One of the first of the Bluebird's Best series was a recording that Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney did together. Now Bluebird has reissued an album apiece by each artist, both likely to be among the best vocal jazz CDs to come out this year.
Bing With A Beat
They just don't write songs like "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter" anymore. It's a catchy melody combined with witty lyrics that conveys an innocent longing for love that would be inconceivable as a radio hit today. However, the same goes for just about any other song on Bing With A Beat.
But then they weren't really writing songs like that in 1957, either. That's when this album first appeared, and none of the songs were in heavy circulation among pop singers at the time. Only "Mack The Knife" still had some legs, thanks to versions recorded by Louis Armstrong (earlier) and Bobby Darin (later). But most are relics from the time when Bing first became famous, long forgotten by the artists whom he influenced.
Leave it to Crosby to resurrect these old tunes - tunes that he always wished he had recorded - to create his one true jazz album, a tribute to the music he always loved. Crosby had continued to record well into the fifties, straddling two generations with his blue-eyed, gentlemanly appeal. But where it would have been easy to sing over a lush Nelson Riddle-type orchestration - as he had already done - he hand picked Bob Scobey and the rest of his Frisco Jazz Band to create a swinging Dixieland backing that has no strings at all. Dixieland was always Crosby's love, and while the presentation and song selection may seem a little trad, it's a tribute to the talents of Crosby and Scobey that the album works as well as it does and has an instant appeal today.
For one thing, Crosby sounds positively jubilant at the opportunity to sing these songs with the hot band behind him, and truly Bing With A Beat sounds like no other vocal album from the time period. Scobey and company rip through the choruses when given the chance and provide punchy backing when Crosby takes the mike. There's a snap in Crosby's delivery that wasn't always featured on previous recordings, but his strength was always making lyrics sound earnest. No one has written a song about "Waikiki" in years, but Crosby makes it sound like the hot new vacation spot.
In his book Jazz Singing Will Friedwald claims that Bing With A Beat is one of the top ten jazz vocal albums ever made. This may come as a surprise to those who never thought of Crosby as a jazz vocalist in the first place, but there's no denying that Armstrong and Sinatra both owe him debts in their rhythm and phrasing and most of all the art of singing naturally. Top ten? Maybe. Leave it to Bing, though, to assert himself as capable of creating a jazz album that out-jazzes most of them.
Rosie Solves The Swingin' Riddle
Rosemary Clooney declared her love affair with Nelson Riddle "the best blending of my job and my personal life that I've ever had." While it ended their respective marriages, it also resulted in some excellent music.
Riddle will be familiar to most as the guy who orchestrated the great Sinatra records for Capitol; that is, if he's familiar at all. Suffice it to say that he was one of the greatest arrangers of all time, creating backgrounds for several different artists that all managed to present that particular person in the best light. Rosie Solves The Swingin' Riddle is no different. Riddle has a large arsenal of musicians at his disposal that are able to create all kinds of textures, from the resonant bells of "Get Me To The Church On Time" to the brassy swagger of "I Ain't Got Nobody". But Riddle was also capable of straddling the line between bombast and beauty, and "I Get Along Without You Very Well" features the same bouncy, ocean bottom groove that anchored Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin." The orchestration never overwhelms Clooney, since Riddle expertly creates backing that gives support rather than shelter.
Clooney is in fine form as well, investing the songs with the bold innocence that figured on her previous releases. She's capable of delivering the youthful gaiety of "Get Me To The Church On Time" as well as the wounded independence of "By Myself" Of course the song selection is part of the trick, and there's a nice balance between familiar songs and lesser known, yet catchy, melodies. Riddle and Clooney are even capable of a few surprises; "April and Paris" features a strong Latin groove that takes a while for the brain to organize into a discernable pattern.
If the riddle was, "How can create a great vocal album that will stand up forty years later?" Rosie and Riddle did indeed solve it. Bluebird released a Rosemary Clooney compilation a few years ago that was only mediocre; they should have released this album instead. Rosie Solves the Swingin' Riddle is a terrific collaboration, and a classic vocal album. When Rosie's singing isn't grabbing you, it's a sure bet the orchestrations will.
Bing Crosby - Bing With A Beat
Tracks: 1. Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella 2. I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter 3. Along the Way To Waikiki 4. Exactly Like You 5. Dream A Little Dream Of Me 6. Last Night on the Back Porch 7. Some Sunny Day 8. Whispering 9. Tell Me 10. Mack the Knife 11. Down Among the Sheltering Palms 12. Mama Loves Papa.
Personnel: Bing Crosby - vocals; with Bob Scobey's Frisco Jazz Band.
Rosemary Clooney - Rosie Solves the Swingin' Riddle
Tracks: 1. Get Me To the Church On Time 2. Angry 3. I Get Along Without You Very Well 4. How Am I To Know? 5. You Took Advantage Of Me 6. April In Paris 7. I Ain't Got Nobody 8. Some Of These Days 9. By Myself 10. Shine On Harvest Moon 11. Cabin In the Sky 12. Limehouse Blues 13. Without Love 14. Theme From "Peyton Place".
Personnel: Rosemary Clooney - vocals; arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle.