Andy Bey - Biography

By Marcus Kagler

Blessed with a booming voice and a knack for inspired piano pieces, Andy Bey is one of many notable contributors to the evolution of jazz who slipped under the radar throughout the majority of his career. Hailing from Newark, New Jersey, Bey was born in 1939 and was an instant child prodigy, learning to play the piano by rote at age 3. With an upbringing steeped in jazz tradition, Bey began singing for local audiences at age 8, often accompanied by jazz heavyweight Hank Mobley on tenor sax. His big break came in the early 1950’s when the rising star began performing on the television program Startime with Connie Francis. By 1953 he was singing for Louis Jordan at New York City’s famous Apollo Theatre. Bey certainly possessed a poised and grandiose voice, but it was his unique renditions of old standards that set him apart from his contemporaries. The young artist’s unflagging ambition enabled him to form the vocal group Andy & the Bey Sisters with his siblings Salome and Geraldine in 1956, when he was just 17 years old. Over their eleven year career, the group released three albums, Andy Bey & the Bey Sisters (1961 RCA), Now! Hear! (1964 Prestige), and ‘Round Midnight (1965 Prestige). Although they never really broke in the U.S., the group had a large following in Europe, embarking on a year and a half European tour before disbanding in 1967.

Bey abandoned his trademark hard bop vocal style when he began collaborating with Max Roach and Duke Pearson in the late 60’s, while his collaborations with Gary Bartz in the 70's became notorious for political lyrics condemning the Vietnam War. Mixing funk, jazz, soul, and traditional Indian instrumentation, the solo effort Experience And Judgement (1970 Atlantic) was the beginning of Bey’s spiritual renaissance throughout the 70’s. His association with Silver and the religious nature of their music translated into limited commercial success and marked the end of his popularity within many traditional jazz circles. Undaunted, the duo continued their experimental collaborations throughout the 80’s until both eventually returned to their hard bop roots for the release It’s Got To Be Funky (1993- Columbia), the most commercially successful album for Bey in nearly 20 years. Three years later, Bey released the solo album Ballads, Blues and Bey (1996 Evidence), which included a stripped-down approach to the Duke Ellington songbook featuring only Bey’s voice accompanied by a piano. Throughout the late 90’s and well into the new millennium, Bey continued to release albums featuring his unique renditions of jazz standards with his latest full length, Ain’t Necessarily So (12th Street) released in late 2007.

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