Peggy Lee's mouth. Over the weekend I had a chance to watch Fever: The Music of Peggy Lee, a DVD bio of the great singer and songwriter released in 2004. The DVD's color and sound are sensational. The fire-engine reds and swimming-pool blues prevalent during the early days of color film have been polished to a high shine, while the fidelity is so crisp I had to reach for the remote to bring it down a bit.
The first part of Fever is a 60-minute documentary of sorts, featuring a quickie bio and smattering of talking heads reflecting on what made Lee so special. The bio and interviews are mere filler, of course, since the main attraction is a chronological collection of clips, many of them not seen in some time. They include Lee singing I Don't Know Enough About You, Pete Kelly's Blues, I'm a Woman, Big Spender, The Shining Sea, Fever and a staggering live version of Is That All There Is? There also are plenty of rare home movies provided by Lee's daughter and granddaughter.
But the real treat for me is Fever's bonus material, which includes complete versions of short films featuring Lee and husband and guitarist Dave Barbour, an appearances by Lee on the TV show What's My Line? and a shampoo ad by Lee in which the camera zooms in close. Lee's breathtaking beauty only grows as the lens nears.
Lee was music's first true video star. Her contemporaries were interesting to watch, but Lee was mesmerizing. The camera absolutely adores her, and from the viewer's standpoint, you can't get enough of her. Part of her on-camera appeal, in addition to those warm golden pipes, is that she never seems to be behind the controls of her charm. There's no diva here, just the look of someone who's wondering what all the fuss is about. She's radiant and in charge, falling deeply in love with whatever song she's singing. Yet Lee always seems a little dazed by it all, which was part of her appeal.
Watching Fever's clips, you also start to realize that in the late 1950s Lee was way more beautiful than Marilyn Monroe and more poised than Grace Kelly and other thoroughbred film actresses of the day. Lee increasingly came to personify female wholesomeness, intelligence and sexiness in the late 1950s just as women in film were being cast as dumb, loose or chronically dependent on men. Which is probably why film opportunities that emerged for Doris Day dried up for her. Dopey wasn't Lee's bag.
With Fever, you also get to study Lee's trapezoid of a mouth. Watch as it twists diagonal to the lyrics, puckers, sneers, tightens and unwinds. Watch her eyes widen innocently and narrow into two inky, sultry slits, depending on a song's words. Lee had 100 different facial expressions, and no two were alike. Her face was constantly in motion, often to the point of distracting you from her sublime voice.
I also noticed that Lee had this cute stage trick for enhancing her appeal. While she sang, she would shift her eyes furtively left, center and right before working them way back again. The result was a certain innocence, a cross between "Am I doing this right" and "Will they catch me?" Clearly a technique passed along by some old pro or friend early in her career, since she uses it effectively in Why Don't You Do Right? from Stage Door Canteen (1943). This room-scanning technique ensured that women were captivated and men properly seduced. It's funny how men saw one thing in Lee while women saw another. You notice this during Lee's What's My Line? appearance, as Lee lets panelist Dorothy Kilgallen's ego rise while reducing a smitten Ben Gazzara to a puddle. She knew just what to say and do, and unlike many actresses of the period, never seemed bothered or exhausted by the effort. Oh, and Lee could sing, too.
Fever: The Music of Peggy Lee (Capitol) is available here.
Ike Quebec. Today, disc jockey Sid Gribetz will be hosting a special five-hour broadcast on WKCR-FM celebrating the career of tenor saxophonist Ike Quebec [pictured]. Sid will be spinning Quebec's recording output from 2 to 7 pm (EDT). WKCR is at 89.9-FM in New York. Or if you're at a computer anywhere in the world, you can listen to Sid via a live stream here.
Quebec had an uneven recording career that started in 1943 with Roy Eldridge and included stints with Cab Calloway, Hot Lips Page and others. A strong sightreader, Quebec also was a session producer for Blue Note Records in the late 1940s. Drug problems sidelined Quebec in the 1950s, just as recording opportunities were expanding for many artists. Long a favorite of Blue Note's founder, Alfred Lion, Quebec staged a comeback in 1959 with a string of LPs for the label, including a series of singles produced for the jukebox. Quebec died in 1963 of lung cancer.
Frank Sinatra. Will Friedwald, the New York Sun's jazz critic, sent along a link to a hilarious American Comedy Network video clip. It features an animated Frank Sinatra singing My Way with the words changed to reflect The Chairman's disgust with our computerized times. Have a look here.
Wes Montgomery. For some time Bret Primack has been packaging superb video podcasts featuring interviews with Orrin Keepnews to support Concord Records' remastered re-issues of select recordings. This week Bret features The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, one of the greatest jazz guitar albums ever recorded. As has been the case with all of Concord's releases in the series, the sound of this CD is better than the Japanese imports of recent years. Bret's clip is here.
"It was great to see the Peggy Lee video clip of I Only Have Eyes for You with husband Dave Barbour. Peggy did it all with such ease and sensuality! However, I bet Dave chewed out the pianist after the Eyes performance. Clearly Barbour is supposed to have the "fills" between Peggy's phrasing, but the piano player is stepping all over him, more so in the first half of the song. The pianist doesn't seem to get the point till toward the end!"
Chris Greene. Soul and Science 2: Electric Boogaloo is Greene's second album. It came in over the transom last week. The newly released jazz-funk CD has a 1970s feel and features Chicago-native Greene on a range of saxophones. Joining him is Damian Espinosa on keyboards, Marc Piane on acoustic bass and Tyrone Blair on drums. Greene has some set of chops, especially on the tenor, as is evidenced on the first track, Amalgasantos. And dig Espinosa on the Fender Rhodes. Wow. You can download Amalgasantos or the entire album at iTunes or buy the CD here. Keep an eye on this kid, and remember, you heard it here first.