CTI Records

ESTHER PHILIPS with Beck: FOR ALL WE KNOW 

For all we know, it is impossible to talk about For All We know (originally released in 1976 as KU-28) without talking about the unforgettable What A Diff’rence a Day Makes (KU-23), the album that transformed Esther Phillips (at least for one year) into a disco-music diva. Conceived by Tony Sarafino, the unofficial A&R man at CTI/Kudu for disco-oriented projects, What A Diff’rence A Day Makes became a milestone on Esther’s career as her biggest hit and best-selling album ever. Recorded in April 1975, released as a single three months later, its title track (curiously, the big hit of Dinah Washington, Esther’s main idol and influence) exploded in the New York dancefloor scene, and soon it swept Europe.

Besides Tony Sarafino, the other musical hero in that project was Joe Beck, then recently signed for the Kudu label as a solo artist. All in the music circles became very surprised to know that the great guitarist had done the arrangements not only for the basic tracks, but for the string section as well! Basically because nobody had ever heard Joe Beck arranging for strings, not even on his solo album Beck (KICJ 8359), which included string arrangements by Don Sebesky. Anyway, the pairing of Esther Phillips and Joe Beck succeeded in all aspects, leading producer Creed Taylor to do a kind of volume 2, quickly booking dates at Van Gelder’s studio in October 1975.

Most of the musicians featured on What A Diff’rence A Day Makes (Don Grolnick, Will Lee, Chris Parker, Steve Khan, Ralph MacDonald, Barry Rogers and The Brecker Brothers) were once again hired for its follow-up album, For All We Know, with some other studio kings (like Andy Newmark and Ronnie Cuber) also invited to the sessions. Not to mention two other great percussionists: Latin legend and Fania recording artist Nicky Marrero, and the underrated George Devens, a classically-trained percussion master who was a former member of George Shearing’s quintet. Plus: seasoned studio vocalists Patti Austin and Tasha Thomas got the hard task to write the vocal arrangements.  

In November, Esther Phillips completed the vocal parts. In December, Joe Beck added the string section. The following month, the first promo copies were mailed to club and radio DJs, who enjoyed the new album almost as much as they have loved the previous one. However, in spite of all the promotional efforts by the CTI team, For All We Know did not yield any huge hit a la What A Diff’rence A Day Makes, although two tracks (shortened versions of Fever and For All We Know), released on the KU-929 single, received heavy airplay.  

Maybe that was the first mistake. According to Joe Beck, “Creed should have selected Unforgettable as the first single, because it was the most commercial track, as well as a potential disco-hit which I had prepared the same way I had done with What A Diff’rence A Day Makes”, remembers the guitarist, whose name was discretely featured in the album cover.

While, on What A Diff’rence A Day Makes, Esther had been reluctant to record most of the tracks selected by Tony Sarafino, during the pre-production work for the new album she was so happy that she wanted to select some of the songs. Three of them (Unforgettable, For All We Know, Fools Rush In) previously recorded by Nat King Cole. Two of them (Unforgettable and For All We Know) also covered by Dinah Washington.

Actually, Irving Gordon’s Unforgettable, introduced by Nat King Cole in 1951, was recorded by Dinah Washington as the title track of her 1959 album for the Mercury label. Later on, in 1964, it also became the title of an Aretha Franklin session in tribute to Dinah, released by Columbia. And most recently, Natalie Cole sold over six million copies of her 7-time Grammy Award winner Unforgettable album for Elektra in 1991. Listening to Esther Phillips’ crepitant and very sexy version, with the singer sighing of desire behind Michael Brecker’s sax, it is difficult to understand why it was not chosen as the album title neither as its first single.

Fred Coots/Sam Lewis’ For All We Know, another song picked by Esther herself, had been covered by both Dinah Washington (on Drinking Again, in 1962) and Billie Holiday (on Lady In Satin, in 1958), after Nat King Cole’s 1943 version. Another Nat smash hit, covered by everyone, from Glenn Miller to Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley, Johnny Mercer’s sublime Fools Rush In, also receives a discofied arrangement that sounds better than anything ever recorded by Donna Summer or Gloria Gaynor. The keyboardist is LA-based Bobby Lyle, fresh from his stint with Sly & The Family Stone.

Next, Esther displays her r&b roots on a stunning rendition of Pure Natural Love, penned by the beautiful and very talented singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon. On the acoustic piano, Don Grolnick plunges into Eddie Cooley’s Fever, a big hit for Peggy Lee in the Fifties, revived by Madonna on her x-rated Erotica album from 1992. Curiously, besides Esther Phillips’ intoxicating version, the most successful recording of this song, in the dancefloor scene, was done by Brazilian singer/actress Norma Bengell back in 1959, being recently rediscovered by European DJs. Then comes Duke Ellington’s classic Caravan, in a funky groove, with a baritone sax obbligato by Ronnie Cuber.

But nothing compares to the Latin-tinged arrangement Joe Beck prepared for Teddy Randazzo’s Going Out Of My Head, turned into a hit by Little Anthony & The Imperials in 1965. That same year, Creed Taylor convinced Wes Montgomery to cut this song, used as the title track for his best-selling Verve album which won a Grammy the following year for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance. This is really a perfect track, with an intoxicating groove, a subtle Don Grolnick solo on electric piano, a fantastic interaction between George Devens on congas and Nicky Marrero on timbales, plus a superb backing vocal arrangement by future CTI star Patti Austin.  

After For All We Know, Esther, who had already recorded five albums for Kudu (From A Whisper To A Scream, Alone Again Naturally, Black-Eyed Blues, Performance, and What A Diff’rence A Day Makes), still cut another album for the label, Capricorn Princess, in 1976, with David Matthews replacing Joe Beck as arranger. She can also be heard on two moving performances (Cherry Red and God Bless The Child) from the CTI Summer Jazz Live At The Hollywood Bowl concert, recorded in 1972 but only issued in 1977. And one exciting album recorded live on July 1975, at NY’s Bottom Line, remains unreleased in the CTI archives.

Then, after leaving Kudu, Esther released four albums on Mercury, the same label for which her idol Dinah Washington had recorded her most memorable albums. Her final session, titled A Way To Say Goodbye, for the small Muse label, came out in 1984. Esther Phillips, born Esther Mae Jones on December 23, 1925, passed away on August 7, 1984, of liver and kidney failure. This digitally remastered of For All We Know is a good way to celebrate her immortal talent.

Arnaldo DeSouteiro
May 29, 2001

Mr. DeSouteiro is Brazil’s top jazz producer and CTI historian

www.dougpayne.com