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Music Review: Bennett & Brubeck – The White House Sessions, Live 1962

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The only thing better than a new discovery of long lost recordings of one of the great musical artists of the past half century is the discovery of long lost recordings by two of the great musical artists of the past half century. And better is exactly the gift that Columbia/Legacy Recordings has for jazz fans with the release of the The White House Sessions, Live 1962, a historic concert featuring The Dave Brubeck Quartet and Tony Bennett.

Recorded at a time when Brubeck and Bennett were at the top of their game—Bennett’s chart-topping hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was making the rounds of the radio air waves and Brubeck and company had been voted best combo of the year by readers of Down Beat—the album not only highlights their individual talents, but demonstrates the kind of electric performances you can get when truly great artists get together and feed off each other.

MI0003562347Introduced by famed radio host William B. Williams, the Brubeck Quartet opens the show with a set of four tunes, beginning with the Paul Desmond composition that would identify them for many listeners, the iconic “Take Five.” They follow with a short world tour of tunes as Brubeck looks to demonstrate the kinship of jazz and a variety of other musical genres, be they popular Latin or even classical. “Nomad” plays with Middle Eastern rhythms, while “Thank You (Djiekuje)” serves as a kind of shout-out to Chopin. They end the set with the Latin vibes of “Castilian Blues” and one of those virtuoso drum solos—the kind where the rest of the band leaves the stand figuratively, if not physically—from Joe Morello. It is the quartet at its finest.

Bennett then takes the stage with the Ralph Sharon Trio. He does half a dozen classic tunes, beginning with a swinging version of “Just in Time,” leading into a tender take on “Small World.” When you hear Bennett, at this period in his career, it is easy to see him as a charismatic rival for Sinatra. His “Make Someone Happy” is a classic and he has a good time with “Rags to Riches” before closing with an inventive “One for My Baby” and his newly required “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” It is a set sure to please.

But what really makes this album special is the conclusion where Bennett gets together with the Brubeck trio for an unrehearsed four-song coda. They begin with a romp through “Lullaby of Broadway.” “Chicago” gets a funky treatment, with a lot of soulful piano work from Brubeck. “That Old Black Magic,” which seems to have been the only song from the session that had been released previously, is a show stopper for the singer, and they end the concert with a standout performance of “There Will Never Be Another You.”

This is a wonderful album. If there is any caveat, the only thing I would lament is that it took over 50 years to get released, but, like they say, better late…

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About Jack Goodstein

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