Cy Coleman: A Jazzman's Broadway. the Musical Theater Project and Harbinger Records HCD-3401 (1 CD)

By Schulman, Lawrence | ARSC Journal, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Cy Coleman: A Jazzman's Broadway. the Musical Theater Project and Harbinger Records HCD-3401 (1 CD)


Schulman, Lawrence, ARSC Journal


Cy Coleman: A Jazzman's Broadway. The Musical Theater Project and Harbinger Records HCD-3401 (1 CD).

Over the years, no label has done more to promote the Great American Songbook than the Musical Theater Project and Harbinger Records. Now, the erudite and indefatigable Ken Bloom, producer of this release and more than fifty other albums, and one of the leading authorities on American popular song and musical theater, has come up with another winning disc that spotlights Cy Coleman (1929-2004), composer of the music of such shows as Little Me (1962), Sweet Charity (1966), On the Twentieth Century (1978), and Barnum (1980), on which he plays piano, accompanied and solo, on tunes from Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg's Jamaica (1957), Rodgers and Hammerstein II's Flower Drum Song (1958), and Rodgers and Hammerstein II's South Pacific (1949). In an era when musicians used then-current Broadway musicals as a springboard to create jazz albums devoted to their scores, Coleman stands out as a songwriter and pianist who brought his unique musicianship to this endeavor. "While listening to this jazzy CD," states Harbinger, "think of yourself sipping a Manhattan cocktail or a martini at the Shelburne or Park Sheraton hotels' club while Cy Coleman and his fellow musicians regale you with a bevy of Broadway blockbuster tunes. It's '50s jazz at its finest." So, put down the smartphones, turn off the tablets, and take off the headphones, as you take the time to listen to and luxuriate in a world of New York cabaret that survives, willy-nilly, to this day.

With Coleman on piano and vocalizing, Aaron Bell on bass, Ray Mosca and Ossie Johnson on drums, Romeo Pinque on flute, and Skeeter Best on guitar, the ten tracks from Jamaica, some with chorus and all cooler than a cool mint julep, display a pretty good score, although no songs became stand-alone standards. As heard in "I Don't Think I'll End It All Today," "Napoleon," "Little Biscuit," and "Push De Button," Coleman proves himself to be a more-than-adequate vocalist. He is also a terrific pianist, as is demonstrated on "Take It Slow, Joe," "Pretty to Walk With," "Cocoanut Sweet," and "What Good Does It Do?"

Featuring Cy Coleman on piano, Aaron Bell on bass, and G. Hogan on percussion, as the Cy Coleman Trio, the eight tracks from Flower Drum Song, all of which time in at from 4:24 to 6:35, are performed by these polished musicians without any vocalizing this time around. All of these Broadway show tunes are here convincingly translated into jazz by the marvelous artistry of these musicians. Once again, Coleman's piano playing is perfection, as can be heard on "You Are Beautiful" and "Sunday," and his improvisations, as on "Grant Avenue," are inspired. The trio really takes off on "Chop Suey." As was the case for the Jamaica recordings, none of these songs have ever entered the repertoire and become standards that are still played or sung today.

The four tracks from South Pacific--" Younger Than Springtime," "This Nearly Was Mine," "Happy Talk," and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair"--come from "rare transcription discs making their debuts since being recorded in the early 1950s," according to Harbinger. These lyrical solo interpretations, all of short duration, are takes, without any improvising, on the wonderful melodies from the show, all well-known to this day. If George Gershwin had been alive, this is the way he would have interpreted these wonderful Rogers and Hammerstein tunes: such is Coleman's fine playing, which wastes no time in delivering the essence of these classic tunes. …

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