Friday, January 15, 2016

Interview with Singer Bobby Rydell: "I grew up listening to the music of the big bands, and this music was in my blood from my childhood"

Our first post of 2016 is an interview we recently did with singer Bobby Rydell, in which he discusses his life and career, as well as two excellent early 1960s albums he made for the Cameo / Parkway label, mostly paying tribute to the music of the pre-rock era, which was more of an influence on his own style than one may think.

In the late 1950s and early '60s, between the first outburst of rock'n'roll and the arrival of the so-called British Invasion, the airwaves were suddenly filled with a gentler, sweeter kind of pop music, epitomized by teen idols such as Frankie Avalon, Ricky Nelson, and Fabian. One of the most popular among them was Philadelphia-born Bobby Rydell, whose memorable recordings of hits like "Kissin' Time," "Wild One," and "Swingin' School," among several others, turned him into a national sensation starting in 1959. After achieving great success on records and through appearances on top-rated television shows, Rydell made his movie debut in the now classic musical Bye Bye Birdie, alongside Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke, a role that did a great deal to further his career. Rydell has announced that in 2016 he will be publishing his autobiography and a pictorial of his career, and anyone interested in more information about this forthcoming book should check his website.

Rydell with Domenico Modugno
Despite the fact that, just like Bobby Darin, Rydell started out as a teen idol, he was steeped in big band music and pre-rock pop crooners (one of his hits was a cover of Italian crooner Domenico Modugno's "Volare," also cut by Dean Martin), and to this day his live act includes many tunes out of the Great American Songbook. In fact, in the 1960s he cut a few albums celebrating these influences, namely Bobby Salutes the Great Ones (1961), Rydell at the Copa (1961), and Bobby Rydell and the Bernie Lowe Orchestra Recreate the Big Band Days (1962). Back in October, these three LPs, along with a 1961 collaboration with label mate Chubby Checker, were reissued on a two-CD set by the British label Jasmine Records. As soon as we heard about this release, we got in touch with Mr. Rydell, through his assistant, Ms. Linda Hoffman, and he graciously agreed to an interview with The Vintage Bandstand to discuss his career in general and these albums in particular. We now present the full interview here.

Anton Garcia-Fernandez (for The Vintage Bandstand): You were born in Philadelphia. Please tell us a little bit about your childhood there. What kinds of music did you listen to? Who were your earliest musical influences?

Bobby Rydell: I grew up listening the music of the big bands.  My father used to take me to a theatre in Philadelphia that often showcased the legends of this era and I fell in love with the music at about age seven.  As a child I saw the incredible Gene Krupa live and it stayed with me until this day.  I remember telling my dad "That's what I want to be—a drummer."  Dad was responsible for everything I became.  He bought me my first set of drums and gave me drum lessons.  If the singing thing hadn't worked out, that's what I'd be doing today. 

TVB: Around 1950, you first appeared on the TV show Teen Club, which was hosted by legendary bandleader Paul Whiteman, and you stayed on that show for about three years. What do you remember about that show? Did you get to have much interaction with Mr. Whiteman?

Mr. Rydell: I was sort of the "mascot" on the Whiteman show. I was about eight years old when I won a talent contest and became a regular on the program.  I won a TV set (the first on our block!) in the contest for the show.  I don't remember a time that I wasn't performing.  Yes, Mr. Whiteman was very involved with the show—he was the person who first changed my name from Bobby Ridarelli to Bobby Rydell. He said no one would remember Ridarelli!

TVB: In the late 1950s, you signed a contract with the label Cameo / Parkway which led to big hits like "Kissin' Time," "Swingin' School," and "Wild One," among others, and which turned you into a very popular teen idol. How did that contract come about?

Mr. Rydell: I used to cut school to hang out at the studios (which were a two-by-four space, nothing major like you'd imagine).  I knew Bernie Lowe (one of the founders of the label) from the Whiteman show - he was a piano player on the show.  It wasn't until I met Frankie Day (my first manager) by chance at a show I was playing in one of my first bands - that I got an "audition" with the label - and the rest kind of just took off. 

TVB: On one of your albums for that label you were teamed up with another big star of the era, Chubby Checker. What do you remember about the sessions that produced that collaboration between the two of you?

Mr. Rydell: Being that we were both under contract with the same record label, they thought it would be a novel idea to have the both of us do a "duets" album to be released just before the holidays and toss in a couple of holiday songs.  One of those tunes, "Jingle Bell Rock," is really popular to this day on the radio stations during the holidays.  Chubby and I knew one another from the South Philadelphia area where we were both born and raised, and of course through the label and we had toured together in Australia a few times.  It was a natural type of recording session and a brilliant move by the label.  I think it became one of the top-selling albums for the label.  We still see one another on the road to this day.  We both still live in the same area of suburban Philadelphia. 

TVB: One of your most remarkable albums is Bobby Rydell Salutes the Great Ones, which includes rocking versions of standards such as "That Old Black Magic," "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It." What was the concept behind this LP and how did it come about? Did you select the songs? And if so, how did you select the songs?

Mr. Rydell: My manager and I selected the songs, submitted them to Cameo and they loved the idea.  This music was in my blood from my childhood and felt very natural that I record it - we did it with a touch of the contemporary and it worked.  When I started performing on shows like Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Perry Como  - this was the type of music they wanted me to perform on their shows - not the "Swingin' School," etc. 

TVB: In 1961 you first performed at the Copacabana, in New York, and the album Rydell at the Copa features a recording of your nightclub set there. How did the contract at the Copa come about? Your repertoire seems to be more adult-oriented. Did you get to choose your set lists for your engagement at the Copa?

Mr. Rydell: My manager, Frank Day, was the brains behind the Copa job.  He felt I was "ready" to graduate from the rock and roll shows onto the night club circuit.  He hired a stage coach for me, taught me dance steps, stage posture - even had a script written for the show with jokes, song medleys - it was a smash.  I got rave reviews by the tough New York critics calling the show a "powder keg of talent."  It was a thrill beyond belief for me. At age 19 I went down in history as the youngest performer ever to headline the famed Copa.

TVB: One can't help but notice that both Salutes the Great Ones and At the Copa feature several songs associated with Al Jolson ("My Mammy," "April Showers," "There's a Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder"). Was Jolson one of your musical influences? 

Mr. Rydell: No, Jolson wasn't really an influence.  

Rydell and Ann-Margret
TVB: One of your most memorable movie roles came in the 1963 film musical, Bye, Bye Birdie. How did you get involved in this movie? Are there any memories of co-stars Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke that you would like to share?

Mr. Rydell: Ann and I are friends to this day.  She calls and checks in often.  When she does she asks if "Hugo" is there.  We were 2 kids back then.  My original role of Hugo did not call for any singing (in the stage version) and only a few lines.  My audition with Ann was magnetic and the producers decided to expand Hugo's role. They thought we were magic together and wanted to play that up to the younger audience.  Every day we came to the set my role got bigger and bigger.

TVB: Finally, after all these years, you are still performing. For instance, you toured Australia last year. That shows that you must really enjoy music. Do you still listen to much music these days? And if so, what kinds of music and artists do you like listening to?

Mr. Rydell: My tour schedule today is full. [You can check it out here.]  I work frequently in a show called The Golden Boys, which is a production by Dick Fox, my present manager.  We have been performing this production  to sellout audiences for the past 30 years.  "The Golden Boys" are (officially) myself, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian.  When this first started we joked it would be good for about 6 months—never dreamt that people would still be buying tickets 30 years later.  The show features old film footage of our teen idol days, lots of production numbers with the three of us together, we individually do our separate shows, then come back together for a tribute to our fellow performers who have passed on.  There's even a dance contest.  I also do my solo show in Las Vegas and around the country, which is a mix of my oldies and lots of my favorite "standards" big band style.  Some of my shows (like one I'm doing at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City) are with eighteen-piece orchestras and are songs from the American Songbook.

In 2012 I really thought it was over, though. I spent most of that year in and out of hospitals with tubes down my throat.  Never thought I'd sing again.  I needed a double organ transplant (kidney & liver).  Through skilled surgeons at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and my organ donor and the family who lost her, I am here today.  I'm still singing and telling my audiences the importance of becoming an organ donor.  They are able to come to the show because of one unselfish person. My donor's name was Julia, and she was in her twenties.

Of the artists today I'm especially fond of Diana Krall and Tower of Power.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Louis Armstrong / Mills Brothers Decca Sessions, 1937-40

By the time Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers first entered a studio to record a few sides together in 1937, they were both successful and popular artists in the jazz and pop fields, the brothers perhaps slightly more so than Satchmo. They had recorded with the likes of the Boswell Sisters and Bing Crosby, and the time seemed right to pair them with Armstrong, who at the time was being pushed by producer Jack Kapp to diversify his material and record in different settings, in an attempt to appeal to both black and white audiences and to score pop hits. Though Armstrong's gravelly voice seemingly stood in stark contrast with the smooth harmonies of the brothers, it actually blended extremely well on the finished recordings, most likely because both Armstrong and the Mills Brothers came out of the same musical tradition and understood each other's language perfectly well. While the Millses had become famous for their ability to mimic the sound of instruments (the guitar was the only instrument that they actually played) this was more than just a gimmick, and in fact, Satchmo's trumpet, which had exerted its influence on the music of the quartet, is superbly supported by the brothers' mimicry.

The Mills Brothers in the 1920s (Photo owned by Daniel R. Clemson)

All in all, Armstrong and the brothers recorded eleven songs together over a three-year period that goes from April 1937 to April 1940. The material chosen for these sessions is rather eclectic, from novelty numbers like "Boog It," "The Flat Foot Floogie," and Irving Berlin's "My Walking Stick" to updates of minstrel material like "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" to pop songs of the day such as "Marie" and "The Song Is Ended," both of them written by Berlin as well. The atmosphere of all the sessions—there were six in all—is extremely relaxed, with the brothers harmonizing and Armstrong offering hip vocals and some excellent trumpet solos to complement the Millses' signature sound effects. Most of the songs feature brief guitar introductions, and as in the case of Don Redman's "Cherry," one of the standouts from these sessions, the interactions between Armstrong and the brothers are seamless. All the songs are tightly arranged and clearly intended as both jazz and pop records that could be appealing to different audiences.

At least one of the singles that came out of these dates was extremely popular—the one that paired "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" and "Darling Nellie Gray," which ended a brief hit drought for the Millses. By the late 1930s it had become common practice in the recording industry to use nineteenth-century songs, mostly because they had fallen into the public domain, but this particular disc is unique in that Amstrong and the brothers not only swing and modernize these two songs about slavery and the old plantation but they also turn them into subtle calls for freedom. As Gary Giddins has written in Visions of Jazz, this record is "a politically astute response to the pastoralism that became rife in the recording industry of the '30s and continued into the early '60s" (24). In the hands of Armstrong and the brothers, "Old Virginny" no longer expresses a yearning to go back to working "day after day in the fields of yellow corn" but becomes a shout for political and social freedom, which is underscored by the choice of the abolitionist song, "Darling Nellie Gray," for the flip side. It seems appropriate to quote Giddins more at length on this subject:

Perhaps Armstrong's most able signifying comes at the end of the first eight bars of his thirty-two-bar solo, an unmistakable trumpet call—to freedom in life. If the flip side had been a similar piece or an ordinary ballad, the record would—despite Armstrong's saves—have limited meaning. But "Darling Nellie Gray" was one of the most powerful abolitionist songs of the 1850s; published only four years after Uncle Tom's Cabin, it is widely credited with changing people's minds on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. (26)

The Mills Brothers (Photo owned by D.R. Clemson)
The choice of material, then, could not have been accidental, particularly if we bear in mind that a similar change of meaning also operates on their version of Stephen Foster's "The Old Folks at Home," which, in the rendition by Armstrong and the Millses, is as far away from a song of longing for the old plantation as "Old Virginny." As Giddins has also rightly pointed out, Armstrong mocks the original meaning of this Foster ballad, taking it at a rather brisk pace and eschewing any kind of nostalgia for an idealized past on the plantation: when he ends his rendition by saying "we are far away from home," there is no trace of sentimentality in his voice. This is a record that shuns a painful past and prefers to look toward a brighter future ahead. Shortly after these sessions, the Mills Brothers would score a smash hit with "Paper Doll," and Louis Armstrong would go on to become one of the major icons of the twentieth century. Sadly, these recordings have long been neglected both by a vast majority of critics and by the record label that originally released them. As a matter of fact, CD reissues of these songs are scarce: European imports such as Jazz Archives # 47: Louis Armstrong and The Mills Brothers Greatest Hits and The Mills Brothers Featuring Louis Armstrong Vol. 4: 1937-1940 are, to our knowledge, the only reissues currently available, and they are not always easy to find. Yet the uniqueness, historical significance, and artistic value of the collaboration between Satchmo and the Millses calls for a serious reissue and a subsequent critical reappraisal.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bandstand Christmas Essentials 4 : Al Martino's A Merry Christmas

With the holiday season quickly approaching, it is time to offer a new installment of our Bandstand Christmas Essential series, which we publish every December. This time we take a look at a Christmas album that usually slips through the cracks whenever Yuletide records are discussed—Al Martino's A Merry Christmas, cut for Capitol in 1964.

These days, Italian-American crooner Al Martino is mostly remembered for his role as Johnny Fontane in the 1972 Francis Ford Coppola movie, The Godfather. That role went a long way toward revitalizing his career in the early 1970s, but by that time he had been in the music business for already two decades, which were admittedly full of ups and downs. Born into a working class family in Philadelphia in 1927, his real name was Alfred Cini, and he was inspired by his childhood friend, Mario Lanza, to pursue a career in music. With that goal in mind he changed his name to Al Martino and moved to New York City, where he signed a record contract with a small label. His recording of the ballad "Here in My Heart" in 1952 became a sizable hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and this led to a contract with Capitol. Unfortunately, it somehow also got him in trouble with the Mob—or at least so the story goes—and Martino was forced to settle down in England for a few years, where his career advanced slowly.

By the time he returned to the United States in the late 1950s, rock and roll had changed the music business forever, and the careers of smooth-voiced crooners like Martino were suffering greatly from this change in popular taste. But then Nashville came to the rescue: in 1963 Martino recorded the Leon Payne country ballad, "I Love You Because," and all of a sudden he was back on the charts, and for a few years he continued recording pop versions of country tunes with great success. His biggest hit, though, was not a country song, but a vocal version of Bert Kaempfert's "Spanish Eyes," which he cut in 1966, and which remains the song most closely associated with him. His 1972 appearance in The Godfather also resulted in a record hit, "Speak Softly Love," that classic film's theme song. From then on, he seldom returned to the charts, and by the 1980s he was concentrating mostly on live appearances. Martino, whose elegant vocal style owed much more to Perry Como than to Al Jolson—his two foremost influences—passed away in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in 2009, just a few days after his 82nd birthday.

Martino cut his holiday album, A Merry Christmas, for Capitol in 1964, about a year after recording "I Love You Because." The brief liner notes remind us that there are two kinds of Yuletide melodies: "the gay new tunes from the popularity parades of seasons recently passed, reflecting the high spirits that make Christmas truly merry" and "the traditional carols, beautiful and reverent, that remind us of the deeper meanings the Christmas season holds for all humanity." The point here, of course, is that Martino sings both types of songs, and in fact, the album is extremely well balanced, featuring the former kind of tunes on the first side and the latter kind on the second side. The sensitive arrangements by Peter DeAngelis are also shaped by a sense of balance. On more modern Christmas songs like "You're All I Want for Christmas," "White Christmas," and "I'll Be Home for Christmas," they are beautifully restrained, full of pleasant strings and harps and complete with unobtrusive choirs. We can hear this restraint even on children's tunes like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." But then, when it comes to approaching the older carols, such as "The Little Drummer Boy," "Silent Night," "O Holy Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful," DeAngelis accordingly becomes more serious and his arrangements sometimes border on the grandiose. Martino's singing is never less than superb throughout, and although one finds no surprises here, this is a lovely Christmas album that is awaiting rediscovery—and does deserve it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Guest Reviewer: Patti Page's New Box Set Featuring Her Lang-Worth Transcriptions, by Robert Nickora

The British label Jasmine Records has undertaken the reissue of an important part of the recorded catalog of singer Patti Page in the last few years. After releasing two four-CD box sets of studio recordings—Near to You in 2011 and Another Place, Another Time in 2013—they have just made available a third set, which, besides more of Page's studio work, includes for the first time ever the complete library of transcription recordings that she made for the Lang-Worth company in the early 1950s. Known for their rarity, these are very interesting sides because they often find Page at her jazziest and accompanied by a small group of excellent musicians. Robert Nickora, who is responsible for compiling and annotating all three Patti Page sets, has kindly agreed to write a review of the latest one in the series, entitled There Is No Greater Love. We appreciate Mr. Nickora's willingness to share his insights into these recordings with the readers of The Vintage Bandstand.

Jasmine Records JASCD 34-4

Producing the Patti Page collection, THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE, was very challenging and time consuming, but exceptionally enjoyable.  I worked with these recordings for more than a year prior to the release of the set.  As a result of the sales and strong reception of Jasmine’s earlier Page box sets – NEAR TO YOU: Celebrating a Career…Defining Class (JASBOX 24-4) and ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE (JASBOX 30-4) – I had already completed a third volume that combined Mercury and Columbia material, and was planning to pitch it to Jasmine Records for release consideration when an opportunity arose to compile and program the Lang-Worth Transcriptions.  These rare gems were offered to me on loan by Robert Bowling, Patti’s friend and founder of “The Patti Page Appreciation Society.”  I reworked the large set, omitting half of the material and replacing it with the Lang-Worth songs and intros.

Countless hours were involved in listening to all the material (three choices per track in some instances) and determining the very best disc transfer to submit for re-mastering.  The brief introductions Patti recorded were pressed on two separate discs with no labeling to indicate which intro would correspond with an appropriate track. These intros were very slightly edited in the final Jasmine project, creating a fine complement to the set.

The Lang-Worth Transcriptions were initially issued to select radio stations for local programming, and were never intended to be made available for sale in music stores. Some department stores, however, were later given access to these recordings, and they were utilized as background music (similar to what is sometimes referred to as elevator music).  I worked directly from the unique 8” discs that resembled the later EPs (popular with the record-buying public in the mid-‘50s).  These recordings were also available to radio stations in a 16” disc format. 

The administration at Lang-Worth recognized the rising popularity of Patti Page when her first million-seller, “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming,” began climbing the charts.  There was mention of this new association in the December 1949 issue of Billboard, with the first recording date occurring in January 1950 and the final twelve tracks completed in March 1952.  Ensemble musicians included Lou Stein (piano), Joe Sinacore (guitar), and Stanley Kay (percussion), and accompaniments were occasionally augmented with full orchestra.  The repertoire chosen was a collaborative effort by Patti Page; her personal manager, Jack Rael, who supervised all sessions; and Lang-Worth; the scripted intros were provided by Lang-Worth writers.

Many of the Lang-Worth songs were later recorded for Mercury employing fuller and more sophisticated orchestrations.  Patti’s style began to evolve after Lang-Worth, and it appeared she felt secure in taking a few liberties with the melody lines in such later tracks as “East of the Sun,” “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” “Where Are You,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and others. A few of the lesser-known songs such as “There’s Something in the Wind,” “Accent on Youth,” and “Tormented” have become my personal favorites.  Her rendition of “The Prisoner’s Song” (with simple guitar accompaniment) might very well be the most sensitive and impressive interpretation of this classic country song.

It was a pleasure to select the fifty-five tracks from Patti Page’s vast Mercury library (many of which come from “The Great American Songbook”) for the first two discs.  A few, such as “Basin Street Blues,” “Paradise,” “Did I Remember,” “Every Day,” and “Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine,” were new discoveries.  The exemplary re-mastering of the entire set by Tall Order Mastering is especially noteworthy.  The crisp fidelity of “The Tennessee Waltz” LP on Disc Two is particularly impressive.
Very special words of appreciation go to Timothy Akers, Patti Page’s great-nephew and devoted fan, for providing details regarding all information related to the Lang-Worth Transcriptions and the names of specific musicians involved in these historic recordings.

Robert Nickora
Thanksgiving Day 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Interview with Singer Nancy Harrow on New CD Reissue: "The Beatles' songs should be considered part of the standard jazz songbook."

Though, of course, whole albums of compositions by the Beatles had been recorded before by the likes of Count Basie (Basie's Beatle Bag, 1966) and Sarah Vaughan (Songs of the Beatles, 1981), to name but two, Nancy Harrow's The Beatles and Other Standards is one of the few records that offer a mixture of songs by the Liverpool lads along with standards written by some of the foremost tunesmiths who created what we now know as the Great American Songbook. This is, perhaps, the only album that includes both Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" and Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," in an attempt to show that the jazz world can benefit as much from Tin Pan Alley as from the British Invasion. And, in a way, Harrow also helps prove something of which there is really very little doubt: that the songs the Beatles wrote and made popular in the 1960s are as timeless as those that Ned Washington, Victor Young, Johnny Mercer, and Vincent Youmans composed just a few decades before.

Harrow's collection of Songbook and Beatles standards was recorded in New York City in 1989 and originally released in Japan the following year. On the two sessions that were needed to complete the album, the vocalist was accompanied by a group of fine musicians led by pianist Sir Roland Hanna and including Bill Easley (saxophone, flute, and clarinet), George Mraz (bass), Grady Tate (drums), and Turkish-American percussionist Arto Tunçboyaciyan. Produced by John Snyder, this project evolved out of a close collaboration between Harrow and Hanna, who encouraged the singer every step of the way and acted as musical director. Harrow is obviously on her home turf with the standards, some of which ("My Foolish Heart," "More Than You Know") are beautiful vocal-piano duets with Hanna. The usually haunting "Nature Boy" benefits from a great flute introduction by Easley, and Harrow's cabaret-like approach to "When the World Was Young" is very appropriate and turns that track into one of the most memorable on the set.

Drummer Grady Tate
Adapting tunes by the Beatles to the jazz idiom is always a challenge, but Harrow more than rises to it throughout the album. Her version of "Drive My Car" is infectiously swinging (Easley and Hanna shine on saxophone and piano, respectively), and "Got to Get You Into My Life" is stripped of all its Motown overtones and turned into a ballad. Harrow reinvents "Yesterday" and "Something," emphasizing their torch-like qualities. They are both punctuated by Tate's drumming, and Tunçboyaciyan's persussion stands out on the former. "Blackbird" and "Because" are two of the most intimate performances on the album, and "Here Comes the Sun" is given a very appealing smooth-jazz treatment. Overall, this is a very artistically successful album that proves that a good song is good no matter who wrote it or when, as well as showing that a good jazz treatment of a Beatles song can be as satisfying as any tried-and-true jazz standard.

As soon as I heard of the reissue of The Beatles and Other Standards, I dropped Nancy Harrow a line, and she promptly and graciously responded, agreeing to an interview for The Vintage Bandstand. The following interview originated as part of our correspondence, and in it Harrow offers some interesting insights into the concept and the recording of this album.

Anton Garcia-Fernandez (for The Vintage Bandstand): How did you come up with the concept of a jazz album of Beatles songs and classic standards? What does the music of the Beatles have in common with the music of Johnny Mercer, Jerome Kern, and Vincent Youmans?

Nancy Harrow: I had recorded one Beatles tune before this album was done. It was on my Street of Dreams album that I did with Bob Brookmeyer, and the tune was "Fixing A Hole." It came out very well, and in fact that tune became part of my working repertoire.  So I began to listen to more of the Beatles tunes which I knew from my sons' record collection.  I liked their lyrics and the humor in a lot of the songs, and it occurred to me to pair the tunes with known standards to show that they should be considered part of the standard songbook that jazz musicians draw on.  At that time many jazz musicians were openly hostile to the Beatles' music, I think because they were putting them out of business. In any case, it was difficult to persuade musicians I knew to do an album like the one I envisioned.  But Roland Hanna was not judgmental about anything in music, and he agreed to do the album with me.

TVB: How did you select the songs for the album? Was it a difficult process?

Ms. Harrow: I selected the songs in the same way I always select songs.  I look for lyrics that are meaningful to me and for melodies that linger in the mind.

TVB: What aspects did you find challenging as you adapted these songs by Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison? Did you approach the standards and the Beatles tunes differently?

Ms. Harrow: The standards came more naturally to me, but the Beatles tunes were a challenge to sing in my own style rather than in theirs.  And this was made much easier for me because Roland was playing them.  The way we did them evolved during our rehearsal sessions.

Pianist Sir Roland Hanna
TVB: The album was cut in New York City in two sessions in May 1989. Jazz greats such as pianist Sir Roland Hanna, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Grady Tate were on hand for the date. What memories do you have of those sessions?

Ms. Harrow: I remember our rehearsal sessions even more than the recording session.  Roland was in a Broadway musical at the time, and we were rehearsing somewhere near the theatre because his time was limited.  I particularly remember his influence when we were rehearsing "Drive My Car," because we were both amused by the humor of this tune, and Roland suggested I say "and maybe I'll luhve you" -- not sure you can get this from my spelling, but you can hear it on the CD.  At the session, I remember Grady's suggestions about improvising on the lyric, which were helpful to me.  This was the first of many albums I did with both Roland and Grady together.  I also worked with Bill Easley and George Mraz on other projects, and did a club date with Arto Tunçboyacian afterwards. They are all great musicians, and I'm so glad this CD is now reaching audiences outside of Japan.

Bassist George Mraz
TVB: The album was originally released in 1990 by Emarcy for the Japanese market, where your work has always been very well received...

Ms. Harrow: John Snyder was the producer of this album, but it proved to be a difficult sell to record companies in the U.S.  I sent it to a record company in Japan who had released other CDs of mine, and they took it right away.  It turned out to be quite successful in Japan, and actually has had two releases there.  But no one until now has reissued it and distributed it worldwide.  I am so glad that Jordi Pujol [owner of Fresh Sound Records] has done that, because there are several songs on the CD that are among my favorite recordings.  I like the duets with Roland on "My Foolish Heart" and "More Than You Know" (Roland has a great solo on that tune), and I like "Drive My Car" and "When the World Was Young."  Roland's arrangement of "Yesterday" I think is terrific.  So I am very pleased it is finding a wider audience at last.

TVB: In your opinion, what is appealing to Japanese audiences about jazz? What is special to you about performing in Japan?

Ms. Harrow: The Japanese audiences are amazing.  I didn't actually perform there when this CD came out.  But in 2006, 2007, and 2008 I had club dates and a concert in Japan, and they did a Japanese version of my puppet show, Maya the Bee, which toured for two years in Japan.  The audiences there are so warm and welcoming -- it was a unique and wonderful experience to be there.

TVB: The European label Fresh Sound Records, of Barcelona, Spain, has shown interest in reissuing your work. A few years ago they released two of your 1960s albums, the excellent Wild Women Don't Have the Blues and You Never Know. Are there any plans for further releases in the near future?

Ms. Harrow: It was a surprise when Fresh Sound in Barcelona reissued my first two albums in one CD.  I didn't realize that in Europe the CDs become public domain after fifty years.  But it was such a pleasant surprise, because they did such a beautiful job on the CDs.  I just met Jordi Pujol a few weeks ago when I was in Barcelona.  We had only corresponded before that.  I am so happy to have found a new home for my early CDs, and now this Beatles album.  The next one they will release is The John Lewis Album for Nancy Harrow, which will be done very soon.  And there are plans ahead to do my Street of Dreams album as well, which has gone out of print.  So this is a very happy new relationship.

Further information

To read more about the reissue of The Beatles and Other Standards, you can go here. If you would like to purchase the CD, you will find it here. Fresh Sound Records also released two of Nancy Harrow's 1960s albums not long ago, and you can access my review of that reissue here. Finally, more information about Nancy Harrow is available on her homepage.

Nancy Harrow in the studio in the 1960s with John Lewis amd Jim Hall (photo originally published in JazzWax)