on 11 March 2011
I READ ABOUT THE DEATH OF GEORGE SHEARING the day after I received this Capitol Jazz CD I had ordered--back in 1959, George and Peggy Lee had an album released 'recorded at the Disk Jockey Convention, in Miami, Florida'. It was all there, the audience, the announcements... and it was all fake. Only we didn't find out for several decades.
I believe the concert at the convention was recorded, but for some reason it was not deemed worthy of release, and the studio-recorded performances were substituted. George and Peggy recorded a couple of announcements that were dropped in - not entirely convincingly I now realise, and that was what we heard. I had the album on vinyl, and then later bought it on CD. The CD that arrived this week was the re-mastered studio tapes, sans disk jockeys, sans announcements, sans fakery!
I've always thought of Peggy Lee in terms of an Ice Queen--I really don't know why, because the singing is warm and carressing. Maybe it's the blonde hair. The lady was multiply talented, we know, a singer, songwriter, actress, lyricist and voice-over artist. Remember the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp? Peggy wrote the song and performed it for the sound-track.
So, to the album: titled Beauty and the Beat (I don't know if it's the first instance of that title: it certainly wasn't the last!) it features vocals from the aforesaid Miss Lee, and playing from the George Shearing Quintet, occasionally augmented to a Sextet by the additon of LA percussionist Armando Peraza. With George on piano, we hear Ray Alexander on vibes, Toots Thielmanns, guitar, Carl Pruitt on bass and drummer Ray Mosca. The 'Shearing sound' is in plentiful supply, tightly arranged lines with vibes an octave above the guitar, both doubled by the piano, with or without block chords in between -- you could take those arrangements and have a saxophone section play them, and it would sound pretty much like Glenn Miller...
The opening track, now mercifully shorn of its cheering and clapping, has always seemed to me to exemplify the near-perfect jazz-cabaret accompaniment. Four bars from the Quintet, repeated, for the introduction, and then as the vocal begins, the four bar phrases are stretched to eight bars, leaving more space for the vocal line. So simple, and so right! I'm not going to attempt to disect the numbers - the arrangements are excellent, the playing is masterly, and Lady Lee is in good voice. She does lay out for a couple of numbers in the middle, Mambo In Miami, composed by the percussionist, Armando Peraza and Isn't it Romantic? There are two 'bonus tracks' which didn't appear on the original album, and the second one is a personal favourite. Don't Ever Leave Me, by Jerome Kern, with words by Oscar Hammerstein II, was first heard in the 1929 show, Sweet Adeline and here it is rendered with consummate skill by our Miss Lee, plaintive and heartfelt enough to melt the heart of a tax-gatherer...
Finally, the cover picture shows Peggy Lee and George Shearing on stage in the spotlight. And that too is a fake, shot in the studio!