What you're about to see is going to blow your mind (unless you've seen it already). This was the first time I viewed the following video clip, and I knew nothing of it until JazzWax reader and publicist Michael Bloom sent along a link.
The clip is a 15-minute documentary short called Audition at RCA, which was filmed in 1964 by master of the genre D.A. Pennebaker. According to George Avakian, Dave Lambert had put together a new vocalese quintet called Lambert & Co. and came to RCA Studios to audition his new compositions and arrangements.
The hope was that the powers at RCA, which had recorded Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan a year earlier, would go for it. George was willing to produce if things worked out (he's the cool, tough one the group meets on the street before entering the studio).
Very few recordings or clips of Dave Lambert talking or singing on his own are available, so this documentary is a double blessing. Of course, Pennebaker [pictured] would go on to film Don't Look Back (Bob Dylan), Monterey Pop and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (David Bowie) among others. Here are notes from Pennebaker on the Lambert documentary short:
"Dave Lambert had been a hero of mine ever since I left Chicago for New York in the '40s, long before he’d begun the famous Lambert, Hendricks and Ross trio. He was an arranger for Gene Krupa, who, in addition to trumpeter Roy Eldridge and vocalist Anita O'Day, had these fantastic brass arrangements, which I still remember and have the 78's to prove it. [Pictured: Mary Vonnie with Dave Lambert]
"Anyway, while we were building a studio on 45th Street for fledgling film company Leacock Pennebaker, Bob Van Dyke, our audio genius, introduced me to Dave, and got him to help us finish the studio. Dave, it turned out, was a first-rate carpenter. [Pictured: Vocalist Leslie Dorsey]
"When it came up that he had an audition at RCA for a new group to record songs he had just written, we went along with him and filmed the session. RCA decided not to go for it, and wiped the tapes, so we stuck our unedited film up on a shelf and left it there. Several months later, while helping someone fix a flat on the Merritt Parkway, Dave was hit by a car and killed." [Pictured: Mary Vonnie]
For those eager to learn more, George is going to give the film a fresh viewing for me. I'll catch up with George down the road for his recollections. Hopefully D.A. Pennebaker will reach out to me as well. The vocalists here were not well known then, and never managed to break out. As the rock age swept over the recording industry, vocalese projects like this one sadly were rendered obsolete. [Pictured: George Avakian]
But for an all-too-brief 15 minutes, Dave Lambert and a very cool set of vocalists sang hip music that tragically no longer exists anywhere else but here. If you recognized the musicians on the date, please post as a comment.
To view D.A. Pennebaker's complete Audition at RCA, go here.
The musicians are Moe Wechsler (piano), George Duvivier (bass) and Gary Chester (drums).
JazzWax notes: For more on D.A. Pennebaker, go here. To read a full version of the notes above from Pennebaker, go here. To the best of my knowledge, Blow the Man Down, Comfy Cozy and the other Lambert songs were never recorded by anyone else. [Pictured: Sarah Boatner and David Lucas]
Try to remember that this is 1964, before documentary filmmaking takes on an in-your-face style. To Pennebaker's credit, the camera is constantly on top of the singers where you want him to be, and the lens clearly falls in love with Lambert and the two female vocalists. When cool reigned supreme.