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Individually, Rosemary Clooney’s albums giving tribute to the great American song-writers of approximately the middle of the twentieth century seemed interesting, and even illuminating, as she subtly evoked the intentions of those writers by her straightforward delivery of their tunes. Little did the listeners of the six CD’s in Rosemary Clooney: The Songbook Collection realize at the time of their release in 1979 and throughout the 1980’s that a larger perspective enveloped the incremental growth of Clooney’s discography focused on a single theme.
Slowly but surely, Clooney, with her regular hornmen Scott Hamilton and Warren Vaché, built a true “songbook” that’s unlike any other of the past few decades in its scope and consistency. The only other series of albums of the same inspiration and dedication in the second half of the twentieth century would be Ella Fitzgerald’s classic Songbook tributes on Verve in the 1950’s. Indeed, both singers honor many of the same songwriters.
Under the auspices of Carl Jefferson and by extension the Concord Records he founded, Clooney not only revived her career after an unfortunate lull, but also she developed a series of albums, continuing even today, that distinguish her as one of the premier interpreters of standards. With an uncluttered and straightforward approach, Clooney has won the admiration of singers and jazz musicians. Her sure sense of swing and her no-nonsense approach, with little deviation from the lyrics that the masters wrote, have remained intact ever since she started singing with her sister in Tony Pastor’s band in Kentucky. Her adherence to the original intentions of those song-writers and her implicit pulse, inspiring the musicians who accompany her, led Scott Hamilton to accurately note: “Her sense of time is as solid as Harry Edison’s. It’s just there.
Sure enough. In spite of the fact that Clooney doesn’t scat and doesn’t reinvent a song the way Betty Carter, for example, did, she still garners the allegiance of jazz musicians who admire her lifelong assurance and grace. Thus, even though the consistency of concept on the Songbook albums involves a regular roster of musicians, she obviously has no problem recruiting the likes of Maynard Ferguson, John Pizzarelli, David Finck and Bob Cooper for other projects. Fortunately, for those who appreciate Clooney’s integrity and no-nonsense approach, Concord is continuing to release new recordings, such as Clooney’s recent tribute to Brazilian music, as well as lavishly packaging tributes to her substantial discography.
One by one, and slowly but surely, Clooney has selected and recorded in a detailed and enjoyable fashion the well-known and often played songs like “It Might As Well Be Spring” or “Fascinating Rhythm.” On the other hand, she presents whimsical tunes like “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” or gems awaiting discovery like “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe.” Usually backed by a sextet or septet, Clooney shortly and sweetly delivers the tune, usually allowing Hamilton or Vaché a chance to blend their horns’ voices with hers.
The exception is the sixth CD in the package: Rosemary Clooney Sings Rodgers, Hart & Hammerstein. Unlike on the previous five CD’s, the L.A. Jazz Choir under the direction of Gerald Eskelin backs her. In addition, the extraordinary and underrated trumpeter and vocalist Jack Sheldon joins in as well. From the start, the L.A. Jazz Choir animates “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” as Clooney effortlessly sings melody. And that’s followed by Sheldon singing in duo with Clooney on “People Will Say We’re In Love.” With the more lavish production, but with the canny vocal arrangements akin to Gene Puerling’s or Clare Fischer’s, the Rodgers Hart and Hammerstein disk represents the culmination of the decade-long effort the just now is receiving due appreciation.
Track Listing: Disk One: But Not For Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It, How Long Has This Been Going On, Fascinating Rhythm, Love Is Here To Stay, Strike Up The Band, Long Ago And Far Away, They All Laughed, The Man That Got Away, They Can
Personnel: Rosemary Clooney, vocals; Scott Hamilton, tenor sax; Warren Vach