The debate goes on. What is a “Jazz singer”? Does Rosemary Clooney qualify? I’m afraid I have no answer for that. To me, there are two kinds of singers — those I like, and those I don’t. Rosemary Clooney is among the former and always has been, since I first heard her back in the ’50s putting her stamp on inane novelty songs (“Come On–a My House,” “Mambo Italiano”) or lovely ballads like “Hey There” and “Tenderly.” Those tunes and a whole lot more are included on this two–disc “musical autobiography” which serves as a companion piece to Rosie’s recently published life story, Girl Singer,
co–written with Joan Barthel who also supplied the liner notes for the neatly packaged set. Disc 1 opens with “Sooner or Later” (1946), from the unjustly maligned Disney film Song of the South,
on which a more “generic” Rosie duets with her employer, bandleader Tony Pastor, and continues with her first solo recording, “Bargain Day” (1949). I didn’t know that Clooney once sang with Frank Sinatra but she does so on Track 3, “Peach Tree Street” (1950), a delightful fox trot with support from George Siravo’s orchestra. By 1951 Rosie was singing with Mitch Miller and it was he who insisted that she sing “Come On–a My House,” which she didn’t want to do (Rosie preferred ballads). But she had no choice, and the pseudo–folk gimcrack quickly climbed to the top of the charts and made Clooney a star. It opened the doors to Hollywood too, and Rosie was soon singing with Bing Crosby (“On a Slow Boat to China”), Bob Hope (“Ya Got Class”) and then–husband José Ferrer (“You’re Just in Love”). In the film White Christmas,
Bing Crosby sang Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings” to Rosie, and here she sings it in a studio setting with Nelson Riddle’s orchestra. The same film saw Rosie and Vera–Ellen (or Mitzi Gaynor? I never could tell them apart) singing “Sisters.” Well, she had a real–life sister, Betty, who also sang (as schoolgirls in Kentucky their act was billed as “The Clooney Sisters”) and she joins Rosie for a studio rendition of that one. Betty reappears on Disc 2 in a minute–long snippet from “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” which the Clooney sisters used as an audition tape for Cincinnati’s WLW Radio in March 1945. Completing Disc 1 are a second recording with Nelson Riddle (“How Will I Remember You”) and an early venture into Jazzier waters (“Blue Rose,” 1956) with Duke Ellington’s orchestra. Disc 2 is contemporary Clooney (1977–98), previously issued on some of her many Concord albums (except for “Fools Rush In,” from the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood’s film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
). Included are updated versions of “Mambo Italiano” from the album Demi–Centennial
and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” (from the album of that name). Most of the songs are standards but there are a few pleasurable departures — Dave Frishberg’s “Do You Miss New York?,” James Taylor’s “Secret of Life,” “Turn Around” (with Keith Carradine), “The Promise,” “The Coffee Song” (with Cathi Campo) and from the World War II era, “The White Cliffs of Dover.” Rosemary Clooney has been one of America’s most admired entertainers for more than half a century, with a style so warmly personal and readily identifiable that there’s nothing one can advance that hasn’t already been written. So I’ll simply say again that Clooney is one of the finest “girl singers” in the business, and that this all–too–brief backward glance at her career is thoroughly enjoyable. If you’re a fan, as I am, you’ll undoubtedly agree. About the only shortcoming is that with playing times of 41:00 and 59:29, there’s room for a lot more Rosie on these discs.
Track listing: Disc 1 — Sooner or Later; Bargain Day; Peach Tree Street; Beautiful Brown Eyes; Come On–a My House; Tenderly; Count Your Blessings; Hey There; You’re Just in Love; Sisters; Blue Rose; On a Slow Boat to China; Ya Got Class; How Will I Remember You (41:00). Disc 2 As Time Goes By; God Bless the Child; Our Love Is Here to Stay; The White Cliffs of Dover; Straighten Up and Fly Right; Do You Miss New York?; Route 66; Mambo Italiano; The Promise; Come Rain or Come Shine; White Christmas; Turn Around; Fools Rush In; The Coffee Song; Secret of Life (59:29).