"Grandpa" Al Lewis is best remembered for his sitcom roles in Car 54, Where Are You? and The Munsters, though the vaudeville veteran had a number of different careers in addition to television and comedy. He earned a doctorate in child psychology, wrote children's books, taught school and was a circus performer as well.
But another interest was revealed when he was a guest host for the Jazz Journalist Association Awards at B.B. King's. Just before I took my turn presenting an award, I had an offstage conversation with Lewis, who spoke about a jazz vocal LP he had recorded in the late 1950s, with an all star rhythm section, though it never had been released. It was a pleasant surprise to discover it has finally been issued.
Fans remember his heavy New York accent and caustic humor (during the Awards show, he took an indirect vocal jab at the volatile writer Stanley Crouch's forgettable drum solo), though neither is present in this collection of swing tunes and ballads. Accompanied by pianist Hank Jones, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Osie Johnson, Lewis' warm, though slightly nasal baritone vocals, work well in this studio date. He plays it straight with the rather trite lyric to "Tea For Two," while he reveals his tender side in a sparkling setting of "Memories Of You." His creativity is best displayed in a rollicking rendition of "Just One Of Those Things," complete with a surprise chorus of scatting. Lewis gives the band some encouragement during their solos in "Sweet Lorraine," cheering Jones' Art Tatum-like runs, Hinton's bass-slapping and Johnson's effective solo that pays tribute to Big Sid Catlett, Lewis' favorite drummer. It's obvious that Al Lewis was no rank amateur as a singer, as his musicians sound like they are enjoying themselves as well. It is sad that this music wasn't released in the actor's lifetime though he might have objected to the album title and cover art.
Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’; I Ain’t Got Nobody; This Can’t Be Love; Tea For Two; Just One
Of Those Things, Memories Of You; Three Little Words; Sweet Lorraine.
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