The Double Six of Paris: For Lena and Lennie

I have a shocking confession. I flunked high-school French! How, then, can I review a track sung in a language I don't understand? Well, I have seen all the Inspector Clouseau films at least twice. So here goes. After Count Basie recorded Quincy Jones's tribute to singer Lena Horne and her husband, pianist Lennie Hayton, Mimi Perrin supplied French lyrics and covered Q's chart with six gorgeously harmonized singers, each overdubbing a second part to create l'illusion d'une douzaine. I have no idea what that means, but they won Down Beat's poll as best vocal group four years running in the mid-1960s, so they must've been très magnifiques. (How'd I do?)

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Cotton Tail

Vocalese, invented by singer Eddie Jefferson in the early 1940s, sets words to preexisting instrumental passages, usually note for note—in contrast to scatting, which consists of independently improvised nonsense syllables. In this case, Jon Hendricks combines Duke Ellington's 1940 romp "Cotton Tail" with Beatrix Potter's 1902 children's tale of Peter Rabbit and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail. After Hendricks verbalizes tenorman Ben Webster's solo, LH&R thrillingly re-create the headlong momentum of Duke's sax section. "If I hadn't been part of that group," Hendricks later reflected on LH&R, "it would be my life ambition to have been part of that group."

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Four Freshmen: Day by Day

Among 1950s' male vocal quartets, The Four Freshmen manifested the foremost multiple personality disorder. They might be the White-Bread Frosh purveying such senior prom tripe as "Graduation Day," or the Blackface Frosh perpetrating the most slanderous Negro mockery since Al Jolson, as in the indictable offenses "Mr. B.'s Blues," "Stormy Weather" and "Mood Indigo" (the shame! doing this to Ellington). This track, modeled on Perry Como's hit "Papa Loves Mambo" (1954), finds the Freshmen in their bouncy Los Cuatro Latinos incarnation. "Day by Day" spent 15 weeks on the pop charts, but for us is mercifully over in less than two minutes.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Hi-Lo's: The Lady in Red

The Hi-Lo's were a peppy 1950s male vocal quartet whose name was self-descriptive: one guy sang high, another sang low. (The other two were Republicans.) They made few forays into jazz, but if you're going to foray, hitch thee to Marty Paich's Dek-Tette, matchless in backing vocalists. Here, Paich and The Hi-Lo's make musical mischief and madcap merriment with "The Lady in Red," who turns out to be a generic femme fatale, not the floozy who fingered Dillinger to the Feds outside Chicago's Biograph Theater in 1934. "A bit gaudy," the lyrics admit, "but lawdy—what a personality!" A perfect description of The Hi-Lo's.

November 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Cats and the Fiddle: Killin' Jive

Here's "the pot smoker's anthem," according to Bill Milkowski's Swing It! An Annotated History of Jive (2003). Of course, we can't say, having never inhaled. But The Cats & The Fiddle's flair for twirling tiples (swollen ukuleles) and whirling bull fiddle hooked hepcats faster than they could roll reefers. "Everything will seem so funny," The Cats purr in "Killin' Jive" with a stage wink, "darkest days will seem so sunny." Given the evolution of jazzmen's preferred intoxicants from 1920s booze to 1940s heroin, the 1930s cannabis cult seems mellow as Jell-O. "Killin' Jive" is a jumpin' joint. Pass it around.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Puppini Sisters: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

The Andrews Sisters' chirpy WWII hit about "a famous trumpet man" drafted into the Army to "blow a bugle for his Uncle Sam" is here redone by a London-based non-sibling retro trio who sing rings around poor LaVerne, Maxene & Patty, may they rest in peace. The Puppini Sisters, their record label assures us, "have earned quite the celebrity following," including "members of The Royal Family." We had no idea English royalty was that hip; they certainly weren't back in King George III's time. The intentionally funny and seriously talented Puppini Sisters may lure us back into the British fold after all.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Charlie Ventura: I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

Charlie Ventura's late-1940s "Bop for the People" campaign featured smooth unisons blending tenor sax and trombone with the voices of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral. Here a relic waltzed by World War I doughboys with gals who loyally waited for them is bopped in the aftermath of World War II. "I'm forever blowing," sing Charlie's angels Jackie & Roy, "be-de apa-da boo-ba-da bub-bles." If this sounds like Porky Pig's "That's all, folks!" so it was. In 1949 Variety reported that "Bop is a flop." To regain an audience, 1950s jazz vocal groups would have to scrap the scat and revert to, of all things, words.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Babs' Three Bips and a Bop: Oop-pop-a-da

First, Newark-born Lee Brown morphed into turban-clad Ram Singh to chauffeur matinee idol Errol Flynn around Hollywood. Then, as zoot-suited Babs Gonzales, the ex-driver authored his scholarly Be-Bop Dictionary and History of its Famous Stars (1947). Finally, hoping to become one such Famous Star, the loony lexicographer formed Three Bips & A Bop, whose "Oop-pop-a-da" includes the immortal refrain "Ye-didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'didily-a'dudily-a'didily- a'dudily-a'la-d'la-la." Babbling Babs's cheerful wackiness never quite caught on, and his book is long out of print, but as far as we're concerned, Babs Gonzales is one of bop's Famous Stars. Besides, are there any other kind?

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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The Four Freshmen: It's a Blue World

Recognizing Americans' notoriously weak math skills, The Four Freshmen were among many 1950s male vocal quartets to helpfully provide a headcount in their name (e.g., Four Aces, Four Coins, Four Knights, Four Lads, Four Tunes). The Freshmen never more than flirted with jazz, but added occasional jazz flavor to the pop charts when that was rare. Still, nothing in their earlier output predicted this celestial serenade, the first and finest of their hits, with harmonies recalling mentor Stan Kenton's trombone section. Does hair grow in Heaven? We ask because, at their best, The Four Freshmen sounded like Heaven’s barbershop quartet.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Twisted

In 1952, Annie Ross's hip vocalese narrative of a crazy chick and her outmatched shrink, set to tenorman Wardell Gray's 1949 "Twisted," was marred by cheesy organ backing. In 1959, the "hottest new group in jazz," as Down Beat dubbed vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, redid "Twisted" sans organ, and nailed it. Striking a blow for mental health by refusing to listen to her analyst's jive, twisted sister Annie Ross wittily punctures the pseudoscientific claptrap of psychoanalysis, which was big in 1950s America. If Freud hadn't died twenty years earlier, he would've been driven ineluctably, irretrievably mad upon hearing "Twisted." Roll over, Sigmund, and tell Alfred Adler the news: Two heads are better than one. And three heads, in the persons of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, are best of all.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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