Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas with Bing, Frank, and Dick: Three Essential Voices for the Holiday Season

Now that the holiday season is approaching and that the cold winter weather is beginning to hit Martin, Tennessee, I have had some time to write some more material for the blog. And so, after a few months, I return with a few reflections on three great singers whose music is a constant presence with my wife and me every year around this time.

So pervasive is the influence of Bing Crosby on the way people worldwide perceive and imagine the holiday season that it seems almost unthinkable that there was ever a time when Bing did not warm up our holidays by crooning Irving Berlin's evocative lyrics about treetops that glisten and children who listen for sleigh bells in the snow. In fact, Crosby's soothing voice singing about a snow-covered white Christmas landscape often makes us forget that in at least half the world, the Christmas season, though perhaps still merry and bright, is not that white or that cold at all! Crosby's warm baritone has become as much a part of the Christmas tradition as Santa Claus, fir trees, and kisses under the mistletoe, and therefore, the title of a two-CD compilation of his complete Yuletide classics recorded for Decca, The Voice of Christmas, hardly sounds like an overstatement. Indeed, it is at Christmas that we are most likely to hear Crosby's voice on the radio, at the shopping mall, and anywhere that Christmas music is played, and more often than not, it will be Bing's timeless version of "White Christmas," an Irving Berlin evergreen that has proven so popular that Jody Rosen has devoted a whole book, White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, to chronicling the inception of such a prodigious hit.

The Voice of Christmas, containing Crosby's entire Christmas songbook on Decca, is certainly the perfect place to begin not only one's acquaintance with Crosby's seasonal recordings but also any Christmas music collection. Starting with Bing's earliest Christmas sides, the original 1935 versions of "Silent Night" and "Adeste Fideles" (the latter featuring Bing singing in Latin), and ending with studio cuts of tunes from the 1954 Bing Crosby-Rosemary Clooney-Danny Kaye musical White Christmas, the set is arranged roughly in chronological order and is a treasury of great Christmas recordings, both traditional and modern, well known and obscure, always brought to life by the familiar voice of Crosby in his prime. Among the lesser-known gems on here are "O Fir Tree Dark," "That Christmas Feeling," "Looks Like a Cold, Cold Winter," "The First Snowfall," and "Is Christmas Only a Tree." All the cuts in the Crosby Christmas canon are also featured, including "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Jingle Bells" (a classic duet with the Andrews Sisters), "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," "Silver Bells," and of course, "White Christmas," which is presented in four different versions. It must be remembered that Bing was a pioneer when it came to recording Christmas songs in the pop field, and although he sang countless holiday tunes on the radio and on television, and made further Christmas recordings for other labels (Capitol, for instance), his Decca sides represent the finest of his Yuletide output.

Following in Crosby's footsteps, Frank Sinatra made some impressive Christmas recordings for Columbia in the mid-1940s, originally released on the album Christmas Songs by Sinatra at a time when Young Blue Eyes was vying with Der Bingle for the title of the country's most popular singer. Graced by beautiful arrangements from Axel Stordahl, the album spotlights Sinatra's crystal-clear voice on a handful of titles that mix traditional carols ("O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Silent Night, Holy Night") with contemporary songs ("Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town"). Appropriately, the set kicks off with Sinatra's version of "White Christmas," with an arrangement in which Stordahl deliberately steers clear of the original John Scott Trotter chart for Crosby, while Sinatra successfully attempts to adapt the song to his intimate style of the 1940s. Many of the other songs that make up the album had also been recorded by Crosby for Decca, and they underscore both the differences and similarities between both vocalists at this point in time. One of the tracks, Irving Gordon and Lester Lee's wistful "Christmas Dreaming (A Little Early This Year)," stands as one of the highlights of the set, a surprisingly little-recorded gem that certainly deserves more recognition than it has garnered. Columbia reissued Christmas Songs by Sinatra on CD in 1994, with informative liner notes by Roy Hemming and some very interesting extra tracks, including several unreleased alternate takes. Many of these bonus offerings are notable because Sinatra never got around to recording them commercially: that is the case with a medley of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Joy to the World," and "White Christmas" taken from a V-Disc; a radio broadcast reading of Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria"; and a jumpy radio version of Johnny Mercer's "Winter Wonderland."

Sinatra would not record another holiday album until 1957, during his successful tenure with Capitol Records, when he released A Jolly Christmas with Frank Sinatra. The arrangements, rather restrained and beautifully simple, are provided by Gordon Jenkins this time, and with yet another mixture of traditional and more modern material, Sinatra tries to update his approach to singing seasonal tunes. As Will Friedwald observes in his study Sinatra! The Song Is You, Frank "sounds much more authoritative and majestic in his maturity" (338); this is, indeed, a much more mature effort than his Columbia Christmas sides, which is particularly evident in tracks such as "White Christmas," "Jingle Bells," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which he had already attempted in Christmas Songs by Sinatra. Jenkins's arrangements are sometimes playful, as in the opening track, a bouncy rendition of "Jingle Bells" with the backup choir chanting "I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells!" or in the Sinatra-penned "Mistletoe and Holly." But the majority of the charts tend to be slower and more introverted, as is the case with Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song," the Crosby classic "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's "The Christmas Waltz," and it is precisely on these numbers that the more mature Sinatra really shines. Undoubtedly, both albums are highly recommended, inasmuch as they both contain excellent holiday music from two starkly different periods of Sinatra's career.

Just why Dick Haymes never got around to releasing an entire album of Christmas songs, like most of his fellow contemporaries did, remains one of the most astonishing mysteries in the history of classic pop singing. Having replaced Frank Sinatra as the featured boy singer with both the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey orchestras, Haymes struck out on his own in 1943, embarking on a very successful solo career and quickly becoming one of the most popular vocalists of the 1940s. With his rich, deep voice, he distinguished himself as one of the most accomplished ballad singers of the era, yet though he occasionally cut the odd Christmas song, for some unknown reason he and his record producers never saw fit to issue an album wholly made up of seasonal favorites. Fortunately, Haymes did feature his share of Yuletide numbers in his live radio appearances, as well as on radio transcriptions, and in 2002, Ballad Records gathered nineteen of these on a CD entitled Christmas Wishes. This album clearly underscores just how unfortunate it really was that Haymes never offered his many fans a studio album of Christmas songs. The material on Christmas Wishes ranges from well-known traditional and modern carols to more obscure sacred songs and hymns, with Haymes ably accompanied by orchestras conducted by Victor Young, Carmen Dragon, and Gordon Jenkins, as well as by vocal groups like the Travis Johnson Singers, the Ken Darby Singers, and the Modernaires.

Some of the selections, such as "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "All Through the Night," and "Button Up Your Overcoat" (a charming duet with Martha Tilton), hardly qualify as Christmas songs, but they do maintain enough of a winter theme, in the manner of Dean Martin's concept album A Winter Romance, to justify their inclusion in the set. Haymes, like Sinatra, was one of the few vocalists that recorded "Christmas Dreaming" (Harry Connick, Jr., is another one, in more recent times), beautifully performed here with a very subdued arrangement courtesy of Gordon Jenkins. Haymes even attempts a Western-styled Christmas song, the lesser-known "Santa Is Ridin' the Trail," and his deep baritone shines in his excellent rendition of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" That sadly hopeful Frank Loesser classic closes a set that successfully does its part to restore Dick Haymes to the classic pop Christmas canon. It certainly makes for some very enjoyable listening: my wife, Erin, gave it to me as a Christmas present last year, and I have already lost count of the number of times that we have listened to it together!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vintage Records Review Desk 1: Frank Sinatra, Matt Dennis, June Christy & Stan Kenton, Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards

This section will feature brief critical appraisals of recently acquired CDs that have somehow caught my attention. Some of them will be new reissues of old recordings, while some others may have been re-released several years ago but only lately added to my collection. I hope readers will find the reviews helpful when looking to augment their own CD collections.

In late 1949, Frank Sinatra struck up a deal with the Lucky Strike cigarette company to start a daily fifteen-minute radio series to be called Lite-Up Time, which would remain on the air until June 1950. The eighteen tracks included in On the Radio: The Lucky Strike Lite-Up Time Shows 1949-1950 (Acrobat Records, 2008) come from shows recorded between September 1949 and March 1950, a time when Sinatra was said to be experiencing trouble with his voice, a fact which really is not apparent in these broadcasts. Backed by orchestras conducted by Jeff Alexander, Skitch Henderson, and Ziggy Elman, Sinatra shines on renditions of standards like "You Do Something to Me," "All of Me," and "I Only Have Eyes for You." Though some of the songs may not be up to Sinatra's high standards of excellence ("There's Yes Yes in Your Eyes," for all of its cuteness, is an example of this) the short Lite-Up Time broadcasts offered him a chance to duet with the sweet-voiced Dorothy Kirsten, as well as allowing for excellent solos from Elman and Bobby Hackett on "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Body and Soul" respectively. Complete with introductions and banter before and after some of the songs, this CD should be a welcome addition to any Sinatra collection.

The author of several great songs that, like "Everything Happens to Me" and "Let's Get Away from It All," Sinatra cut as early as his tenure with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Matt Dennis enjoyed a very respectable recording career in his own right. Born in Seattle into a family of musicians, Dennis not only had a gift for crafting beautiful tunes, but he also was an adept pianist with a pleasant voice, as we can hear in Welcome Matt (Jasmine Records, 2012), a recently released two-CD set that presents four complete albums that Dennis made in the 1950s. He was undoubtedly at his best in a nightclub setting, accompanied by his own piano and a small jazz combo. Two of the albums included here, Plays and Sings and Dennis, Anyone?, feature him in such a setting, performing his self-penned songs before a small live audience. The tunes range from intimate ballads ("Angel Eyes," "Violets for Your Furs," both of them recorded more than once by Ol' Blue Eyes) to witty uptempo list songs ("Will You Still Be Mine?," "We Belong Together"). Dennis excels at both types of material, and on a couple of the tracks, he is ably joined by his wife, Ginny Maxey, who had once been a member of The Modernaires.

The other two LPs included in the set move away from the intimate nightclub setting and present Dennis backed by full orchestras. The Songs of Rodgers and Hart (1955) is an interesting songbook-style album that finds the singer delving into the rich repertoire of the famous songwriting team and creating convincing readings of classic tunes such as "Dancing on the Ceiling," a bouncy "Mountain Greenery," and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." Closing the set, we find a charming concept album constructed around the motif of home and entitled Welcome Matt Dennis (1959). With classy charts by Dorsey arranger Sy Oliver, the LP mixes well-known standards with three songs written by Dennis, offering nice surprises like a beautiful version of "By the Fireside," a song associated with Al Bowlly. Given the scarcity of Matt Dennis releases on compact disc, this Jasmine set comes to fill an important void and hopefully will help stir some newfound interest in this unjustly overlooked singer who was, first and foremost, a fine songwriter.

One song written by Matt Dennis (the classic "Angel Eyes," with lyrics by Tom Adair) is precisely one of nine included in Duet (Capitol, 1993), a CD reissue of an album that pairs up Stan Kenton on piano with vocalist June Christy. Arguably one of the most unique female singers to come out of the big band era, Christy reunited with former boss Kenton, in whose band she had replaced Anita O'Day as the featured vocalist in the mid-1940s, for an LP that stands as one of the most challenging in the careers of both participants. The project, recorded over the course of four sessions in May 1955, presents Miss Christy's divinely husky voice, with its astounding ability to narrate stories in song so convincingly, sharing the spotlight with Kenton's forceful piano accompaniment, which is afforded plenty of space to shine on his own throughout the album. The result is a classic, though often neglected, record that combines standards (Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," George and Ira Gershwin's "How Long Has This Been Going On") with under-recorded gems (Joe Greene's "Come to the Party," Bobby Troup's "Just the Way I Am") that really sound special in the hands—and pipes—of the duo of Kenton and Christy. Benny Carter's "Lonely Woman," with its powerfully dramatic undertones, and "Baby, Baby All the Time," a song that came to Miss Christy's attention via her much-admired Nat King Cole, are among the many high spots of the album, the latter even prompting the singer to do her share of scatting. In his Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, critic Will Friedwald notes that the album could well have been inspired by similar collaborations between Ella Fitzgerald and Ellis Larkins, before going on to suggest that "[t]he starkness of the accompaniment and the exposed, vulnerable nature of Christy's singing effectively foreshadow Tony Bennett and Bill Evans twenty years later" (87). Though sadly out of print, this is a highly recommendable album, and its CD reissue boasts not only fine liner notes by Mr. Friedwald himself, but also two tracks ("Prelude to a Kiss" and the lovely "Thanks for You") that were left out of the original LP release.

And last but not least, a compilation that, in my opinion, is long overdue. Although most certainly unbeknownst to them, Retrieval Records answered one of my requests on this website with their latest Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards release, Fascinating Rhythm 1922-1935. Covering a period of exactly thirteen years, from February 1922 to February 1935, this excellent two-CD set includes Ukulele Ike's series of Hot Combination sessions, on which he is accompanied by the cream of jazz musicians of the 1920s and 30s, legends such as Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Fred Morrow, Dick McDonough, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Jimmy Dorsey, among others. The result of such combinations, which began to be recorded regularly in 1925, is a slew of pioneering jazz recordings full of hot solos and plenty of the kind of seminal scat singing, called "eefin'," for which Edwards was renowned. The booklet, with liner notes penned by Chris Ellis, features extensive information both on the sessions and Ukulele Ike's phenomenal career, and the set is undoubtedly a must for any serious vintage jazz aficionado.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Interview with David Bret, Author of George Formby: A Troubled Genius

Though largely unknown in the United States, even in his heyday of the 1930s and 1940s, George Formby was one of the biggest stars in the history of British entertainment. Born George Hoy Booth in the Northern English town of Wigan in 1904, Formby was the heir of a rich music-hall tradition that harks back to Victorian England. His was a very personal take on the kind of music that can be heard in the wonderful Alberto Cavalcanti movie, Champagne Charlie (1944), which spotlights the sounds of the late nineteenth-century British music-hall. In fact, before Formby himself, his father, George Formby, Sr., enjoyed a very successful career as one of the best-loved music-hall acts of his time, a career which was only cut short by his failing health. George Formby would go on to surpass his father's popularity with British audiences, and in a span of forty years, he was a favorite on the stage, on radio, and in movies. Many of his hit songs, like "When I'm Cleaning Windows," "With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock," and "With My Little Ukelele in My Hand," thrive on a kind of humor that is rife with double entendres, which often got George in trouble with the official BBC censors, who did not think that such songs were fit to be broadcast. In any case, audiences in Britain and abroad loved them and heartily welcomed Formby wherever he appeared, accompanied by his inseparable banjo-uke.

Biographer David Bret
Back in 1999, biographer David Bret published the first comprehensive book on George Formby's life and career, detailing not only his very interesting life but also his experiences in showbusiness. The book, entitled George Formby: A Troubled Genius (Robson Books), is currently out of print in the United States, but I was fortunate enough to obtain a copy, and after reading it, decided to contact Mr. Bret and ask for an interview so as to discuss the book and Formby's career. The author readily agreed to give freely of his time to answer the many questions that the reading of his work suggested. Born in France though brought up in England, Mr. Bret began writing biographies in 1987, as he tells us, "encouraged by my friend, the French chanteuse Barbara." Since then, he has presented to the reading public the life stories of legends such as Clark Gable, Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, and Doris Day, to name but a few. Being a lesser-known name when compared to these big stars, then, one might wonder what it was about George Formby that spurred the author on to write his biography. "He still has a big following in the United Kingdom," Mr. Bret replies. "And I had also previously written a biography of Gracie Fields." Doing the research for the book took the biographer several years, during which he collected a great deal of material for future use in the work. "As a biographer, I don't omit anything unless it's libelous, and as most of my subjects are dead..."

Mr. Bret's biography of George Formby is certainly a page-turner, written in a very dynamic style and full of interesting details that help us understand Formby's development both as an artist and as a person. The book also explores the singer's unusual relationship with his wife, Beryl, which sometimes looked more like a business partnership than a marital affair, and it sheds interesting light on their fundraising activities and efforts to entertain the British troops during World War II. The biography discusses at length Mr. and Mrs. Formby's open rejection of apartheid during two 1950s tours of South Africa, where they insisted, against the wishes of the authorities, on playing in front of black audiences. Their very forward stance opposing any kind of racism would, of course, cause them difficulties with the segregationist South African government, resulting in their being forced to cut short their first tour of that country and promptly return to England. I chatted about these and other aspects of George Formby's life and artistry with Mr. Bret, and now I offer the readers of The Vintage Bandstand the full contents of our conversation:

The Vintage Bandstand: Let us talk a little about Mr. Formby's career. Before George's rise to prominence, his father, George Formby, Sr., had been one of the foremost stars in British vaudeville. What role did Formby, Sr., play in his son's future vocation and subsequent career?

Mr. Bret: His father was his greatest inspiration, but the younger George superseded him, and now Formby, Sr., is almost forgotten.

TVB: George Formby's success was phenomenal in Great Britain, his native country, as well as in other places such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In your opinion, why did he not achieve a similar stature in the United States?

A studio photograph of George Formby, Sr.
Mr. Bret: Americans have a different style of humor, and most of his songs were about the North of England, which Americans wouldn't have understood or worked out. Also, his peak was his films in wartime Britain; he only came to the United States afterwards, when it was all over.

TVB: Your book shows that many London critics were extremely harsh on Mr. Formby mainly because of his northern English upbringing. Why was there at the time such an animosity against performers from the North of England?

Mr. Bret: There always has been, and to a certain extent there still is, a North/South divide, almost like your Civil War at times. For a time it was impossible to be popular in both. The South had the likes of Max Miller. Gracie Fields was the only one to bridge the gap.

TVB: We read in the book, also, that Mr. Formby was not satisfied with his movies, many of which he wished he could redo. How can you explain their enormous popularity with the viewing public of the 1930s and 1940s?

Mr. Bret: George Formby identified with ordinary people. The plots were sillyish, and he always got the girl—conquering the North/South divide. Because he was so unattractive, the ladies were snooty and posh. It wouldn't have happened in real life. Then, after the war, with the likes of James Mason and Margaret Lockwood, this type of film became outdated. People wanted romance and adventure.

TVB: Mr. Formby was a very unique stylish, a man fully capable of carrying a whole show on his shoulders. What do you thin were the secrets of his success?

Mr. Bret: The fact that what you saw was what you got—no airs or graces!

TVB: From reading your book, we get the distinct impression that Mr. Formby's marriage to his wife, Beryl, was more a business partnership than a conjugal relationship. Could you comment briefly on this?

George and Beryl Formby in 1950
Mr. Bret: This was northern England at the time—you made your bed and you had to lie on it. Few Northerners got divorced. She had her young men; he had his leading ladies. With her it was because she was attractive and a power in a man's world, where show business was concerned. He had the money! They argued a lot and were typical of their breed, but they could never have coped without each other—it was Beryl who made him.

TVB: For an artist who was so immensely popular and whose recording career lasted for about 36 years, George Formby entered the studio in comparatively few occasions. Why didn't he get around to making more commercial recordings in his lifetime?

Mr. Bret: As it happens today, he preferred to stick with the chosen formula. I would have liked him to have sung a few more serious songs, as Gracie Fields did, because he could put these over very well.

TVB: The flap of the book mentions that you are "Britain's foremost authority on the French music-hall." As an enthusiast of the French chanson myself, I have to ask you how this passion began for you...

Mr. Bret: I was brought up with it, weaned on Edith Piaf, coming from France and speaking the language. The only singers America had in that vein, in my opinion, were names like Jane Froman and Billie Holiday.

TVB: In what ways does Mr. Formby's music resemble the French music-hall? And what divergences, if any, would you point out?

Mr. Bret: His songs are in the same vein as Mayol and early Chevalier—they look at life as it really is, and they make fun of the more tragic aspects.

TVB: There are many compilations of George Formby's music available on CD, including two monumental boxsets released by JSP Records. In your opinion, what is the future of Mr. Formby's recorded legacy? Will future generations still be interested in his music?

Mr. Bret: I think his legacy is secure. He has a cult following which I feel will always be there.

TVB: And, finally, could you share with our readers any projects in which you are currently involved? Perhaps a biography of one of my favorite French crooners, Jean Sablon?

Mr. Bret: I covered Jean Sablon, to a certain extent, in my biography of Mistinguett. My next book, coming out next month, is about Greta Garbo, whom I met by way of Barbara at one of her shows.


If you would like further information about the works of David Bret, you can visit his personal website.

For more information on George Formby, please visit the website of the George Formby Society.

Videos from YouTube







Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Here 'Tis!": Little Jack Little's 1952 Radio Transcriptions

Most histories of jazz and popular singing written these days make absolutely no mention of Little Jack Little, but in the 1920s and 1930s, he was a very popular artist both on records and in the rapidly rising medium of radio, captivating the ears of thousands of listeners with his very personal style of crooning. In his introductory chapter to the book The Rise of the Crooners, Ian Whitcomb places Little within a triumvirate of 1920s pioneering radio crooners alongside Whispering Jack Smith and Art Gillham, noting that "the music and radio trade appreciated his tongue-in-cheek approach to the clichés of the newly streamlined pop song" (20). Such appreciation, though, faded rather quickly, and today the only CD release available by Little is an outstanding collection of radio transcriptions made in New York for the Lang-Worth Company in 1952, less than four years before his death, which will provide the musical background for this article.

Little Jack Little was born John Leonard in London in 1900, but soon thereafter, his family moved to the United States, and he was actually raised in Iowa. In the early years of his life, he quickly showed an interest in music, and while an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, he led a dance band. Not much later, we find him in Chicago working as a song plugger and trying to make a career in music. His big break came via radio broadcasting: his pleasant voice and soft singing style soon endeared him to an ever-growing listening audience, and after the introduction of the electric microphone, Little realized that his voice was also perfect for records. Like Art Gillham's, Little's radio broadcasts came across as informal mixtures of song and chatter, and his gentle approach to vocalizing made his audience feel as though he were singing directly to each and every single listener. Soon he acquired the moniker of "the Cheerful Little Earful," making constant use of catchphrases such as "Here 'tis!," with which he prefaced his performances, and "Yours truly, Little Jack Little," which he invariably employed to conclude his broadcasts.

Though Little may conceivably be compared with Whispering Jack Smith due to the similarity of their singing styles, it should be noted that, unlike Smith, Little did not so much whisper as speak out the lyrics with a syncopated inflection, dividing syllables in an inventive way and often cutting words short at odd places for rhythmic effect. He was also a much more proficient pianist than Smith, with a playing style full of cascading runs and jazzy rhythmic embellishments that are somehow reminiscent of the great Art Tatum. Little also made his mark as a songwriter, producing several hit tunes, the most enduring of which are "Jealous" and, particularly, "In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town."

His recorded legacy is not vast, yet the quality of his records, sometimes backed by a full band and sometimes showcasing him singing to his own piano accompaniment, is consistently high, although his recordings from the 1920s and 1930s, alas, remain unissued to this day. In the early thirties, the coming of crooners such as Russ Columbo, Rudy Vallee, and especially Bing Crosby, with a much more modern sound, spelled out the end of the careers of Little and his fellow crooning pioneers. While Gillham and Smith were slowly forced into retirement by this major turn in popular taste, Little was still performing in small nightclubs in the 1940s and even tried his hand at being a disc jockey for a while. The lack of success in these later years, though, would eventually take its toll, as Little Jack Little ended up committing suicide in 1956, leaving, as Don White and Ray Norman state in the liner notes to Little's only currently available CD, "a dozen notes indicating that he was greatly depressed."

As late as 1952, however, Little cut a series of transcription discs that would not be issued in digital format until 2002, when Circle Records dug them up and made them available in a volume aptly entitled A Cheerful Little Earful. Recorded in the course of two separate sessions held in July and September of 1952, these sides feature Little revisiting standards from the heyday of his career and sounding basically as he did back in the twenties and thirties, which makes these tracks particularly interesting if we bear in mind that his original recordings are not available on CD. These transcriptions are not elaborately produced, but they give us a chance to appreciate Little's personal vocal style in a mostly unchanged form, complete with his classic "Here 'tis!" and "Yours very truly, Little Jack Little" radio catchphrases. Accompanied by Eddie Safranski on bass on some of the cuts, Little performs a few of his own hits and covers standards that were introduced by other artists, such as "Walkin' My Baby Back Home," "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue," and "Yes Sir, That's My Baby." These transcription sessions also yielded several piano solos ("Dardanella," Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," and an instrumental version of the classic "Paradise," to name but three) that attest to Little's talent as an elegantly jazzy pianist that knows how to play around with a tune without ever losing sight of the melody.

The liner notes by White and Norman offer interesting information on the crooner's life, as well as on the songs included in the collection, and they explicitly bemoan the fact that Little and other contemporaries like Harry Richman, Seger Ellis, and Irving Kaufman "seem to be little remembered today." And in the light of these radio transcriptions, the fact that Little Jack Little remains so unknown and underappreciated today is rather shocking and definitely unfair. Hopefully, some reissue label will soon decide to right that wrong and make his vintage recordings available again.

Works Cited

Whitcomb, Ian. "The Coming of the Crooners." In Michael Pitts and Frank Hoffman. The Rise of the Crooners. Lanham, MD and London: Scarecrow Press, 2002: 1-49.

White, Don and Ray Norman. "Liner Notes to A Cheerful Little Earful. Circle Records, 2002.


LITTLE JACK LITTLE SINGS SOME OF HIS HITS (Posted on YouTube by ednayarkspay)

I'M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Posted on YouTube by edmundusrex)

I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO WALTZ IN BERLIN (Posted on YouTube by warholsoup100)

I WISHED ON THE MOON (Posted on YouTube by warholsoup100)