“Can’t act. Can’t sing. Can dance a little” was the comment made following Fred Astaire’s first screen test. Fortunately nobody listened and Fred achieved a highly successful career in film musicals as well as well managing some latter-day dramatic roles. Whilst Fred’s voice was not the greatest, he did have great style with a lyric which was recognised by the great songwriters of the golden age who allowed him to introduce an unequalled number of songs, which later became standards and subsequently performed and recorded by all the great vocalists. However, these songs also remained part of the Astaire persona so when it was suggested in 1952 that he should re-invent them in a soft jazz style, accompanied by a sextet which included Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel and Ray Brown, the project was soon in high-drive. Some jazz critics received the released outcome with some indifference but others were more enthusiastic and it became a popular seller. Now fifty years later, released as a double disc, there is every reason to cheer its reappearance as the nostalgic value alone stamps it as a musical milestone. Apparently, with no written arrangements, Fred, a live long jazz enthusiast, proved how able he was in such a relaxed setting to redefine all his old film hits like PUTTIN’ON THE RITZ, CHANGE PARTNERS and THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT with the aid of these talented musicians. They also have their solo moments and as a group musically explore a few pieces written for the project like JAM SESSION FOR A DANCER and THE ASTAIRE BLUES. Fortunately, Fred also brought his dance shoes to the studio and occasionally achieved some nifty steps and even played the piano on NOT MY GIRL as well as occasionally providing narration between tracks. This CD set celebrates one of those hybrid moments in recording history for which we should all be grateful.
Some people will never accept re-recordings, assuming that the originals are always best (they often are, but not always) and that any re-recordings are made just to make money (sometimes true but not always). There have been many reasons for re-recordings but one of them, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, was to take advantage of superior recording technology. Fred recorded the original versions of most of these songs in the twenties and thirties using technology far more primitive than that available in 1952 (which was still primitive by modern standards). But if you can't accept re-recordings, don't buy this.
Charlie Shavers (trumpet), Flip Phillips (tenor sax), Oscar Peterson (piano), Barney Kessel (guitar), Ray Brown (bass) and Alvin Stoller (drums) accompanied Fred on the 1952 sessions.
Fred may not have been the best singer of his generation but he knew his limitations and how to work within them. He had a pleasant voice and had a good feel for a song. His other talents, particularly as a dancer, made him ideal for Hollywood musicals and it was through that medium that Fred became the original singer of many popular classics.
Fred had number one hits in America with Night and day, Cheek to cheek, I'm putting all my eggs in one basket, The way you look tonight, A fine romance, They can't take that away from me, Nice work if you can get it and Change partners. He also made the top ten with many other songs including I love Louisa, New sun in the sky, No strings, Top hat white tie and tails, Isn't this a lovely day, I'm building up to an awful letdown, Let's call the whole thing off, They all laughed, A foggy day and I used to be color blind. Fred re-recorded all those songs in 1952 but he seems to have missed out some important songs including Let yourself go and Let's face the music and dance, which were both huge hits in 1936 (they were actually two sides of the same single) and remain among the most popular songs of the era.
There are other songs here that are indelibly associated with Fred but were not hits for him including S'wonderful, Putting on the Ritz, The continental, Stepping out with my baby, Dancing in the dark, Fascinating rhythm and the song that started it all for him, Oh lady be good.
With extensive liner notes describing Fred's career, this double-CD provides a great introduction to his music.
Most people know Fred Astaire as a billiant dancer, but even the great Gershwin chose him as his favourite singer/interpreter of his songs, some praise indeed. It was more about the style of his singing, his phrasing and timing, not the actual quality or tone of his voice.
In 1952 he re-recorded many of the songs he had made famous in his films of the 1930's, but he sings them in a very different style, in a jazz style and backed by Oscar Peterson. His performances are very good in my opinion and the sound quality, although only mono due to age, is far far better than his 1930's recordings.
There is another issue of this CD, see ASIN: B00076SFX6 which currently is a lot more expensive, however the cheaper CD under review is less hissy than the dearer option, so certainly sounds as good if not better. Astair's voice is very forward with the backing subdued, this balance is similar on both versions, well recommended and currently a brand new bargain.
on 23 March 2009
A truly individual interpretation of Fred Astaire standards, all of which by legendary composers i.e. Porter, Gershwin, Berlin etc. The instrumentalists were of all the highest musical standard. This when coupled with verbal anecdotes by Fred Astaire plus his unique vocal style gives for a truly memorable CD.
on 28 November 2012
On this CD Fred Astaire, sings, dances, chats and plays the piano, together with great musicians. If you like Fred Astaire and Jazz then I think you will enjoy this.