Saturday, September 12, 2015

Let's Face The Music And Dance - Or Watch These Cool Clips Instead!

The above sign is a stroke of genius - and brings to this music-obsessed blogger's consciousness versions of the Irving Berlin standard it refers to.

So let's begin today's post with a few renditions of this great song. First up: the "swooner crooners", starting with the ultimate one, Frank Sinatra.

Among the top movie stars of the 1950's was the adept light comedienne, dancer and former big band singer Doris Day. The star of several sprightly Warner Brothers musicals (Calamity Jane) waxed a very nice version of Let's Face The Music & Dance.

For many decades after co-starring with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in an MGM musical beloved by this blogger, White Christmas, as well as headlining her own TV show, movie actress and vocalist Rosemary Clooney continued performing music and recording. Here she is on her 1984 album, Rosemary Clooney Sings The Music Of Irving Berlin.

The tendency is to associate Shirley Bassey with her bravura performance of the theme song from Goldfinger, but also she recorded standards. On her 1962 Let's Face The Music album, arranger extraordinaire Nelson Riddle was loaned out from Capitol to lend some swingin' Rat Pack magic to the proceedings. Could Dame Shirley Bassey belt 'em out? Yes, definitely.

One vocalist who recorded standards and nailed them every time was Ella Fitzgerald. Her series of songbook albums for Verve still can't be topped.

Although a scant few vocalists, then and now, would even attempt to go toe-to-toe with Ella Fitzgerald in the jazz singing department and especially scat and vocalese, one who could at least give it the old college try was Anita O'Day. Here, Anita swings those standards with virtuoso pianist Oscar Peterson.

She also recorded this song with style and swagger to spare on her 1956 album Pick Yourself Up With Anita O'Day.

Two of the most amazing vocalists are also two of the most mindboggling pianists - Nat King Cole and Diana Krall (who also recorded with the aforementioned Rosemary Clooney).

When thinking of strictly instrumental takes on the standards, look no further than the arranger of many Capitol Records recordings by Frank, Dino, Judy Garland, Keely Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Rosemary Clooney, the incomparable Nelson Riddle.

It comes as no great surprise that a fine instrumental version of Let's Face The Music And Dance can be found on The Nelson Riddle Orchestra's 1966 album of the same name!

Riddle's brassy orchestra frequently slips a double dose of bebop into the pop and brings to mind the post-Charlie Parker jazz virtuosos who explored the harmonically rich compositions of Berlin, Gershwin, Porter and Arlen with a sublime vengeance.

Clifford Brown, Curly Russell, Lou Donaldson and (on right behind drum kit) Art Blakey - Birdland, February 24, 1954

Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean

On the 1959 Swing Swang Swingin' album, just one of a slew of classic recordings Jackie McLean recorded for the Prestige, Blue Note and Steeplechase labels, a program of standards gets supercharged with the driving "hard bop" sound. As usual, Jackie shows a highly original and wonderfully angular approach - and swings like mad.

From modern jazz this itinerary takes a big turn back to where this the Great American Songbook stuff started and tips the top hat to Broadway - not Funky Broadway - with pianist, singer historian, scholar and prolific recording artist Michael Feinstein. And, please, don't monkey with Broadway!

This post would not be complete without a respectful nod to the guy who performed songs on Broadway, in many cases in their very first performances, before standing room only crowds, delivering the goods night after night - yes, under just a little bit of pressure - the one, the only Fred Astaire.

Not surprisingly, practically before the RKO studio cameras stopped rolling, The Vincent Lopez Orchestra recorded 78s of the Cole Porter and Irving Berlin songs from the Fred n' Ginger musicals. Popular dance bands covered hit tunes from Flying Down To Rio, Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, Follow The Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, etc. And this song was no exception.

Back to the incredible Frederick Austerlitz, the penultimate show-stopping version of Let's Face The Music And Dance, of course, is from Follow The Fleet, directed by Mark Sandrich. There they are, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, defining the art of terpischore in the movies and dancing into eternity.

Thanks, you sublime entertainers, for all that love on the silver screen. And big time thanks to Irving Berlin and to each and every one of the musicians involved in this post.

"There may be teardrops to shed
So while there's moonlight and music and love and romance
Let's face the music and dance"
Irving Berlin

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