Hipsters start here.
Squares and Musical Theatre Geeks skip down to the track listings.
Drum & Bass fans, go away. Come back in a couple of years when you're ready to learn about songs, you know, something with a melody that a person actually sings.
So once upon a time you bought a couple of those lounge compilations, because they were retro and ironic and all the zines were talking about Esquivel, man. And after a few listens, not when hosting parties, but you know, as background music, you thought to yourself, hey, apart from the wacky arrangements, these songs actually, you know, have a melody. Meanwhile your truly obsessed friends are buying up Martin Denny and Les Baxter albums, on vinyl no less, to match their tiki glass collection and faux leopard smoking jackets. You’ll never catch up. My friends, there’s a better way. Do an end run around the Polynesian and Cuban influences and go back to the source: American Jazz.
The line between Exotica/Lounge and American Jazz Standards is not easily crossed. The Swing Revival buried the Big Bands and Jazz Orchestras behind the Jump Blues in the CD bins, and I'll let others lead you that way. I’m going to recommend another strategy: follow the vocalists, or follow the songwriters. And when it comes to both, Capitol Records (yes, the same ones that put out those Ultra Lounge compilations sitting in your CD tower) knows American Popular Music.
So may I introduce you, for your eager virgin ears, a trip to the land of the American Popular Song, courtesy of Capitol Records, with Volume 15 of their Capitol Sings collections, released in 1995:
Capitol Sings Hoagy Carmichael: Stardust (Capitol 32592)
Hoosier Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981) came to songwriting through ragtime, then jazz, and was a popular musician in his own right, paying his way through college playing dance concerts. But his success as a composer got him to give up his law career for songwriting gigs at the Cotton Club, then Hollywood, and he’d later move into radio and movies as an actor and a singer. You’ve heard his songs, probably without knowing they were his (Ray Charles made "Georgia on My Mind" justly famous, and until "Louie, Louie" came along, "Stardust" was the most-recorded American song).
This CD is an excellent introduction, or re-introduction to Hoagy Carmichael. Carmichael purists claim his own recordings as definitive, pointing to Ole Buttermilk Sky (a 1998 compilation of his Decca recordings) or Hoagy Sings Carmichael (with his 1956 sessions for Pacific Jazz). But this compilation takes a standard approach: a variety of artists captured over the years. The emphasis here is on Capitol and sings. But Capitol shows off its star vocal talent in this compilation of Carmichael tunes which range from 1945 to 1962.
Every cut, from the orchestral arrangements of Billy May and Nelson Riddle to the simpler jazz trios and quintets focus on the singer, so that the musicality of Carmichael’s songs shines through the human voice, and oh, brother, what voices Capitol has in its stables: Crosby. Armstrong. Tormé. Peggy Lee. Kay Starr. Keely Smith. Dinah Shore. And featured here not once, but twice, Nat King Cole.
- Stardust (H. Carmichael/M. Parish)
Nat King Cole
- When Love Goes Wrong (H. Adamson/H. Carmichael)
Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely
- In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening (J. Mercer/H. Carmichael)
- A Woman Likes to Be Told (H. Carmichael/H. Adamson)
- Heart and Soul (H. Carmichael/F. Loesser)
- Memphis in June (H. Carmichael/P.F. Webster)
- Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief (H. Carmichael/P.F. Webster)
- Ole Buttermilk Sky (H. Carmichael/J. Brooks)
The Four Freshmen
- I Get Along Without You Very Well (H. Carmichael)
- Georgia on My Mind (S. Gorrell/H. Carmichael)
- Skylark (H. Carmichael/J. Mercer)
- Small Fry (F. Loesser/H. Carmichael)
- Lazy River (H. Carmichael/S. Arodin)
Bing Crosby & Louis Armstrong
- Bubble-Loo, Bubble-Loo (H. Carmichael/P.F. Webster)
- Rockin’ Chair (H. Carmichael)
- Judy (H. Carmichael/S. Lerner)
- How Little We Know (H. Carmichael/J. Mercer)
Nat King Cole
- The Nearness of You (H. Carmichael/N. Washington)
- Two Sleepy People (H. Carmichael/F. Loesser)
Dean Martin & Line Renaud
- New Orleans (H. Carmichael)
In a wistful mood? Sad and lonely? Or maybe you’re unabashedly in love, giddy and at peace with the world. There’s something for you on this CD. The songs and the performances show how many musical ideas Carmichael could find within the familiar idiom of the American popular song/jazz tradition, and the varied arrangements here, as well as the variety of sentiment penned by the lyricists that Carmichael worked with, keep the CD as a whole flowing. With each singer’s distinctive voice and individual phrasing tackling Carmichael’s difficult melodic lines, this CD bears repeated listening, as nuances in melody, voice, and lyrics surface upon each play.
Hasse, John Edward. "Brief Biography of Hoagy Carmichael." The Hoagy Carmichael Collection – Indiana University Digital Library Program. 24 May 2000.
<http://www.dlib.indiana.edu/collections/hoagy/research/bio/> (4 April 2002)
Pfeffer, Murray L. "Hoagy Carmichael." Big Bands Database. 1994-2000.
<http://nfo.net/cal/tc2.html> (12 January 2010)