The Album of the Month for June 2015 is Tony Bennett: The Rodgers and Hart Songbook.
This month’s album is actually two albums in one: Tony Bennett Sings 10 Rodgers & Hart Songs and Tony Bennett Sings … More Great Rodgers & Hart. Both of these albums were released in 1973 on Bennett’s own Improv label, which he created after leaving Columbia and a brief relationship with Verve/MGM. The two original Rodgers and Hart albums were re-mastered and released on a single CD in 2005 as Tony Bennett Sings The Rodgers and Hart Songbook. This album is available for purchase from Amazon.com.
These recordings featured the Ruby Braff/George Barnes Quartet, with Braff on trumpet, Barnes on guitar, Wayne Wright on guitar and John Burr on bass.
Mr. Bennett describes how this project came together his autobiography The Good Life:
My main focus in l ate 1973 became the brilliant trumpet playing of Rudy Braff. I’d known Ruby since 1951 when I first played in Chicago. Ruby heard George Barnes and Bucky Pizzarelli playing at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, and he sat in with the two guitarists. He loved the way that combination sounded, and suggested to George that they start a group. The gradually worked out a lineup of two guitars, a trumpet, and a bass. When I heard about this group, I had to check them out. I though they were great, and Ruby said to me, “Why don’t you come and sing a couple of tunes with us, and relax for a while, you know?” I was singing almost exclusively with big bands then, and even with a good sound system, I always had to belt it out to be heard above the music.
I liked the groove I got into with this intimate group so much that I did two special concerts with them at Alice Tully Hall in New York. Ruby and George and played the first half instrumentally, and then I came out in the second half and sang with them–two entire evenings of Rodgers and Hart. Two weeks later I recorded twenty-four Rodgers and Hart songs with Ruby and George, with Frank Laico as engineer. It was later released as Tony Bennett: The Rodger and Hart Songbook.
I am a huge fan of these two albums. I adore the sound from the quartet and Tony Bennett as much I adore the music of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart–which is quite a lot. Everytime I listen, I am so taken at how perfect this group with Bennett is for these songs … all without a piano or drums.
I am currently reading a wonderful book by Dominic Symonds: We’ll Have Manhattan: The Early Work of Rodgers & Hart. This book was published in 2015 by The Oxford University Press (ISBN 978-0-19-992948-1) as part of The Broadway Legacies Series. I’ll be sharing thoughts from this author and others on the work of Rodgers and Hart over the month. This book is available from Amazon.com.