Les Double Six: Stockholm Sweetnin' (Un Coin Merveilleux)

“Stockholm Sweetnin’” was composed by Quincy Jones for an all-star recording session featuring Clifford Brown, Art Farmer and several Swedish jazz stars. Brown’s solo was one of his finest, and when he died in June 1956, Jones transcribed the solo and orchestrated it for his big band. This version by The Double Six of Paris was based on the big band version and Jones coached the group for this recording. Mimi Perrin’s French vocalese lyrics are about two lovers preparing a romantic getaway, but the most remarkable aspect of the recording is the Double Six’s meticulous re-creation of the big band version, not only in singing all of the notes, but also in the phrasing of the original soloists and ensemble. Christiane Legrand is the first soloist, singing Art Farmer’s solo from the remake, followed by Mimi Perrin, singing the alto saxophone solo by Phil Woods. The orchestrated Clifford Brown solo appears after Art Simons’ piano solo, and while the voices don’t attempt to re-create the orchestral timbres from Jones’ big band chart, the relaxed feeling of both the combo original and the big band remake is perfectly realized.

The Double Six recorded four albums under Mimi Perrin’s leadership, including recordings with Dizzy Gillespie and Jerome Richardson. However, the Double Six’s ultimate legacy may be as the birthplace of the Swingle Singers, which included four of above singers (Legrand, Swingle, Germain and Briodin). Even with the Swingle Singers' quick rise to international success, a look at the personnel for the later Double Six albums reveals that several of the singers were recording with both groups at the same time.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Boswell Sisters: Shuffle Off To Buffalo

“Shuffle Off To Buffalo” was one of three Busby Berkeley song-and-dance productions in the film 42nd Street, released exactly one month before this Boswell Sisters version was recorded. Even for a song so new, arranger/vocalist Connie Boswell saw no reason to stick to the original song’s style or melody. The song’s herky-jerky train rhythm is jettisoned in favor of a fast streamlined express train sound, and throughout the introduction and first chorus, we hear only small pieces of the melody, and lots of variation all around it. Connie knew that she and her sisters Vet and Martha were a unique section in their own right and they could do riffs and shout choruses to equal the brass and reed teams of the big bands. On the opening and closing choruses, they perform remarkably intricate variations on the theme with stunning precision. Unexpected tempo changes were also a Boswell trademark, and on this recording the tempo slows down right in the middle of the verse, setting the stage for Connie’s solo chorus (which includes much more of the melody and probably provided some temporary relief to producer Jack “Where’s The Melody” Kapp.) Getting all of the elements perfect was an important part of the Boswells’ artistic success and it’s worth noting that there are two issued takes of this track available and the only audible difference between them was not in the vocal parts or execution of the arrangement, but in Dick McDonough’s improvised guitar responses within the verse.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Mills Brothers with Duke Ellington: Diga Diga Doo

This song, written for the significant early black musical Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1928, is best characterized as the height of cool, early '30s style. With the notable Mills Brothers adding their fine harmonized vocals to the Ellington band's usual superb ensemble playing, it is a very interesting track. The Mills Brothers sing the lyrics, with the repeated "Diga diga doo" line, in wonderfully stylish and rhythmic manner, with dashes of scat. An underlying rhythmic bass percussive effect is provided vocally by basso John Mills, Jr., for much of the song. The music has a catchy, memorable theme, which the band plays in a rollicking, romping way with great rhythmic momentum; they also play some unison, punchy descending lines adding drama. These guys are obviously having big-time fun with this number! Cootie Williams plays most of the lead on trumpet with spirit and style, using a mute for the first choruses before opening his trumpet. Later, Johnny Hodges plays beautifully bouncing, wailing lead lines on soprano sax (reminiscent of his mentor Sidney Bechet) in answer to Cootie's trumpet work, with heavy ensemble backing. Fun stuff and fine music, indeed!

March 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Take 6: Someone to Watch Over Me

Some things have changed with Take 6 since the vocal group's debut CD back in 1988. Instead of a cappella gospel music, we now hear a conventional rhythm section in the background and a repertoire featuring a big dose of pop and love songs. But some things don't change. This group still shows off its flawless execution, great intonation, and very smooth blending of voices. Even with guest Shelea Fraizer handling lead vocals, I find myself zeroing in on the impressive backup work of the six singing stars who make up Take 6. Jazz fans take note: although Roy Hargrove is on this track, don't expect to hear much of the trumpeter. Even so, this is a jazzy release, and Take 6 fans will want to own it. But those who haven't heard this group before may want to start with the earlier a cappella releases—timeless projects that still stand out as masterpieces of the genre.

October 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots: Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

The inspiration of combining the Ink Spots and Ella came from producer Milt Gabler, who had seen these artists headline a tour of the theater circuit. Although they never performed together live, Gabler thought they should, later saying, “We had Bill Kenny do the ballad and Ella swing the jazz version on the same tune. The Ink Spots were a formula presentation…having it straight and a swinging tempo. They weren’t really duet records, they were two choruses different ways, contrast.” Released in November 1944, this record went straight onto the charts and stayed there for 17 weeks, going on to become a million seller. “Ella really tears this one apart,” said Down Beat magazine at the time. “She’s never done anything like it, and her vocal is actually thrilling.” It rescued Ella’s career, which since 1941had been sliding with just one chart success (“Cow Cow Boogie”).

February 19, 2008 · 1 comment

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The Spirits of Rhythm: My Old Man

"My Old Man" is one of those And yet songs. God knows, alcoholic fathers are no joke. They can be destructive, irresponsible, exploitative and abusive. Even the least obnoxious shame their families and strain the resources of society. And yet … this warmly affectionate song shows the redemptive qualities of humor and forgiveness. "He's only doin' the best he can," the Spirits of Rhythm absolve. Aren't we all? Caveat: as of January 2008, this 1996 Dutch import CD remained the most readily available source of "My Old Man," but audio is subpar on a track obviously remastered from a worn shellac disk.

December 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Boswell Sisters: Shout, Sister, Shout

In his book Jazz Singing (1990), Will Friedwald calls The Boswell Sisters "the greatest of all jazz vocal groups." Preternaturally attuned, they could start singing independently in separate rooms, gravitate towards one another, and find upon meeting that they were not only at the same spot in the same song, in tempo and in key, but in perfect harmony! This spooky synchronicity is well displayed in "Shout, Sister, Shout"—part jazz, part gospel, with shifting meters dramatizing its morally prophylactic message: One thing the Devil can't stand is a hallelujah song. If only Linda Blair had known! Exorcists take note.

December 19, 2007 · 1 comment

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Norfolk Jazz & Jubilee Quartet: Stand By The Bedside Of A Neighbor

Jubilee quartets were early 20th-century male vocal groups who sang Negro spirituals a cappella. What differentiated Virginia's NJQ, aside from superior close harmonizing, resonant bass and clear Tidewater falsetto, was their jazz-inflected phrasing. Cross-pollination has always characterized jazz, but usually it's jazz fertilizing itself from other genres, not vice versa. Here, comforting a neighbor about to cross over, the NJQ moves and mesmerizes us. It's a pity the NJQ's individual membership went uncredited, for they were exceptional artists. Yet they sang not for personal glory, but to glorify God. Maybe more of us should think that way.

November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Mills Brothers: Rhythm Saved the World

By the mid-1930s, the Mills Brothers' vocal imitations of instrumental sounds were wearing thin. Yet 70+ years hence, this track remains timely for its depressingly topical lyrics. "Diplomats talk through their hats," writes Sammy Cahn. "They claim guns win every war … [but] guns will never bring this country glory." Coming from Tin Pan Alley, such sentiments are startling. And indeed, resorting to form, this song ultimately stops short of being antiwar, holding instead that rhythm, by instilling "new life" in warriors, ensures their victory. While that may be a discomfiting prospect to fundamentalists who deem music sinful, it's doubtful that rhythm by itself will save the world. We also need melody and harmony—lots of harmony.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Mills Brothers: Tiger Rag

Besides singing conventionally, the teenage Mills brothers imitated musical instruments with kazoos. But, legend has it, forgetting to bring their kazoos to one gig, the youngsters cupped hands over mouths and conjured convincing instrumental sounds with voices alone. This so gassed the customers that the kazoos were trashed. With Herbert mimicking sax or trombone, Harry simulating trumpet, and deep-voiced John doing bass—all in support of Donald's lead vocals—the brothers caused a sensation. Today's listeners may equate "Tiger Rag" with Looney Tunes, but novelties were an important gateway for early jazz into pop culture, and this one's still fun.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Golden Gate Quartet: Stormy Weather

Of the 1930s male vocal groups who sang Negro spirituals in a jazzy style called Jubilee, the most successful was Virginia's Golden Gate Quartet. Expanding their traditional repertoire, the GGC here universalizes the plight of a lovesick woman ("Since my man and I ain’t together") by cleverly changing five words: "Can't get my poor self together." Listeners may be reminded of the contemporaneous Mills Brothers—especially by the vocally imitated wah-wah "trumpet" solo—but the GGC spent more time in church than at the barbershop. If you doubt that gospel + jazz = doo-wop, check out this track.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jackie Cain & Roy Kral: Auld Lang Syne

When three French hens showed up for the gig, they were informed as delicately as possible that the summons had been for three French horns, not hens. They stuck around anyway to hear Jackie & Roy's sextet—which included an equal number of men and women. (In jazz, the French hens knew, gender parity is a rarity.) Jackie & Roy's sprightly rendition of the traditional Scottish ode sung at midnight on New Year's Eve sought to "ring out the old, swing in the new" and encouraged revelers to "bop away at work and play." The French hens clucked their approval, and when the clock struck 12, bopped "Happy New Year!" in perfect 3-part harmony with the rest of the revelers.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Deck Us All With Boston Charlie

If you think seven swans a-swimming is a tongue-twister, try singing along with LH&R's spoof of "Deck the Halls" à la Walt Kelly's cartoon carolers (Pogo Possum, Albert Alligator, et al.):

   Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
   Walla Walla, Wash., and Kalamazoo!
   Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
   Swaller dollar cauliflower Alleygaroo!

Annie Ross sounds like Margaret Dumont in a Marx Brothers movie—the dowager soprano desperately in need a stocking stuffed down her throat. Fine fun.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Manhattan Transfer: Soul Food to Go

"We got cool and hot," they sing, "just for you—the pleasures of the soul." For Tim, Janis, Cheryl & Alan, soul food means music. "This bebop's too much," they savor. From Kansas City to Brazil, jazz "gets you hot in your home." For four decades, The Manhattan Transfer has been our Art Nouveau flagship, steaming tirelessly from port to port, carrying the banner of smart group singing, beseeching, "Do you believe in jazz?" Hey, we not only believe in jazz, we believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and The Manhattan Transfer—all bringers of bliss.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Swingle Singers: Prelude #9

Bach was big in the '60s. No, not the 1760s—the 1960s! Before Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967) rocked Bach and Walter Carlos's Switched-On Bach (1968) plugged the old gent into synthesizers, The Swingle Singers set wordless vocal transcriptions of the Baroque master's keyboard pieces to jazz. Forgoing improv, four female and four male vocalists stick faithfully to his notes, but apply a thoroughly assimilated jazz rhythmic sensibility. The basic character of Prelude No. 9 (1744) is deemed "rather lively" by Bach scholar Siglind Bruhn. True to their name, the Swingles swing it very lively. Kapellmeister Bach would have approved.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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