Between West Coast arranging dates in August 1962 and June 1963 for Sarah Vaughan, Benny Carter squeezed off a handful of charts in February 1963 for Jo Stafford's Getting Sentimental Over Tommy.
Why the Stafford album for Reprise features arrangements by Carter, Billy May and Nelson Riddle is beyond me. Reprise was Sinatra's label at the time, so perhaps spreading the work around was payback of some kind. Or more likely one of the three pen men couldn't knock off all the charts due to other obligations, so the task kept getting passed down the line.
At any rate, one of Carter's arrangements for the Stafford album—The One I Love—is a nifty and powerful piece of big band writing that shouldn't be missed.
By any measure, the two Carter-Vaughan albums for Roulette Records in 1962 and 1963 were a terrible mistake. The charts for The Explosive Side of Sarah Vaughan and The Lonely Hours range from mediocre to downright awful.
Not only were the song choices miserable but Vaughan appears bored out of her mind. Consider the hallelujah time rock beat Carter chose for I Believe in You, or the relentlessly accelerating Falling in Love With Love that finds Sassy virtually shouting the words over the orchestra toward the end.
Except for the charts for Honeysuckle Rose and Great Day, the rest are, to put it politely, not Carter's best outings.
These two albums (and many others like them from the dawn of the 1960s) remind you that many money-minded jazz artists and sticky West Coast producers of the time must be held partly responsible for the artform's demise. When you hear albums like these, you find your soul frantically waiting at the airport for the Beatles.
By contrast, Carter's The One I Love and Oh Look at Me Now from the Jo Stafford album are solid works. While the Stafford album, to be fair, is cloy, these two tracks are marvelous executions.
At this point, I must confess a certain fondness for Stafford. Her warm delivery always sounds like someone's apron-clad mother singing in the kitchen while baking pies. A good percentage of the recordings Stafford made in the 1950s were arranged by her husband, Paul Weston, and many were brilliant charts.
Swingin' Down Broadway (Columbia/1958), for example, is perhaps the best example of Weston's chart work created for Stafford's powdery execution. The album includes Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe, Speak Low, It Never Entered My Mind, How High the Moon and others. The arrangements are all knockouts, and Stafford is at her peak.
Carter's The One I Love from 1963 is a brassy tribute to Sy Oliver, who wrote song's original chart for Tommy Dorsey in 1940, when Sinatra, backed by Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers, made it a hit.
Carter opens the 1963 chart with the trombones and trumpets hitting the same downbeat hard and then has the reeds and trombones work off each other in the early bars. Then Jo comes in swinging with the lyrics as Carter has the reeds run riffs around her.
You can't help but notice the purity and strength of Stafford's voice here. While much has been written about Sinatra's breath control and how he learned this trick from Dorsey's trombone playing, Stafford also could sing without seeming to catch a breath. You have to listen hard on this track to hear where she inhales.
After the first chorus, a vocal group jumps in behind Jo, similar to the Dorsey recording. Then the band returns, followed by a break filled by a tenor sax solo. It's pure finger-popping pop, and Carter's chart is a driving foot-tapper.
Stafford and the vocal group take the song out, and Carter's arrangement winds down in a fashion similar to the way Billy May wrapped up Nat Cole's Walking My Baby Back Home—with that tight, celery-snap ending.
Much of Stafford's "easy listening" work in the 1950s and 1960s is touch and go for jazz listeners. Some albums are more successful than others, and too many of them suffer from syrupy treatments and too-earnest vocals. But for my money, the album Swingin' Down Broadway and Carter's chart for The One I Love are supreme Jo, apron and all.
Wax tracks: The rights to Swingin' Down Broadway and many of Stafford's Columbia albums during this period are now owned by Stafford's Corinthian label.
While mint copies of the original album appear on vinyl from time to time for about $35, the album's tracks can be found on the Stafford CD, Broadway Revisited. The CD is available here.
The Benny Carter chart for The One I Love is available on Jo Stafford: The Big Band Sound and can be found here.
Unfortunately, neither is available at iTunes.
Wax clips: To see Jo Stafford in 1947 singing The Gentleman Is a Dope, go here.
Even better, check out Jo and Ella Fitzgerald together on a TV special in 1961 here. Dig these cool pros working over a medley of love songs.
Both singers are keenly aware of each other's talents and circle each other like cougars. Listen as Jo brazenly hits high notes effortlessly and bends notes. And despite the scripted wisecracks, dig Jo and Ella change keys and play with the songs. Ella knows she's getting a run for her money yet she remains in control.
The two are clearly having a blast—and they're doing it sitting down!