“On this special and poignant evening, the singer delivered a wonderful gift, making those present feel so much through her artistry. We can only hope that a new holiday tradition has begun in Prague: Jazz at the National Theater with greats like Mary Stallings.”
These were the words of the Czech music critic reporting on Mary Stallings’ appearance at the Prague National Theater on December 23, 2011 – the first time any jazz artist has appeared at the iconic home of classical, opera and ballet since it was constructed in 1881! That the Prague people would select Mary Stallings to bring jazz to their hallowed hall speaks volumes on Mary’s voice and talent.
Mary Stallings is a classic example of how it takes time, musical seasoning and living a full life to mature as a vocalist and to address a lyric properly. While youthful instrumentalists may have something to say, Stallings brings a lifetime of emotional intelligence that enables her to truly inhabit a lyric.
Born and raised in San Francisco, the middle child of 11 siblings, Stallings started performing professionally before the age of 10 with her mother and two older sisters in a family gospel group. She got her first real taste of jazz at home, sitting in at rehearsals with her uncle, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Orlando Stallings. Stallings’ career got off to an early start in the late ’50s and her supple voice landed her in rarified air: performing with such luminaries as Ben Webster, Cal Tjader, Earl Hines, Red Mitchell, Teddy Edwards, and the Montgomery brothers (Wes, Monk, and Buddy) in Bay Area night clubs such as Hungry i, The Purple Onion and El Matador.
Perhaps Stallings’ best-known recording was the 1961 Cal Tjader Plays, Mary Stallings Sings on Fantasy Records, which brought engagements in Tokyo, Manila and Bangkok along with work up and down the West Coast. She spent a year in the late 1960s performing in Nevada with Billy Eckstine, and toured South America with Gillespie’s band in 1965 and 1966. She has shared the bill with such luminaries as Joe Williams, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald. From 1969-1972, she enjoyed a successful three-year residency in the Count Basie Orchestra. After touring with the Basie orchestra, she devoted her time to raising her only child, R&B singer Adriana Evans.
Stallings returned to full-time singing in the early 1980s and returned to the recording studio with the 1994 release of I Waited for You on Concord Jazz with pianist Gene Harris. The album Spectrum followed in 1995 with pianist Gerald Wiggins and trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, while her next album featured Monty Alexander as the pianist (Manhattan Moods, 1997), and 2005’s Remember Love was produced by Geri Allen, who played piano and organ and also provided all of the arrangements.
Mary Stallings has played at legendary Monterey Jazz Festival 1965, 1995 and 2003, the San Francisco Jazz Festival 2001, 2004, and 2006, a 2005 appearance with Clark Terry at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York, the 2007 Savannah Music Festival and Jazz at Lincoln Center’s, “The Birth of Cool.”
In 2010, Mary Stallings signed an exclusive agreement with New York-based, HighNote Records and her first recording, Dream (HCD 7212) was released in October of that year. Mary’s second HighNote recording, 2012’s Don’t Look Back, (HCD 7224) had Christopher Loudon proclaiming in JazzTimes magazine, “Stallings and Eric Reed…achieving the same sort of rare, supreme simpatico as Ella and Louis, or Sinatra and Riddle.”