I have an embarrassingly large CD and record collection – spread across two flats (not both mine, in case you were wondering) and occupying everything from shelves to suitcases. Courtesy of YouTube, I thought I’d share some of the choice items – particularly some of the less well known ones.  Think of it as a slowly evolving, digital mixtape...

There’ll be a new song most days (at least that’s the plan) so keep checking back and please post your comments and suggestions as well.

Mildred Bailey (1907 – 1951) ought to be a towering figure in the history of vocal jazz but remains largely unknown today outside fans of the music.  To a degree, she is the missing link between Armstrong and Crosby.  She pioneered the sense of intimacy which the new microphones allowed and which Crosby perfected.  At the same time, and along with her contemporary Billie Holiday (who she resembles somewhat in timbre and phrasing), she showed that applying jazz techniques to the interpretation of popular song didn’t preclude bringing forth the full emotional import of lyrics.

Clooney, Crosby, Sinatra and Bennett revered Bailey and Frank’s pianist Bill Miller said of her that “she knew how to ad lib, I mean she never quite sang anything the same way more than once.  Maybe she wasn’t quite a jazz singer, but I wouldn’t know how else to describe her.”

Here she is in late 1936 with a song by Vincent Youmans, Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu that was already well on its way to becoming a standard.  The band alone takes the breath away including, as it does, Artie Shaw, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson and Dave Barbour.  In what amounts to an exemplar of jazz singing, Bailey sings the tune fairly straight on the first chorus but both anticipates and delays rhythms in ways that, as well as being musically delightful, enhance the meaning of the lyrics making them both conversational and intimate.  After Webster and Ziggy Elman make their mark in just 8 bars each, she comes back at the bridge and charmingly recreates the melody.

 

Something a bit different today.

I really loved Dean Friedman’s Well, Well Said The Rocking Chair album as a kid.  Particularly the title track and Shopping Bag Ladies – but this one was my favourite.  A couple of years ago, Friedman ran a competition on his website for the best YouTube video to one of his songs – and this was the winner.  I think it’s really sweet.  Its victory is, I am sure, completely unrelated to the fact that it features his daughter Hannah!

Friedman continues to write and perform and has produced albums of children’s songs, composed film themes and, in 1985, apparently wrote “a seminal work on the newly emerging synthesizer industry called Complete Guide to Synthesizers, Sequencers, and Drum Machines."

Well, well...

 

Aside from his 1957 debut, Blue and Sentimental, Matt Monro Sings Hoagy Carmichael is the singer’s only album comprised entirely of standards.  The match between Terence Edward Parsons from Shoreditch and Indiana’s favourite musical son might seem an odd one but it works supremely well - and demonstrates how Monro had so completely absorbed the style of the American popular music he loved.

He did it so well that, during his lifetime at least, he was sometimes dismissed as a Sinatra-clone – perhaps in part because of a passing resemblance in vocal timbre.  In fact, his style owes as much to the relaxed phrasing of Nat King Cole as it does to Sinatra and, arguably, he was more at home with 60s and 70s pop than the Chairman.  One can’t imagine Sinatra (or Cole) improving on his reading of We’re Gonna Change The World – which might explain why only Gary Wilmot has been foolish (or brave) enough to cover it.

Memphis in June (lyrics by Paul Francis Webster) has seen a bit more action but still remains one of Howard Hoagland’s less familiar melodies.  Julie London, Irene Kral and our very own Liane Carroll have all done cracking versions – and it received a nice little boost as the highlight of Annie Lennox’s Nostalgia album – but Monro’s urbane reading (arrangement, Johnnie Spence) offers as good a vocal embodiment of Carmichael and Webster’s ‘shady veranda under a Sunday blue sky’ as you will hear.  You can almost smell the oleanders...

 

For a long time I didn’t really get Dinah Shore.  So many of the recordings from her heyday were just too straight, too cool – that’s cool as in detached not ‘cool’ as in Chris Connor or Anita O’Day.

By the late 50s her hit-making years were behind her but she was a big TV star.  Perhaps on the back of that, she was signed by Capitol.  None of her recordings with them were particular commercial successes but they are easily the musical high point of her career.  She recorded two LPs with Andre Previn (one of duets with his piano the other of lushly orchestrated ballads) and another with Red Norvo.

The best of the bunch is probably Dinah, Yes Indeed!  She lucked out and got Nelson Riddle as her arranger – and some great songs. There’s a bonkers arrangement of Falling In Love With Love when Nelson pulls out the same bongos he utilised for Garland on Come Rain Or Come Shine (and would subsequently deploy for Rosie Clooney on April in Paris) – and he even goes all Pete Rugolo with some surprising tempo changes which let Dinah show off her chops.

But there are also some lovely, straightforward ballad readings including this one of possibly the Gershwins’ finest moment.  A bit like Clooney after all those years of Mitch Miller novelty numbers, Dinah seems thrilled to be given something to get her teeth into and goes for it – without sacrificing an iota of the poise for which she was always know.

Enjoy.