Jackie Cain, a vocalist who gave bebop a carefree vocalese spin in the late 1940s with her singer-pianist husband Roy Kral and, with Jackie and Roy, became one of the most beloved jazz-pop singing duos and recording artists of the 1950s and beyond, died Sept. 15 at her home in New Jersey. She was 86. [Photo above of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral]
Throughout her career, Jackie was widely admired by jazz and pop vocalists but never duplicated or bested. The ringing sound of her voice, ease of her swing and power of her technique were as unique as a fingerprint and all but impossible to reproduce. To her credit, Jackie's singing style was artfully deceptive, creating the impression that she was winging it when, in fact, she worked hard to perfect her warm, soaring delivery. In the process, she altered the direction of club singing from bluesy to breezy. [Photo above of Jackie Cain with Charlie Ventura in the late 1940s]
Much of Jackie's popularity came from her youthful voice and angelic phrasing that contrasted neatly with her husband's gray flannel vocals and tasteful chord voicings on the piano. By choosing songs with lyrics that cast her as a wide-eyed innocent and Kral as playfully smug, their husband-and-wife singing personalities and crafty harmonies made you think of them as vocal dancers. Certainly Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme were influenced by Jackie and Roy.
Jackie and Roy's happy-go-lucky approach to superb songs and jazz standards was only enhanced by their obviously happy marriage. In this regard, many of their songs seemed less like music and more like a sung conversation between newlyweds. This vocal choreography required tasteful arrangements by Roy and careful rehearsing to ensure flawless synchronization. While Jackie and Roy's duets gave off a pop mist, they never really crossed the line into jingle-ese, largely because of their hip phrasing and finger-snapping swing.
The flip side of Jackie's vocal personality—serious and studied—came through when she sang ballads by herself. By applying emotional integrity and an earnest tone, she was able to sell difficult songs like Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most to audiences and other singers, turning them into jazz standards.
When I interviewed Jackie in 2009, we spoke for several hours over two days about her career—from meeting Roy for the first time to the tragic auto accident that killed their daughter Niki in 1973. In listening back to my tape, there was something delightful about Jackie that was intangible, like fairy dust. She was sweet and smart, and her personality, like her voice, conveyed both a girl next door and a slick chick at the jukebox—dainty and knowing but always mischievous. What I remember most is what she said about the role that honesty played in her interpretations of lyrics. The trick, she said, wasn't to take the words too seriously but to translate them through a modern sensibility. She is survived by her daughter Dana. I miss Jackie.
Here's my five-part interview with Jackie Cain...
Part 1: Go here.
Part 2: Go here.
Part 3: Go here.
Part 4: Go here.
Part 5: Go here.
JazzWax tracks: If you're unfamiliar with Jackie Cain or Jackie & Roy, start with the Glory of Love here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Jackie singing So It's Spring with Russ Freeman on piano and an arrangement by Bill Holman. Dig her fabulous range and vocal flexibility...