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Archive for the ‘Count Basie’ Category

Jazz It Up with New Verve Records Box Set

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Verve The Sound of America Box SetMore than half a century after visionary music impresario Norman Granz founded his third and arguably most successful label, Verve Records, the label will be celebrated in style next month with a new book and a five-disc box set, The Sound of America: The Singles Collection.

Granz had previously come to prominence in the jazz world a decade before, when he organized a diverse jam session of a concert at Los Angeles’ Philharmonic Auditorium in 1944. This regular session turned into a full-fledged concert tour, and “Jazz At The Philharmonic” became one of the biggest national platforms for jazz musicians (both black and white) in North America. Recordings of the shows were licensed to Mercury Records, then in turn to two of Granz’s own labels, Clef and Norgran.

But it was Verve, founded in 1956, that enjoyed the greatest success, largely thanks to two factors: the rise of the 12″ long-playing record album, and Granz signing his biggest client as a manager to the label. Ella Fitzgerald, who’d been wooed to Verve from Decca, made some of the greatest recordings in jazz history during her years there, starting with her legendary Songbook series, which found her interpreting the catalogues of Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington, George & Ira Gershwin and many more.

From there, Verve was, at one time or another, home to a who’s who of jazz luminaries, including pianist Oscar Peterson, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, organist Jimmy Smith, saxophonist Stan Getz, guitarist Wes Montgomery and even vocalists like Bing Crosby and Mel Tormé. Today, the Verve label still exists as a home for new and catalogue jazz; current acts include operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli and jazz vocalist Diana Krall.

The Sound of America: The Singles Collection features 100 tracks – not only sides from the Verve years, but a handful of pre-Verve jazz singles on Clef and Norgran – over five discs, “over 20 of which have been out of print for years.” All the discs are contained in their own individual slipcases, packaged in a box with a lift-off lid alongside a 48-page book of liner notes. The box hits stores December 10, just over a month after the publication of Verve Records: The Sound of America, an exhaustive written history of the label from producer/researcher Richard Havers.

The full track list and order links for the box set are after the jump.

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Duke Ellington Is “In Grand Company” with Ella, Basie, Satchmo, Coltrane and More

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Duke Ellington - In Grand CompanyThe legendary composer-arranger-pianist-bandleader Duke Ellington is In Grand Company on a new collection of the same name from Starbucks Entertainment, Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings.  Much has been written of Ellington’s fertile creative partnership with “Take the ‘A’ Train” composer Billy Strayhorn, and indeed, Strayhorn is represented on this disc.  But he’s just one of the many, varied artists represented on this collection’s fifteen tracks.  Spanning four decades of recording on many labels,  In Grand Company explores the Duke as collaborator, with luminaries from the worlds of jazz (John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald), big band (Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie), pop (Rosemary Clooney) and gospel (Mahalia Jackson).

The earliest track on In Grand Company dates all the way back to 1940, when Ellington teamed with bassist Jimmie Blanton for “Pitter Panther Patter” (heard here in Take 2).  The collection’s most recent performance, 1972’s “Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear from Me” was recorded by the then-73-year old Ellington and the much younger Ray Brown, 45.  Appropriately, it came from the album This One’s for Blanton, on which Ellington celebrated the life of his one-time bassist who died in 1942 at the age of 23.  In between, the compilation offers a selection of Ellington’s most definitive collaborative performances.  He proved himself sympathetic to vocalists when he teamed with Rosemary Clooney on the 1956 album Blue Rose, from which “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” is excerpted.  Ella Fitzgerald recorded an entire album of Duke’s standards in 1957 as part of her groundbreaking Songbook series; “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues” is the selection included here.  Mahalia Jackson is featured on a segment of Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige suite, written in 1943 and recorded, in revised form, in 1958.  (Too bad a song from Ellington’s pairing with his Reprise Records chief and labelmate, Frank Sinatra, couldn’t be included.)

There’s much more on Ellington after the jump, including the full track listing and order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 24, 2013 at 09:56

Review: Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, “The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings”

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When Frank Sinatra met Count Basie, it was far from a clash of the titans.  No, the “historic musical first” that occurred between the grooves of Reprise 1008 in 1962 was more like a perfect union.  Both were Jersey boys, with Basie’s formative years spent south of Hoboken, in Red Bank, New Jersey.  The men were unusually simpatico, similar in their enormous respect for musicians.  Though Basie titled a 1959 album Chairman of the Board, the title was later bestowed upon Sinatra.  When Basie put his feelings on music onto paper, he wrote, “I think the band can really swing when it swings easy, when it can just play along like you are cutting butter.”  Sinatra’s second album for Capitol epitomized this belief, titled (what else?) Swing Easy! and living up to the title’s promise.  The two chairmen finally paired on record in 1962 for Sinatra-Basie, following that initial effort up with a 1964 sequel, It Might As Well Be Swing.  These albums ushered in a fertile era of collaboration for Sinatra at Reprise, which found him comfortably singing alongside Duke Ellington, Antonio Carlos Jobim and even Rod McKuen.  Now, Concord and Frank Sinatra Enterprises have delivered The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings (CRE-33152, 2011) of Sinatra and Basie on one packed compact disc, and for an hour or so, all is right in the world.

Might these be Sinatra’s most overtly jazz-oriented albums?  The singer sounds supremely relaxed (even letting the occasional trace of his Jersey roots to appear in his vocals!) in front of this confident band, affording them generous room to breathe.  On Sinatra-Basie, the pianist’s solo introduction makes the first notes you hear on the opening track, “Pennies from Heaven.”  The stereo spread (mixed for this disc by Larry Walsh) allows for thrilling call-and-response between sections of Basie’s band, and the spatial presence of the players is in evidence throughout.  Basie makes his presence on the keys felt with his truly economic style; he delivers minimalistic, reassuring accents that immeasurably enhance the overall sound.  Often he starts the song off, or brings it home with an unmistakable tag.  And the Basie rhythm section smokes – guitarist Freddie Green, bassist George “Buddy” Catlett, drummer Sonny Payne all make an impression.

Earlier in 1962, Sinatra had recorded Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass with arranger and conductor Neal Hefti; though Hefti returned for Sinatra-Basie, his work was less brash the second time around.  Most of the songs were taken at mid-tempo, building to a powerful climax, but the fast-moving exceptions were notable (“Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Looking at the World Thru Rose-Colored Glasses,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”).  Hefti provided a defining arrangement for Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin’s “Please Be Kind” with those exultant reed blasts, and took a number of remakes of Capitol classics to completely new levels.

When Sinatra revisited Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “The Tender Trap” only a few years after introducing it in 1955, he sounded impossibly wiser with just the right amount of vulnerability underneath the surface.  Might he fall into that tender trap again?  The trumpet insinuates as it echoes his vocals.  Just listen to Sinatra’s drawn-out “some starry night…” or his momentary hesitation in “for…for being single” for the indisputable proof as to why he’s the all-time master of interpretation. He modulates the song and the big band backing him with complete and utter control, clearly having a ball, and loosely improvising.

“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” dates even further back at Capitol for Sinatra, to 1954’s Swing Easy! as arranged by Nelson Riddle.  Hefti’s take is clever and singular, with plenty of chances for band solos and some pounding drums!  For George and Ira Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Hefti’s new arrangement barrels like a freight train.  It’s unstoppable and mesmerizing, but so very different from Riddle’s 1957 chart.  Sonny Cohn shines on trumpet.  The gentle “Learnin’ the Blues” also differs from Sinatra’s original, and plays like a supreme instruction from the master.  The orchestra taunts the singer, echoing the lyrics, and then it’s just Sinatra, Basie tickling the ivories and the beat: pure bliss.  Frank Wess (also a talented arranger for the likes of Bobby Darin) shines on flute, and his presence on the entire disc sets Sinatra-Basie apart.  Wess stands out, too, in “Rose Colored Glasses” and Sinatra’s tip of the hat to Matt Monro on “My Kind of Girl,” given a vaudevillian spirit by Hefti and featuring some hot soloing by Frank Foster and Eric Dixon on tenor saxophone.

“I Won’t Dance” is another remake from 1957’s A Swingin’ Affair, like “Nice Work.”  It ends the first album on a quiet note.  Despite his protestations, few could have resisted asking Sinatra to dance, especially with this sensual arrangement aided by Wess; Basie’s band almost sighs to the wistful Jerome Kern melody.

Many members of the Basie Band had been playing together for years, but their adaptability to the individualism of Sinatra was nothing short of a miracle: effortless and versatile.  They were likewise able to adapt to another voice as arranger and conductor when Quincy Jones replaced Neal Hefti for 1964’s It Might As Well Be Swing.  Jones was no stranger to the Basie band, having previously arranged for the unit at Reprise, winning a Grammy Award in the process.  The man christened “Q” by Sinatra had large shoes to fill, but proved himself more than up to the task!  Read all about it after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 15, 2011 at 14:51

Release Round-Up: Week of September 6

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John Coltrane, The Impulse! Albums Volume 4 (Hip-o Select/Verve)

Five discs encompass five of Coltrane’s posthumous releases for the venerable jazz label. (Hip-o Select)

Frank Sinatra & Count Basie, The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings (Concord)

All 20 of the legendary performers’ tunes together on one disc. (Concord)

Various Artists, Godspell: 40th Anniversary Celebration (Sony Masterworks)

Just in time for the new Broadway revival, a two-for-one deal: the original 1971 cast album and 1973 film soundtrack. (Official revival site)

Various Artists, Where the Boys Are: The Songs of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield (Ace)

The latest in the U.K. label’s Songwriter Series spotlights two great scribes of the early pop era, from “Stupid Cupid” to “Crying in the Rain” and beyond. (Ace)

Change, This is Your Time: Expanded Edition / Change of Heart: Expanded Edition / Linda Williams, City Living: Expanded Edition / Andre Cymone, AC: Expanded Edition (Big Break)

The latest Big Break slate includes one from underrated soul legend Linda Williams and a reissue with some actual Prince-oriented material on it (AC, which featured the Prince-produced “The Dance Electric”). (Big Break)

Heart, Greatest Hits / James Taylor, Sweet Baby James (Audio Fidelity)

The latest classics to get the gold disc treatment. (Audio Fidelity: Heart, James Taylor)

Written by Mike Duquette

September 6, 2011 at 08:18

It Might As Well Be Swing, Again: Complete “Sinatra-Basie” Coming Soon From Concord

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When Frank Sinatra launched Reprise Records in 1961 with Ring-a-Ding Ding!, the greats of the jazz world came to the future Chairman of the Board.  Johnny Mandel arranged that volcanic first offering, and Sinatra’s next concept albums teamed the singer’s singer with a top flight of talents, past and present: Billy May, Sy Oliver, Don Costa, Gordon Jenkins, Robert Farnon and a trumpeter, arranger and composer named Neal Hefti.  That last-named gent would figure prominently in a 1963 collaboration with one of the undisputed legends of the field.  That was when Sinatra teamed with William “Count” Basie for the first of two historic collaborations with the elder statesman of jazz.  Sinatra-Basie was followed the very next year with the punningly-titled It Might As Well Be Swing, and both albums show two musicians at the top of their games, playing to each other’s strengths with a breezy compatibility.  Sinatra would embark on later pairings on Reprise with Duke Ellington, Antonio Carlos Jobim and even the poet Rod McKuen.  The Basie albums, though, occupy a unique place in the singer’s discography, and led to one of the greatest live albums of all time, Sinatra and Basie’s Live at the Sands in 1966.  The original Sinatra-Basie and It Might As Well Be Swing will soon be collected on a single disc by Frank Sinatra Enterprises and Concord as The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings, due in stores on September 6.

The first of the two albums, Sinatra-Basie: An Historical Musical First, hit the Top 5 on the Billboard charts and introduced an eclectic repertoire.  Neil Hefti, before becoming a household name via television themes like Batman and The Odd Couple, continued his winning streak with Sinatra that had begun with 1962’s stunning Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass.  With Basie on board and tinkling the keys, Sinatra tackled two songs by his favorite lyricist, Sammy Cahn, “Please Be Kind” and “(Love Is) The Tender Trap,” which he had introduced back at Capitol.  Further Capitol reprises (pun intended) came in the form of “Please Be Kind,” and two tracks from 1957’s A Swingin’ Affair, the Gershwins’ “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ immortal “I Won’t Dance.”   He knew that Basie’s presence, combined with Hefti’s smoking arranging and conducting, would give these new versions a unique identity.  Sinatra even paid homage to British entertainer Matt Monro with Leslie Bricusse’s “My Kind of Girl,” a Monro staple.  The resulting album is playful, relaxed and winning.

For the 1964 “sequel,” It Might As Well Be Swing, Quincy Jones ascended to the podium and led a team of arrangers that also included Billy Byers.  The style was a bit different here, with Basie and Sinatra tackling then-current songs and applying an even harder swinging treatment to them.  The album leads off with Jones’ immortal arrangement of Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” perhaps the ultimate interpretation of the song.  For Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “The Best is Yet to Come,” the performance here likewise became the standard bearer for the song.  From the recent Broadway songbook came Frank Loesser’s “I Believe In You” (from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) and Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” with Sinatra paying lyrical tribute to Louis Armstrong.  Though more associated with Sinatra’s favorite singer, Tony Bennett, Sinatra, Basie, Jones and company more than deliver the goods on “The Good Life” and “I Wanna Be Around.”  Sinatra also sang the first of only two Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs he ever recorded with a vibrant and exuberant take on “Wives and Lovers,” popularized by Jack Jones.  (The other one was a Don Costa-arranged MOR take on “Close to You” in the wake of The Carpenters’ success with the song.)  Another recent hit, “More” (from the film Mondo Cane), is beautifully re-energized.

What bells and whistles are present on the new Concord disc?  Just hit the jump, pally! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 24, 2011 at 14:30