Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Songs for Swingin' Music Lovers an Opinionated Guide to 57 Excellent Albums

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Songs for Swingin' Music Lovers an Opinionated Guide to 57 Excellent Albums

Article excerpt

Jazz critic-historian Will Friedwald has spent much of his career writing sharp, irreverent and insightful essays on the vocal side of the music. His reputation rests on four books. "Jazz Singing" examined the work of vocalists, both renowned and obscure, in detail; "Stardust Melodies" was an in-depth look at a dozen pop standards. "A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers," a detailed reference work primarily covered jazz vocalists, plus Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. "Sinatra! The Song Is You," traced the singer's recorded history from the 1930s to the 1990s. It was inevitable Mr. Friedwald would at some point examine specific albums up close.

In his new book, "The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums," Mr. Friedwald takes on 57 albums by icons (Sinatra, Nina Simone, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Blossom Dearie, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme) and the obscure (Marilyn Maye, Matt Dennis, Barb Jungr). He adds a few surprises (an album by Doris Day and Robert Goulet and another by the late 1960s eccentric Tiny Tim).

Having written liner notes to several hundred recordings, mostly jazz reissues (disclosure: I have done the same in the country field), Mr. Friedwald acknowledges the seeming end of detailed liner notes in an era of digital downloads. His essays here, each running thousands of words, are essentially extended notes that offer unprecedented insight into each track and arrangement. Discussing accompanists and recording dates add even greater context, topped by his own well-informed and occasionally irreverent conclusions about each recording and the music within.

Mr. Friedwald identifies Bing Crosby's Dixieland album "Bing With a Beat" as "the album . where Crosby sounds like he's singing for the sheer joy of it, with a degree of warmth and emotional involvement that exceeds everything else he recorded in his long and incredibly prolific career." Analyzing the immortal John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album, he dismisses the ballad "Autumn Serenade" as "a comparatively trivial piece of business," adding a caveat that "Hartman's and Coltrane's throwaways are better than most artists' A-list items. …

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