Fifty years ago, jazz and Broadway were friends. Jazz artists routinely recorded swinging versions of the latest musicals or released roundups of new Great White Way tunes. Broadway was a more powerful influence on the culture then, of course, especially when shows destined for the silver screen had movie studios behind them.
During this crossover period, movie studios owned record companies (ABC Paramount, MGM-Verve, United Artists, etc.) and encouraged pollination between jazz artists and the theater. In part, this was because many top jazz artists were playing part-time in Broadway pits or recording soundtracks in Hollywood. For the movie studios, jazz treatments gave shows and film theme songs a hip feel and exposed new audiences to the music. For jazz artists, it gave them a clean, worthy shot at pop.
But somewhere along the way, Broadway and jazz fell out, and today you'd be hard-pressed to find jazz artists recording contemporary Broadway showstoppers. Jazz artists either are never exposed to the new music or deem Broadway too square to adapt. The parting is unfortunate.
So let's roll the tape back to the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the jazz-greasepaint fusion was at its height. Here are six of my favorite jazz-Broadway albums:Dick Marx—Marx Makes Broadway (1958). What a gem this CD is! Half the album features Marx on piano with Irving Ashby or Howard Roberts (g), Carson Smith or Red Mitchell (b) and Frank Capp (d) behind him. The other half adds a swinging Buddy Collette on flute. Believe it or not, the album is available as a download at iTunes and Amazon.
Marty Paich—The Broadway Bit (1959). An all-star West Coast crew here for Discovery Records: Frank Beach (tp) Stu Williamson (tp,v-tb) George Roberts (tb) Bob Enevoldsen (v-tb,ts) Vince DeRosa (fhr) Art Pepper (as) Bill Perkins (ts) Jimmy Giuffre (bar,cl) Victor Feldman (vib,perc) Marty Paich (p) Scott LaFaro (b) and Mel Lewis (d). It's available only on CD as an import or a Collector's Choice double with I Get a Boot Out of You here.
The Hi-Lo's—Broadway Playbill (1960). The vocal group swings through a range of period theater fare, including a good chunk of Gypsy, which had opened the previous year and receives a zesty treatment here. It's available at iTunes (hidden away for $5.99) or teamed with Now Hear This (Collectables) on CD here.
Coleman Hawkins—Plays Make Someone Happy (1962). Hawk recorded several Broadway-related albums but this one for Moodsville is best, featuring the definitive walking version of Make Someone Happy. The Man That Got Away and I Believe in You are terrific, too. Hawk is backed here by Tommy Flanagan, Major Holley and Eddie Locke. It's on the Coleman Hawkins on Broadway compilation at Amazon.
J.J. Johnson—J.J.'s Broadway
terrific album for Verve features four trombonists backing J. J.
Johnson—Lou McGarity, Urbie Green, Tom Mitchell and Paul Faulise. Hank
Jones, Chuck Israels and Walter Perkins round out the rhythm section. It's at iTunes and Amazon.
Woody Herman—My Kind of Broadway (1965). This one includes a rich, ultra-slow Who Can I Turn To in the reed-centric spirit of Early Autumn arranged by Nat Pierce. It's available on CD here.