Gary Smulyan - High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine
- Reservoir Music RSR 195
During the first two decades after the Second World War, a time when good singing was popular and popular signing was good, Frankie Laine was one of the most successful and beloved vocal stars of them all. Starting in 1947 with his first big record for the Mercury label, "That's My Desire," Laine maintained a nearly continuous twenty-plus-year residence on the pop charts, amassing some two dozen Gold Records with three Number 1 hits in the US, and four more in the UK.
Still, even to his most ardent enthusiasts, a jazz tribute to this pop icon might seen a bit of a stretch. But not to baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. "I've always been a huge Frankie Laine fan," he explains. "I always thought he was really soulful. A lot of people kind of pigeon-hole him. They say he sang all those country and western tunes and made pop records. But he did a great jazz record in the 1950s. And then I found out that he wrote tunes, as well. As a lyricist he worked with some great people like Hoagy Carmichael and Matt Dennis, and sometimes he wrote the music himself."
Just how prolific a songwriter was Frankie Laine? Look at this way: take any five of Laine's most popular contemporaries, for instance, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, Dick Haymes, and Perry Como. Laine has more ASCAP songwriting credits than all of them combined. And in 1996 the Songwriters' Hall of Fame honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
At this point, arranger Mark Masters, another Frankie Laine partisan, entered the picture. "Gary called me about four years ago," Mark recalls, "and he said 'How about The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine?' And I said, 'Why not?' Frankie Laine was still living at the time, so I talked to a lady who managed the office for him and asked her if she could look in their files for whatever lead sheets they had of tunes he had either authored or co-authored. And she said they didn't have anything. Then I talked to his manager. He didn't have anything. But I have a friend, Bertrand Uberall, who does a lot of research at the Library of Congress, so I asked Bertrand to look into what they might have. And he found between 80 and 100 lead sheets with Frankie Laine's name on them - a lot of good songs."
"Frankie Laine understood the architecture," Gary maintains, "of how songs are put together. And there was a certain harmonic sophistication. You know, I reharmonized the tunes to make them more interesting for improvising over, but there are some pretty sophisticated tunes in this collection." Of the ten songs included in this set, Laine wrote the lyrics for six of them, and also composed the music for one of those.
"There were another fifteen or twenty that I would have liked to have included," Gary continues. "Most of them haven't been recorded very often at all. I tried to find the ones that would sound good on the baritone and things that orchestration-wise would be interesting for Mark. Mark ran with it and he did an incredibly creative job."
I'd Give My Life is one of many collaborations between Laine and his accompanist, Carl Fischer. Mark shifted it from a walking ballad into a bright swing tune, as brief ensemble passages provide a framework for solos by Gary, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, and pianist Pete Malinverni. "Some of the tunes," Mark explains, "play a specific role, just to be swinging and straight-ahead with not a whole lot of ensemble stuff going on. You can't be orchestrally dense for whole record. The listener has to have some kind of relief. And this is one of those tunes. It's mostly about the recomposition and the blowing."
High Noon, the Oscar-winning "Best Song" of 1952, is not one of Laine's compositions, but it was one of his biggest hits. As is, it's the least musically sophisticated - and, on the surface, the least promising - of all the songs in this collection. "It's really a nothing tune," Gary observes, "there's not much to it. But Mark used a lot of artistic freedom -- arranger's freedom - and went in a whole different direction. The way Mark approached the orchestration, there are a lot of clusters and time changes and tension, and he completely transformed the piece."
Starting more or less from scratch, Mark's ingenious recasting only occasionally allows bits of the familiar theme to peak through the dense musical veil. "I didn't really have anything preconceived," he recalls, "I had no idea that it was going to end up with the bulk of the tune being a slow blues in Eb. It just kind of happened. Harmonically I treated it almost like an Ornette Coleman tune, with no chord changes, just a head, and I went about recomposing it from that point of view."
The versatile multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson leads off with, in Gary's view, "the most amazing bass clarinet solo I've ever heard. I almost couldn't even play after I heard him play that." Mark concurs. "I love the instrument, and in Scott's hands it's a work of art. There aren't a whole lot of people who can improvise on the bass clarinet and make sense." In an inventive touch, instead of taking full choruses, trombonist John Fedchock and French hornist John Clark, and then alto saxophonist Dick Oatts and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, pair up and trade fours, before Gary's baritone saxophone takes over.
Written with Al Lerner, Torchin', Gary declares, is "an absolutely stunningly beautiful tune to play," and he plays the haunting ballad with his personal brand of stunning beauty. "This is the one tune that we really did not fool with harmonically," Mark notes, "because it was all set to go." The highlight of this exquisite performance is a remarkable chorus of overlapping solos by Dick Oatts' alto and Gary's baritone. Not really a dialogue, it's more like a pair of simultaneous monologues, each managing to get its point across while, somehow, keeping out of the other's way.
This is the perfect place to point out the essential contribution of John Clark's French horn to this track, and the entire project. "It's the only instrument that can do certain things for you in an orchestral setting," Mark maintains. "Because of the range of the horn, there's no other instrument that could play the written French horn solo on this ballad. I really like having a French horn for that reason. It's so unique and it works where nothing else will."
It Only Happens Once, in Mark's opinion, is "probably the hippest tune on the record. How many pop tunes of that era start on a dominant 7th chord? Not a lot. This one was a joy to write on. It lent itself to a lot of possibilities." That's high praise, since Laine composed both the lyrics and the music. It was recorded first in 1945 by Laine's close friend, Nat King Cole, and five decades later by master vibraphonist Milt Jackson, but seldom in between, and you have to wonder why. As this relaxed, Basie-ish treatment demonstrates, this fine song deserves to be played a lot more.
An engaging blues by pianist-singer-songwriter Bobby Troup, Baby, Baby All the Time was one of the highlights of Laine's wonderful 1956 album, Jazz Spectacular, an overlooked classic featuring jazz stalwarts like trumpeter Buck Clayton and the trombone team of J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. Gary plays the head and then the ensemble doubles the tempo to set up the solos. It's a blowing track, but with a difference. Gary's moody solo is followed by a series of four-bar trades between each of the other five horns and Steve Johns' drums. "We figured that out in the studio," he recalls. "Otherwise you have solo after solo after solo, and that gets old really fast. So we decided to break it up and do interesting things and get out of that mentality of just solo following solo." After a pair of new ensemble choruses bassist Andy McKee gets his turn before the original tempo returns for Gary's out-chorus - in all, a coherent, deceptively simple, totally satisfying performance.
As originally cooked up by Frankie Laine and Carl Fischer, When You're in Love had the flavor of a garlic-and-olive-oil-marinated ballad, more like a vehicle for Italiano crooners like Dean Martin or Julius LaRosa than for a jazz-influenced singer known as "Mr. Rhythm," and whose biggest commercial hits were cowboy novelties. But Frankie Laine was, after all, born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio in 1913 to Sicilian immigrant parents, and he grew up in the Little Italy neighborhood of Al Capone's Chicago, so enough said. In this radically recast version, a full chorus of Andy McKee's bass precedes a completely recomposed theme. "Mark wrote a new head, like a bebop line, over the chord changes," Gary explains, "and transformed it into another tune. You never really hear the melody, and that was very clever."
Put Yourself in My Place, Baby features an unusual 20-bar form and the kind of appealing chord changes that you'd expect from one of Laine's most distinguished collaborators, Hoagy Carmichael. The first few bars of Mark's arrangement allude to the melody, but he takes it in different directions after that, doubling the time and shifting the meter. Typically fine solos by John Fedchock on trombone and Pete Malinverni on piano are followed by a call-and-response section for Gary and the ensemble, and then a full chorus by Gary with the rhythm section.
Although recorded by Laine, A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry, may be better known as the title tune of a memorable album of torch songs by Joe Williams. In contrast to Laine's searing tenor voice, Williams' resonant baritone was far closer in timbre and register to Gary's instrument, and so, this poignant ballad proves an ideal feature for him. "Gary is a world-class baritone saxophonist," Mark declares. "Gary is a consummate blues player. He's a consummate ballad player. He's a consummate changes player. He sounds good on everything."
In 1949 That Lucky Old Sun became Frankie Laine's first Number 1 hit, and for the rest of his career it was his best known and most requested song. In another major overhaul, Mark strips away the original quasi-gospel melody and mood to reveal a musical core that is surprisingly, but appropriately, "sunny." And don't miss the tight ensemble work in the intricate out chorus, Mark's variation on his variation.
Unlike most of the other songs in this set, We'll Be Together Again is a recognized standard that has been recorded by many jazz musicians and singers - and with good reason. Alec Wilder, in his landmark study, American Popular Song, praised the melody's logic and architecture, calling it "a great illustration of pop ballad sophistication," and compared Carl Fischer's craftsmanship to that of Irving Berlin and Harold Arlen. Laine's lyrics are arguably the best he ever penned, with a movingly evocative couplet that leaps out at you from the second half of bridge: Don't let temptation surround you. Don't let the blues make you bad. "It's poetry," Gary remarks. "It does an amazing job of capturing that sad feeling. And that's what a lyric is supposed to do, right?"
This impromptu, informal duet rendering by Gary and pianist Pete Malinverni was, Gary remembers, "a one-off. We did just one take while people were packing up and the date was winding down. And Pete sounded beautiful on it" Mark agrees. "Listening to the guys at the end of the session, I knew it was magic."
Although his career slowed as popular music changed with the passing decades, Frankie Laine remained active, recording and performing well into his eighties. He made his last public appearance in October 2005 on a PBS special, when despite a recent stroke he sang a joyful chorus of his signature song, "That's My Desire." Ever the trooper, his voice was strong and clear, and he hit the high notes with confidence and ease. (To Hear Frankie Laine at 92: Click Here.) Just over fifteen months later, on February 6, 2007, Frankie Laine died at the age of 93.
It's unfortunate that Laine didn't live to see the completion of this project, since, jazz lover that he was, he'd have been delighted by its creativity and honored by its integrity. "This whole thing was done out of respect for his music and his singing," Gary affirms. "And hopefully this record will make people revisit Frankie Laine's music. Maybe it will start a resurgence and create some interest in him, because he was a big star who became largely forgotten after a while. But he was able to reach people and touch people and be genuine. He had a lot of feeling and soul. And in terms of overall talent, as a musician, he was huge."
"The things that made Sinatra and all the good ones really good," Mark adds, "Frankie Laine had them, too. Granted, his voice was a little more of an acquired taste, but that just means that he was an original."
|Complete CD Liner Notes Credits|
|Eric Alexander||Full Range||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Helio Alves||Portrait In Black and White||Reservoir Music|
|Anush Apoyan||A Dedication to Horace Silver||Black & Blue|
|Robert Bachner & Helmar Hill||Ein feiner Zug||ATS|
|Thomas Barber's Janus Bloc||Snow Road||D Clef|
|Carl Bartlett, Jr.||Hopeful|
|Count Basie||Chairman of the Board||Roulette Jazz|
|Roni Ben-Hur||Signature||Reservoir Music|
|Walter Blanding||The Olive Tree||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Don Braden||After Dark||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Bunnett||Cuban Odyssey||EMI Music Canada|
|Sharel Cassity||Relentless||Jazz Legacy Productions|
|Al Clausen||Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most||Sunny NoDak|
|Steve Davis||Vibe Up!||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Dena DeRose||Introducing Dena DeRose||Sharp Nine|
|Dena DeRose||United||High Note|
|Orrin Evans||Grown Folk Bizness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||No Nonsense||Reservoir Music|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||Up & Running||Reservoir Music|
|Carl Fontana||The Fifties||Uptown|
|Sayuri Goto||Flashback||Fever Pitch|
|Sayuri Goto||Prayer||Fever Pitch|
|Jimmy Greene||Introducing Jimmy Greene||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Coleman Hawkins||The Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]||Prestige|
|David Hazeltine||A World for Her||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Conrad Herwig||Heart of Darkness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Jarvis||Sagmo's Song||Faith|
|Jane Jarvis & Benny Powell||Two of a Kind||Faith|
|Ingrid Jensen||Here on Earth||Enja|
|Philly Joe Jones Dameronia||Look, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny Griffin||Uptown|
|David Kikoski||Almost Twilight||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Yuko Kimora||A Beautiful Friendship|
|Ryan Kisor||The Dream||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Marilyn Lerner||Birds Are Returning||Jazz Focus|
|Achilles Liarmakopolous||Trombone Atrivedo ||Opening Day|
|Gene Ludwig||The Groove ORGANization||Blues Leaf|
|Joe Magnarelli||Mr. Mags||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Virgina Mayhew||Nini Green||Chiaroscuro|
|Virginia Mayhew||No Walls||Foxhaven|
|Virginia Mayhew||Sandan Shuffle||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew||A Simple Thank You||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew|| Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years||Renma|
|Dave Panichi||Blues for McCoy||Spirit Song|
|Roberta Piket||Solo||Thirteenth Note|
|Roberta Piket||One for Marian||Thirteenth Note|
|Valery Ponomarev||Beyond the Obvious||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||The Messenger||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||Our Father Who Art Blakey||Zoho|
|Benny Powell||Coast 2 Coast||Faith|
|Benny Powell||The Gift of Love||Faith|
|Melvin Rhyne||Kojo||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Claudio Roditi||Double Standards||Reservoir Music|
|Claudio Roditi||Free Wheelin'||Reservoir Music|
|Adonis Rose||The Unity||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jim Rotundi||Reverence||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Harvie S & Sheryl Bailey||Plucky Strum||Whaling City Sound|
|Horace Silver||Paris Blues||Pablo|
|Gary Smulyan||High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine||Reservoir Music|
|Doug Talley||Night and Day||Serpentine|
|Uptown Five||Uptown Swing||Harlem|
|Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John Coltrane||The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests||Prestige|
|Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil Trio||St. Thomas||Evidence Music|
|Walt Weiskopf||Anytown||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Steve Weist||Out of the New||Arabesque|
|Deborah Weisz||Breaking Up, Breaking Out||Vah Wa|
|Rich Willey||Gone with the Piggies||Consolidated Artists Productions|