Friday, August 10, 2007

Swingin' At Capitol Records

I'll wager this is the only blog around that features posts on both The Buzzcocks and Peggy Lee in the same week!

As a guy who enjoys singin' those lounge tunes, I often listen to great vocalists to steal ideas from - I mean for inspiration, really! In the mid-1940's, three of the best, Nat King Cole, June Christy and Peggy Lee, were recording wonderful jazzy sides for Capitol Records. The Cole sides, amazingly, sold, so the label recorded lots more in that relaxed yet swingin' approach. This represented the cutting edge of that era's popular music; even Sinatra himself didn't quite catch up with this remarkable trifecta until he signed with Capitol a few years later.

Serious immersion in The Complete Peggy Lee and June Christy Capitol Transcription Sessions has left me with nothing but admiration for these two vocalists, as well as musical director and guitarist Dave Barbour. Both made their names with the more modern big bands (Goodman and Kenton, respectively), but, instead of squandering their first solo recordings on pale preppy commercial music, they created masterpieces of small-group jazz.

While June Christy is notable for her sophisticated swing, wonderful liquid vowels and highly imaginative musicianship, Peggy Lee demonstrates an unerring knack for deeply understanding and expressing a song's emotional life (her rendition of "Porgy" is especially powerful), in a way only matched by Louis Armstrong. Christy knocks Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss" out of the ballpark as if it's an easy tune to sing. And Lee's recording of Irish folk chestnut "Molly Malone", in which the band's upbeat, jazzy accompaniment contrasts (probably unintentionally) with a vocal that digs very deeply into the tragedy in the lyrics, is one weirdly compelling Mulligan stew.

Imagine, the idea of making great music, as opposed to registering high marks with focus or test marketing groups, as the reason for recording and creating. What a concept! That was the m.o. of Nat Cole, June Christy, Peggy Lee and Louis Armstrong - and they have stood the test of time. Swing into eternity, baby.


Magnus Maximus said...

Hey, nice to read something from a Real Fan. Vocal jazz isn't my strong suit, but I did recently pick up a Sarah Vaughn LP "After Hours" which is great. Just vocals, guitar and bass. Very breezy and intimate. She does an incredible "Sophisticated Lady."

I like your blog, keep it up!

paul etcheverry said...

Thanks, Magnus! One of the things I love about the 1940's Capitol sessions is the intimacy; I prefer the Cole Trio style guitar-bass-drums sides to the big band pieces.

Also, thanks for the tip. Sarah Vaughn led a masterful trio with Roy Haynes on drums in the 50's.

Max Roach, R.I.P. - we love you.