Bing Crosby & Louis Armstrong...backed by Billy May's Orchestra. It doesn't get any better than this! And now..FINALLY..this classic 1960 studio album has been lovingly restored to all its stereo brilliance and released in its entirety by DRG Records, in conjunction with EMI/Capitol. It seems fitting, too, that it should make its debut in 2009, the centennial of the man who hand picked the songs for this project (and contributes a cameo vocal on "Lazy River"), the great Johnny Mercer.
Every track from this historic musical summit is here, even including a bonus cut that was recorded during the sessions, but only originally released on a 1963 benefit album for the United Nations. Never before, save for a long out of print & impossible to find 1990 Australian release on the AXIS label, has this album been issued so completely on CD. For those who think they've heard all of Billy May's finest charts, you're in for a real treat!
The partnership of "Mr. Satch & Mr. Croz" is in itself legendary. They met back in the late 1920's and remained friends until Armstrong's death in 1971. They made their first recording (and film) together in 1936, and Armstrong was a staple of Crosby's late 1940s & early '50s radio shows. It was from a 1951 Crosby show that their first hit single originated, "Gone Fishin'". Five years later came arguably Crosby's best film musical, HIGH SOCIETY, featuring the musical tour de force "Now You Has Jazz", the best record of these two icons together on film and a song that remained in Crosby's repertoire up to his death in 1977 (he last performed it in concert 4 days before his death).
The success of HIGH SOCIETY, and a September 1959 Crosby TV special featuring Armstrong, became the impetus for this album, recorded in late June / early July 1960 for MGM Records and Crosby's own label Project Records. Crosby owned the masters, and sold them to Capitol Records in the 1970s, where an abridged version was released following Crosby's death in 1977. A handful of tracks appeared on two so-called 'greatest hits' packages of both Bing & Louis respectively in the early 1990s on the Curb label. This version contains the original cover artwork from the 1960 MGM LP release, as well as the original album track line up.
And what gems these songs are, with special material for each penned by the equally legendary Johnny Mercer himself. "Muskrat Ramble", with an elaborate arrangement that sounds as if it's the opening number for a mammoth television special, starts things off, followed by an absolutely sublime rendition of "Sugar", with Crosby's voice sounding every bit like the 'liquid gold being poured from a cup' as Satchmo once described it, while his trumpet solos soar in the background. "Dardanella" makes effective use of Bing's deep resonant voice, the timbre of which was unequalled, and you'd be hard pressed to find a more definitive reading of "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans" than the one heard here by these two jazz icons. A 1939 tune penned by Armstrong called "Brother Bill" is clever and infectiously funny throughout (with Bing referring to he and Armstrong as 'two nimrods'). "At The Jazz Band Ball" could be a sequel to "Now You Has Jazz" in the way it further elaborates on the origins of jazz. Mercer's own composition, "Rocky Mountain Moon" is owned by Crosby. His vocal on it is classic Crosby...smooth, easy, deep, rich and gorgeous. In all, both men were in fine voice for this project. Every bit as good as they sounded on "Gone Fishin'" nine years earlier... with the added benefit of stereo sound here.
The album packaging is first rate, with a lengthy essay by noted jazz expert Will Friedwald and period photos throughout the booklet (including a rare pose of Mercer & Crosby rehearsing for the latter's October 1960 TV special). This is an album that should please not only fans of the vocal talents of Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, but also those legions of fans of arranger / conductor extraordinaire, the masterful Billy May.
Don't miss this one...grab it while it's still in print. It hasn't been around in such a complete form for nearly 50 years!