THE DOZENS: RING-A-DING-DINGS: TWELVE 1960S MALE VOCAL HIPSTERS by Alan Kurtz

Sinatra named them, Sinatra claimed them. Frank’s album Ring-a-Ding Ding! (1960) christened a boatload of actual and wannabe finger-snapping hipsters decked out in tux (undone tie de rigueur), spit-shined shoes, manicure and fresh haircut. They weren’t mere singers; they were legends in their own minds, and Too Hip For The Room.

Ring-a-Ding Dings, their glitzy fraternity steeped in show-biz camaraderie, were Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Philosophy (1963) in action. Women were essential trinkets, but no more so than stretch limos and flashy pinky rings.

Ring-a-Ding Dings enjoyed a love/hate relationship with jazz. Most of them loved jazz, and jazz critics in return hated them. From 1960-1966, Sinatra won the Down Beat Readers Poll five of seven years. Down Beat’s Critics, however, studiously ignored The Voice, preferring Ray Charles, Jimmy Rushing and Louis Armstrong.

Half a century later, it’s time for a reappraisal. It may be heresy to suggest that Tony Bennett, Oscar Brown Jr., Johnny Hartman, Mark Murphy, Mel Tormé, Joe Williams and, yes, even Frank Sinatra were more representative of early-1960s jazz than Ray Charles, Jimmy Rushing and, yes, even Louis Armstrong. But give a listen. You may agree that the Ring-a-Ding Dings were, in Mel Tormé’s words, “Like wow!”


Buddy Greco: This Could Be the Start of Something Big

Track

This Could Be the Start of Something Big

Artist

Buddy Greco (vocals)

CD

16 Most Requested Songs (Sony Mid-Price 4744002)

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Musicians:

Buddy Greco (vocals),

Ralph Massetti (piano), Sam Scafidi (bass), Bobby Mariniello (drums)

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Composed by Steve Allen

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Recorded: New York, 1961

Albumcoverbuddygreco-16mostrequestedsongs

Rating: 86/100 (learn more)

Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the Ring-a-Ding National Anthem—named in honor of Sinatra’s album Ring-a-Ding Ding! (1960), which inspired a generation of actual and wannabe finger-snapping hipsters. In the early 1960s, Steve Allen's star-spangled banner opened every Ring-a-Ding show in every smoke-filled joint in every wet state plus the District of Columbia. In this ultra-hip ditty, you don't catch someone's eye, you suddenly dig. Oh, it has airs: lunching at Twenty-One, one declines an elegant French dessert; after a spin in an "aeroplane," one dines at Sardi's. But Buddy Greco hails from South Philly, where Cannoli outclasses Charlotte Russe. Buddy can sing "hear a bell," then actually ring one, and keep his cool. Bocce balls of steel.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Nat King Cole: Ballerina

Track

Ballerina

Artist

Nat 'King' Cole (vocals)

CD

Nat King Cole at the Sands (Capitol 93786)

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Musicians:

Nat 'King' Cole (vocals), John Collins (guitar), Lee Young (drums),

Charlie Harris (bass), and an orchestra conducted by Antonio Morelli

.

Composed by Bob Russell & Carl Sigman. Arranged by Dave Cavanaugh

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Recorded: Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, July 14, 1960

Albumcovernatkingcoleatthesands

Rating: 80/100 (learn more)

The first 30 seconds are given over to fanfares (including kettledrums) introducing "Mister Nat King Cole!" Kettledrums are optional, but Mister is mandatory. Following his 1940s reign as King Cool, King Cole sold his merry olde soul for filthy lucre. By 1960, he was the Ring-a-Ding éminence grise, having starred in Hollywood movies, hosted a network-TV variety series, continuously topped the charts with easy-listening schlock, and headlined the biggest rooms in Vegas. Among his generation, only Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin matched the Ring-a-King's multimedia success. And excepting Miss Day, King Cole was the squarest of the bunch.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Mel Tormé: All I Need is the Girl

Track

All I Need Is the Girl

Artist

Mel Tormé (vocals)

CD

Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley (Verve 821 581-2)

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Musicians:

Mel Tormé (vocals), Al Porcino (trumpet), Stu Williamson (trumpet), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Art Pepper (alto sax), Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Red Callender (bass), Joe Mondragon (bass), Mel Lewis (drums),

Vince DeRosa (French horn), Bill Hood (baritone sax)

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Composed by Stephen Sondheim & Jule Stein. Arranged by Marty Paich

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Recorded: Los Angeles, January 21, 1960

Albumcovermeltormé-Swingsshubertalley

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Ring-a-Ding singing doesn't get any better than Mel Tormé with the Marty Paich Dek-Tette. Blending the lightness of Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartet with Birth of the Cool sonorities, Paich shows why he was arranger of choice for with-it vocalists. And nobody was more with-it than Mel Tormé, whose musicianship was as immaculate as his tuxedo (here fitted by drummer Mel "The Tailor" Lewis with additional stitching from tenorman Bill Perkins). Plus, on this track we get Tormé's hilarious hipsterism, seemingly ripped from the pages of the Playboy advisor: "Got a sports car," he inventories. "Nutty Jaguar—like wow!" And how.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Mark Murphy: Doodlin'

Track

Doodlin'

Artist

Mark Murphy (vocals)

CD

Rah! (Original Jazz Classics 1412)

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Musicians:

Mark Murphy (vocals), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Clark Terry (trumpet), Wynton Kelly (piano), Art Davis (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Ray Barretto (percussion).

Composed by Horace Silver & Jon Hendricks. Arranged by Ernie Wilkins

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Recorded: New York, September 15, 1961

Albumcovermarkmurphy-rah

Rating: 84/100 (learn more)

This track comes perilously close to being not imitation hip, but the real thing. Horace Silver's "Doodlin'" was a fountainhead of funk even before Jon Hendricks added vocalese describing a cat so cool he just doodles all day; naturally he's sent to Bellevue, where a shrink probing the doodler's noodle desires to diddle the doodler's chick. Who could square the edges off this? Mark Murphy, that's who. Mocking an immigrant waiter's Eastern European accent, Murphy transports "Doodlin'" from Birdland to Borscht Belt. You can take the Ring-a-Ding out of Las Vegas but can't take Vegas out of the Ring-a-Ding.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Frank Rosolino: Too Marvelous for Words

Track

Too Marvelous for Words

Artist

Frank Rosolino (trombone)

CD

Turn Me Loose! (Collectables 6159)

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Musicians:

Frank Rosolino (trombone), Victor Feldman (piano), Chuck Berghofer (bass), Irv Cottler (drums).

Composed by Johnny Mercer & Richard Whiting

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Recorded: Los Angeles, November 26, 1961

Albumcoverfrankrosolino-turnmeloose

Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

After breaking in by scatting on Gene Krupa's "Lemon Drop" (1949), Frank Rosolino emerged during a stint with Stan Kenton as jazz's most exuberant trombonist. But singing remained central to Rosolino's shtick, providing disarming levity between instrumental levitations. If vocal shenanigans made him hard to take seriously, well, that seemed to be part of the plan. As in the opera Pagliacci (1892), Rosolino's life was tragedy set against the façade of commedia dell'arte. Here, 17 years to the day before his gruesome filicide-suicide, Rosolino sings merrily, plays masterfully and hides malevolently behind a Ring-a-Ding death mask, too devious for words.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Joe Williams: Alright, Okay, You Win

Track

Alright, Okay, You Win

Artist

Joe Williams (vocals)

CD

The Best of Joe Williams – The Roulette, Solid State & Blue Note Years (Blue Note 21146)

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Musicians:

Joe Williams (vocals), Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet), Jimmy Forrest (tenor sax), Sir Charles Thompson (piano), Charlie Persip (drums),

Joe Benjamin (bass)

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Composed by Mayme Watts & Sidney Wyche

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Recorded: Birdland, New York, June 1962

Albumcoverbestofjoewilliams-roulettesolidstateandbluenoteyears

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

Blues shouter Joe Williams recorded his classic "Alright, Okay, You Win" with Count Basie in 1955. But Ring-a-Dings are born headliners, not bored second bananas, and Joe's break from Basie was as inevitable as Dean Martin's split from Jerry Lewis. Here, fitting as comfortably into Harry Edison's station wagon as in Basie's Greyhound bus, Joe finds room aplenty for his lusty baritone without trimming his style, including insistently pronouncing terminal g's (morning, going, etc.) when that was strictly outré. Plus there's his ever-so-adorable slight lisp—but if you think we're implying Joe Williams was unmanly, you're zanier than Jerry Lewis.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Tony Bennett: Sometimes I'm Happy

Track

Sometimes I'm Happy

Artist

Tony Bennett (vocals)

CD

Tony Bennett At Carnegie Hall (Columbia 4882812)

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Musicians:

Tony Bennett (vocals), Eddie Costa (vibes), Ralph Sharon (piano), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Candido (conga),

Jack Lesberg (bass), Billy Exiner (drums)

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Composed by Clifford Grey, Leo Robin & Vincent Youmans

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Recorded: Carnegie Hall, New York, June 9, 1962

Albumcovertonybennett-atcarnegiehall-june9-1962-completeconcert

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

FLASH: Tony Bennett scats! True, it's scarcely four bars, but that's the least of what makes this track remarkable. Here's a Ring-a-Ding workhorse at Carnegie Hall just as his all-time biggest hit was breaking (something about forgetting his luggage at SFO). Yet instead of the expected oodles of strings, mountains of floral arrangements and molehills of musicality, Bennett joins a jazz sextet, trading fours with Kenny Burrell and giving solo space to the underappreciated Eddie Costa (whose rattling vibes break up the band if not the house). Tony Bennett is a gas. We sure hope he got his luggage back.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Sammy Davis, Jr.: Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody

Track

Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody

Artist

Sammy Davis, Jr. (vocals)

CD

At the Cocoanut Grove (Rhino 74277)

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Musicians:

Sammy Davis, Jr. (vocals),

and orchestra led by Dick Stabile, featuring Reunald Jones (trumpet), George Rhodes (piano), Michael Silva (drums)

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Composed by Sam M. Lewis, Jean Schwartz & Joe Young

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Recorded: Cocoanut Grove Lounge, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, 1962

Albumcoversammydavisjr-atthecocoanutgrove

Rating: 77/100 (learn more)

Sammy! The Ring-a-Ding Al Jolson. Singer, dancer, actor, comedian; by acclamation World's Greatest Entertainer. Sammy was also Hollywood's most insecure star. Whether sucking up to Sinatra and Nixon or cradling himself in Dean Martin's arms onstage in Vegas so Dino could "thank the NAACP for this award," Davis was more desperate for acceptance than a stray puppy at the pound. Here, he resurrects Jolson's best-forgotten 1918 hit as pretext to impersonate him and 17 other demigods from "the nostalgia that is Show Business," subjecting us to a cringing, 10-minute gag-me-with-a-spoon spectacle of a man obse- quiously digging his own grave. Pathetic.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Johnny Hartman: Sleepin' Bee

Track

Sleepin' Bee

Artist

Johnny Hartman (vocals)

CD

I Just Dropped by to Say Hello (GRP 176)

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Musicians:

Johnny Hartman (vocals), Hank Jones (piano), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote

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Recorded: New York, October 9, 1963

Albumcoverjhartmanstoppedhello

Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

Sometimes the finger-snapping is figurative; here it's literal, but quiet enough to not awaken a sleepin' bee. At little more than two minutes, this track might seem miserly, except it's really all Johnny Hartman needs to convince us that despite their tinsel tackiness, Ring-a-Dings are at heart romantics. Hartman's hushed but torrid baritone, abetted by soundman Rudy Van Gelder's twist of reverb, could melt frozen daiquiris still in the freezer. Hell, it'll curdle your cream at 50 feet. Toast your muffins. Simmer your soup. Sizzle your steak. Warm your cockles. Heat your hearth. Scorch your earth. You get the idea.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Bobby Darin: Hello, Young Lovers

Track

Hello, Young Lovers

Artist

Bobby Darin (vocals)

CD

Live From Las Vegas (Capitol 75939)

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Musicians:

Bobby Darin (vocals),

and unidentified orchestra

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Composed by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

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Recorded: Las Vegas, NV, November 11, 1963

Albumcoverbobbydarin-livefromlasvegas

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

In the early 1960s, Bobby Darin made Down Beat's cover and played a jazzman in Hollywood's Too Late Blues. But his jazz standing, like the singer himself, died an early death. By 1986 jazz critic Francis Davis could at best damn Darin with faint praise, and in 2006 one acclaimed jazz scholar couldn't even spell Darin! Yet no other Ring-a-Ding would brave this track's fleet tempo, much less stagger the rhythm as Darin does nonchalantly on the second "I know how it feels to have wings on your heels." Bobby Darin and jazz gave up on one another much too quickly.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Oscar Brown, Jr.: Living Double in a World of Trouble

Track

Living Double in a World of Trouble

Artist

Oscar Brown, Jr. (vocals)

CD

Mr. Oscar Brown, Jr. Goes to Washington (Verve 557452)

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Musicians:

Oscar Brown, Jr. (vocals),

Floyd Morris (piano), Phil Upchurch (guitar), Herbert Brown (bass), Curtis Boyd (drums)

.

Composed by Oscar Brown Jr

.

Recorded: The Cellar Door in Washington, DC, 1964

Albumcovermroscarbrownjrgoestowashington

Rating: 84/100 (learn more)

Oscar Brown Jr. has female problems. Married, he's got "one more woman than the legal laws allow," and must juggle a "two-woman harem." Not that he feels guilty about this arrangement. "One is my treasure," he brags with entitlement, "one is my treat." What bugs him is the threat of ostracism. "Bad talk would nail me if the truth got out." Brown had the songwriting and performing skills to critique the Ring-a-Ding treatment of women as playthings, but by going for laughs from an approving audience, he hypocritically reinforces women's second-class status during the height of the civil rights era.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Frank Sinatra: Come Fly With Me

Track

Come Fly With Me

Artist

Frank Sinatra (vocals)

CD

Sinatra at the Sands (Reprise 46947)

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Musicians:

Frank Sinatra (vocals), Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet), Al Grey (trombone), Marshall Royal (alto sax), Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis (tenor sax), Charlie Fowlkes (baritone sax), Count Basie (piano), Freddie Green (guitar),

Al Aarons, Sonny Cohn, Phil Guilbeau (trumpet): Mitchell, Wallace Davenport, Henderson Chambers, Bill Hughes (trombone); Bobby Plater (alto sax), Eric Dixon (tenor sax), Norman Keenan (bass)

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Composed by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen. Arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones

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Recorded: Copa Room, Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, February 1, 1966.

Albumcoverfranksinatra-countbasie-sinatraatthesands

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Away with pretenders! The throne belongs to but one Ring-a-Ding King. A quarter century after achieving stardom with Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra steps again in front of a big band, this time Count Basie's at Frank's "Place In The Sun" on the Las Vegas Strip. Before attributing your goose bumps to charisma alone, listen to the Chairman casually syncopate "he'll toot his flute for you," ending neatly on Sonny Payne's bass-drum accent, or hiss a slithery glissando along the s in "starry-eyed." Sinatra's artistry was all about throwaway. The more effortlessly he sung, the more relentlessly he swung. Ring-a-Ding rapture.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


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