December 23rd marks the anniversary of Esther Phillips born day, Esther was born on this day in 1935. She’d have been 88-years old this year, but sadly died just 48-years old, in 1984. I was able to talk to Tim Hinkley earlier in 2023. Tim, a fellow ex-pat Brit’ had some great memories of working with Esther on her 1973 “Black Eyed Blues” album, and well as much later in the 1980’s, when I saw Esther live in London.

I hope to have that interview ready in the new year. For this year though, I wanted to share this interview with Esther. It comes from the Internet Archive and is part of the Pacifica Radio Archives. I have my own copies of the Pacifica archives, it’s hundreds of hours of recordings, a fascinating and extensive record of American history.

Esther was interviewed by Angela Davis, on the weekend of October 21st and 22nd, while in San Francisco performing for two nights, with two performances per night at the Old Waldorf night club located at 444 Battery St. The interview was broadcasted on November 7th, 1977. Coincidentally, Stanley Turrentine would follow Esther at the club a few nights later.

Esther had just parted ways with CTI and Creed Taylor after a highly successful 5 years and 7 albums. At the time of the interview, Esther had signed with and recorded her first album for Mercury Records, the 1977 “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”. The interview includes tracks from the album produced by Esther’s longtime arranger and sideman, Pee Wee Ellis.

It is a truly fascinating interview covering her earliest years touring with Johnny Otis, race, segregation, and what she learned. The show and interview were produced by Stephanie Allen and Angela Davis for KPFA-FM, with technical assistance by Henry Peters.

While looking to establish the actual date of the interview, I came across this press cutting in the Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram from 27th Feb. 1977. Esther had performed for 5 nights from January 25th, 1977 at “Concert’s By The Sea” at Fisherman’s Wharf Pier, Redondo Beach a month before.

What I wouldn’t have given to have been in town, check the listing on the left. You can attend one performance, which one?

According to the Van Nuys Valley News on October 28th, it was a great time to be out on the west coast. As well as the shows above earlier in the year, for Saturday night vocalist Ernie Andrews was with the Kenny Burrell Trio; Willi Bobo was performing from Tuesday; Esther Phillips was again back at Concerts-by-the-sea, Eddie Harris was there from Tuesday; Saxophone-stylist Phil Woods was closing out a week long engagement at the Lighthouse; there Tuesday and Wednesday would be longtime Taylor vocalist Irene Kral; Jimmy Smith was back at his North Hollywood Supper Club after a Miami road-trip; Seawind were at Donte’s; the non-name sextet featuring Bill Watrous, Victor Feldman and others were at Donte’s for a Halloween treat; Milt Jackson was doing his vibes at the Parisian Room, where Randi Crawford would perform from Tuesday, and finally Airto and Flora Purim were at the Roxy through Sunday.

What a time to be alive. Where did I leave the time machine? Leave a comment, apart from all of them which act would you like to have seen most?

4 Replies to “Remembering Esther Phillips”

  1. Thanks for the Esther Phillips post. I started listening to her in the early 70s as a teenager in small town New Mexico. I would have loved to have seen Eddie Harris. He was one of the artists that helped me transition from a Rock n Roll only fan to become a serious Jazz fanatic. His plugged in Sax was just so cool! And CTI/ Kudu was the best in the early to mid 70s. It eventually led me to Coltrane and all the greats.

  2. Mark, thanks for this interesting article about Esther Phillips. She had a great voice but a rough life. Esther was one of many CTI All Stars, and is featured on a 1972 broadcast recording from Chateauvallon in France. Hear it on FM Radio Archive: Enjoy the holidays! Thanks, Kim Paris – FM Radio Archive:

  3. Thanks for the Esther Phillips post. I was performing on drumset with her on these dates at “Concerts By the Sea” and at the “Old Waldorf” and Pee Wee Ellis was the band leader on tenor saxophone. It was a great ensemble.This brings back great memories of doing many dates with Esther. She was a great artist and person, as well.

    1. Thank you for taking time to comment Gene. I have two more pieces I’m working on about Esther. If it’s OK with you I may get in touch later in the year for any other memories you have. I never met Esther, I wish I had.

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