The Classic Jazz Calendar 2010, with photographs by Chuck Stewarta full-page devoted to each of 12 jazz greatsincludes a striking photo of Patti Page, representing the month of May. While her inclusion may strike many as unexceptional, for jazz followers who remember the best-selling female singer of the 1950s, her name would seem a problematic fit. Yet she is the only vocalist and female among the chosen dozen (which includes Wayne Shorter, James Moody, Jimmy Cobb, Red Garland, and Grant Green).
Having collected nine gold records with lightweight fare such as "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?," Page made a radical departure into jazz, employing ace Stan Kenton arranger Pete Rugolo, along with a cast of jazz all-stars. The session was one of popular music's better-kept secrets until the French label Fresh Sound digitalized and remastered the dateoriginally released as Patti Page in the Land of Hi Fi (Emarcy, 1956)reissuing it with a more descriptive title (the names on the front cover, beginning with Pete Rugolo's, should say it all to any knowledgeable jazz fan).
There are no special revelations here. It was always apparent that Patti Page had a full and sumptuous, lower-pitched but still plenty forceful, vocal instrument along with a good ear and rock-solid pitch. The only questions might have been about her taste (can she recognize and communicate some of the nuanced meanings and poetic ironies of material from The Great American Songbook?) and her ability to swing (the plain truth is that many singers don't know where two and four are in a swing tune, in which case the song becomes something else).
Page shows that she qualifies on both countsperhaps not as convincingly as Rosemary Clooney or Doris Day (to mention two other 1950s' stars who sang jazz when money was not the issue)but certainly with enough authority to demonstrate her all-around musicianship. The question of "soul" is always subjective and personal, but one thing is certain: Patti Page hardly ever falls short of perfection in executing her material, carrying the challenging vocal lines of "The Thrill Is Gone" and "The Masquerade Is Over" with unfaltering breath support, expressive handling of diction regardless of tempo, and seamless welding of form and content. Moreover, she's ceaselessly coming up with imaginative inventions based on the original melody, as on "Takin' a Chance on Love." When all is said and done (or sung), she may not always excite, but she impresses with flawless performances time and again: she's the very embodiment of "smooth."
This collection is likely to please jazz and Page fans alike (she still performs fifty concerts a year). If the album appears a bit pricey, rest assured that Fresh Sounds always goes the extra distance on the consumer's behalf: not only are the production values first-rate, with biographies and detailed histories and descriptions of the original recordings and the contributions of individual musicians, but the album includes eleven songs not issued on the original LP, both from subsequent Rugolo sessions, with photographs, personnel and dates for each. Fresh Sound appears committed to preserving and making available priceless music to an ever-diminishing audience. Let's hope they continue to do so indefinitely.
Personnel: Pete Rugolo: arranger; Marty Paich: arranger; Bill Holman: arranger; Shorty Rogers: arranger; Maynard Ferguson: trumpet; Don Fagerquist: trumpet; Pete Candoli: trumpet; Buddy Childers: trumpet; Chico Alvarez: trumpet; Bud Shank: alto saxophone; Buddy Collette: alto saxophone; Georgie Auld: tenor saxophone; Ted Nash: tenor saxophone; Dave Pell: saxophone; Paul Horn: woodwind; Bob Cooper: woodwind; J. J. Johnson: trombone; Kai Winding: trombone; Frank Rosolino: trombone; Milt Bernhart: trombone; John Graas: French horn; Jimmy Rowles: piano; Howard Roberts: guitar; Larry Bunker: percussion; Alvin Stoller: percussion; Red Mitchell: bass.