Following are the liner notes for Rosemary's latest CD Sentimental Journey written by Will Friedwald, respected jazz critic and author of Jazz Singing. Mr. Friedwald also wrote the notes for Columbia's 1999 reissue of Rosemary's collaboration (1956) with Duke Ellington Blue Rose.
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Rosemary Clooney, who turned 73 around the time that this album was being readied for release, has long been an institution unto herself. About a month before that 73rd birthday (when Rosemary reads this, she will undoubtedly say, "why is he mentioning that number so many times?"), Clooney was presented with the equivalent of a lifetime achievment award by the Manhattan Assocation of Cabaret. She was then nearing the end of a month-long residence at Feinstein's at the Regency Hotel, accompanied by Matt Catingub's Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack. At the time of this engagement, the pianist and singer Mark Nadler-who is as cabaret as they come-took ten minutes out of his act at Sardi's to tell his audience that the hundred or so dollars he had recently spent to hear Clooney at Feinstein's (roughly two bucks a minute) was the best value for his money he'd ever received in his life. Thus it's clear that the cabaret world regards Clooney as one of its own kind-one of, if not the, very best.
As much as any of the great goddesses of cabaret, like Mabel Mercer, Clooney makes a lyric come alive. She can take 32 bars of some song you've heard a thousand times by everybody (such as "You Go To My Head" on the current set) and their brother and turn it into an intensely personal testament. The title track from Clooney's previous album Brazil has an english lyric by Bob Russell. The lyricist's intention was not to set hearts moving so much as to get toes tapping-Clooney was the first to prove that "Brazil" could not only be physically moving but emotionally moving as well.
Yet cabaret singers do not share the stage with the likes of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Woody Herman and the Basie band-not to mention Matt Catingub's Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack (I doubt that the word "kahuna" has even ever been uttered in an East Side cabaret or the West Side's restaurant row. Clooney is as much a jazz singer as Abbey Lincoln or Cassandra Wilson (to mention two contemporary ladies who are, along with Clooney, at the very top of my list).
Nor do cabaret singers have their sense of rhythm extravagantly praised by hardcore jazz musicians. This quote has already appeared on a Concord liner note, but it's worth repeating here: as Scott Hamilton, who plays tenor on many of Clooney's records of the last 25 years, recently told Peter Straub, "She has a really great time. It's just there. You wouldn't believe how helpful that is when you're playing behind her. The other thing about Rose is that she's so strong, as a musician, that she can shape the whole way we're going to do a song in the first three notes. She can shape everything in a pick-up."
There is a word for this kind of music, but it's somewhat antiquated and I'm reluctant to use it: when you take cabaret singing and give it a beat, or when you take jazz singing and invest it with a profound sensitivity to the lyrics, this is what used to be known as pop singing. That's what Clooney's approximate contemporaries, such as Margaret Whiting, Doris Day, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gorme, Buddy Greco, Peggy Lee, Jack Jones, and most importantly Tony Bennett-just to name a few who are living-all manage to do. As much as I admire some of the younger vocalists in either the jazz or cabaret fields, I'd have a hard time naming any who are able to do what these artists did so matter-of-factly, as they say in Harlem, back in the day.
I've only heard jazz musicians laud two other pop singers with the same fervency that Scott Hamilton lavished on Clooney, namely Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Clooney is obviously the singer who's learned the most from those two icons, and the living artist who is most closely connected to them both. (Her sagacious take on the private and professional lives of both of those colossi is worth elaborating on at some length, but this isn't the place for it here.) But this idea is central to the work of both men: that you don't have to sacrifice the narrative in order to get the beat, and that you don't have to stop swinging in order to put the love story over. If either of these men, who were both profoundly inspired by Louis Armstrong, contributed any one thing to American music, that was it. And with the exception of Mr. Bennett, there's no one currently out there, working every night, who lives up to that ideal.
Around ten years ago, Clooney, having paid tribute to two iconic performers of this music (Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby) and seven composers, launched an ongoing cycle of albums that are roughly described as "autobiographical." One of the major misconceptions that has sabotaged pop music in the last 40 years is the horrendous idea that performers should be expected to write their own songs in order to sing of their own experiences (most of the time, both the singing and the writing are equally amateurish, but again this isn't the time to discuss that).
In classic pop, however, artists are faced with the challenge of personalizing material not only written by others, but which may already be closely associated with other singers. In such albums as Demi Centennial, Do You Miss New York?, and Still On The Road, Clooney blurs the distinction between autobiography (in the singer-songwriter tradition) and interpretation, as she takes both classic and obscure songs and forges them into comprehensive programs which reflect her own life. For The Duration consisted of songs from Clooney's childhood, Girl Singer reflected her two years on the road with the big bands, Do You Miss New York? began with the idea of reflecting on the four years at the start of her career in which she called Fun City home.
Sentimental Journey provides another chapter in the story: film director Peter Bogdanovich once said of Sinatra's songs that they were not only The Singer's own autobiography, but the rest of ours as well. Likewise, these autobiographies of Clooney's function as memoirs for the entire culture. Sentimental Journey brings us back to the mid to late '40s-the end of the war, the climax of the band era, the start of the baby boom, the explosion of the suburbs (which Tony Bennett attributes directly to Bing Crosby)-and the songs reflect that optimism that was only possible between the end of the hot war and the beginning of the cold one.
The result is a very vital new episode to add to the ongoing saga. It's also appropriate that pianist and arranger John Oddo also contributes nine orchestrations to the project, thus continuing a relationship that began roughly in 1983, when Clooney plucked him out of Woody Herman's Orchestra, after recording her album My Buddy with that legendary band. The man responsible for the rest of the charts and even the orchestra itself is Matt Catingub, an ace altoist, pianist, singer (that's him with Rosie on "Ya Got Class"), arranger, composer and bandleader. Himself, the son of a great singer (Mavis Rivers) and the unofficial Godson of Red Norvo (partner of Mildred Bailey, Frank Sinatra and many other vocal colossi) Catingub shows at a very young age that he knows practically everything there is to know about accompanying a vocalist. Though he's assumed the mantle of a swingmeister here and his own recordings, one of his most effective charts avoids the big band idiom entirely: "You Go To My Head" summons up both the King Cole Trio and the George Shearing Quintet circa 1950 with its doubled notes between the vibes and the piano, and makes us all hear this oft-repeated standard in a whole new light.
The Copa Cats bear the extravagant title and their own albums (such as this year's Shake Those Hula Hips, which I've already played a dozen times all the way through since it arrived two days ago-including a couple of times, I'm happy to say, on the beach) displays the cocktail-ish trappings of the lounge music (whatever that is) and retro swing movements. Please don't hold that against them-this band produces pure swing in the classic style, witty, articulate, brilliantly played, and could compete with virtually any of the bands of renown circa 1946. As Clooney describes the Kahunans (in the middle of the live "Sentimental Journey"), this is truly "a band and a half!"
The two new songs here are the most directly autobiographical: "I'm The Big Band Singer," written by Merv Griffin (who was one), finds Clooney plumbing emotional depths where other artists might find only jingoism. "The Singer" elaborates on what Clooney and the rest of us have learned from the man that I have heard her refer to only as "Mr. Sinatra." It's the work of two of his former sidemen and fellow paisanos, pianist-conductor Vinnie Falcone and drummer Joe Cocuzzo, the latter being even better known for his work with Clooney and Tony Bennett.
Where "The Singer" is obviously dedicated to the singer, "Rockin' Chair" is rendered in loving memory of Mildred Bailey, one of Clooney's earliest inspirations. At least three songs are inspired by the partnership of another Clooney mentor, Bob Hope, and his longtime musical alter-ego, the great Les Brown: "Ya Got Class," the duet with Catingub, which Hope's on-call songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans penned for Hope and Clooney in the 1953 Here Come The Girls, "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" which Brown made into the last big hit of the swing era, and our title, "Sentimental Journey," which Brown co-wrote, and then made into the defining anthem of the war's end, launching the career of his girl singer Doris Day in the process.
Clooney's 50-year professional and personal relationship with Hope and Brown (they cut an album together about 20 years ago) makes those three numbers all the more poignant. Yet as I say, even the standard songs are ripe with autobiographical relevance: whether she's singing about those she's loved and lost with ballad-time tenderness (never more effectively than on "I'll Be Around"-that pause before the last "gone" says it all), singing the blues (or at least expressing the reasons why she has a right to) or flat-out swinging (as in the opener "That Old Black Magic"), Clooney makes it clear that the Great American Songbook expresses the dreams and desires of more than its authors, but its interpreters and most importantly, its collective audiences. When Clooney closes with a medley of what I call three "tender kiss off" songs, it's plain that she's not only saying goodbye to us for now, she's saying farewell to the richest era in popular music.
To put the statistics of Clooney's career into perspective, whenever the day comes that she decides to hang up her microphone (and I hope it never does!) after this album (her 27th Concord release), she'll already not only be one of the most prolific female singers of all time, but, thankfully, probably the one who recorded the most in the later part of her career-with not only the most consistently excellent but the most amazingly personal series of statements since Thomas Edison ever tinkered with tinfoil. Importantly, Clooney recently said that it was Duke Ellington who first gave her a glimmer of her own value as an artist. As she once said, the experience of working with Ellington, "validated me as an American singer. My work would not fade with my generation. I had now moved into a very exclusive group."
My thanks to Matt and The Copa Cat Pack for making me feel twenty five again-even if only for a little while.
1. That Old Black Magic (Harold Arlen - John H. Mercer)
2. I'm Glad There Is You (Jimmy Dorsey - Paul Mertz)
3. I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Irving Berlin)
4. You Go To My Head (Fred Coots -- Haven Gillespie)
5. And The Angels Sing (Ziggy Elman - John H. Mercer)
6. Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe (Harold Arlen - E.Y. Harburg)
7. I'm The Big Band Singer (Merv Griffin)
8. You Belong To Me (Pee Wee King - Chilton Price - Redd Stewart)
9. I'll Be Around (Alec Wilder)
10. I've Got A Right To Sing The Blues (Harold Arlen -- Ted Koehler)
11. Ya Got Class (Raymond Evans - Jay Livingston)
12. Rockin' Chair (Hoagy Carmichael)
13. The Singer (Joe Cocuzzo - Vincent Falcone)
14. They Can't Take That Away From Me (George Gershwin - Ira Gershwin)
15. Sentimental Journey (Les Brown - Bud Green --
Recorded live at the Rosemary Clooney Music Festival, Maysville, Kentucky
16. I Cried For You / Who's Sorry Now? / Goody Goody (medley)
(Les Brown - Bud Green -- Benjamin Homer) (Johnny Mercer - Matt Malneck)
Recorded live at the Rosemary Clooney Music Festival, Maysville, Kentucky