Compilation CDs of artists and record labels are common, but rarely does a producer get that recognition. However, few record producers have had as large of an influence as Milt Gabler, and it's fitting that he gets a disc of his own. Comedian and actor Billy Crystal (Gabler's nephew) selected the songs for The Milt Gabler Story and, with such a treasure trove of recordings to choose from, it's easy to see why he came up with such a winning collection.
Gabler got his start in the record business with Commodore records, recording some of the finest hot jazz of the thirties, like Eddie Condon and the Kansas City Six, both of which are included here (Freddie Green gets a rare vocal on "Them There Eyes"?). But Gabler really struck it rich with Billie Holiday, who was looking to leave Columbia because they wouldn't let her record "Strange Fruit."? Easily one of the most important records of the last century, it and other Holiday classics were recorded Gabler. He also recorded Lionel Hampton on an energetic run through "Flying Home,"? one of the best records of the Swing Era.
After his success with Commodore, Gabler became the A&R man for Decca and began a career that would touch virtually all aspects of popular music and makes up the bulk of this collection. Those unfamiliar with Gabler's work will be surprised at how many hit records he had a hand in creating. He dealt almost exclusively with singers at the time and masterminded several classics at a time when pop and jazz were synonymous. A newly mature Ella scats the hell out of "How High the Moon,"? while an older Louis croons "Blueberry Hill"? backed by an angelic choir. Gabler saw the artistic and commercial potential of bringing the two together, and "Dream A Little Dream Of Me"? is a small glimpse of their shared magic.
Once the possibilities of jazz singing began to fade, Gabler produced some of the earliest easy listening artists, from Sammy Davis Jr. to Wayne Newton. "Danke Schoen"? is the only Newton recording worth hearing (at least in my opinion) and it bears a striking resemblance to Nat King Cole's later (and better) "L-O-V-E"? in sound. Although "Rock Around the Clock"? is often listed as the first rock 'n' roll recording, it's possible to identify the link between Louis Jordan and Bill Haley through their respective songs.
Although Gabler's instincts were spot-on at the time, not everything here has aged well, particularly the Bing Crosby recordings and the way out-of-date Andrew Sisters and The Weavers. Vocal groups even today have a notoriously quick shelf life, yet these were quite popular records at the time.
The Milt Gabler Story is an excellent collection of hits that salute the man who was behind them, unbeknownst to the record buying public. By featuring some truly classic recordings by significant artists and pleasant recordings by those who are clearly second tier, this collection is a fitting tribute.
1. Eddie Condon and His Windy City Seven - Love Is Just Around the Corner 2. The Kansas City Six - Them There Eyes 3. Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit 4. Billie Holiday - Fine and Mellow 5. Wild Bill Davison and His Commodores - That
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