Although not a household name, Una Mae Carlisle left a rich legacy of music as a student of Fats Waller;s stride piano school and accomplished vocalist and entertainer in the States and Europe.
She was born in Xenia,Ohio on Dec. 26.1915 and worked in the Cincinatti area in her teens as a pianist/vocalist. Fats Waller heard her while working on his WLW Radio show in Cincinatti.
He mentored teenage Una Mae and she guested on his show.
Una Mae contunued working around Cincinatti and worked in Paris in 1937. Her successful run there earned her an English tour in the spring of 1938. While there she made her first records with a fine local band. The sides made for English Vocalion as Una Mae Carlisle and her Jam Band, contain most of the players who had recorded earlier with Fats during his tour abroad. Trumpeter Dave Wilkins was working with the top London band of Ken "Snakehips" Johnson as was reedman Bertie King.
The band is a good one and has a lot of the same feel as the British Waller band. Una Mae is solid in her piano work and vocals. Although not as strong a player as Fats,she had a lot of the classic Waller stride style in her playing. Una's vocals were husky and well phrased and swung,she also sang a pretty ballad. As photos will attest, she was a very beautiful girl to boot.
Don't try your Jive on Me-A Leonard Feather composition (he may have produced the session). This was also recorded by Fats on his earlier British sesion-it has a "Hold Tight" quality to it. The two hornmen stand out-Wilkins reminds one a bit of Bill Coleman and King has a Chu Berry/Ben Webster feel to his tenor.
Una contributes a fine stride solo showing her debt to Fats.
I Would do Anything for You- The Claude Hopkins favorite gets a nice medium tempo with Una's piano getting solid support from Len Harrison's bass.Una's vocal has nice backup by Wilkins,reminding one of Fats' Herman Autrey. Along with some nice stride, Una throws in some cute asides a la Fats.
Hangover Blues- A Traditional Blues credited to Una and Feather. Una gives us a nice piano chorus before singing her blues lyrics backed by Wilkins' growl horn. King gets in a clarinet spot and some gutty tenor.
Love Walked In- The Gershwin standard is taken at a medium swing tempo with Una's piano up front. Her vocal is nice but it sounds like her key is a bit low. Her closing vocal swings nice with a cute "Walked Right In" aside a la Fats.
Mean to Me- Another uptempo version with Una using some of her own lyrics. King and Wilkins' shine on solos with some comments by Una. Her piano solo is very Fats like with her own touches,this lady could play! Her vocal rideout swings with a Yes Yes! at the coda.
I'm Crazy bout my Baby- Composed by Una's mentor Fats,we get an approriate stride opening. The horns get in nice spots before Una swings it home.
All in all a very nice session and great introduction to Miss Carlisle.
Una returned to Europe in early 1939 and recorded two sides with clarinetist Danny Polo's Swing Stars.
The band included continental stars Phillipe Brun (trumpet),Alix Combelle (tenor) and Oscar Aleman(guitar).
On Montparnasse Jump,a medium blues ,Una contributes two excellent stride choruses. She also gets in a nice spot on China Boy. Garland Wilson plays piano on the other band sides.
Una was back in the states in 1939 and worked clubs in the New York area. On November 6 she joined Fats' Rhythm for a classic version of I Can't give you Anything but Love. Una sings the first chorus with Fats making his classic asides followed by Fats' vocal. The recording has become a standard in the various Waller reissue sides and became very popular with the public.
Fats may have helped Una get her own series for Bluebird. On 8/2/40 she recorded four sides with John Hamilton,trumpet (see our earlier post), Al Casey,guitar,Cedric Wallace,bass and Slick Jones on drums from Fats' group. Una played piano and despite the absence of Gene Sedric, the session has a real Waller feel
Papa's in Bed with his Britches On is a fun blues novelty. The other sides, Now I Lay me Down to Dream, If I Had You and You Made me Love You are on the mellow side with Hamilton's trumpet in a muted Charlie Shavers mood. Una's piano and vocal work on these sides is exceptional.
On 11/13/40 she was backed by Benny Carter,trumpet,Everett Barksdale,guitar,Slam Stewart,bass and Zutty Singleton,drums.
Walkin' by the River composed by Una became a hit record and her version is lovely backed by Benny's tasty trumpet.This became one of her signature songs. The other side I Met you Then is another pleasant Una composition.
Una's next Bluebird date on 3/10/41 became a classic and memorable session in jazz history as she was backed by Lester Young's band. Lester had recently left Count Basie and had put together this combo with fellow Basie-ite Shad Collins,trumpet-Clyde Hart,piano-John Collins,guitar-Nick Fenton,bass and Doc West on drums. I first heard these sides on an old RCA Vintage lp devoted to various small group swing sessions.
Lester and the band play beautifully and Una's vocals never sounded better in such wonderful company.
Blitzkrieg Baby- A topical wartime blues with a bridge similar to Shoo Shoo Baby. Una swings nicely on the bluesy wartime lyrics. Lester shines with a cool solo spot shared with Hart, a very underated swing pianist.
Beautiful Eyes- A lovely,forgotten Richard Whiting ballad. Una sings the pretty verse and chorus with Lester's soulful fills. Lester has a lovely,haunting chorus Una returns to the verse and lightly swings the out chorus with Shad getting in a nice muted spot.
There'll be some Changes Made- Again Una with the verse and chorus-swinging nicely. John Collins gets a fine solo spot (he worked many years with Nat Cole). Una swings us home. No Lester solo but nice fills.
It's Sad,but True- An obscure pop of the day with a short verse up front followed by Una nicely navigating the rather unorthodox melody line. Lester blows his lovely fills and Shad sounds a lot like his Basie buddy, Buck Clayton. Una returns for a half chorus.
A Lovely Session.
Una's next Bluebird session(5/1/41) utilized the wonderful John Kirby Band as accompanists.
Charlie Shavers,trumpet-Billy Kyle,piano and Russell Procope,alto all have solo spots with kudos to the always tasty Kyle and shavers.
I See a Million People- composed by Una was her second hit composition getting much play by other bands and singers. Una's vocal is very warm and the KIrby band gives her delightful backup.
Oh,I'm Evil- A cute,swinging blues with a bridge,Una's vocal is a standout.
You Mean so Much to Me- Another pretty,but obscure ballad composed by trumpeter/arranger Edgar Battle. Una's phrasing sells the song as does Charlie's trumpet.
Boogie Woogie Piggly-This was a popular swing novelty of '41,even recorded by Glenn Miller. Una sings a verse up front then swings the boogie theme. Charlie gets in some growls and Una has fun with the "oink oink" lyrics.
7/22/41-The Kirby band is back starting with a nice rendering of the Kern standard, Can't help Lovin' dat Man. Una's phrasing compensates for her range and we have a nice band interlude led by Charlie's trumpet.
It Ain't Like That- A Una composition. A Bluesy Riff with a swinging Una vocal. Good spots for Billy and Charlie and a riffing last chorus by Una.
Anything- A pretty Phil Napolean-Frank Signoreli comp. also recorded by Dorsey-Sinatra that year. Una gives us the verse and again gets thru a tricky melody by dropping some notes. A tasty band interlude before Una gives us a pretty wrapup. A lovely side.
City called Heaven- Another obscure pop saved by Una's tasty vocal and a nice Procope alto spot.
10/3/41-I'm the One who Loves You- Another undistinguised pop but with a pleasant vocal and spots for Billy and Procope.
My Wish- Another pretty Una comp. A sweet vocal by Una, the tune sounds a bit like the Ink Spots' "Do I Worry?" The always tasty Kyle has a piano spot.
Coffee and Cakes- A rather average Una comp. with nice Shavers and Kyle.
Moonlight Masquerade- Comp. by Tutti Camarata. A pretty ballad with a warm Una vocal .Procope and Kyle solo.
Una's final Bluebird session was on 2/13/42 with the Kirby Band back.
Don't Tech It (touch)-Is a Cute novelty ala Tisket a Tasket with some nice Shavers.
So Long,Shorty- A Una comp. Riff tune with Wartime theme. Nicely swung by Una with Shavers and Kyle soloing.
I'm Tryin' -A pleasant ballad performance with graceful singing and spots for Kyle and Procope.
Sweet Talk- Una comp. A pretty ballad with Una's nice light touch and sweet Procope alto.
These Kirby sides all have their moments and show Una maturing as a performer with the bonus of one of the tastiest and classiest combos of the Swing Era.
In Part Two we'll survey Una's mid 40s recordings and continue to her untimely passing in 1954.