Rosemary Clooney, reconsidered. Back in 1952, pop music was driven by packaging formulas and the clock. Singers were studied like racehorses, audience reactions were measured, and then pop vocalists were locked into recording three-minute cousins of their existing hits. The image audiences had of pop singers often governed the songs chosen for them as well as the style of the arrangements. Most pop vocalists were rarely allowed to stray. So poor Rosemary Clooney is often linked to some of the worst novelty junk of the 1950s, like Come On-a My House, Botch-a-Me, Mambo Italiano and This Ole House.
A new CD, Rosemary Clooney: On the Air (Acrobat Music), should clear all that up. It features radio recordings by the singer from two different periods, and the CD is prime evidence of how great Clooney was and could have been had she been produced differently. Personally, I was never a big Clooney fan. For my taste, she was always a tad too gooey, and I never truly enjoyed her old-fashioned phrasing. Which is why I was blown away when I heard this collection.
The CD's 18 tracks were made for radio broadcasts during 1951-52 and 1959. Sixteen of the tracks are from the earlier dates. Each track shows off Clooney sublimely, and the collection has changed my mind about her voice and capability. She's backed by the Earl Shelton Orchestra on the early 1950s dates and a Buddy Cole combo on the two from 1959. All are up close and personal. There isn't a bad track on the collection. Instead, you just have sterling examples of why musicians and industry insiders loved her so much.
There are several show-stoppers on the disc. I'm Only Ambitious for You and Thrill Me are two crafty medium-tempo ballads reminiscent of Frank Sinatra's Tommy Dorsey period. You Make Me Feel So Young is a bit of a shocker. Clooney's take is an up-tempo swinger and was clearly the recording Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle used when building the same tune for Songs for Swingin' Lovers! in 1956. And Everything's Coming Up Roses from 1959 is so perfect you wonder why Clooney didn't record an entire Gypsy tribute album. If any pop singer sounds like Mama, it's Rosey.
If you love the warm studio sound of the early 1950s, this is a perfect collection of songs by a singer who for too long has been miscast. My only wish is that a second CD had been added with more great 1959 radio dates with Buddy Cole (if more even exist, of course). Clooney clearly deserves more credit as a vocalist and stylist, and Rosemary Clooney: On the Air successfully puts her in focus.
The CD's fidelity is excellent and is available as a download at iTunes and Amazon, or as a CD here.
JazzWax on the radio. On Friday I drove out to WBGO in Newark, N.J., to record my first two-hour radio show for JAZZ.FM91, Canada's leading all-jazz radio station. The station's website also features JazzWax daily on its home page. The last time I was in a radio studio recording a show was in college some years ago. But as soon as the headphones went on and the engineer cued up the tracks, all the old reflexes came back. Great fun.
Choosing opening and closing themes last week in advance of the show was a joy. Back in the 1970s, when I was listening to the radio night and day, theme songs were critical to jazz shows. Openers set the mood while closers left listeners wanting more.
Without letting the show's cat out of the bag, my opening theme was Herbie Mann's Minor Mood, with Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, and my closer was Basic Riddle, a rare 1962 recording by British bandleader Vic Lewis playing a Basie-influenced arrangement by Nelson Riddle.
Hopefully the powers at JAZZ.FM 91 in Toronto will dig the result. The first JazzWax radio show is expected to be broadcast sometime in December, and you'll be able to access the feed if you wish over the web. I'll keep you posted. Lots of rare tracks, and in some ways the audio version of this blog. Thanks to station CEO Ross Porter for coming up with the idea and giving me a shot.
"Your post takes me back to 1959 and 1960 when Stan Kenton held his first clinics at Indiana University in Bloomington. I was a high school junior, and my parents allowed me, rather begrudgingly, to attend. They weren't quite sure that a 16-year-old kid should be hanging around all those jazz musicians!
"It turned out to be the most musically educational experience of my life! I learned more in two weeks than I had in the previous five years. Mr. Kenton was on hand, of course, along with Johnny Richards, Laurindo Almeida, John LaPorta, Jimmy Maxwell, Sam Donahue and others from the Kenton bands. Conte was there, too, and we all thought he was Mr. Cool, personified.
"Not only could Conte play all those licks, but he had the required "look" of a jazz musician. When we weren't practicing, we followed him and the others around from morning 'til night, listening to every note they played and every word they uttered. The part I remember most vividly is that he was a nice guy, always available to us and never too busy to listen.
"Anyway, it's a fond memory and your piece brought it all back to me."
More Morley. It was gratifying to hear from so many readers in response to my post on Morley. For those who appreciate the depth of Morley's singing and poetry, go here to view another music video clip. It was directed by Damani Baker. This one is Women of Hope, off her new album Seen (it's at iTunes and Amazon). As Morley writes at YouTube:
"This is a song that I wrote after watching a CNN program on Women and War. There are three vignettes; the first is in Rwanda, the second is in Mexico, Somalia and Tibet, and the third is in Burma. I quote [Burmese pro-democracy activist] Aung San Suu Kyi [pictured]. When her people asked her for a message, saying how helpless they feel under military rule, she responded by saying, 'If you're feeling helpless, help someone.' This moved me because it is so brilliant of her to empower her people like that. I found so much inspiration and truth in her words that it got me thinking of all the countless women of hope."
"Congratulations on your Creed Taylor pieces. You brought him out beautifully. In your Boz Scaggs piece, however, you wrote 'I Wish I Knew, a Gordon-Warren song, has been recorded by many jazz instrumentalists, including John Coltrane (Ballads) and Bill Evans (Explorations). But here you finally get to hear the lyrics.' [Pictured: Dick Haymes]
"Finally? Dick Haymes had a hit with it in 1945. Betty Grable [pictured] and Haymes sang it in the film Diamond Horseshoe the same year. Chet Baker sang it on record, beautifully, in 1955. Jimmy Scott recorded it in the late 1960s. Karrin Allyson recorded it in 2000 on her Ballads album. There have also been recordings by Karin Krog, Jody Sandhaus and, I should guess, many others. I seem to recall Ella Fitzgerald doing it but can’t find that version."
Bill Evans. Jan Stevens of The Bill Evans Web Pages last week brought to my attention a series of stunning new YouTube clips of the pianist. They're from a living-room interview and performance at a lakefront home in Helsinki in 1970. Eddie Gomez and Marty Morrell were there as well. These are stunning finds and may be among the best examples of Evans' live playing that year or since his Vanguard dates in1961. Evans clearly is very relaxed and comfortable in his surroundings, and the Alfie clip can't be beat. For the rest of the clips in the series, look down the right-hand side when the Alfie clip is on.
Fascinating (and actually no surprise) to hear that Evans' favorite classical composer was Bach. But the big shocker for me, sadly, was the condition of Evans' teeth. Toward the end of the Alfie clip, Evans pokes light fun at Gomez and laughs, and you see their disrepair, surely from neglect and drug addiction. Perhaps one reason why Evans didn't smile or laugh much.