I’ve written many times about songbirds — not the feathered variety but the ladies who sang during the big band era — and how some of them went on to become solo stars and even movie icons. But I also enjoy writing about someone like Jane Harvey, who didn’t quite reach superstar status but still had a nice career, working with pros like Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington on her way to becoming a successful recording artist. And even though she took some time off for her family, in her later years she again entertained her fans, performing well into her eighties.
A Jersey City native whose birth name was Phyllis Taff, she took the name Jane Harvey when she began her professional career during World War II. Still just a teen, she was appearing in a Greenwich Village nightspot when she was discovered by legendary jazz impresario John Hammond. That led to a job singing with Benny Goodman’s band and making a number of good records with the group. Over the next few years she blossomed as a headliner in clubs in both New York and Los Angeles, where she also began an association with Desi Arnaz’s Orchestra.
For the next couple of decades Harvey enjoyed a lot of career success, not only as a recording artist but also by appearing on radio and TV and even making her Broadway debut. She also worked with Duke Ellington and others, becoming a much-respected jazz professional and generating a number of solid albums, although her decision to take some family time off during those years might have slowed her career momentum. But she continued to work as much as possible through the years and found renewed success in the late 1980s with her Other Side of Sondheim album. The following two decades would see her again become a favorite of knowledgeable fans, and she kept entertaining them almost up until her death at age 88 in 2013.