With the introduction of stereo fidelity in 1958, most albums by pop artists and singers were released in two formats: mono and stereo. In some cases artists recorded the same material twice. In other cases gear was in place to record both formats at once. Stereo recordings involved the special placement of musical instruments in the studio and a more dynamic recording process, enabling the left-hand side of the orchestra to predominate through the left speaker and the right-hand side in the right speaker. The result was a radically vivid and exciting sound, since stereo records and a stereo phonograph produced a much more panoramic listening experience. One artist who recorded at the dawn of stereo technology was Peggy Lee.
Her first mono/stereo effort for Capitol was Jump for Joy, with arrangements by Nelson Riddle. For years, the only CD version of the album available was the mono version released by Capitol EMI U.K. as part of its mid-1990s two-fer series. But the mono release suffered terribly from narrow fidelity, shallow depth and pinched dimension. Now DRG/EMI has issued a remastered stereo version for the first time on CD, and the mixed and mastered result by Alan Silverman is positively stunning. But not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect.
I love Lee, but I never thought Jump for Joy was her best outing from the period. In all likelihood, the new stereo technology may have compelled producer Lee Gillette to urge Lee to lay back after delivering her lyrics to allow the Riddle orchestra to come up fast in stereo behind her. So Lee rarely lingers on notes, and the result in most cases sounds a bit too relaxed, as though Lee were singing from a sofa while filing her nails. Or pulling back from the microphone. (The rare exception is Ain't We Got Fun.) By comparison, Things Are Swingin', her next Capitol release recorded six months later in 1958 with Jack Marshall arrangements, featured a much more engaged and lingering Lee.
After listening to the stereo and mono versions of Jump for Joy, it's apparent that the real champ on this date was Nelson Riddle and his king-sized arrangements. On the mono version, the orchestra sounds as if it had been placed across the street from the Capitol Tower studios in Hollywood. But on the new stereo release, all of the textures and colors are in your room. There are horns, a harp, vibes, flutes, tympani drums, assorted woodwinds, a gaggle of reeds and a swinging crushed-velvet string section. It's the whole Riddle sha-bang, tamed and decked out, see-ing and sawing throughout the session. What a pleasure to hear the full effect.
The real delights here are Riddle's song intros. Each one glistens like chrome, and the instrumental collages Riddle creates never fail to startle and dazzle—even after five or six listens. Dig the vivid bass trombone downbeat and muted trumpets on the opener to Jump for Joy. Or the reeds getting scalded by muted trumpets and sweetened by circular strings on the intro to Four or Five Times. And how about that ascending walking figure on Just in Time? By my second spin of Jump for Joy in stereo, I must confess that I found myself listening more for Riddle's surprising instrumental sprays than Lee's tentative vocals.
With the new stereo version, you hear instantly that this was by design or by accident Riddle's date, with Lee along for the stereo ride. But this is no real knock on Lee. Even in relaxed mode, Lee is a seductive singer, and her talents are only graced here by Riddle's restless surf underneath her kittenish delivery.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find the new stereo mastering of Jump for Joy as a download at iTunes and at Amazon here. The album includes two rather interesting rock and roll bonus tracks recorded by Lee and Riddle as singles in 1957. I recommend buying the CD, since you'll get Will Friedwald's fine liner notes and the album's complete discography, including a listing of the musicians on the session.
A special thanks to Ivan Santiago for late-day answers to key questions about Jump for Joy. You'll find Ivan's definitive online discography of Peggy Lee's recordings here. Peggy Lee's official site is here.
JazzWax clip: Not sure what the technical difference is between mono and stereo and want it explained as though you were 12 years old? Dig this...