Sentimental Gentleman of Swing: Centennial Collection
Dorsey’s 100th birthday came and went with nary a murmur,
which isn’t surprising. In entertainment terms, a century
has become a unit of measure with something seemingly Pleistocene
at the other end, a point of view created, however inadvertently,
by the recording industry. But Dorsey wouldn’t be remembered
at all if it weren’t for recordings, a well-chosen set of
which was issued in commemoration.
Dorsey was a hot trumpet player in the 1920s who put that
instrument aside in favor of the trombone, on which he developed
a matchless way with ballads. As a bandleader, he was tough
and impulsive, easy to alienate, quick to patch things up.
He hired some of the era’s greatest talent for his big band,
which churned out an amazing array of hits beginning in 1935,
popularly culminating in his recordings with a young Sinatra
in the early ’40s—yet it was also Dorsey who gave a young
Elvis one of his first TV appearances.
Back in the ’70s, RCA began a reissue project intending to
cover Dorsey’s entire recorded career, but it died after eight
two-record sets that made it only into early 1939. Many of
the recordings were forgettable nonsense, yet there’s a combination
of craftsmanship and worthy jazz talent that makes any Dorsey
side worth hearing. Still, I wouldn’t have wanted the job
of confining my reissue picks to three CDs.
But that’s what this new set does. And it confines the Dorsey
big band’s commercial releases to only one of the three discs,
which, furthermore, ignores all but one of the band’s 17 No.
1 hit recordings—Irving Berlin’s “Marie,” with its great Bunny
Berigan trumpet solo. Not that songs like “Opus No. 1” and
“Boogie Woogie” weren’t popular—and here they are, cleaned
up a little better than the last time they came out on CD.
We’re also treated to some of the Dorsey band’s later recordings,
including a couple of sides from a 1955 session.
The first CD sets up Dorsey’s history, following him through
a succession of other ensembles, often alongside his sax-playing
brother, Jimmy, with whom he eventually joined forces as contentious
coleader. The cuts, from 1925 to 1932, include stints with
Paul Whiteman, Sam Lanin, Red Nichols and others, with singers
and soloists like Bing Crosby, the Boswell Sisters, Benny
Goodman, Joe Venuti and many, many more.
Most interesting of the set is the third disc, a collection
of aircheck recordings that typically struggle to see light
of day. These are all Dorsey Orchestra recordings, but with
that extra pizazz you typically hear when they’re playing
for an audience. Here’s a kicking instrumental version of
“Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet,” with trumpeter Ziggy Elman
and drummer Buddy Rich adding excitement; vocals by Sinatra,
Jo Stafford, a very young Connie Haines—and even Elvis’s “Heartbreak
Hotel.” Not to mention a bizarre version of “Take the ‘A’
Train,” from a 1946 broadcast with Duke Ellington sitting
Much, much more of this band and this vintage should be available,
online or on cheap CDs, but for now, this is a great place
to start—and even finish—satisfying those Tommy Dorsey needs
you probably won’t realize you have until you sample this
Profile: A Tribute to Nick Lowe (Brewery)
This isn’t the first Nick Lowe tribute. That designation goes
to Labour of Love: The Music of Nick Lowe from 2001.
As with its predecessor, this new release is not as good as
one of Lowe’s own albums—but then these projects never really
are, and probably can’t ever be, since the biggest part of
their allure comes from referencing the power of the originals.
The double-disc set’s primary flaw is its length. With 30
songs, it contains a fair amount of serviceable filler. It
also breaks the aesthetic template of Lowe’s albums, wherein
finely honed, concise songs are presented within the confines
of a traditional, human-scaled set. With this many songs spread
over two discs, Lowe Profile doesn’t function as an
album experience; rather, it’s an archive with performances
available for retrieval.
That said, there are some true gems contained herein. None
aim toward reinvention, as there’s no need to mess with a
durable song. Like an actor stepping into a well- written
role, Dave Alvin’s rough-hewn baritone on “Failed Christian”
revels in the gravity of the lyrics. Kim Shattuck of the the
Muffs turns in a beautiful solo performance of “You Make Me.”
Most of the other high points are built upon the joy of pure
and rollicking pop: Eric Ambel’s “12 Step Program,” former
Lowe bandmate Ian Gomm on “Cruel to Be Kind,” and Scott McCaughey’s
Lowe cover band, the Lowe Beats, storming through “I Don’t
Want the Night to End” in less than two minutes.