The relationship between the Disney film studios and that of the music world has been a long and rewarding one. Walt Disney himself was a big jazz buff, which may be one of the reasons jazz-bos have been interpreting Disney songs for decades now. Some of the more notable names are Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.
Walt Disney Records have just launched a new imprint, Disney Pearl, to focus exclusively on this type of material. Their initial foray, titled Disney Jazz Volume 1: Everybody Wants To Be A Cat, is a fine start. This thirteen-song collection features brand new recordings of Disney classics, from a stellar contingent of contemporary jazz players.
The disc kicks off in fine style with the great Ray Hargrove’s solid bop take on the title track. From there we drift into a dreamy cocktail lounge with a breathless vocal rendition of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins (1964). In his later years, John Coltrane laid down his version of this cut, and it was a free-flowing powerhouse. Here, Esperanza Spalding brings it back home in a marvelous way.
Next up is the seemingly indestructible Dave Brubeck. Back in 1957 Brubeck cut a full album of Disney songs titled Dave Digs Disney. He obviously still feels the same way, as is shown with his lovely “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Incidentally, Miles Davis also recorded “Someday My Prince Will Come” for his album of the same name in 1961. Brubeck returns with his Trio plus vocalist Roberta Gambarini a short time later as well, for an enchanting version of “Alice In Wonderland.”
Another unusual highlight finds the great saxist Joshua Redman inhabiting Randy Neman’s classic “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” from Toy Story (1995). “The Bare Necessities” has always been a fan favorite, and Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez gives it his own uniquely tasteful twist.
Finally, we come to the biggest “hit” a Disney film ever produced, the Tim Rice/Elton John composed “Circle Of Life,” from The Lion King (1994). It is hard to imagine this song as anything other than the jungle-chorale piece we have come to know it as, but that is the beauty of jazz. With talented musicians, anything is possible. In this case, Mark Rapp and his quartet completely deconstruct “Circle” and present it as a hot-fusion piece — straight out of a 1975 Weather Report album or something. There is certainly nothing sacrilegious about this, just incredible musicians having some fun with songs written so well, they can stand up to any type of treatment.
Based on Everybody Wants To Be A Cat, I would say that the new Disney Pearl label has a bright future in store. This is an outstanding tribute to Disney, to jazz music in general, and to all the people who participated. Well done.