The early to mid-'70's saw the emergence of a different type of female vocalist into the world of R&B, sultry voiced women like Phyllis Hyman, Angela Bofill, Dee Dee Bridgewater and...Jean Carne. All these women defied easy labeling, gliding from the smoothest soul to jazz to pop with ease. For reasons unknown to this long time R&B and jazz fan they never garnered the fame they richly deserved from the mainstream audiences. All of today's famous younger soul female singers and girl groups owe much to these women.
Jean Carne was born Sarah Jean Parker in Columbus, Georgia, but shortly afterwards the family moved to Atlanta. Like most, if not all sisters of soul, Jean's musical education began in the church, and by age four, she was singing in the choir. She also took piano, clarinet and bassoon lessons, becoming proficient at all. As a teenager she sang on a morning radio talk show, singing "Misty" while being accompanied by piano legend Erroll Garner. A musical scholarship at Morris Brown College in Atlanta beckoned and Jean further honed her skills there doing everything from musical theater to opera.
Jean had her sights set on the famous Julliard School of Music in New York, but a meeting with jazz pianist Doug Carn led to love, marriage, and a place as featured vocalist in Carn's jazz fusion band. The couple based themselves in Los Angeles, where Jean did three early albums with her husband, "Infant Eyes", "Spirit of the New Land," and "Revelations." Her work with the band garnered enthusiastic new jazz fans and brought her to the attention of the soon-to-be megA-Hroup Earth, Wind and Fire. Her voice helped brighten the group's first two albums, "Earth Wind and Fire," and "The Need of Love" where she expanded her musical learning with the group and went beyond her jazz work.
Jean's marriage to Carn ended and she found herself as featured vocalist with jazz giant Duke Ellington, touring and exposing herself to more mainstream audiences. After her stint with Ellington, Jean was approached by hot young drummer Norman Connors, a protégé of Pharoah Saunders. Connors was ready to record for Buddah Records and he put together a stable of young talented vocalists like Jean, Phyllis Hyman, Eleanor Mills, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Jean hit the charts in 1975 with a duet with Michael Henderson, a bassist from Detroit who cut his musical chops with the likes of Stevie Wonder. "Valentine Love" bit the Top Ten and Jean toured with Connors, wowing audiences all over.
Jean signed with Philadelphia International Records in 1977, under the wings of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff she was united with Dexter Wansel. "Jean Carn" hit the charts with her spirited version of "Free Love". 1978 saw the release of "Happy To Be With You", another PIR release that included her now classic, "Don't Let It Go To Your Head".
"When I Find You Love" came out in 1979, and besides the beautiful title song, Jean had a popular dance tune, "Was That All It Was", a song that transcended most "disco" music and filled the dance floors. You haven't danced until you hear the long twelve-inch vinyl version with Jean growling, scatting and simply tearing the song up. The album also included "My Love Don't Come Easy", (a personal favorite).
"Sweet and Wonderful", an aptly named affair united Jean with Glenn Jones on the title track, a hand-clapping, toe-tapping duet, and also gave us "Love Don't Love Nobody" a remake of the Spinners classic and one of her best efforts. Connors also appeared, producing among others, the haunting "Mystic Stranger". The album was her swansong with PIR and is a tight classy effort, another joint effort with Jean and Connors. Once again Jean hit the charts respectably, but the major hit still eluded her.
Jean parted amicably with PIR and signed with Motown, and added an "e' to her last name, based on an interest in numerology. "Touch Me" came out in 1982, (again produced by Connors), containing a version of the Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes hit, "If You Don't Know Me By Now" and Jean more than did justice to the classic. The album was badly promoted and she left the company and toured throughout England and the rest of Europe where she remains highly revered by her many fans.
In 1986, Jean signed with Omni Records, reuniting her with the genius of Dexter Wansel. "Closer Than Close", the title song for her first album for the label, was produced by the late Grover Washington Jr. and brought her a #1 R&B hit and her biggest success. More music lovers were now discovering what her fans already knew: the woman's talents knew no bounds.
Atlantic Records signed Jean in 1988, and she did a cover of "Ain't No Way", the Aretha Franklin hit. Jean's rendition brought more sales and hit the Top 30 and she continued to tour extensively throughouti the States and Europe. The '90s brought a tribute album to the late singer/songwriter Van McCoy, inspired by McCoy's sister's appearance at one of Jean's shows at Washington"s Blues Alley, and it is a fine loving tribute to McCoy's legacy. A 1996 CD, "Love Lessons" featured a newly blond Jean and more great music, from a duet of "Good Thing Going On" with Billy Paul, to the incredibly rich and soulful "Don't Stop Whatcha Doing" to classics like "Misty", "Its Not For Me To Say/Chances Are" and "Someone To Watch Over Me", and a dreamy, sensual "Have I Told You That I Love You". Another fine effort by one of music's finest vocalists. If I were forced to choose a collection of Jean's for a novice listener, I would pick two, "Closer Than Close" a compilation (with liner notes by David Nathan) jam-packed with her best; and "You're a Part Of Me" , for its sweetness.
I now wait patiently, like many of her ardent fans, for a concert appearance (Pittsburgh, Jean!) and a new CD. If you like your soul sweet sexy and fine get your collection of Jean Carne started. Her genius will stun and delight you.
You can reach Tom at: firstname.lastname@example.org