Jazz Vocalist Jane Harvey Dies at 88; Performed with Benny Goodman, Desi Arnaz

Jane Harvey, who recorded a string of classic hits with the Benny Goodman orchestra in the 1940's and later sang with Desi Arnaz, died Aug. 15 at her home in West Hollywood. She was 88 and the cause was cancer.

Born Phyllis Taff in Jersey City, NJ on Jan. 6, 1925, she auditioned for nightclub owner Barney Josephson shortly after finishing high school, and was offered an engagement at his celebrated Greenwich Village nightclub, Café Society. He also changed her name, explaining that a previous singer at the club named Phyllis had gotten bad reviews and he didn't want audiences to think she was the same person.

While at Café Society, she was heard by famed critic and producer John Hammond, who recommended her to his close friend and brother-in-law Benny Goodman. Goodman came in to hear her, and she recorded her first song with his band, "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me," in December of 1944 for Columbia Records. She only stayed with the band for six months, but in that short time managed to record several additional Goodman classics including the best-selling "Close as Pages in a Book" by Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Fields from "Up in Central Park," Cole Porter's "Only Another Boy and Girl" from "Seven Lively Arts," the Richard Whiting standard "He's Funny That Way," Gordon Jenkins' "Ev'ry Time," and the novelty "Gotta Be This or That," on which Goodman also sang.

She joined the Desi Arnaz orchestra in 1946, after he had seen her performing at New York's Blue Angel. She was reluctant at first to join another band, but at Bob Hope's urging agreed to travel to Los Angeles to appear on Hope's radio show, for which Arnaz was acting as musical director. She recorded several titles with him for RCA Victor, including "Mi Vida" and "A Rainy Night in Rio" and also appeared with him for a successful engagement at Ciro's, but when the band left to go on the road, she chose to remain at the club.

She did some additional recordings for RCA with the Page Cavanaugh Trio and entertained the troops in Europe on a 1948 USO tour with Bob Hope and Irving Berlin. Upon returning to the States, she signed with MGM Records and made her Broadway debut in the 1950 Harold Rome musical "Bless You All" with Pearl Bailey and Mary McCarty. She married record producer Bob Thiele and retired temporarily to raise their son. In 1958, Thiele was overseeing a Duke Ellington session in Chicago and brought his wife along. She unexpectedly found herself singing two tracks with the full Ellington orchestra including Billy Strayhorn on piano. One of them, "A Hundred Dreams From Now," was issued as a single on Thiele's Signature label, and the other, "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues," was just found last year and released for the first time on the CD "Undiscovered Jane Harvey."

Harvey recorded several critically acclaimed albums through the years, including "Leave It to Jane" on Dot, "I've Been There" for Audio Fidelity, the Fats Waller tribute "You Fats, Me Jane" on Classic Jazz, the self-titled "Jane Harvey" for RCA International, and "The Other Side of Sondheim" for Atlantic.

She resumed her cabaret career in 2011 with appearances at Feinstein's in New York and the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood, and reissued five CD's of her previous recordings including an unreleased session that she had done with guitarist Les Paul. Just prior to her illness, she recorded a complete new album of Duke Ellington songs with pianist Mike Renzi and guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Ron Eschete, which will be released later this year. It includes Harvey's first recording of an Ellington song for which she wrote the lyric, "The Sky Fell Down."

Harvey re-married and is survived by her husband William King, her son Bob Thiele Jr., daughter-in-law Amy Kanter Thiele, and a grandson, Owen Thiele.

Photo credit: William Gray Harris

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