Born in Brownsville, Brooklyn in 1912, Frances Faye quit school at the age of 15 and was playing piano in speakeasies for the likes of Al Capone by the age of 20. She sang cabaret standards in a rough, expressive style that had no room for reverence to the original versions, and she was known to play with such force that any piano she sat at would need to be tuned sooner rather than later.
Faye’s big break out of the club scene was a little number called “After You” with Martha Raye (…denture wearer. Sorry, I grew up in the 70’s. Can’t help it.) and Bing Crosby in 1937’s Double or Nothing.
By the time we get to this Capitol EP, it’s 1954. These are four songs that were on the LP of No Reservations; the other eight were also available on two other EPs. So the listener had the option of paying for the LP all at once or getting all 12 songs in three easy installments—this was a pretty common practice at the time.
Her version of Summertime eschews the melancholy tone traditionally applied to it and goes for broke, with able accompaniment of bongoist Jack Costanzo.
Her version of Night and Day, from her 1959 album Caught In the Act, isn’t as unhinged as Summertime but is plenty loose, with room for vocal improvisations, shout-outs to her cousin Danny Kaye and teasing allusions to her own bisexuality, at 2:42. Caught In the Act was recorded well after Faye’s second divorce, and at this point she was living with her manager and partner, Teri Shepherd, a woman roughly 20 years her junior.
Despite ongoing complications from a 1958 hip injury, Frances continued to tour well into the 1980’s, even returning to film as a madam in 1978’s Pretty Baby. Frances Faye died in 1991.