Song of the Day: Della Reese “It Was a Very Good Year”

Della Reese One More Time

Song of the Day: Della Reese “It Was a Very Good Year”

Della Reese
(1931 – 2017)

Last week we lost vocalist and actress Della Reese at the age of 86. Renowned as both a television star and a world-class interpreter of jazz, blues, R&B, gospel, and pop, Della Reese’s many talents all but guaranteed a long and legendary career. Born in 1931, Reese was a naturally gifted singer who caught the ear of Mahalia Jackson in 1945, joining her touring choir for five consecutive summers as a young teenager. By 1957, she’d moved to New York and signed with independent R&B label Jubilee Records (known for crossover successes like The Orioles’ “Cryin’ in the Chapel”).

Della Reese One More TimeDella Reese in Los Angeles circa 1963 (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Della Reese It Was a Very Good YearBy the end of her first decade as a professional performer, Reese was touring the country (culminating in a nine year run headlining shows in Las Vegas). Recorded live at the Playboy Club in Hollywood, CA in 1966, and backed by The Bobby Bryant Quintet, Della Reese delivers a walloping mod jazz rendition of the now-standard “It Was a Very Good Year.” Originally composed by Ervin Drake in 1961 for the Kingston Trio, “It Was a Very Good Year” is best known through Frank Sinatra’s then-contemporary 1966 Grammy-winning version. The contemplative mood of the song is turned on its head as Reese, Bryant, and co. tear through their triumphant performance at an enthusiastic pace.

Completing the quintet are Bobby Bryant on trumpet and flugelhorn, Carl Lott on drums, Henry Cain on organ, and Hadley Caliman and Herman Riley on tenor saxophone. The single was released on ABC Records in 1966. The full live set was released as the album One More Time! Recorded Live At The Playboy Club later that same year.

While the album is easily come by (though not yet re-released), the single is an in-demand jazz club rarity. Spurred by the high demand for original copies of the 45, “It Was a Very Good Year” was reissued in a limited run by UK label Jazzman in 2008. The re-issued single now fetches increasingly comparable prices on the secondary collector’s market.