiday reacted to instances of racial prejudice – and they all involve her taking decisive, often reckless, action. On the road with Artie Shaw’s all-white band in 1938, she knew that things would be tough below the so-called Mason-Dixon Line: rednecks in the South would tolerate black people as entertainment, but this being the land of lynchings and the Klan, they wouldn’t acknowledge them as human beings.
During one show, Holiday was going down a storm but when a voice from the audience yelled: “Have the nigger wench sing another song!”, her simmering rage exploded and, in front of a packed auditorium, she clearly mouthed an obscenity which, as Shaw later recalled, caused “all hell to break loose”.
Other stories involve barroom brawls and Lady Day – for all her fisticuffs and foul language, she was the most elegant of singers – inviting ignoramuses who slurred her to step outside for a fight. Her pianist Bobby Tucker later said: “She beat the crap out of a guy at the bar who called her ‘nigger bitch’.”
Despite having no fear about standing up to the thugs and bullies she came across when she was out in public, Holiday allowed herself to be beaten up by a string of violent male partners – and there’s never been much evidence of her defending herself against them in the way that she did with strangers. Dan Morgenstern, the leading jazz expert who knew Holiday in the 1950s, is one of a number of her acquaintances who believes that: “She had a strong masochistic streak. She wanted guys who would hurt her both physically and emotionally.”
The two sides of Holiday’s personality are clear from one of the songs that became inexorably linked with her: My Man. It’s very much a song of two halves – the first, in a minor key, is all about the singer’s troubles with her lover (“Two or three girls has he/That he likes as well as me/But I love him”); the second is in a major key, slightly faster and much more hopeful (“All my life is just despair/ But I don’t care/When he takes me in his arms/ The world is bright, alright”).
Holiday recorded it three times – once in each decade of her recording career – and by the second recording, in 1949, she had added the lines “He beats me too/What can I do?”. That this song, though written by someone else, summed up her own point of view is clear from the fact that she ended her autobiography with a quote from it: “Tired? You bet/ But all of that I’ll soon forget with my man .. “
Of course, Holiday’s wilfully self-destructive habit of choosing brutes as her romantic partners was mirrored by her self-destructive drug addiction which has become the main theme of the Billie Holiday story over the years. Aside from the physical toll that heroin took on her, it also sapped her battling spirit and her lust for life. It turned her, when she was in thrall to the drug, into a different person and it cost her many friends.
Holiday’s tragic image was partly her own creation. In 1955, desperate for money to finance her habit, and aware of the fact that there was a demand for confessional memoirs, she dictated her autobiography to journalist William Dufty. It’s a compelling read, with Holiday’s characteristically “salty” language suggesting its authenticity but the reality was that it was full of exaggerations and deliberate distortions on her part. She hoped that the sensational aspects – which, before the publishers got cold feet, were to include details of her sexual adventures with everyone from Tallulah Bankhead to Orson Welles – would attract Hollywood’s attention.
Indeed, it’s from the autobiography that much of the Holiday myth originates, as she allowed herself to come across as a victim. Even the title, Lady Sings the Blues, which was imposed by the publisher, is inaccurate: Holiday was not a blues singer; she rarely sang the blues.
Holiday’s tragic image was further consolidated in the public consciousness by the 1972 biopic, also entitled Lady Sings the Blues, which featured a harrowing performance by Diana Ross but had even less to do with the facts of Holiday’s life than her memoirs. Several key figures in her career, including Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, refused to allow their names to be used.
Perhaps Goodman and Shaw, who both met Holiday in her earliest years on the jazz scene, simply didn’t recognise in the Lady Sings the Blues character the insouciant, fun-loving girl they had known. Her friends from the 1930s and 1940s remember a bawdy young woman with a lust for life, and an appetite for sensation. Even in her final decade, the 1950s, there were still glimpses of her wild ways. Singer Annie Ross, who was one of the friends who stuck by her till the very end, recalls an afternoon in Paris where they drank their way down the Champs-Elysees, cafe by cafe, supposedly on a shopping expedition. After visiting a fancy boutique where they viewed tray after tray of jewellery, Lady Day tipped out her pockets to reveal to her young friend a stash of necklaces and other baubles.
But for proof positive that the happy-go-lucky, “don’t careish”, Billie Holiday existed before – and then alongside – the rather more troubled Lady Day, just listen to her legacy of recordings. Yes, you’ll feel pity for the later Holiday with the voice that has paid the price for her lifestyle, but you’ll also feel uplifted by the sheer joie-de-vivre she exuded throughout the 1930s and then on occasion until she died, on July 17 1959.

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