Last week I decided to spring for a new pair of monitor speakers for my office. My turntable had been seized some years ago by my daughter when she developed a passion for vinyl and all things authentic and good.
At the time, I wired up a pair of inexpensive, juice-box sized Radio Shack speakers for her—in case her interest was short lived. It wasn't, but when she headed off to college a couple of months ago, I reclaimed my Technics SL-1100A from the mid-1970s, and the newly purchased B&W 686 2-way bookshelf speakers sound great. She's going to love them when she returns on break.
I adore jazz CDs—especially those that have been remastered here or abroad. But I still have a warm spot for records, and for the past couple of years, each time I've passed a used book store, I've popped in to see what albums have surfaced.
And like every vinyl nut temporarily without a turntable, I still picked up records—even though I knew I wouldn't be able to listen to them with any satisfaction for a couple of years.
So it was with great pleasure, after wiring up the new speakers over the weekend, that I finally got to listen to my recent LP booty. (Yeah, I'm heading down to the basement to spring open my corrugated boxes of rare LPs this weekend; don't tell my wife.)
The first record I put on was a beaut that I found in a dusty neighborhood book store back in June. The album is a mint LP of Billy Taylor's My Fair Lady Loves Jazz (1957). When I brought the disc up to the front of the store and asked the old owner if we could do the deal for $10 cash, he slid the disc out, turned it around and around, and finally barked, "fine." Then, with a dismissive wave of his hand, added, "The show was a piece of crap."
Maybe so, but not this album. It features (on various tracks) Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Cleveland, Don Elliott, Charlie Fowlkes, Tony Ortega, Ernie Royal, Jay McAllister and Don Butterfield—with arrangements by Quincy Jones.
Long out of print (the CD is going for around $26 used while the LP on Impulse is selling for around $20 on eBay), this recording is pure delight. I'm not especially big on My Fair Lady (though I wouldn't go so far as to say the score was "crap"). The breezy, skippy Broadway tunes don't typically lend themselves neatly to jazz interpretation. Most recorded attempts to hip up the transformed Cockney lass sound too candy-coated and silly to be of much interest to the serious jazz ear.
But this album is different. The charts find Quincy Jones still in a serious jazz mode, and the Billy Taylor Trio (Ed Thigpen on drums and Earl May on bass) plays bright and jazz-centric throughout. To quote from George Hoefer's liner notes:
"Quincy Jones selected a medium-size ensemble of top instrumentalists to achieve a variety of tonal colors and unexpected voicings in his arrangements. There are short solos by the members of the ensemble, sensitive and dynamically phrased ensembles, but most of the emphasis is on Taylor's piano.
The arranger's intention was to retain the character of the score while making use of the various elements of the jazz language. With the fine musicianship available, collectively and individually, and intelligent writing, Jones has succeeded in presenting an imaginative album that should please all the numerous fans of My Fair Lady."
Interestingly, the album was originally released on ABC Paramount Records in 1957 as a mainstream easy listening LP but then re-released in the early 1960s by Creed Taylor on ABC's new Impulse label as a jazz disc. Creed knew a good thing when he heard it, and with Billy Taylor on the date, the jazz integrity was securely in place.
My favorite track is I Could Have Danced All Night, which is taken at a splendid pace, with Taylor's rich playing framed by the gentlest, cat-like, late-1950s instrumental writing by Jones.
And that's what makes this album so pretty and impressive. It's jazz first, My Fair Lady second.
But wait—if you want the tracks, you'll find them here on a Billy Taylor CD import called Billy Taylor Meets the Jazz Greats (Lone Hill).
Wax clips: To see Billy Taylor and Tommy Flanagan play Tadd Dameron's Our Delight, go here. A fascinating duet.
Then go here to see Barney Kessel play I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face.
A pleasant reading, but Taylor's recording from 1957 still tops the Fair Lady chart for me.