Rod surprised me…

…with his Merry Christmas, Baby holiday album release (Verve) … it’s actually pretty darned good! This came as news to me so it seemed apropos to land this mini review in the VS News section.

I have nothing but respect for Rod Stewart. The attention, appreciation and new listeners he’s brought to the Great American Songbook is a beautiful thing.

That said, Rod’s raspy interpretations of the standards have been largely lost on me (no surprise to regular VS readers, assuming you exist) with his high “gravel & smoke” vocal style firmly set in the ’70’s rock scene of my personal music perspective … think “Maggie May”, “Mandolin Wind” and the like.

Ray shamed me…

My trombone wielding buddy Ray, rang me up gushing about how much he liked Rod’s new release … really? I gave the LP a cursory listen and then I played my typical “I can’t get my head around Rod singing the standards” card and moved on … cold heartless bastard that I am.

But then, while stuck in traffic and really not wanting to spurn by changing the channel, I actually LISTENED to a few tracks off the album as they came lilting across the radio waves and a funny thing happened … I, uh, liked it. Weird, I know, right! [Read more…]


With the best of intentions…

…I set out to this week to write a post on the top five American Songbook duet teams.

Over the last twenty or so years of listening, I’ve formed some opinions and settled on a few favorite duet practitioners … I figured, how hard could it be to apply a bit of scientific research to winnow the field down a bit, do a few hours of critical listening and net out a tidy top five list? The answer … real hard; like crazy, stupid hard.

A fools errand…

I waded into the research phase of the effort and realized almost immediately two important things…

First, there are simply too many quality duet teams to realistically net out a top five (or ten) list over the course of a few days research. There are so many great artist pairings, songs, styles, albums … material.

Like the Ella Sings… Songbook albums that I decided to review in serial fashion to accommodate the size and scope of that material, I think any attempt at a comprehensive discussion of duet teams likewise needs to roll out as a series (one that I am indeed tooling into my content plan for the holidays and into the Spring of 2013).

On the other hand…

As my research effort was leading me inexorably to the “this needs to be more than one post” conclusion, I was also struck by another duo truism: though it may be nigh on impossible to cull a top 5 list in a timely fashion, I think it IS possible to call the ball on a clear #1 duet team.

In my opinion, the top duo singing act of all time is Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong … and I don’t think it’s really even close. [Read more…]


As I mentioned in ‘The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books’ post last week, I will review each of the eight album releases in that box set over the next few weeks as a series. First up, The Cole Porter Song Book…

The perfect place to start…

Not long after arriving at Verve Records in the mid 50’s, Ella Fitzgerald and Verve founder Norman Granz began rolling out what would become their definitive series of composer/songwriter Song Book releases.

Granz’s decision to kick things off with Cole Porter is an understandable testament to Porters fundamental place as a songwriter in American popular music.

Born to midwest wealth before the turn of the 20th century, Porter shunned the expected family business path expected of him to pursue music and song writing.

And what a wonderful decision that was!

Hitting his stride in the 1930’s, Cole Porter wrote hundreds of standards classics — mostly for broadway and later for the movies — that became huge hits in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s for folks like Ella, Sinatra and just about every other singer of the era. [Read more…]


For some crazy reason…

…the folks at Decca Records let Ella Fitzgerald get away in 1955.

In his excellent A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers book, Will Friedwald theorizes that the Decca folks were showing deference to their star, but in an age when studios and record labels managed their talent with an iron fist it still seems odd to me.

Regardless, after selling ~22 million records for Decca, Ella partnered up with Norman Granz at his new Verve record label and began a collaboration that would last for decades and render arguably the best vocal jazz/standards recordings of all time.

Scores of Fitzgerald/Verve LP releases  — including some of the absolute best live/jam recordings I’ve ever heard — would follow but it’s the eight Song Book albums that came on the heels of Ella’s arrival at Verve that enchant me so. [Read more…]


Smash star – Megan Hilty…

… will swing with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center on November 23-24 in a show titled Luck Be a Lady: Megan Hilty Sings Sinatra and More (NSO event link). 

Apparently Seth MacFarlane was set for shows on those days but had to cancel out … I really like Seth and his foray into the American songbook, but Megan is a fabulous singer and MUCH easier on the eyes!

In addition to paying tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack (Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr.), Hilty — former Broadway musical star from Wicked, 9 to 5 and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — will perform from the catalog of Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James. Wow … what a show.

Man this sounds like a kick…

After seeing a superb concert with Natalie Cole and the Austin Symphony Orchestra earlier this year, I really wish I had room in the VS schedule to dial in Megan’s Luck Be a Lady event. But with the late notice … I don’t think I can make it happen.

Bad for me … but good for you if you’re able to be in the D.C. area leading up to Thanksgiving time. With tickets very reasonably priced in the $20 – $85 range this looks like not only a great event, but a steal as well. GO!