Jazz, through all of its changes and all of its manifestations, has always been about people. From the musicians to the fans to the club owners to the DJs and record company people, jazz's power has always been its people. People like Ronnie Scott, and the Baroness Nica, and Francis Wolfe and Alfred Lion. And people like Joel Dorn, long time producer and former DJ who has gone on to head up the new label 32 Records. As a DJ, fan, and producer, Dorn has "lived" jazz, and watched it enrich his life. Now he's helping to enrich our lives with the reissue work he's pursuing with 32 Jazz.
Songs That Made The Phone Light Up is Dorn's homage to his days as a jazz DJ in the 60's in Philadelphia. This collection of 13 tracks that were popular request titles during Dorn's time at the helm of WHAT-FM is a shining example of what I'm talking about here. Dorn explains in the liner notes that none of the tracks in this collection were huge hits on a national level, but all were popular with his listeners. Dorn explains, as well, the important effect that talking to those listeners had on his life, and on his future work in the jazz world. The kinship that Dorn felt with those listeners is what I mean when I talk about jazz being about people. This disc seems to be Dorn's chance to say thank you.
The tracks on this disc are all vocal selections, and every one’s a gem. From the opening swell of Austin Cromer's "Over The Rainbow," these tracks simply take the listener back to a time when jazz could be easily heard on the radio, and not just on some lame "Sunday brunch" show. No, Dorn's collection recalls a time when radio was a viable force in our culture, when fans trusted DJs to know about music, and to not only play the big hits, but the best of what they'd come across themselves. Joel Dorn was such a DJ, and while none of these tracks set the world on its ear, he knew quality when he heard it...and so did his listeners.
The selections here cover the entire gamet of the jazz vocal tradition. From the big, beautiful voice of Dinah Washington ("Look To The Rainbow"), to the smoothly irresistible voicings of Lou Rawls ("World of Trouble"). Cuts are included from Nancy Wilson ("Save Your Love For Me") and Etta Jones ("Through A Long And Sleepless Night"), as well as the lesser known Lorez Alexandria, who shines with a Latin-tinged version of Hoagie Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole." For the men, Dorn casts a wide net, including classic cuts from King Pleasure ("It Might As Well Be Spring"), Joe Williams ("A Man Ain't Supposed To Cry"), Brook Benton ("A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square"), and Jesse Belvin ("Imagination"). Williams and Benton are known well enough still today, but Belvin and King Pleasure show off their equally impressive pipes on their selections. Belvin is exceptionally impressive with the ballad "Imagination," sounding a bit like Nat Cole's long lost brother.
One of the most charming elements of this collection are some of the rare and unusual cuts that are included. Legendary blues shouter Jimmy Rushing is included with a gentle version of "River Stay Away From My Door," backed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Rushing was known for his huge Kansas City voice, but this selection offers the listener the opportunity to hear Rushing's talent for singing, and his feel for the shuffle rhythm. Oscar Brown Jr.'s live rendition of "Forty Acres and a Mule" is a fun filled romp through a spoken word, "beat" poem, complete with jazz backing and a nightclub feel. Brown's ranting feeds off the crowd, whose laughter can be heard in the background. But Brown's humor is only a foil for his rage, and his piece would have made Rahsaan Kirk proud. For pure humor, skip on up to selection number 10, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross's "Gimmie That Wine", an ode to all things alcohol. A funny, silly song, "Gimmie That Wine" brings a smile to listeners faces as a less "politically correct" time is recalled.
Overall, this disc is one of the most rewarding projects I've been exposed to this year. Dorn's appreciation of the taste and wisdom of his listeners from those days in Philly is wonderful to see, and even better to listen to. Dorn's understanding of the essential importance of people in jazz goes further than merely reaffirming the rantings of this critic...they get to the core of what makes jazz special to its fans. Its the stories exchanged, the emotions recalled, and the experiences shared by fans, friends, musicians, and all those who take the time to listen. Highly suggested - 4 out of 5 stars.