Monday, December 8, 2014

Bandstand Christmas Essentials 3: Jo Stafford's Christmas Recordings

It is that time of year again, and as usual in the month of December, The Vintage Bandstand features a few articles about Christmas music. This third installment of the Bandstand Christmas Essentials concentrates on two very enjoyable albums by Jo Stafford—the compilation of 1950s recordings Happy Holidays: I Love the Winter Weather and her Capitol album The Joyful Season, originally released in 1964. Just like pretty much anything ever sung by Stafford, these are two worthwhile additions to any Christmas music collection.

Known for her perfect pitch and for being one of the favorite singers of servicemen during World War II, Jo Stafford is also one of the most interesting postwar pop vocalists, undoubtedly because of a singing style that mixed sweetness and sentiment with jazzy nuances. This is already apparent in her early 1940s recordings with Tommy Dorsey, both as a featured "girl singer" and as a member of the hugely popular vocal group The Pied Pipers. And for anyone who still may doubt her stature as a jazz vocalist, there is also Jo + Jazz, her outstanding jazz-inflected LP cut in 1960. But the objective of today's post is not to make a case for Stafford as a jazz singer, but rather to take a look at the exceptional Yuletide recordings that she made in the 1950s and '60s, which are readily available on two CDs that any serious classic pop aficionado should own.

The first of them is Happy Holidays (Corinthian Records, 1999), a collection of twenty-two songs that are loosely linked by their wintry theme. While some of them ("June in January," "Hanover Winter Song," "Let It Snow") explicitly mention the winter season, others simply evoke a setting that suggests the need to stay cozily indoors enjoying the warmth of a crackling fireplace (like Jo herself on the cover of this release), as is the case with "By the Fireside," "The Nearness of You," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," and "Moonlight in Vermont." This is possibly the main reason for the subtitle of the CD, I Love the Winter Weather, which is also a reference to Stafford's outstanding version of the tune "Winter Weather," which is also included. And then, of course, there are also plenty of Christmas songs, both traditional and more modern, such as "Sleigh Ride," "The Christmas Song," "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Silent Night," to name but four. One of the gems in the collection is the old traditional hymn "I Wonder as I Wander," which Stafford sings in a highly melancholy way that befits the song perfectly. Most of the tracks were recorded in the mid 1950s, and the arrangements by Paul Weston, Stafford's husband and lifelong musical partner, are as classy and thoughtful as usual. Weston's studio orchestra includes fine musicians such as Ted Nash, Babe Russin, and Ziggy Elman, and both The Starlighters and the Norman Luboff Choir lend choral support to the proceedings.

Almost a decade later, in 1964, when Stafford was slowly retiring from the music business, she entered the Capitol studios to cut The Joyful Season (DRG Records, 2005), a delightful classic that would become one of the last albums of her career. This time the idea was that Stafford would overdub her own voice several times, in the manner of the Les Paul and Mary Ford hit records of the 1950s, in order to create the illusion that she was singing as part of a vocal group. And, as Will Friedwald observes in the liner notes to the CD reissue, the idea was successful:

The overall result is a unique sound that combines the passion and the power of the sacred with the excitement and the energy of the secular—and a mighty welcome stocking-stuffer indeed.

Weston is again handling the arrangements, which are rather subdued so that Stafford's multi-tracked voice shines brightly on absolutely every song, and the tunes cover a wide range of Christmas music, from sacred hymns to modern Christmas pop songs to two songs newly written by Weston with Alan and Marilyn Bergman—the lovely "Merry Christmas" and "Christmas Is the Season." The CD release includes two tracks not on the original album ("Gesu Bambino" and "Ave Maria"), as well as two marvelous Christmas medleys on which Stafford teams up with Gordon MacRae. The disc closes with "Toys for Tots," which Stafford recorded for the Marine Corps, and the whole collection stands as G.I. Jo's most enduring contribution to the Christmas pop canon.

Jo Stafford and her husband, arranger Paul Weston, in the early 1950s

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bing Crosby: An American Master Rediscovered in a New Documentary

American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered, the new documentary on Bing Crosby's life and career that aired last night on PBS (and which my wife and I watched on their northwest Tennessee affiliate, WLJT) has a clearly revisionist agenda. And that, in the case of Crosby, is not just fine but absolutely necessary, for two main reasons. First of all, because of the infamous books published in the 1980s that consistently slandered his name and negatively affected his invaluable legacy, one of which was written by one of his own sons, Gary Crosby. And then, and just as importantly, because Crosby's importance as a cultural icon and musical innovator is often downplayed, the public at large regarding him merely as a singer of seasonal songs come the month of December. And this is precisely why the title of this documentary, embraced by the Crosby estate (wife Kathryn Crosby and their sons, Harry and Nathaniel, and daughter, Mary, have participated actively in the project), is so appropriate. Crosby is, indeed, an indisputable American master, and his legacy needs to be rediscovered and presented to younger generations that may never be exposed to him otherwise.

Rosemary Clooney and Crosby recording a radio show
All in all, the documentary succeeds in casting a different light on Crosby's legacy, and it is at once informative and entertaining, fast-paced and thoughtful in the way that it portrays Crosby's larger-than-life career and achievements. It benefits not only from the input of the Crosby family but also from interviews conducted with jazz critic and Crosby biographer Gary Giddins, singer and Crosby devotee Michael Feinstein, British producer Ken Barnes (who worked with Bing extensively in the 1970s), and also Tony Bennett, who throws in some interesting comments and memories of how much of an early influence Crosby was on his own singing style. Moreover, there are audio and video clips of old interviews with son Gary, early musical partner Al Rinker, bandleading brother Bob Crosby, and friend and duet partner Rosemary Clooney, among others. And then, of course, there is also a multitude of snippets showing the man himself in action, taken from movies, radio and television appearances, and interviews, as well as dozens of pictures, some interesting home movies, and Dictabelt tape reels that contain recordings of Crosby dictating personal letters. All of this contributes to painting a well-rounded picture of Crosby as a man and as an artist, two facets of his personality that have been long intertwined and difficult to untangle.

Bing and Kathryn Crosby in the 1970s
And this is precisely one of the positive aspects of the documentary: its insistence on underscoring the fact that there was a difference between Crosby's public persona—that is, the way that the public perceived him through his work—and his private self, and its claim that Bing should not be chastised for it. Indeed, that is the way it is with most artists and most people in general, but in the case of Crosby, his difficult relationship with his sons from his marriage to his first wife, Dixie Lee, as well as the gossip-column attitude of many who chronicled said marriage, has resulted in an unfair, slandering treatment of the man. Bing Crosby Rediscovered is determined to set the record straight, offering a portrait of Crosby as a complex yet loving and caring family man who made pretty much the same choices, both right and wrong, when it came to raising his kids as most of the parents of his generation. Throughout the interviews shown in the documentary, his sons, daughter, and second wife, Kathryn, provide new approaches to Crosby the family man, trying to understand the kind of values he upheld and thereby completing and attenuating the grossly one-sided picture that one gets from books such as Gary's Going My Own Way and Donald Shepherd and Robert Slatzer's Bing Crosby: The Hollow Man.

Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong
Even more importantly, the documentary concentrates on the many avenues of showbusiness and American culture on which Crosby made an indelible mark (records, films, radio, television) and emphasizes his perhaps lesser-known roles in funding the research into audio and videotape, as a philanthropist, as a morale-booster during World War II, and as a Civil Rights supporter. One aspect of Crosby's contribution to popular music that is illustrated very effectively is the new approach to phrasing that he introduced, aided by the invention of the microphone, when his career began in the late 1920s and early '30s. This is shown by comparing three different versions of the Depression-era classic "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," sung by Rudy Vallee, Al Jolson, and Crosby. The comparison of snippets of the three records clearly demonstrates Bing's new, coolly relaxed approach to phrasing, proving that, as Michael Feinstein rightly argues, he was several decades ahead of his time even this early in his career. While there is basically very little in the documentary that a well-informed Crosby fan does not already know, the project is notable for its entertainment value and for the wealth of information on Crosby that it offers to a potential new generation of admirers. There is simply a great deal still to discover about the story of Bing Crosby, and this documentary is a fine place to start for anyone interested in his work or in popular music and jazz of the highest order.

Audio and Video Releases

The documentary American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered is available on DVD, and so is its companion soundtrack CD. Further recent CD reissues from Bing Crosby Enterprises include the compilation Bing Crosby Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook and the expanded editions of Some Fine Old Chestnuts and Songs I Wish I Had Sung... the First Time Around.

Bing conversing with David Bowie during the taping of Bing's last Christmas special in 1977

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Monica Zetterlund, the First Lady of Swedish Jazz

My friend Guy Jones, who lives with his family in Stockholm, Sweden, and is the president of the fan club of pianist Jan Lundgren (check out the fan club's excellent website here), recently sent me a copy of Monica Zetterlund's Waltz for Debby, a masterpiece that the Swedish songstress cut in 1964 with the Bill Evans  Trio. And Guy's generosity has prompted me to write a brief piece about Ms. Zetterlund, a classy vocalist who, despite her legendary status in Sweden, unfortunately remains a rather obscure figure in the United States.

Pianist Bill Evans did not record with too many singers throughout his career. Of course, there are the two wonderful albums he cut with Tony Bennett in the 1970s—The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album and Together Again—which are classics and must be counted among the best work in the discographies of both men. But in August of 1964, more than ten years before he stepped into the studio with Bennett, Evans and his Trio teamed up with Swedish vocalist Monica Zetterlund for an album entitled Waltz for Debby, which was recorded in Stockholm during one of Evans's European sojourns. By this time, Zetterlund was already a star in Sweden and had already performed in the United States, and as we can hear in Waltz for Debby, her soft, at times almost ethereal voice was tailor-made for the pensive atmosphere that Evans and the Trio created at these sessions.

Zetterlund in 1959
Zetterlund had been born Eva Monica Nilsson in the town of Hagfors on September 20, 1937, and soon fell in love with the American jazz and pop that she heard on the radio, attempting to learn the lyrics to some of the songs phonetically, since at first she did not speak English. By the late 1950s, she started to perform and record with some important Swedish jazz musicians, including Arne Domnérus, and although she also sang Swedish folk songs and even classical music, her repertoire leaned heavily toward jazz. Over the years she would work with some of the most notable names on the Scandinavian jazz scene (Domnérus, Jan Johansson, Svend Asmussen, Georg Riedel, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen) as well as with great American names such as Thad Jones, Stan Getz, Louis Armstrong, and Zoot Sims. She often adapted jazz standards into the Swedish language, and in fact, the song with which she will be forever associated, "Sakta Vi Gå Genom Stan," is a cover of the evergreen "Walkin' My Baby Back Home." Her version in Swedish, though, is a beautiful paean to the city of Stockholm and remains one of the most popular songs about the Swedish capital ever recorded, to such an extent that many Swedish listeners may have forgotten that it is actually an American tune originally written by Tin Pan Alley composers Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert in 1930. Of course, Zetterlund often recorded in English, but her popularity in Sweden rested on her Swedish renditions of hits such as "Hit the Road, Jack," "Little Green Apples," "Waltz for Debby," and even Sting's "Moon over Bourbon Street," adapted into Swedish as "Måne över Stureplan."

Bill Evans and Monica Zetterlund


Zetterlund's popularity was such that in 1963 she was chosen as the Swedish entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, singing the ballad "En gång i Stockholm," yet another song about her beloved capital city. Unfortunately, jazz ballads were not the kind of fare that went over well at such a commercial songfest, and so Zetterlund came out last and without any votes, which in view of the quality of the song, is really a shame. Starting in the 1960s, Zetterlund diversified her activities and began to appear on television and in movies, even earning a Guldbagge Award for her work in Jan Troell's 1971 film The Emigrants (Utvandrama, originally distributed in the U.S. by Warner Bros.), in which she was cast alongside Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow. Unfortunately, Zetterlund suffered from scoliosis, a degenerative disease that affected her spine and made it difficult for her to move and tour regularly, so that by the end of her life she was forced to sit down during her performances. When she died at age 67 in 2005, following a fire that broke out in her apartment in Stockholm, the New York Times ran a brief obituary that recognized her as "a jazz singer and actress who was one of Sweden's best-known performers." Quite an understatement for someone who, like Zetterlund, epitomizes Swedish jazz singing.

Though she made several highly recommended records, some of which are not hard to find in the United States (Swedish Sensation, Lost Tapes, and It Only Happens Every Time are but three good examples), Waltz for Debby is the album that anyone willing to discover Zetterlund's music should own first. As already noted, her softly melancholic voice blends perfectly with Bill Evans's lyrical piano style, and the support from bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Larry Bunker is superb. Among the ten songs that make up the LP we can find excellent readings of such standards as "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Once Upon a Summertime," "It Could Happen to You," and "Some Other Time," along with lesser-known tunes from the Harold Arlen ("So Long, Big Time") and Betty Comden - Adolph Green songbooks ("Lucky to Be Me"). Then the album also contains three Swedish gems: the traditional songs "Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa" and "Vindarna Sucka Uti Skogarna," and Olle Adolphson's "Om Natten," all three sung with a delicacy that is Zetterlund's trademark. Finally, the Swedish-language version of the title track as "Monicas Vals" is one of the most memorable renditions ever recorded of Evans's beautiful waltz and offers clear proof of Zetterlund's uncanny ability to sing jazz in her mother tongue. Reissued on CD by Universal in 2001 (in a superbly sounding edition that includes the lyrics and reprints the original liner notes in Swedish) and then again by Verve in 2006, this album is a perfect introduction to Zetterlund's music, and it will undoubtedly have any first-timers looking for more of her wonderful stuff.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Unsung Vocalists of the Past 5: Elmer Feldkamp

One of our readers recently left a comment on a post about vocalist Dick Robertson that we published a couple of years ago, requesting a similar article about Elmer Feldkamp, a singing reedman who recorded quite often with some name bands in the 1920s and '30s but about whom not much is known. In fact, not even a single promotional picture of Feldkamp seems to have survived. I accepted the challenge and set about piecing together as much information as I could find about Feldkamp, with some invaluable help from a handful of fellow vintage jazz enthusiasts from the British Dance Bands Yahoo Group, to whom I am extremely grateful. Here is, then, a brief sketch about the largely unknown life of Elmer Feldkamp.

From the 1920s on it became common practice to feature brief vocal refrains on many dance band records, which proved so successful with the public that by the 1930s there were several singers, such as Dick Robertson and Chick Bullock, to name but two, who restricted their work to the recording studio and did not see the need to tour or appear live on stage. This was, however, not the case with Elmer Feldkamp, who besides providing vocals for recordings by the bands of Bert Lown, Roger Wolfe Kahn, and Freddy Martin, was also highly regarded as a saxophone and clarinet player with those orchestras and even got to front his own outfit for a time and star on radio. Despite his popularity in the late 1920s and all through the '30s, his career was tragically cut short by his death in 1938, and today he remains an extremely obscure figure whose recordings have not been reissued on CD, except for a few of the sides he cut as a sideman and band vocalist. As a matter of fact, before setting out to write this post, all I knew about Feldkamp was that he was the featured singer on some of the tracks included in a Bert Lown CD compilation released by the Old Masters label a few years back.

Bandleader Bert Lown
Born into a musical family in New Jersey on April 8, 1902, to German parents, Elmer Feldkamp quickly showed an interest in music. as did his brother Walter, a successful pianist with whom Elmer would team up at various times throughout his rather brief career, at one point in 1932 even duetting with him on piano on radio. Another one of his brothers, Fred, became popular as a journalist and author and was founding editor of For Men Only, a famous men's magazine first published in the late 1930s. Elmer learned to play clarinet and saxophone at college, and by 1927 he had formed his own band, Elmer Feldkamp and His Churchill Downs Orchestra, which took the name from the hotel in Kentucky where the band was headquartered and from where it broadcast regularly. The gig did not last long, though, because by the end of the decade, Feldkamp had joined the popular orchestra led by Bert Lown at New York's Biltmore Hotel, playing the clarinet and providing vocal refrains for several of the band's Columbia and Victor recordings. Besides cutting records with Lown, in 1930 Feldkamp was also featured on his own radio show, Morning Melody, which aired on station WEAF, in New York. Throughout 1930 and 1931, he recorded with several studio-only orchestras on ARC/Brunswick and also joined Fred Rich, with whom he made a few sides, as well as some regular broadcasting.

The Freddy Martin Orchestra in the 1930s. Elmer Feldkamp is said to be on the front row, far right

Then in early 1932 Feldkamp made a major career move by joining the Freddy Martin orchestra, where he would remain for the rest of his career playing the alto sax and the clarinet, as well as contributing vocals. He did not seem to have an exclusive contract with Martin, though, since during this time he also recorded with his brother Walter and with Roger Wolfe Kahn, and he also cut some discs for Crown Records in 1932 and 1933 under his own name as the leader of a studio group that was made out of a few of Martin' sidemen. An ad for a Vicks-sponsored radio series starring Freddy Martin called Vicks' Open House, inserted in the Philadelphia Enquirer in October 1934, attests to Feldkamp's popularity within the ranks of the Martin orchestra, as his name appears right under the bandleader's, and he is billed as a "popular baritone." Also in 1934, Feldkamp appeared on the air as the regular vocalist with Merle Johnston, and after that, besides his work with Freddy Martin, we begin to lose track of his activities. That is, of course, until his untimely death from heart failure on September 27, 1938. A quick look at Feldkamp's death certificate shows that he suffered from several illnesses, including appendicitis, peritonitis, and a heart condition, any of which could have caused his sudden death. Yet, surprisingly, an obituary note published in the New York Evenibg Star on October 5, 1938, seems to suggest that there may have been a darker side to Feldkamp's personality. The news report reads as follows:

Elmer Feldkamp was the vocalist for Freddie Martin's orchestra. His brother, Walter Feldkamp, conducts his own orchestra and furnished the music at the Stork Club last year. Another brother, Fred Feldkamp, edits the magazine for men [For Men Only]. And so Elmer felt himself overshadowed by his brother's [sic] accomplishments, but vowed that some day he'd be a national figure. The current issue of Collier's, the national magazine, has a swing-music story called "Cats Love Music." One of the leading characters in the story is Elmer Feldkamp. But the youngster never read the story. He died in San Francisco last Tuesday.

Whether Feldkamp's inferiority complex regarding his brothers Walter and Fred was a figment of the anonymous writer of this piece or not, the truth is that Feldkamp did not really have a reason to feel overshadowed by his siblings. A fine musician and vocalist, he recorded with some of the top bands of the '20s and '30s, and his music, though sadly neglected by CD reissue companies, deserves to be rediscovered. Some sides featuring Feldkamp, under his own name and as a provider of vocal refrains, are available at the Internet Archive, and the CD Bert Lown's Biltmore Hotel Orchestra Featuring Adrian Rollini & Tommy Felline (The Old Masters MB 105) offers a good sample of tracks that include Feldkamp, recorded for Columbia and Victor between 1930 and 1931. Feldkamp sounds self-assured and shows a good sense of timing on all his solo sides with Lown, as is the case on "I'll Be Blue, Just Thinking of You," "The Penalty of Love," "Lonesome Lover," "They Satisfy," and especially on "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," "You Call It Madness," "Sweet Summer Breeze," "I Can't Get Mississippi Off My Mind," and "Blues in My Heart." Realizing that Feldkamp's melodious baritone was perfect for harmonizing in a vocal trio, Lown used him often in such as setting with wonderful results, first as part of the Biltmore Rhythm Boys, with Paul Mason and Tommy Felline ("Under the Moon It's You," "Bye Bye Blues," "Here Comes the Sun," "Loving You the Way I Do") and later as the Biltmore Trio, with Mason and Mac Ceppos ("You're Simply Delish," "Crying Myself to Sleep," "To Whom It May Concern," "Heartaches," "When I Take My Sugar to Tea"). By 1933, Feldkamp had moved on to the Freddy Martin orchestra and had been replaced by Ted Holt, yet he made some of his best recordings during his tenure with Lown, blending perfectly into a band that included such fine musicians as Adrian Rollini, Tommy Felline, and Chauncy Gray, and playing arrangements that occasionally left space for some hot solos.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank British Dance Bands Yahoo Group members Mr. John Welch and Mr. Terry Brown for all their help with the research for this piece on Elmer Feldkamp. In particular, without the assistance of Mr. Brown, who provided me with biographical data and photographic and journalistic material, this article could never have been written, so I remain eternally grateful.

Though currently out of print, this ASV/Living Era Freddy Martin CD features some sides with Feldkamp on vocals

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

All What Blues 1: Earl Hines & Jimmy Rushing, Count Basie & Joe Williams

Author and critic Philip Larkin
In the articles that he wrote about jazz for the Daily Telegraph in the 1960s and that were gathered in the book All What Jazz: A Record Diary, British poet and writer Philip Larkin always made sure he devoted some space to reviewing blues records, thus acknowledging both the historical and musical relationship between both genres. Like any critic, Larkin had his fixations, his likes and dislikes, and while he was partial to traditional jazz from the 1920s and 1930s, more modern jazz did not sit well with him. Therefore, he remains a controversial figure in jazz criticism, despised by many who regard his jazz articles as musically conservative and excessively opinionated. Yet I have always had a soft spot for Larkin's jazz reviews, which I find highly original and often very poetic. I admit that his writing on jazz was informed by his rejection of bebop and free jazz, and I mostly disagree with him on those points, but I still find his contribution to jazz criticism valuable. I also admit that he was strongly opinionated, but then who wants to read critics who are not opinionated? I find myself going back periodically to All What Jazz and rediscovering there many records that I had long forgotten, and many of them are blues records. So today, and in Larkin's memory, we begin a new section where we will review blues and blues-influenced records. This first installment of All What Blues spotlights a rather unknown album by Earl Hines and Jimmy Rushing, as well as the first collaboration between Count Basie and Joe Williams.


In memoriam Philip Larkin 

We begin this new blues section of The Vintage Bandstand with a CD that features what, to my knowledge, is the only session that Earl Hines and Jimmy Rushing recorded together. Titled Blues & Things (New World Records, 1996), the album captures the Fatha and Mr. Five-by-Five in the studio in 1967 in the company of a Hines-led quartet comprising Budd Johnson on tenor and soprano saxophones, Bill Pemberton on bass, and Oliver Jackson on drums. This may well be one of the most obscure records of Jimmy Rushing's career, and that is perhaps because he is not actually the leader on this date, appearing mostly as a guest vocalist, and then not even on all tracks. But no matter, because this is a delightful album that finds all the participants in a very bluesy mood from start to finish. As Rushing takes his first "vocal chorus" (as the CD refers to his vocal contributions) on McHugh and Fields's "Exactly Like You," it becomes apparent that by the late 1960s his voice had not lost any of its energy, as he also demonstrates on "Am I Blue" and the closing track, a soulful rendition of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." One of the highlights of the album, though, is "Save It Pretty Mama," a good example of Rushing at his best on a slower number, aided by Hines's piano and some very beautiful sax playing from Johnson. The instrumental tracks showcase the tight sound of the best of the latter-day Hines quartets, a group of musicians that gigged together regularly and understood each other to perfection, as we can hear on standards such as "Summertime" and "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," and particularly on "Changing of the Blues," a very bluesy Hines original. This is definitely a record that is well worth rediscovering.



Though Jimmy Rushing was perhaps the most popular blues shouter to ever work with the Count Basie orchestra (after brief stints singing with bands led by Bennie Moten and Walter Page in the late 1920s), the Count also employed other blues-influenced vocalists, notably the great Joe Williams. His style possibly lacked the sheer power of Rushing (though at times he did come close) but it was certainly more polished, as evidenced on the twelve sides that make up Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings (Verve / Polygram, 1993), one of the best-selling albums in the careers of both men. When Basie and Williams first met, in Chicago in the early 1950s, the pianist/bandleader had recently hit one of the periodic low points that plagued his remarkable career. For economic reasons, he had been forced to downsize his big band and was leading a septet at the Brass Rail in the Windy City. Of course, this was not necessarily a low point in artistic terms, although it seems clear that the small-group setting was not as satisfactory to Basie as his classic swing band had been. Williams, who had sung with the likes of Jimmie Noone and Lionel Hampton, was sitting in with various combos in Chicago clubs and honing his own kind of blues singing, which definitely impressed Basie because he insisted in offering the singer a spot with his band.

Joe Williams in the 1970s
For this excellent album, Basie directed arrangers Ernie Wilkins and Frank Foster to put the accent on bluesy tunes, which is obvious in classics such as "Every Day I Have the Blues," "In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)," and "All Right, OK, You Win," perhaps the most memorable tracks on the LP. But Williams also shows his gift for singing to a boogie woogie beat on Pete Johnson and Joe Turner's "Roll 'Em Pete," and his mastery of slow ballads on Gene DePaul and Sammy Cahn's "Teach Me Tonight" and Percy Mayfield's marvelous "Please Send Me Someone to Love." The 1993 CD reissue, with new liner notes written by John Litweiler, includes three bonus tracks, featuring a swinging rendition of "Too Close for Comfort" that proves that Williams could swing with the best of them. In many ways, this landmark album revived Basie's career and single-handedly launched Williams's, and it should definitely be on the shelf of any serious jazz aficionado.