Thursday, January 12, 2017

Jazz Flashes News: R.I.P. Singer and Pianist Buddy Greco (1926-2017)

This new year of 2017 has begun on several sour notes, with the departures of Nat Hentoff and Buddy Bregman a few days ago, to which we must add now that of vocalist and pianist Buddy Greco, one of the last of the vanishing breed of saloon singers. He passed away on January 10 at 90 years old. Unfortunately, whenever Greco is cited these days, it's mostly because of his rocky personal life: his many failed marriages, his eccentricities, his dealings with the Rat Pack, and his quick temper. But if we concentrate on his musical career, we find that Greco was a solid jazz pianist and a sophisticated singer who has left behind a very valuable body of work. Born in Philadelphia in 1926, Greco was extremely precocious, and his interest in music was encouraged by his father, who owned a record store. In the early 1940s Greco spent four years singing, playing piano, and writing arrangements for Benny Goodman. He left the orchestra and struck out on his own in 1946, around the time when solo singers had started eclipsing the big bands, and he was quite successful at it, even scoring a few hits, one of the most memorable of which was his fun uptempo version of "The Lady Is a Tramp." The success of his very entertaining live concerts and classy recordings quickly led to television and film appearances, as well as to opportunities to sing and pal around with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr., in Las Vegas. However, he never attained the heights of popularity of his more famous confreres.

Despite the many ups and downs he went through in his career, Greco always concentrated on doing what he did best: singing and playing piano. In an interview with the New York Times in the 1960s, he explained: "I'd always wanted to be a jazz pianist. But it's easier to make a living as a singer. . . . By singing I can appeal to the masses." And so he did, almost right up until his very last days, appearing all over the world as a featured attraction and also as part of tribute shows to Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee. His recorded oeuvre is prodigiously vast, rich, and varied, ranging stylistically from jazz to pop to country, even to Italian songs, and his discography is full of excellent albums such as Live at Mr. Kelly's, My Buddy, and On Stage. But, in my opinion, his best project is arguably Songs for Swinging Losers, a 1960 concept album modeled on Sinatra's Songs for Swingin' Lovers that captures Greco at his peak as a saloon singer. The arrangements by Chuck Sagle are always tasteful, and Greco indulges his penchant for drama, more restrained than usual on this occasion, performing a repertoire of classic tunes that includes "Something I Dreamed Last Night," "I'm Lost," "These Foolish Things," "That Old Feeling," "You Don't Know What Love Is," and "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good," as well as an opener written specifically for the album by Sagle and entitled "A Swinging Loser." This recording is quintessential Greco, and the perfect introduction to the sound of a singer like no other whose work is well worth delving into. R.I.P. Buddy Greco.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Jazz Flashes News: R.I.P. Buddy Bregman, Jazz Arranger and Orchestrator

I just heard from my friend Malcolm Macfarlane, of Cheshire, England, that the great arranger Buddy Bregman has passed away in his Los Angeles home at age 86. Born in Chicago in 1930, Bregman came into prominence in the 1950s and '60s, arranging classic albums for the likes of Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Anita O'Day, to name but a few. He also wrote scores for movies such as The Pajama Game, worked on television as the musical director of The Eddie Fisher Show, and in the '60s became much in demand in England as a producer for the BBC and ITV. Songwriting royalty ran in Bregman's family, since the famed songwriter Jule Styne was his uncle, and it didn't take too long for the young Bregman to develop a fascination with jazz and and interest in writing arrangements. His first big break came in the mid-'50s in the form of an offer from none other than Norman Granz to work for his then-new Verve label, where one of his first projects was the highly successful Ella Sings the Cole Porter Songbook with Fitzgerald, who apparently was at first a little wary of Bregman's youth. He was then in his mid-twenties and was beginning to be known for powerful, brassy arrangements that sounded quite modern, something that is evident in the charts he wrote for Crosby's Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings, in my opinion one of the best albums in Der Bingle's vast discography.

Bing Crosby and Buddy Bregman, 1956
While at Verve, Bregman also had the opportunity to showcase his high-octane style on excellent big band albums that were released under his own name. Possibly the best of these is 1956's Swinging Kicks, which features an incredible cast of stellar musicians like Bud Shank, Jimmy Giuffre, Ben Webster, Georgie Auld, Stan Getz, Conte and Pete Candoli, Andre Previn, Frank Rosolino, Alvin Stoller, and Stan Levey, among others—truly the cream of the crop of '50s West Coast jazz. Other albums with Bregman as a leader (Dig Buddy Bregman in Hi-Fi, Swingin' Standards) show a consistently high quality, and in arranging the Count Basie-Joe Williams classic The Greatest!!! Count Basie Plays, Joe Williams Sings Standards, Bregman proves that he has a deep understanding of Basie's hard-swinging style. From the '60s on, Bregman concentrated most of his efforts on television, the medium in which his daughter, soap-opera actress Tracey Bregman, has worked for many years. In his last several years, Bregman suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and it was precisely his daughter that confirmed his passing yesterday evening. Though perhaps not as well known as fellow orchestrators Nelson Riddle or Billy May, Bregman was nevertheless one of the best jazz-based arrangers of the 20th century, and left behind an enormous legacy of recordings with some of the best singers and musicians of his day to prove it, a legacy that is well worth checking out.

Interview with Buddy Bregman

For a very interesting interview with Bregman conducted by Bruce Kimmel, click here.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bill Charlap and Guests to Play at New York's Jazz Standard, Jan. 10-15

We've just heard that New York-based pianist Bill Charlap will be playing a one-week stint at the Jazz Standard Club, in NYC (116 East 27th Street) between January 10-15. Charlap will appear in a variety of settings, including solo and with his trio, and will be joined by several interesting guests, such as vocalist Carol Sloane (Jan. 11), pianist and wife Renee Rosnes (Jan. 12-13), and pianist-singer Freddy Cole and saxophonist Houston Person (Jan. 14). One of the best pianist on the jazz scene today, Charlap collaborated with Tony Bennett on the excellent Jerome Kern songbook The Silver Lining in 2015 (my review is available here) and has recently followed it up with a new trio effort, Notes from New York (Impulse). Accompanied by Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington (no relation!) on drums, this new album shows the perfect understanding between the three musicians, and its repertoire, which mixes well-known standards ("I'll Remember April," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "A Sleepin' Bee") with lesser-known tunes by Vernon Duke ("Not a Care in the World"), Alan and Marilyn Bergman ("Make Me Rainbows"), and Thad Jones ("Little Rascal on a Rock"), proves to be the right vehicle to showcase Charlap's elegant and exciting playing.

At the Jazz Standard, Charlap will play two sets each evening (at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.), and if you'd like any more information or wish to make reservations, you may call 212-576-2232. If you happen to be in New York between January 10-15, this is certainly a show not to be missed!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Jazz Flashes Videocast # 4: Holiday Gifts and Purchases

Dodo Greene
To paraphrase Irving Berlin's lyric, it's time to start the New Year right with a new episode of the Jazz Flashes Videocast. On this occasion, I briefly discuss three of the gifts I received this holiday season, as well as two purchases I made myself while spending a few days in North Carolina with my family. The albums I review in the video are the following:

Dodo Greene's My Hour of Need - This was one of the best discoveries I've made lately—an album by the vastly under-recorded soul jazz vocalist Dodo Greene, who unfortunately only cut a couple of dates in the early 1960s. On this 1962 Blue Note album she is backed by a stellar cast that includes the Ike Quebec Quintet.

Hank Jones & Frank Wess's Hank and Frank - The first volume of a 2003 encounter by these two jazz greats. If you listen to this one, you'll definitely be looking for its companion volume!

Miles Davis at Newport 1953-1973 - The fourth installment of Columbia-Legacy's ongoing Miles Davis bootleg series. These four CDs span twenty years of appearances by Davis in different settings at the famed Newport Jazz Festival.

Bill Evans's Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest - A recent release by Resonance Records of some late-1960s Bill Evans trio recordings made in Germany and previously unissued.

Larry Young in Paris. The ORTF Recordings - Yet another great Resonance release, featuring some 1960s sessions by the lesser-known organist and pianist made for French radio.

You may find this episode of the Jazz Flashes Videocast on YouTube (click on the top-right corner of this website to access our YouTube channel, which includes several other videos) and also here below. Happy New Year to all the readers of Jazz Flashes!