Frank Sinatra (with the Duke Ellington Orchestra): Follow Me

Lerner & Loewe’s show tune from Camelot opens with Duke Ellington’s piano, followed by the band slinking along in strip time. Sinatra’s voice here is husky and distinctly middle-aged. Billy May wrote the charts, but Ellington’s band reportedly wasn’t big on sight-reading and members weren’t too happy about the date. So May brought in a few session readers, a move that only further diminished the date's energy level. But eventually the band found its groove. The lyrics are perfectly suited to this uneven period in Sinatra's personal life: “Time goes by, or do we? / Close your eyes and you’ll see / As we were, we can be / Weep no more, follow me.” We also get a taste of Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax and Cootie Williams on muted trumpet.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Frank Sinatra (with Count Basie): I Believe in You

This may be the best Sinatra swinger on Reprise from the early '60s. Count Basie’s band is in peak form and perfectly suited to this hard-charger from Broadway's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Quincy Jones opens the chart with a rip-roaring fanfare, and the Basie band effortlessly sustains the breakneck pace. Sinatra’s confidence level here is in the red zone as he snarls out the lyrics: “To see the cool, clear, eyes of a seeker of wisdom of truth / Yet there’s that slam, bang, tang reminiscent of gin and vermouth.” Getting ahead at work never sounded so good.

January 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Stan Kenton: Tonight

Kenton’s ultra-slow ballad style featuring piano and trombones was one of his trademarks, resulting in one or two hit singles, but here it appears with a difference. His “New Era in Modern American Music” ensemble of the early 1960s featured four mellophoniums to provide a French-horn-type section sandwiched in between the trumpets and trombones. Richards’s setting is lyrical and rich in warm yet powerful sound. Kenton’s piano is the main solo voice, but there is a muted improvisation by Conte Candoli. The score to West Side Story was perfect for this ensemble, and the album won a Grammy Award.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Shelly Manne: I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face

Listening to André Previn's jazz recordings, I sometimes get the impression that he is out slumming . . . Having a good time, but not taking the proceedings very seriously. Too often he is content to throw out some clichés or play around with cocktail piano mannerisms. On this lovely Lerner & Lowe standard, he merely tinkles for most of the three minutes of the song. Manne tries to add some spice on the drums, engaging in a playful call-and-response during the melody statement. But Previn is not in the mood for musical banter. He plays it straight and simple. A clever bit of Lydian magic at the two-and-a-half minute mark reminds us that this is, in fact, an example of jazz piano. But for the rest of the song, we might as well be sitting in the lounge in the Marriott lobby. Rex Harrison did it with more soul.

December 07, 2007 · 0 comments


Lorez Alexandria: Show Me

Who knew? Turns out the Cockney Cinderella who morphs into a duchess for a musical set in Mayfair actually hailed from Missouri. Or so suggests this waltz from Broadway's My Fair Lady (1956). Lorez Alexandria's "Show Me" halves the tempo of Eliza Doolittle's stop-beating-about-the-bush-you-limey- blighters grievance, yet doubles its temperature. Whereas Eliza was girlishly impatient, Lorez is womanly seductive, proving there's more than one way to skin a stubborn Missouri mule. When Bill Marx's arrange- ment does break a sweat, it's only to exult Lorez's triumph, after which order is restored for a bluesy finale. Show me the way to Alexandria, Missouri.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments


Randy Crawford & Joe Sample: Feeling Good

Randy Crawford and Joe Sample first showed how well they worked together when Crawford sang with Sample’s then-band the Crusaders on the 1979 song “Street Life,” which has become a classic. Crawford and Sample have re-teamed for a collaboration album called Feeling Good, and on the optimistic Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley-penned title track, Crawford’s soaring vocal is complemented by Sample’s brisk staccato soloing and a steady driving rhythm provided by bassist Christian McBride and drummer Steve Gadd.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments


Jimmy Giuffre: Iowa Stubborn

In the 1950s, Jimmy Giuffre seesawed between commerce and the avant-garde. After early West Coast adventurism, Giuffre caught the first wave of America's folkie craze, leading a successful folk-jazz trio. Next he leapt on the Jazz Meets Show Tune bandwagon by raiding Broadway's folksy hit The Music Man. Giuffre treats "Iowa Stubborn" as if it were a schottische (round dance) unearthed by Hawkeye folklorists especially for inclusion in the Shubert Alley blockbuster. It's refreshing to hear the normally drummer-less Giuffre against Ed Shaughnessy's suavely brushed snare, but the pit-band-at-a-barn-dance effect is disconcerting. Broadway Folk Jazz is at least one genre too many.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments


Cannonball Adderley: Fiddler on the Roof

An album of Broadway hits could easily become a lackluster commercial concession, but Adderley’s Fiddler on the Roof is far from boring. Recorded less than a month after the show opened on Broadway, the title tune fits surprisingly well into the group’s hard-bop style. Cannonball eloquently embellishes the theme and Zawinul weaves a clever countermelody behind the altoist’s lead. The brothers exhibit that exuberant and soulful Adderley bounce, Lloyd ventures into Coltrane-like territory, and Zawinul shows he had something to say on the acoustic piano years before he famously went electric. Brown and Hayes’s engine churns and their persistent prodding moves things along nicely.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments


Shelly Manne: I Could Have Danced All Night

Five months after My Fair Lady's Broadway premiere, André Previn was tapped to turn the Edwardian-era musical into modern jazz. He'd moonlighted for years playing jazz piano, but Previn's day job scoring MGM soundtracks demanded meticulous preparation and split-second timing. Now he'd have to fashion on-the- spot arrangements of material he'd never before touched. Not to worry. Just as Professor Henry Higgins transformed a Cockney flower girl into a duchess, Previn, Manne and Vinnegar transmuted Broadway's common metal into jazz gold. Manne even effectively uses his tambourine, an instrument normally banned by statute from modern jazz. By George, they've got it!

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments


Mel Tormé: All I Need is the Girl

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.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments


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