These early Bennett albums are presented in chronological order covering 1954 to 1959 and provide 51 tracks, all but a half dozen familiar to anyone who was listening seriously to popular music around 1950. All five albums feature excellent musicians not least the Count Basie orchestra but also such as Urbie Green, Ralph Sharon, Al Cohn, Eddie Safranski, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton and Don Lamond.
My main problem with Bennett is that on the whole he tends to “walk through it”, as they say in the theatre, lacking the “singing just to you” feel that Sinatra – a notable Bennett admirer – achieved so effortlessly.
The earliest album, Cloud 7, begins with I Fall In Love Too Easily, which Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn wrote for Sinatra in his first movie at MGM, Anchors Aweigh, and which I have never heard done away from the film. This album is replete with top-class material, including Harry Warren’s My Heart Tells Me, the seldom-heard verse on Give Me The Simple Life and, perhaps just shading the rest, Darn That Dream.
On the second album, The Beat Of My Heart, Bennett seems a little more adventurous, offering Porter’s Love For Sale, a first-person account of the life of a hooker and never, to my knowledge, performed by a male. Another offbeat choice is the Jerome Morross-John Latouche Lazy Afternoon from The Golden Apple which, though not gender-specific, is also invariably performed by a female.
By the third album, Hometown, My Town, it’s as if he’s suddenly realised that there’s a fifth gear in the car. He really goes to town on Penthouse Serenade and turns in a nice medium bounce reading on Irving Berlin’s All My Myself. As he did on Penthouse Serenade he also throws in the verse on Johnny Green’s I Cover The Waterfront which scores him extra brownie points in my neck of the woods as neither verse is heard nearly enough.
The fourth album Basie/Bennett, is a major disappointment given the talent on display; only three of the 11 tracks exceed three minutes and three of them can’t even make it to two minutes. If you throw in the terrible phrasing on I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face (as written the lyric reads “. . . rather like a habit one can always break . . . and yet . . .” that caesura is crucial and Bennett throws it away, singing “. . . rather like a habit one can always breakandyet . . .”) this is an album unlikely to take up much space on either man’s CV.
Basie is back for the fifth and final album, In Person!, in which the most interesting items are Firefly, a number that Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh wrote when auditioning to write the score for Gypsy (they didn’t get the job but Bennett got a record out of the song, which then dropped off the radar) and Growing Pains, from the score of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields.
One final plus: the little-known, seldom-heard verse to Harry Warren’s There Will Never Be Another You. One final bemusement: the double-time reading duet with Candido Camera’s congas on Old Man River.
CD1: [Cloud 7] (1) I Fall In Love Too Easily; My Baby Just Cares For Me; My Heart Tells Me; Old Devil Moon; Love Letters; My Reverie; Give Me The Simple Life; While The Music Plays On; I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me; Darn That Dream; [The Beat Of My Heart] (2) Let’s Begin; Lullaby Of Broadway; Let There Be Love; Love For Sale; Army Combat Song; Crazy Rhythm; The Beat Of My Heart; So Beats My Heart For You; Blues In The Night; Lazy Afternoon; Let’s Face The Music And Dance; Just One Of Those Things; [Hometown, My Town] (3) Skyscraper Blues; Penthouse Serenade; All By Myself (79.21)
CD2: [Hometown, My Town] I Cover The Waterfront; Love Is Here To Stay; The Party’s Over; [Basie/Bennett] (4) Life Is A Song; With Plenty Of Money And You; Jeepers Creepers; Are You Having Any Fun; Anything Goes; Strike Up The Band; Chicago; I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face; Poor Little Rich Girl; Growing Pains; I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan; [In Person!] (5) Just In Time; When I Fall In Love; Taking A Chance On Love; Without A Song; Fascinating Rhythm; Solitude; Pennies From Heaven; Lost In The Stars; Firefly; There Will Never Be Another You; Lullaby Of Broadway; Old Man River (72.06)
Bennett (v) with:
(1) Al Cohn, Caesar DiMauro (ts); Dave Schildkraut (as); Charles Panely (t); Gene DeNova, Harvey Leonard (p); Chuck Wayne (g); Clyde Lombardi (b); Sonny Igoe, Ed Shaughnessy (d). New York City, August, December 1954.
(2) Ralph Sharon (p, arr); Kai Winding, Jim Dahl (tb); Bob Alexander, Dick Lieb (btb); Herbie Mann, Bobby Jasper, Spencer Sinatra, Vince Vittorio, Bill Slapin (f); Jimmy Bond, Milt Hinton, Eddie Safranski (b); Sabu Martinez, Candido Camera, Billy Exiner (pc); Chico Hamilton, Art Blakey, Jo Jones (d). June, October, 1957.
(3) Ralph Burns (arr, cond); Al Cohn (ts); Urbie Green (tb); Al Caiola, Barry Galbraith (g); Ralph Sharon (p); Milt Hinton (b); Eddie Costa (pc); Teddy Snyder, Don Lamond (d). No recording details. (4) Count Basie (p); Ralph Sharon (p, arr); Frank Foster, Billy Mitchell (ts); Marshall (as); Frank Wess (as, ts, f); Charlie Fowlkes (bar); Thad Jones, Snooky Young, Joe Newman, Wendell Culley (t); Henry Coker, Al Grey, Benny Powell (tb); Freddie Green (g); Eddy Jones (b); Sonny Payne (d). Capitol Studios, New York City, 3-5 January 1959.
(5) Ralph Sharon (p, arr); Marshall Royal (as); Frank Wess (as, ts, f); Frank Foster, Billy Mitchell (ts); Charlie Fowlks (bar); Thad Jones, Snooky Young, Joe Newman, Wendell Culley (t); Henry Coker, Al Grey, Benny Powell (tb); Freddie Green (g); Eddie Jones (b); Candido Camera (cga); Sonny Payne (d). New York City, 22 December 1958.
Avid AMSC 1391