The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums

The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums

by Will Friedwald


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The author of the magisterial A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers now approaches the great singers and their greatest work in an innovative and revelatory way: through considering their finest albums, which is the format in which this music was most resonantly organized and presented to its public from the 1940s until the very recent decline of the CD. It is through their albums that Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, and the rest of the glorious honor roll of jazz and pop singers have been most tellingly and lastingly appreciated, and the history of the album itself, as Will Friedwald sketches it, can now be seen as a crucial part of musical history. We come to understand that, at their finest, albums have not been mere collections of individual songs strung together arbitrarily but organic phenomena in their own right. A Sinatra album, a Fitzgerald album, was planned and structured to show these artists at their best, at a specific moment in their artistic careers.
Yet the albums Friedwald has chosen to anatomize go about their work in a variety of ways. There are studio and solo albums: Lee’s Black Coffee, June Christy’s Something Cool, Cassandra Wilson’s Belly of the Sun. There are brilliant collaborations: famous ones—Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson—and wonderful surprises like Doris Day and Robert Goulet singing Annie Get Your Gun. There are theme albums—Dinah Washington singing Fats Waller, Maxine Sullivan singing Andy Razaf, Margaret Whiting singing Jerome Kern, Barb Jungr singing Bob Dylan, and the sublime Jo Stafford singing American and Scottish folk songs. There are also stunning concert albums like Ella in Berlin, Sarah in Japan, Lena at the Waldorf, and, of course, Judy at Carnegie Hall. All the greats are on hand, from Kay Starr and Carmen McRae to Jimmy Scott and Della Reese (Della Della Cha Cha Cha). And, from out of left field, the astounding God Bless Tiny Tim.
Each of the fifty-seven albums discussed here captures the artist at a high point, if not at the expected moment, of her or his career. The individual cuts are evaluated, the sequencing explicated, the songs and songwriters heralded; anecdotes abound of how songs were born and how artists and producers collaborated. And in appraising each album, Friedwald balances his own opinions with those of musicians, listeners, and critics. A monumental achievement, The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums is an essential book for lovers of American jazz and popular music.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307379078
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 1,222,865
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

WILL FRIEDWALD has written about music for The Wall Street Journal and was the jazz (and cabaret) critic for The New York Sun. He is the author of nine books, including A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers; Stardust Melodies: The Biography of Twelve of America's Most Popular Songs; Jazz Singing: America's Great Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond; Sinatra! The Song Is You; and Tony Bennett: The Good Life (with Tony Bennett). He has written liner notes for nearly five hundred compact discs, for which he has received eight Grammy nominations. He has also written for Vanity Fair, The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, American Heritage, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction:
The Origins and Development of the Pop Music Album from To Mother to The Voice (1926–1945)

“Ha ha ha. Who’s got the last laugh now?” In 1937, George and Ira Gershwin immortalized, in an irreverently syncopated style, a sequence of celebrated accomplishments of innovation and invention. Chief among them was the widely accepted fact that Thomas Edison was the first man to record sound. For well over a hundred years, it was taken for granted that sound recording was perhaps Edison’s first great achievement, even before the electric light or the motion picture camera.
Yet in recent years, it has become known that sound recordings were actually made (and still exist) at least twenty years before Edison’s tinfoil experiments. As early as 1857, a Frenchman named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville had invented a device called the phonautograph, which successfully captured soundwaves and represented them visually. At that time, it was not actually possible to play back the sound in any way, although in 2008, the recorded noises of 150 years earlier were extracted and made available on the Internet. (Where else?) The fidelity is far from wonderful—in fact, it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re listening to—yet they constitute a genuine precedent to Edison.
Which goes to show that you can never say that something is the “first” of anything. Inevitably there’s something else out there, waiting to be discovered.
I offer the above “cautionary tale” as a preamble before attempting to track the history of the popular music album. No one can say what the first pop album actually was, but one point that needs to be made at the outset is that the album—as both a concept and a commercial reality—predates the long-playing record (or LP) by many years. Albums were, in fact, a viable and familiar concept to record producers and buyers deep into the 78 era, well before World War II. It’s often reported that the technology of the long-playing album inspired creative musicians like Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington to craft more ambitious, extended projects for a bigger canvas, but in fact it was the other way around: it was artists who drove the technology. Likewise, albums too were very much a part of the pop music market for at least a decade before the long-playing disc was perfected, thereby enabling record labels to release eight (later twelve) songs on a single disc.
The concept of the album had a long and respectable run. We know of pop albums going back to at least 1926, when the dominant format—virtually the only format—was individual 78 rpm discs. The 10-inch LP medium, introduced in 1948, was the next step forward, succeeded by the 12- inch LP, which became the standard, in America at least, about 1955, and then the compact disc (from 1985 on). The CD would be, so far, the last physical format for which artists would put together programs of creative and interesting music. In the post-physical age of listening to music, the album is more or less passé: kids primarily download individual tracks, and pay attention to entire albums only secondarily. Thus the age of the pop music album is finite, stretching for roughly eighty years, picking up speed slowly from the mid-1920s onward and then losing momentum quickly in the mid-“aughts.”
The purpose of this book is to talk about the great jazz and pop vocal albums, and in this introductory chapter we trace the development of the concept—the events that led up to the development of the pop music “album.” We’ll go from the first pop albums, well before the start of the Depression, up to the successful introduction of the long-playing record after the war. By the time that the LP was good to go, creative artists like Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington (not to mention forward-looking producers like Jack Kapp, George Avakian, and Norman Granz) were truly ready for it. Throughout this whole period, for our purposes, there were essentially three types of albums:

* Existing Songs / Existing Recordings: The most basic kind of album (then as now) was a collection of tracks that had already been recorded, and, in most cases, already released. Usually these were collections of songs that had been hits in the singles format; more often than not, they sport titles like The Best of So-and-So or So-and-So’s Greatest Hits.

* New Songs / New Recordings: On the other end, there was the all-original album, which actually began in 1946 with the release of Manhattan Tower, a groundbreaking and genre-defying work which all but singlehandedly invented what later became known as the concept album. In the 1960s, this idea came to dominate in rock-oriented pop music (although there already was a precedent in the jazz world). In most classic rock albums from the Beatles onward, the tracks were all newly recorded and all the songs were completely original as well, written in almost all cases by the performing artist.

* Existing Songs / New Recordings: There was a halfway point between the two above extremes (completely unoriginal and completely original), which was perfected by Frank Sinatra in 1945 with the first pop music “concept” album, The Voice. Nearly all of the great pop and jazz vocal albums would follow this format: the songs themselves were already of a certain vintage, well known and well loved enough to be considered classics. But the recording itself was new, and so was everything else: the interpretations, the arrangements, the sequencing. It became a challenge for the singers, orchestrators, and producers of the era, which reached a peak in the 1950s and ’60s, to be able to take standard songs and use the album concept—i.e., the act of taking individual songs, written for different purposes by different composers, and making them relate to each other, thus forging a new collective statement out of songs that already existed.
It’s the contention of this book that the most creative, interesting, and memorable albums (starting with those of Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald) belong to this third category. There was, quite possibly, more creativity and more great results from this particular combination of the old and the new (a new spin on songs the listeners already knew) than in any other use of the album format. The central idea behind this book is to show how this format (old songs in a new context) evolved, and to identify and discuss the classics of the genre. (For the most part, I’m leaving original cast albums out of this categorical discussion, although I will mention a few—they are a distinct genre unto themselves.)

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: The Origins and Development of the Pop Music Album from To Mother to The Voice xiii
1. Louis Armstrong, Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson 3
2. Fred Astaire, The Astaire Story 11
3. Chet Baker, Let’s Get Lost: The Best of Chet Baker Sings 25
4. Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album and Together Again 34
5. Ray Charles, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music 43
6. June Christy, Something Cool 50
7. Rosemary Clooney, Blue Rose 59
8. Nat King Cole, After Midnight 69
9. Nat King Cole, St. Louis Blues 76
10. Bing Crosby, Bing with a Beat 82
11. Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, Bing & Satchmo 91
12. Doris Day, Day by Day and Day by Night 97
13. Doris Day and Robert Goulet, Annie Get Your Gun 105
14. Blossom Dearie, My Gentleman Friend 112
15. Matt Dennis, Matt Dennis Plays and Sings Matt Dennis Bobby Troup, Bobby Troup Sings Johnny Mercer 117
16. Billy Eckstine, Billy’s Best! 127
17. Ella Fitzgerald, Lullabies of Birdland 134
18. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Ella & Louis 142
19. Ella Fitzgerald, Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin 148
20. Judy Garland, Judy at Carnegie Hall 154
21. Johnny Hartman, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman 163
22. Dick Haymes, Rain or Shine 171
23. Billie Holiday, Lady in Satin 177
24. Lena Horne, Lena Horne at the Waldorf Astoria 184
25. Barb Jungr, Every Grain of Sand: Barb Jungr Sings Bob Dylan 190
26. Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross, Sing a Song of Basie Annie Ross, Sings a Song with Mulligan! 197
27. Eydie Gormé and Steve Lawrence, Eydie and Steve Sing the Golden Hits 209
28. Peggy Lee, Black Coffee 214
29. Peggy Lee, The Man I Love 221
30. Marilyn Maye, Meet Marvelous Marilyn Maye 228
31. Carmen McRae, As Time Goes By: Live at the Dug 234
32. Anita O’Day, Anita O’Day Sings the Winners 241
33. Della Reese, Della Della Cha Cha Cha 250
34. Jimmy Scott, The Source and Lost and Found 255
35. Bobby Short, Bobby Short 265
36. Nina Simone, Nina Simone and Piano! 272
37. Frank Sinatra, In the Wee Small Hours 280
38. Frank Sinatra, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! 288
39. Jo Stafford, Jo Stafford Sings American Folk Songs and Jo Stafford Sings Songs of Scotland 297
40. Jo Stafford, I’ll Be Seeing You (G.I. Jo) 307
41. Kay Starr, I Cry by Night 314
42. Maxine Sullivan, Memories of You: A Tribute to Andy Razaf 321
43. Jack Teagarden, Think Well of Me 329
44. Tiny Tim, God Bless Tiny Tim 338
45. Mel Tormé, Mel Tormé with the Marty Paich Dek-Tette (Lulu’s Back in Town) 347
46. Sarah Vaughan, Sarah Vaughan 355
47. Sarah Vaughan, “Live” in Japan 361
48. Dinah Washington, Dinah Washington Sings Fats Waller 368
49. Margaret Whiting, Margaret Whiting Sings the Jerome Kern Song Book 376
50. Lee Wiley, Night in Manhattan 383
51. Cassandra Wilson, Belly of the Sun 390
Discography 399

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