The old cocktails described at Mr. Booze, drink so much better when accompanied by the rich sounds popular back in the day. Way back in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, the sounds heard over the basement radio, at the corner bar, or in the booth of a city nightclub were often as exciting and intoxicating as the cocktails themselves. I’m such a firm believer in the cocktail vibe and all that means, that I feel it’s my duty as your cyber bartender to try and point out some musical gems you should consider purchasing or downloading for your home bar. Music, lighting, barware all interact with the ice and spirits to set your mood. A martini, Manhattan or Gimlet without a soft song behind it is an unfinished drink in Mr. Booze’ opinion. Besides mixing drinks and lighting a ladies’ cigarette, a Bartender is free with the advice. I’d like to throw some album ideas at you, which should help set the tone for an enjoyable night of imbibing.
I’ve included links to find the CD’s if your so inclined.
Let’s get started –
Debbie, Debbie Reynolds –
You know, she really did/does have a classic cocktail kind of voice. I’ve always enjoyed a Debbie song in the movies she sings in. It’s a real American sweetheart set of pipes she sings with. This, her first studio album, works very well at night as background music. Innocent? Very much so, but her musicality dominates in an oddly sophisticated manner which I was quite surprised by. Soft, but never meek, like one would expect, Debbie’s choice of twelve songs was obviously aimed at the 1950′s, adult, living-room listener. The very tone that made a soft Reynold’s ballad captivating in her movies comes through on this debut, with a lounge singer’s confidence. The fun thing about this record is that you can actually hear her attempt to step it up for the cocktail set. I don’t know if I’ll ever need to go back to the Reynolds’ well in terms of albums, but that doesn’t mean for a minute that I won’t continue to play this one on chilly evenings with a nice martini and a few friends over. Songs include Moonglow, Time After Time, and Mean to Me
The Swingin’s Mutual!, The George Shearing Quintet With Nancy Wilson –
- Here’s a pretty cool little pairing that I picked up on a whim at a local second-hand record shop. Recorded in 1960 and 1961, there are 17 tracks on this cd, all guaranteed to send the mood of your next cocktail party to classic. Shearing’s Quintet was known for having a very mellow jazz vibe and one that was very tight. They didn’t fool around much, focusing on a specific sound that was elegant. Now, add a very young and stylistically clean and pronounced singer to the mix, one whose voice was created for jazz, and you have a tempo and mood on a record you couldn’t find long after the early 60′s. This is a strong, strong jazz vocal album, but it’s very inclusive of the listener. I play it now all the time at my home bar and people love it … but they don’t have to talk over it. I would definitely classify this one as a jazz over vocal album, with Nancy just being an ultimate instrument. Songs include Don’t Call Me, Lullaby of Birdland, On Green Dolphin Street, and more.
Tea for Two Cha Chas, Warren Covington & The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra – Do not buy this album to play quietly while at home sipping a drink. This is a party background album and a darned good one at that … but … it’s a cha-cha record, and after a few songs of straight-up-alone cha-cha, you’ll be pulling your hair out. I believe that band leader, Warren Covington, picked up Dorsey’s baton soon after his demise and led the remaining band down the road to cha-cha heaven. Apparently hugely popular in the late 50′s, cha-cha certainly has its place in a retro collection or when trying to set a retro vibe at your shing-ding. This album certainly has its place in your collection. With 24 cha-chas, this record is fantastic as background music. Warren’s trombone blasts through loud and clear over the steady 1-2, 1-2-3 beat that steadily carries the entire recording. Fun, bright, perfect with cocktails and friends, this is indeed a great cocktail album. Played over a car stereo for its hour+ running time … & you may wanna crash into something. Songs include Trumpet Cha-Cha-Cha, The Sheik of Araby Cha-Cha, and I Still Get Jealous Cha-Cha
Buddy Greco, The Best Of – I’d heard of Buddy Greco, of that much I’m sure. "The Grec" or “Grecooooo" … a name whispered at poker games and drunken evenings at bars as Darin and Sinatra played and fingers snapped. "If you like this, you gotta hear Greco," I was slurred. So, this winter I took the Grec-plunge and picked up his greatest hits. Did I dig it? Well, YES and no. I like his voice and his almost scat-like way with his picks, even though I’m not a fan of scat. I kind of liked his free-for-all way with classic jazz vocal lyrics, inventing and throwing in his own sentences to some of the classics I’d grown up with. I enjoyed the bravado and confidence he punches a song with. But then … there were these little bizarre choices like throwing a party-stopping piano version of the world’s oddest song, MacArthur Park, into the middle of the collection. It makes no sense. The over-sentimentality in a few of the ballads can potentially shut the whole vibe down. I do enjoy this record and feel it’s well worth a point-out, but, I feel, you should be a big fan of "The Boy’s Club" in terms of 50′s & 60′s music to search this one out. I happen to be, so it works for me! Songs include The Lady Is A Tramp, Girl Talk, and L.O.V.E.
Dean Martin Sings –
It’s been a while since I dusted off a Dean Martin record here in the reviews’ section. Dean Martin Sings is just a swell dip into the pool of a singer everybody knows about, but still may be limited to a Christmas album, or a couple hits on a Rat Pack collection or a greatest hits package. This record is a bit more than just a smattering of Martin hits; this one is a great one to own if you don’t have any Dean Martin records, or just want a classic in your Saturday night arsenal to switch on as solid background for your martinis and manhattan cocktails. More than just a couple of classic Martin hits, Martin Sings carries a jewel-box full of Deano diamonds along with it. I have more than a few tried-n-true classic crooner offerings on our music picks because, let’s face it, they’re “classic” for a reason. You’ll find Martin songs on here that are actually quite rare in terms of what most folks have in their collection, and that will come in rather handy when hosting a few folks over for cocktails, bridge, or just chili & cornbread. If you ever come close to forgetting just how darned important Dean Martin once was to listen to with cocktails, let this one remind you.
Boss Guitar, Wes Montgomery – Wes is really what I love in cocktail jazz – upbeat, challenging, grown-up in its optimism, and old-school cool. Montgomery’s guitar-jazz was never meant for everyone, like so much of today’s pop music. I find his Hammond organ, heavy snare, guitar-rich odes to cool, dark bars just that – a complex reason for pouring something tall and cold, inviting a few lads & lassies on over, and having a little fun post 9 p.m. His version of The Days of Wine and Roses is as nocturnal as a jazz ballad gets. Never would you listen to this song before deep dark and candlelit. It drips with the type of innovation and pacing that calls for a sport jacket and more than just a cold beer. I reviewed a lot of horn-based and piano-based jazz, but this, my first foray into guitar-jazz, is an obvious and smoky choice. Wes Montgomery influenced so many guitarists to come after, one can really hear his groundbreaking instrumental choices with this one. Soft is an adjective I’ll use in my description. There’s a hip, 60′s softness found here that will truly compliment your next night in. A version of Canadian Sunset that is so night-and-day different than vocal renditions, it’ll be like hearing it for the very first time for many listeners. Mel Rhyne’s Hammond organ- accompanied licks and leads will carry you in and out of Wes’ guitar melodies on songs both familiar and not. This is 1960′s jazz in all its glory. Songs like The Breeze & I, For Heaven’s Sake, and others should really compliment a nice evening.
In Like Flint & Our Man Flint Soundtrack Album, Jerry Goldsmith – Where to start with this two-fer? How ’bout “ode to coolness.” That semi-sums it up. Composer and conductor, Jerry Goldsmith, knew what he was doing when scoring the American answer to Britain’s James Bond film series. The composer of Planet of the Apes, The Sand Pebbles, Twilight Zone episodes and countless other classic scores, infused a tongue-in-cheek American 60′s mentality right along with a brilliantly themed cloak-and-dagger swagger that Actor, James Coburn, carried so coolly in the two films. Sure, it’s a soundtrack, so you do, on occasion, get bogged down with filler, but that’s easily overlooked with this one, especially if you’re playing it during cocktails. The main theme, and the one you’re probably most familiar with, is called Your Zowie Face, and is only actually called that on a 60′s-dripping, vocal rendition which comes eleven tracks into the record’s twenty-eight. An investment in time, sure, but I tell ya, when that brilliant Flint-theme sneaks its way into the lion’s share of most cuts, you will feel like a spy just listening to it. They just don’t write them like this anymore, and you will be reminded of that fact while enjoying this soundtrack(s). As sexist, sexy, suave, silly, and intentionally self-important as this film is … so is the music, and I love it for that! White shoes, belts, short skirts and tucked-in tees, right along with the Harvey Wallbanger bar are practically musts. Find the theme on YouTube, and, if you at all like it, dive into this soundtrack. Fun is what this one’s about.
Love Is Blue, Paul Mauriat – I have the impossible-to-find Blooming Hits of Paul Mauriat on vinyl and do actually play this incredibly dated, 1968 French ode to sex, love and affairs when cocktail appropriate. The Blooming CD, which came out just 7 years ago, is impossible to find and costs over a hundred bucks if you can afford it. This is why the more affordable Love Is Blue collection is the one to add to your cocktail music stable. With The Pink Panther movies and others like Two For The Road, and Doctor Zhivago providing swinging Americans with a taste for swank European spiced music, Paul Mauriat waltzed into our stereos, sportin’ a beret, and lit up our sunken living rooms with soothing sounds dripping with exotic flare. Love Is Blue is the most popular hit here. You’ve heard it, and will most likely groove to its slow 60′s organ build up which ends in an almost harpsichordy hep finish. The song even reached number one here in 1968. Other groovy hits on the album are Summer Knows and Love Story. There are a fair share of clunkers on this one – Ebony & Ivory, Feel Like Making Love and Don’t Cry For Me Argentina could sink the party ship … but, if you are quick with a forward-button or have guests with a sense of humor and a little patience, this Mauriat album really sets a strong 60′s mood and leisure-and-pants suit statement. I dig this one on occasion and feel it’s list worthy. Check out Love Is Blue on a mp3 download. If you like and get it, dive deeper into the sophisticated, French stylings of Monsieur Mauriat.
Billy Stewart, One More Time – Just $6 on Amazon and an amazing bang for your buck, this Billy Stewart collection should amp up any gathering. I was first exposed to Mr. Stewart’s music while living in Charleston, SC, and would hear his music blasting whenever I made it into a bar on Shag music night. Shag dancing is a type of low-country dancing which is done while listening to “beach” music, an infectious, up-tempo, swing sound usually resulting in, at the very least, foot stomping. This is a soul album, but Stewart breaks (or creates) many of the tried and true rules. He positively put everything he had into his songs and refused to be put into any R&B mold. One of the most unique voices I’ve ever heard associated with soul, Billy’s way with a song is to just own it. This is a collection of music he worked on while recording with Chess Studios in the early 1960′s, and you can tell, as early as it is, that it’s fairly groundbreaking. The Billy Stewart version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is beyond incredible. It is like hearing the song for the very first time. Stewart rolls in “beeps,” “bops,” human, soul-kissed inflections and even humor into his music along with some infectious and accomplished piano playing. I’m having a difficult time explaining the actual sound because I haven’t heard too much like it. Part Marvin Gaye, part Fats Domino with touches of Sam Cooke, Billy Eckstine and Little Richard, Billy Stewart ends up being a stand-alone amalgam of what’s rich in R&B. With cocktails or without, this record will send you to a very cool place. Songs include Summertime, Secret Love, How Nice It Is, and more.
Ricky Nelson, Legendary Masters Series, Vol. 1 – Early Ricky Nelson is a wonderful thing. It’s optimistic because we’re looking back; nostalgic because even the love dilemmas presented on this collection seem mild now; plus it’s very cool, with clean rock-’n-roll lines. So…it fits in with a cocktail party. Having said all that, Ricky Nelson’ s early rockabilly music just kicks ass! This stuff absolutely holds up and, for me, seems every bit as groundbreaking as early Elvis, Sun Studio’s music, or any other young Rock and Roll. I’ve always seen Nelson, through his early stuff, as sort of lashing out at the squeaky-clean Nelson reputation he earned through the TV show. With this package you get all the classics … and they’re classics for a reason. Clean, raw guitar rhythms and leads, strong drumming and bass and that Ricky Nelson singing voice which just has to be one of the most beautiful and haunting of all the 50′s ones. Nelson fits well into an evening of cocktails. I play him when I know I’m surrounded by real music fans. This kid, and don’t get me wrong, I love his later music too, is infectious and accomplished. Ricky Nelson very much knew exactly what he was doing when playing rock ‘n roll! Songs include Hello Mary-Lou, Lonesome Town, Be-Bop Bay, and more.
The Best of Buddy Holly, 20th Century Masters – I have a much more complete Buddy boxed-set, but I wanted to include this small, twelve song collection in our recommendations just to point out that you should have some Buddy Holly in your entertainment collection. Much more than just an artist to listen to while cocktailing, I’ve decided to just stop there and point out that this cornerstone of American rock and roll is just a fantastic choice tucked into an evening of food, fun and drinks. "Greatest Hits," I’m reluctantly learning, you just sometimes have to go to as album choices for cocktail parties. Unless you’re creating a Buddy Holly evening, a short collection which celebrates and shares his music, at the very least, puts the music out there. We all know who Buddy Holly is, what he sang and how he died, but I love to remind people that he’s still out there when entertaining. That clock-tick introduction to "Everyday," a Holly classic, will draw your guests immediately into the music, and remind them, if only for a minute, that this pioneer of rhythm-rock has never really left the building.
Doris Day, Greatest Hits -Let’s go deep into the land of living room furniture covered in rich cool plastic, cardigan sweaters, and annual attempts at rose growing competitions. Doris Day, for me, is what Mr. Wilson was probably listening to as Dennis the Menace tore up his flower beds or snuck a hand into his cookie jar. In many ways, especially through film, Doris Day was 60′s grown-up for me. “Send Me No Flowers” is still one of my favorite guilty pleasures … as are the tunes on this CD. I tend to listen alone in my den as my wife complains of a sugar-headache whenever I "go Day," but I like her. I like Doris Day music like I like a stack of old “Life” magazines, or a good cup of coffee served in a cup with a saucer. She’s "old-school" to the max, but she’s also a really good singer of really pleasant songs that still have their place – a proper singer for proper times which often include a proper martini or manhattan. These are mostly songs you’ll recognize from the credits of her movies. Teachers Pet, Secret Love, A Guy Is A Guy, and of course, Que Sera, Sera, should send you happily strolling down daisy choked lanes where comfortable, slightly risqué sensible furniture awaits on which to rest, listen and have a drink.
Gerry Mulligan: Night Lights – Back to Mr. Mulligan again with a review of an album only recently discovered. His Night Lights, without a doubt, is one seriously sexy, slow and subtle album. You positively cannot be in any sort of hurry when listening to this one. This is about as soft a jazz album as I own … but still, open and progressive enough not to bore, nor to be categorized as easy-listening. Lights very low with this one, here’s a record made for playing after 11p.m. As usual, Mulligan tracked down his finest contemporaries for the band fill-list on this ode to midnight – Art Farmer on trumpet, Jim Hall on guitar, just to name a few. Mulligan’s baritone sax taunts on this album sliding the listener into a nocturnal experience just perfect for candlelit porches or air-conditioned basements. Experimental, but not to a fault, the melodies are recognizable, but still sound far away and breezy. An album for adults, I kinda’ like it like that. Songs include Night Lights, In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Tell Me When, and more.
Les Baxter: Space Escapades – It’s an import and a little expensive, but you can justify the cost in its weirdness and cocktail party uniqueness. Exotica and soundtrack pioneer, you can always turn to Les Baxter for something transcending on the musical front. This particular cocktail album is picture-postcard-perfect for that home bar gathering slightly tilted to the wacky. Tiki drinks, spicy food, loud-mouths, they’re what you’ll want milling about the bar as this album plays. Science and satellites – that’s what Les provides as inspiration for this recording. Lots of beeps and synthesized space noises flitter throughout … but still, there’s a 60′s familiarity which carries through. You and your guests will happily recognize melodies and songs. Upbeat arrangements will have guests laughing and tilting heads in strange appreciation. The cover alone, if you can find it on vinyl, is worth framing and displaying over the home bar. Songs include Shooting Star, The Lonely Whistler, and Designing Women. Take a chance with this one.
Joao Gilberto: The Warm World of Joao Gilbertos – The Man Who Invented Bossa Nova – He did sort of start the whole thing. With his lilting voice and warm, stylized, Brazilian way with a guitar, his love of American Jazz and pop, troubled musician Joao Gilberto pioneered a style of music way back in the early sixties still as relevant and seductive today as it was for your parents. His early and most influentially important pieces are here on the record. You may only know him as the male singer on Stan Getz’s Girl From Ipanema, and that’s a great introduction, but I strongly suggest you dive deep and explore this wonderfully warm musician’s work more fully. Bossa Nova, for me, works and sounds best outside, daiquiri in hand, meat on the grill. This album celebrates the soft relaxation of the warmer climes. One cannot help but think of a cool South American mountain hideaway or beach bar when hearing Gilberto. With 39 songs on this record, you’ll have plenty of time for drinks, food and friends on a balmy evening. The acknowledged very first Bossa Nova song, Bim Bom, which Joao wrote and sang, is the second song played. It’s pretty much all perfect from there. Songs include E Luxo So, Rosa Morena, and O Pato.
Your Songs: Harry Connick Jrs – My second straight-up Connick standards album review, I actually like this one even a bit more than I do his When Harry Met Sally soundtrack album. I’ll compare Connick to Sinatra here for a second (everyone else does), but I kind of see this record as Connick’s "reprise" album. Like Sinatra, he’s matured musically over the decades, and, while a throwback album, this attempt seems much more assured. Connick is at the top of his game here, and like Sinatra and Nat Cole in their more mature years, that confidence shines through with thick and comfortable arrangements and voice that does more than just stand up as living room music; it comfortably can hold a sophisticated night of imbibing up on its shoulders. Great vocals which honor all the great songs chosen, tied with a strong sense of almost late fifties-like orchestration and arrangement, make this one of Harry’s best efforts. After 25+ years in the business, Connick more than knows what he’s doing with jazz and the American Songbook. He’s done his experimental records, his soft and more fusion inspired concept recordings. It’s nice to see a bread ‘n butter standards album again. A new record for those of us that love old records? Why the heck not? I certainly appreciate this fantastic gesture. Songs include The Way You Look Tonight, Your Song, and Mona Lisa.
Roland Shaw & His Orchestra, Themes For Secret Agents – My second “spy-themed” album review here (see “Come Spy With Me” down the page), Roland Shaw easily sets the bar as high as Hugo Montenegro did with his homage to the men who know women and karate chops. What Mr. Shaw does with his double CD is take the original themes, scores, novelty tunes, and mood-setters and fleshes them out completely. You still have the familiarity of the snippets and themes you remember listening to while enjoying the films & shows; it’s just that Roland perfects them and arranges them as complete little masterpieces. Full, thick and rich with strings, horns and driving rhythms… Simple little touches like the blind trio singing “Three Blind Mice” in a Kingston Calypso from the Bond film, “Dr. No,” becomes a delicious island background song for your next barbeque. Honestly, the only song I feel is missing is the theme from “Mannix”. Roland covers just about everything else with the first disk being devoted to James Bond and most of the sexy, wonderful openers and mood pieces; the second disk finishes up the Bond and glides on into the famous television detective themes from the same 60′s era. “The Saint,” “I Spy,” “The Avengers,” and so much more is covered. Almost as fascinating as the spy themes and moods he covers here, Roland Shaw delivers everything you need in these 37 songs for a night of tropical drinks, martinis, grilled meat and thick, fun, movie-spy atmosphere.
Bobby Troup, Kicks on 66 – When, as a child, I used to watch Bobby Troup as a mild mannered receiving doctor for the paramedics on the show “Emergency,” I had no idea he was better known as a seriously accomplished song writer, pianist and composer. I recall my dad mentioning that both he and co-star Julie London were connected both romantically and musically, but I was much more interested in the show’s weekly life & death situations. Along came my 30′s and now 40′s, cocktails & jazz and now I know! Bobby Troup was a very important figure in standards jazz. I had no idea he wrote “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” “Girl Talk,” or “It Happened Once Before” – all beautiful standards and three of my very favorite songs. The songs on this record were all unreleased but played on “Navy Swings,” a public service radio series back in the day. This one’s pretty soft and can easily carry a cocktail party’s mid-point. Troup’s voice is adequate and soft in that jazzy way that works perfectly. One can easily imagine this record played live at a late-night piano bar and swank 60′s Hollywood party. Six out of the record’s sixteen songs are Troup originals, the other ten are perfect late night listeners. Fire place or fire pit, a nice cocktail and some friends, along with this record? You could do a whole lot worse.
Elmer Bernstein’s Some Came Running Soundtrack – Frank Sinatra had such success with novelist James Jones’ “From Here To Eternity,” that in 1958 MGM decided to team actor and author again in an adaptation of Jones’ “Some Came Running.” Teaming Frank and Dean Martin together for the very first time on film and bringing a perfectly cast Shirley McLaine along for the ride, the movie had a lot to live up to, and its soundtrack also had much to carry on its back. Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen even composed a special ballad, “To Love and Be Loved,” for the picture, which stands out a timely ode for the period, a Country Club standard one would hear at the movie’s ritzy club. Bernstein fills his soundtrack with dozens of atmospheric punctuations all designed to carry the film’s melodramatic storyline through town taverns, living rooms, poker dens, diners, necking spots, state fairs and flop houses. If you’re a fan at all of the great schmaltzy love stories and dramas of the late fifties and early sixties, “Some Came Running” is one of the best. This gorgeous, full orchestra piece composed by an American Master begs for a summer night on the sofa, gin and tonic in hand. One of Sinatra’s best film’s for you as a musical experience, what more could you want.
Feliciano!, Jose Feliciano – One thing I’ll say about YouTube is that it’s actually turned me on to quite a bit of undiscovered music. While searching for a great cocktail-party version of Burt Bacharach’s “Always Something There To Remind Me” to post on our FaceBook component, I stumbled upon Jose Feliciano’s version and was stunned as to how fantastic it was. I turned around and bought the record and have just devoured it. It reminds me very much of the bossa nova albums I’ve mentioned in our reviews section. Recorded in 1968, this album carries Feliciano’s strong Latin-based guitar style, yet also pumps infectious Latino jazz rhythms throughout the mix as well. Another important record I’d never listened to (it stayed on the charts for 59 weeks), this record very much captures a sense of time and place. One can easily visualize this sound ebbing up from street parties and barbeques of the era. I’m often outside, and this record is just perfect for yard parties and grilling. Jose Feliciano is a subtle, accomplished, beautiful guitar player, and the arrangement of this one celebrates the more jazzier style of voice and instrumentation. More jazz than pop, this one is yet another perfect excuse to slow things down outside, enjoy the weather, and indulge with a lime-based sour, or other summer cocktail. Songs include his famous version of Light My Fire, Sunny, Here, There & Everywhere, and many more.
The Swinging Mr. Rogers, Shorty Rogers and His Giants – This record certainly sets a mood, no doubt about that. Very reminiscent of West Coast jazz greats like Chet Baker & Stan Kenton, Shorty Rogers, who played both trumpet & flugelhorn, blows slightly to the left of anyone I’ve listened to. In this album, Mr. Roberts sets a very bohemian vibe that you hear right from the very first notes. An album that is best played at the tail end of a party or gathering, this one will set heads bobbing and the party going for at least another hour or two. Recognizable in scope and tone, this album isn’t avant-garde enough to confuse or turn-off the listener; it is just 50′s progressive music and rather beatnik in its wisdom. Strong horns, tight drumming, anchoring piano, melodic tempo, you’ll feel very comfortable with this one, yet still musically challenged, which is what I want with late night jazz or cocktail music. Shorty Rogers plays the kind of jazz you wish you had a time machine for. Personally, I’d love to go into a smoky little L.A. lounge on a rainy 1955 night and just sit and listen to a scene like this…with a drink of course. Songs include Isn’t It Romantic, My Heart Stood Still, and Not Really he Blues.
The Very Best of Nancy Wilson, The Capitol Recordings 1960 – 1976 – Haven’t bought a triple CD collection in a while, but I just couldn’t ignore what I’d been hearing for the past 30 years and decided to dive into Nancy Wilson head first and with my shoes on. My parents were very into Nancy and used to catch her whenever she made it to DC. I’d have to listen to her records and to the both of them praising her for weeks after. I listened to her but filed her in my childhood memory as background music — too sophisticated to enjoy and not immediately resurfacing in my psyche in later years. Recently, her name kept popping up as a huge miss on my part. I did some exploring on my own and purchased this one as the baptism-by-fire record. Final analysis? Stunning! I love her voice, pacing, R&B accent, and adult jazz sensibility. Nancy Wilson seems very rainy-day to me. I put her on during a wet, quiet, late Friday night, and it was a match made in heaven. As personal as a singer gets, this one, especially within this range of a decade and a half, hits her mark with practically every song she sings. I can’t compare this voice with anyone else’s; she stands apart but only in the most welcoming of ways. Ballads & standards changed dramatically during these years, and that’s more than demonstrated in the strong choices made in this collection. Yet somehow Ms. Wilson’s delivery holds steady and takes no far-out chances. Rich as bourbon and ginger and just as enjoyable on a stay-at-home weekend night. Songs include The Nearness Of You, Time After Time, Hey There, and Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.
Lola Albright, Soft Sounds – Considering Lola Albright’s B movie and television past, the overall vibe and sound of this two-album collection is beyond fitting; it tickles the same entertainment bone that’s satisfied while watching a great noir, sci-fi, or B drama in black-&-white on late night TV. Her voice, just honey-smooth and as sexy as Lola herself, sounds as if recorded with a microphone set up in some far off place, separated by breath and cigarette smoke and emptiness. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s this recording quality I’ve never heard before, and it just adds to the thickness of the listening experience. Lola started in B films and eventually graduated to television with a recurring role in the detective show, Peter Gunn, playing a jazz and lounge singer who Gunn would regularly visit at a local watering hole while enjoying a belt and making goo-goo eyes aimed at Lola. She made the viewer forget all about the previous hour’s plot. I discovered her in a YouTube clip and spent the next week hunting for Lola vinyl. Her voice is perfect on both these records (Lola Wants You & Dreamsville). Both albums, conducted by Dean Elliott & Henry Mancini, carry tunes written by their conductors which elevate the experience even more. I tell ya, while listening, you’ll feel like you’re sitting in one of those cool little bars that play jazz in B movies. Don’t be a bit surprised if your evening drifts into movie-land as you enjoy. You’ll feel like an extra sitting in a Cornel Wilde film-noir movie. Songs include Candy, They Didn’t Believe Me, and Think Of Me.
Frank Sinatra, I Remember Tommy – I’m just gonna start trickling in my Sinatra album reviews semi-regularly now. There are just too many great ones to ignore, and everything he recorded can be played while enjoying a cocktail. This was Sinatra’s first record after saying “sayonara” to Capitol records and founding his own Reprise label. Released in 1961, this was Sinatra’s musical tip o’ the hat to former band leader, Tommy Dorsey. Frank hired former Dorsey arranger Sy Oliver to arrange and conduct this salute, and man does it swing. Brassy, with fat horns, this record will get your foot tapping on more than one song. Sinatra had a little something to prove with this record, and I think he does more than that. This is one of my favorite Reprise Sinatra albums ’cause, right out the gate, it’s classic Sinatra. Finger snapping, loud, confident, and all-there, this one is full-throttle Frank. There is a big, big band behind Sinatra on this one, and he uses every instrument of it. When he swings with this band, you will, too. Fantastic versions of East of the Sun, Imagination, and I’ll Be Seeing You. If I had to pick one Sinatra album for a big, fun cocktail party, it very well might be this one.
Kenton in HI-FI, Stan Kenton – Have listened to this one a couple times recently, and my feelings and concept of it changes depending on the mood, or drink, I’m enjoying. Mr. Kenton was a pianist, composer, arranger, band leader, and finally, big band leader, and all of these qualities shine through on this ode to 1956 living rooms. This is a big sound album which swells as it progresses. Musically kicking-off as a Hollywood 50′s cocktail album, it progresses into a thick-walled West Coast big band record, which still somehow manages to keep its sophisticated home-bar sound. A perfect example of what was played in the home during the late 50′s, HI-FI will fill your space with a big, rich jazz sound that’s hard to top. “HI-FI” in the title refers to the then-groundbreaking Hi-Fidelity technology of the day that Stan insisted on incorporating. Kenton was quite involved with the record’s end result, and if you set your mind-set to the day’s musical thinking, you’ll appreciate the record even more. Kind of the last hoorah of the Big Band era, HI-FI sends the great ship off with a very cool, jazz breeze that sounds unlike anything modern or fusiony. This is 50′s jazz played by a tried and tested big band w/ music conducted by a swinging leader. Stan’s piano playing on the record is top-drawer, too. Songs include Artistry In Boogie, Interlude, and Painted Rhythm.
Cuban Fire – Sticking with 1956 Stan Kenton concept albums for a sec, Cuban Fire was Kenton’s successful attempt to capture the Latin rhythms mini-explosion that was taking over night-clubs, tv shows (Desi Arnez was huge), pop-culture and living rooms across America. Pretty experimental in concept, Kenton’s big band travels into uncharted territory with this one, recording an almost Broadway sounding exotic swing album rather that a sultry mambo ode like his contemporaries were laying down. What you really get is this movie-style richness soaked in Latin accents. Bongos, lilting sax, pregnant pauses filled with far away trumpets and other horns, all still firmly anchored in American jazz swing. Think 1950′s star-studded Hollywood party and what the music must have sounded like behind it. Stan Kenton, at least in this 50′s concept album phase, is especially geared towards music aficionados. Play this album when serving snacks & cocktails to your gang of music lovers; they’ll get it. It sounds like little else I’ve pointed out because it truly stands alone. Sexy, cool, with strong Cuban rhythms, you’ll wish you were one of the 50′s lucky ones who heard this wall of sound live. Man, I betcha that was something. If you dig fat sounds that someone put a lot of time and imagination into, this is your album. Songs include Cuban Fire, Who Knows, and Three Hearts.
The London Sessions, Judy Garland – Told by doctors just a year earlier that she had pretty much used up the life given, Judy Garland flew off to Europe with an adjusted attitude a and a new lease on life. She musically spit in the eye of the medical naysayers and proved to all with these recordings, and a follow-up year-long tour, that she not only still had the chops, her dynasty was far from over. In just six summer days in 1960, Judy recorded the songs on this record as kind of a pre-prep for her stage return. Many of you may know her from the Yellow Brick Road movie and maybe a special or two on the television, but trust me, Judy Garland was a torch singer of the highest caliber, and I feel very remiss for not including her in my cocktail music collection sooner. This is lightening in a bottle and, if in the right situation ’round the home bar, with appreciative friends, a couple candles lit, something to nibble on out on a silver platter, and a perfect cocktail, you all will lose yourselves for a record. She is perfect on this record. The pathos, optimism, failure and triumph of a life lived burst through speaker felt. Judy Garland walked in to this London studio with a tremendous amount to prove. Wreck? … I don’t think so. The Man That Got Away, You Go To My Head, I Happen To Like New York and After You’ve Gone, along with sixteen other songs more than prove, especially during the cocktail hour, that Judy Garland was one of the greatest jazz singers who ever stood in front of a piano. -
Sinatra/Jobim, The Complete Reprise Recordings – I have the original 1967 reprise Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim record and didn’t even know it was long out of print. This new release which contains even more music was how I gathered the news. Separately, Sinatra and Jobim were kings of their crafts. Sinatra steadily walked the course, releasing magnificent & experimental studio concept albums that hit a heck of a lot more than they missed, while Jobim created incredible bossa nova & Latin jazz soothers that created careers for his singers and teamed-up with jazz masters in sultry albums. How they got together is, I’m sure, a long story, but boy, did they make some serious & gorgeous music together. Sinatra threw his voice into a lower gear when he joined Antonio. Slowing his pace down to match Jobim’s compositions, the record feels rain-forest thick and hot and exotic. I respect the hell out of Sinatra for delving into such a different style of music than he usually swam in. Gone is the big-brass, the ups and downs, the bravado …what you’ll hear is the guitar, the soft flutes, the pacing and vocal duets that truly set this team-up apart as special and some of Sinatra’s most beautiful music. Classic daiquiri with this one. Songs include – Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars, Don’t Go Away, The Girl From Ipanema.
All Through The Night, Julie London Sings The Choicest Of Cole Porter – Exposed to this album through a clip posted on YouTube, I became hooked enough to seek it out on Amazon. Awfully glad I did ’cause I’ve never heard Julie London sound better. I’ve reviewed a “greatest hits” here before, but it wasn’t until I explored this complete theme album that I truly became impressed with this auburn-haired siren. The Bud Shank Jazz Band backing up Ms. London on this record almost steals the show. Bud Shank’s alto sax & flute openings on several of the songs take you much deeper into heavy jazz territory than they would have taken you on the back of just Julie’s pipes. There’s a crisp New York bohemian Jazz style that permeates this record, thanks to Shank’s orchestration. This is almost a jazz album with vocals, but London’s smoky voice shines under moonlight, and this is her album. Just a perfect record for the cooler months, this one belongs on your hi-fi just as soon as it’s cardigan time. Songs include Get Out Of Town, Easy To Love, and At Long Last Love.
A Swingin’ Affair, Frank Sinatra – I just can’t help it and have decided that yes, indeed, I’m going to roll out Sinatra a little more than I once promised. His albums were and are a great influence on my love of classic cocktail culture, and this record, recorded back in 1957 as a supposed follow-up to his well -received Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, is special. With Nelson Riddle conducting the full orchestra, Sinatra just sounds so on top of his game here. This album let loose at the top of the Sinatra comeback. Joyful, finger-snappin’ sophistication is how I’d describe it. You can well imagine that this record played on and in neighborhood bar juke boxes and living rooms on Saturday nights as it should have. Heavy brass & jazz horns wrapped around The Voice. Songs include If I Had You, I Won’t Dance, and The Lady Is a Tramp. .
Dirty Boogie, The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Rockabilly swing — how appropriate to blow your mind as you sip your tiki cocktail. I like this ode to the 40′s alot and will play it deep into a weekend night instead of putting on a pot of coffee. I’ve neglected this genre, and I’m sorry, so let’s forgive & forget as I roll out this big gun that sorta’ started the 80′s foray into rocking swing music shared by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy & Squirrel Nut Zippers. Setzer’s guitar shares the voice on this record with thick, brass-backed licks dancing under the same spotlight as Brian’s whiskey voice. No one better be smooching on the sofa or having a heavy convo when the needle drops on this one. This’ll blow the ice out of the glasses and get your guests up off their feet. Pool tables & poker will fit right in. Tight licks and recognizable, accenting orchestration make this album really soar under its tattooed skin. Fine and dandy is the bottom line, and an album that fits right on in with the knotty-pine basement bar. Songs include This Old House, Since I Don’t Have You, and Jump, Jive an’ Wail.
Rosemary Clooney, Jazz Singer – Post-goofy novelty ditties, but pre-maternal snoozers, this album collects the Rosemary songs recorded early in her career that showcased her band singing chops. Working with orchestrations from Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, Clooney apparently longed to demonstrate her skills as a more sophisticated singer and did so for Columbia Records. She sang these tunes in Seventh Heaven, and you can hear it. Gone is the “aww shucks” Clooney, and what we have here is a great 50′s collection from a top-notch jazz interpreter. This isn’t the White Christmas nor C’mon To My House Rosemary Clooney. This soft voiced balladeer, I believe, was truly in her element. Sure, it’s a collection which I normally steer clear of, but this record is a singer’s collection of challenging standards. She also worked w/ Nelson Riddle, Percy Faith and Paul Weston on these songs, so the proof’s in the pudding. This is cocktail music, and Rosemary Clooney proves herself as more than Bing Crosby’s movie girlfriend in this collection. Songs include Goodbye, Come Rain or Come Shine and Together.
Let Me Entertain You, Ann Margret – Ann Margret, for me, has always been kinda like the annoying “drama class” girl in high-school — the girl who tries too hard to stand out in just about everything she does. When I watch Ann Margret in a movie, especially the ones in which she sings, it’s like she is begging to be noticed. One-hundred and ten percent of the time, she can be exhausting in a scene. Having said that, I do enjoy her. Loved her in Viva Las Vegas and The Pleasure Seekers and have actually learned to appreciate and enjoy her sense of theater in all she does. So, when I purchased this record recently, I knew very well that I was going to get a high-octane collection of 60′s torch & pop songs. This is a wonderful collection for a cocktail party. No one sings a song like Ms. Margret, and the showmanship I spoke of does indeed shine through. But, in a wonderful way, the drama permeating on this record works with the drama often found in a well-mixed cocktail or at around 11pm in the living room of a perfect cocktail party. These are early songs in her career, so they should fit in warmly with a throw back party.
Music to Watch Girls By, The Very Best of Andy William – It’s been a while since I reviewed an album by Andy Williams, and this one is much more swinging. I have a lot of the singer’s original & complete records in my collection but this is the first “greatest hits” I’ve purchased. It works as it cuts right through the flotsam and presents the listener with a retro-cool album perfect for a night with the gang and a pitcher of spicy cocktails. Toes will obviously tap to Music to Watch Girls By, but, hold on a sec, Andy’s swankier style also comes out on Look of Love, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You & Spooky. We always try and pair up the classic cocktails of yesteryear with the classic sounds of the time, and it’s with records like this that your drinks will shine.
Ultimate Petula Clark – “Yikes!” I’m dangerously close to slipping down the dangerous slope of easy listening, but I believe Petula skates the line. She’s so 60′s London in my mind’s eye … and 60′s swinging pop songs, when mixed with other 60′s sounds, can make a very cool statement when throwing a cocktail party. After you pour a few drinks for your guests and Don’t Sleep In The Subway pops up in the rotation, watch what happens. People will sing along, heads will bob, the infectious pop will make its mark. Petula Clark has one of the best pop singing voices ever to come out of the decade. A “greatest hits” album is all you really need, unless you’re a Petula-Head and if so, you probably have everything anyway. I love retro cocktails, home bars, simpler times … and Petula fits in nicely. This is a great one with songs like Downtown, Call Me & Kiss Me Goodbye. This is a bargain.
Autumn Leaves, The Songs of Johnny Mercer, Jacintha – Starting to slip more & more of the newer interpretations of the classics in here. What can I say? There’s some marvelous stuff coming out. This female jazz singer from Singapore has the most amazing, lilting, subtle voice I’ve heard out of the modernist movement & teaming with the Mercer songbook was a brilliant way to showcase it. One of my favorite standards of all times has to be Autumn Leaves, and Jacintha’s interpretation, in soft French voice, does as much almost, as Nat Cole’s version. I adore it and plan on playing it a lot during the autumn. Mercer’s songs, when handled correctly, are just so comforting. You will be titillated & comforted by Jacintha’s versions. This is a pretty sophisticated jazz/cocktail album, and one that would be perfect for a cozy night at home. I purchased this album cold, hadn’t heard a thing about it except knowing the title song. Boy, did I get exceptionally lucky. The voice is perfect as are the arrangements.
Luiz Bonfa, Solo In Rio 1959 – You guys have pretty much been with me during my entire ride exploring Bossa Nova & 50′s/60′s Latin Jazz. Sure, I’d toyed with it as you can see in my Ulta Lounge Bossa Nova & Mambo Kings reviews and dove a little deeper with my Sergio Mendez & Bossa Rio mentions, but I’ve delved a little deeper now, & I want to share even more of this great sound with you. Luiz Bonfa was the true pioneer of the huge 60′s Brazilian Bossa Nova style made so popular by Jobim, Walter Wanderly & Astrud Gilberto. Starting the movement subtly in the late 1940′s with a sound called Samba Cancao, Luiz Bonfa went on to write the score for the film Black Orpheus. He also worked with Sinatra, Quincy Jones & even Elvis. Bottom line, the man was a visionary, and this 1959 exploration of the heart & soul of Brazil back when the world was modernizing is classic. Lilting guitar combines with pulsing Latin drumming in a manner that can only be described as pure escape. Thirty-one tracks make this album perfect for an evening spent relaxing with a tart cocktail. It’s all the atmosphere you’ll need for that dinner party or patio night. Songs include Prelude To An Adventure In Space, Night And Day, A Brazilian In New York, and Blue Madrid.
Cal Tjader Sounds Out Burt Bacharach – Nowhere near as peppy as the other Tjader album I’ve reviewed here, this exploration is just a relaxed homage to Burt played mostly on the vibes and with very little fanfare. This American born son of Swedes, later discovered by Dave Brubeck, for whatever reason stumbled into Latin Jazz and left quite a deep impression. I can’t explain how it happened, I can only share with you how cool for all of us that it did. Cal must have really loved Bacharach because this is nothing more than a love letter combining the two distinct sounds. I’ll even say this…you better love either Tjader or Bacharach to buy this album. I wouldn’t recommend this sound to anyone who isn’t passionate one way or another ’cause it’s more a labor of love than groundbreaking. I find it intriguing because I’m a huge fan of both musicians and welcome the combination while relaxing. It floats out of your speakers more than it dances. The Latin Jazz vive is undeniable but there’s an American sensibility that comes with a Bacharach tune here, too. I’ll just say it…it’s an odd pairing but it works well. Songs include Don’t Make Me Over, Walk On By, and I Say A Little Prayer
Ray Charles, The Genius After Hours – As straight up a late night jazz album as I own, this brilliant record is a great one to play with friends and drinks. Ray set out to make a jazz album here, no singing, little twang, A-list accompaniment and a finger snappin’ tempo all add up. This album was collected from three sessions intended for another album. Originally released back in ’61, the album has a “Playboy After Dark” vibe that massages the mind as it captures the Saturday night spirit. We all know Ray Charles as a singer and piano player, but his jazz playing on this record is just unbelievably accomplished. It’ll blow your mind without coming across as too provoking or heavy. Ain’t Misbehavin’, Joy Ride, The Man I Love, & more will send your party to just the place it needs to be by 10pm. We’ll get to the singing Ray Charles later in our music section but for now, dig the jazz artist, Ray Charles.
Hi-Fly, Sachal Vasandani – The range isn’t quite there but the sincerity is. A neighbor of mine who is quite versed in the “new wave” of standards singers and today’s crooners, dropped this CD over at my bar the other day. “Give it a listen & tell me what you think,” he requested. Well I did, and I liked this album a lot. Having said that, I doubt I’d play it at a party, it doesn’t translate for one. Where I will play it is with a friend, a couple gin ‘n tonics, some bread and a wedge of good cheese. It’s a personal little album with standards and a few moderns sung by a guy who obviously knows what he’s doing, but also by a singer who belongs right here in the 20-tens. There’s nothing old or classic about Vasandani’s Hi-Fly, but that ain’t a bad thing. I just gotta get more used to this modern era of old songs. Sachal’s voice is soft and of a higher octave than most of the belters I listen too, but that’s my problem not his. Bring it on I say. Welcome to the bar music player Sachal. There’s plenty of room for a rich, unfettered, young voice like yours here, too. This is a very good vocals album by a singer who feels very modern yet accomplished and soulful. Songs include The Very Thought Of You, All The Way, and Hi-Fly.
Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, Whipped Cream & Other Delights – A while back, I reviewed The Brass’ Foursider (see near bottom of page), and I mentioned that it was a good place to start with the band. Well, now I believe it’s time to commit, and this famous record is the one to lay your money down for. This is the pure Herb Alpert Brass album to play at a party. Not the dominating force that Foursider is, this icon to 60′s party culture is to the point. Food, drink & celebration were the theme of this recording, and it spent two months on the top of the charts in the mid 60′s because of this uniqueness. Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass became an almost soundtrack of the mid-60′s, and it was because of this record that they became so popular and so played at parties around the world. Catchy tunes just thick with snare drum and heavy horns were mainstays at backyard barbeques and basement bars. This is a retro sound that, if it has been a while, or you’re too young to remember, will most certainly make your cocktail evening a lot more fun. If you have a record player, I strongly recommend that you find the vinyl. This iconic cover will still draw the eyes forty-five years after it was first released. Songs include A Taste Of Honey, Lemon Tree, & Tangerine.
Capitol Records From the Vaults, Capitol Jumps – Released back in 2000, Producer, Billy Vera was given access to the Capitol recordings library and asked to produce several collections of the lost & forgotten. This one’s an absolute gem. I’m not going to go into all the history presented here, but there’s plenty. What I will say is that if you’re a fan of 40′s singer & instrumental standards and unique, beautiful versions of classics you may not have heard before, then this album’s worth tracking down or even downloading. These are the songs imbibers would have absolutely listened to over the cocktails of yesteryear. What I love about this and the next album reviewed, is that for every recognizable song you’re given, up walks a surprise that’s equally exciting. The romantic in me hears this album and imagines the beautiful New York or San Francisco bars during wartime or right after, that you and your date would have strolled into and been met with the warmth of these up-tempo songs greeting you as soon as the heavy wooden door swung open. Out of print but findable for under $20. Songs include Does Everyone Know About This?, My Sugar Is So Refined, and Satin Doll.
Capitol Records From The Vaults, Vine Street Divas – Stickin’ with the Capitol Vaults series for one more round, this “Divas” collection will completely capture you. I think I may actually prefer the female interpretation of a soft jazz classic over a male bravado, and no where is my point more proven than with this collection. We return back to the 40′s again with this one, but that’s perfect. The singers of the time, especially the gals, sang with such breath and softness in order to share their song with the amazing big, swing & jazz orchestras along for the ride. Unlike the Capitol Jumps album, the Vine Street Divas is much more an intimate collection, but that’s a result of the times. These stars sang in every sense of the word. You’ll be amazed & dismayed at how far today’s popular singers have fallen in terms of craft. Here’s a collection of wonderfully written stories, then called songs, performed by singers who must have, at some level, experienced a bit of what they sang about. They just had to. No party with this one, just you and you know who, sharing a drink and getting lost for an hour. Songs include Martha Tilton’s A Stranger in Town, It’s Been A Long, Long Time by June Christy and Betty Hutton’s It Had To Be You.
Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley – Velvet Fog time again ’cause it’s been a while, and this is another great one. When I put on any Mel Torme, it becomes “grown-up time” in the living room. The singer is just too cool & sophisticated for anything else but adult attended cocktail parties. Mel is joined on this album by The Marty Paich Orchestra which included Art Pepper on sax! This is a collection of classic show tunes with all given jazz arrangements & instrumentation, making for a very 60′s, swank sound. It’s a jazz album of recognizable Broadway tunes sung by a master; what more could you want for your next cocktail party. Can’t believe that it hasn’t been re-released in a while, so you’re probably going to have to just download. Still, it’s an album well worth owning and one you’ll just have to play the next time you have friends over, the martinis are ice-cold and children are either tucked in or at a friend’s house. Songs include Once In Love With Amy, Just In Time and Too Close For Comfort.
Johnny Hodges, Everybody Knows Johnny Hodges – An alto-sax player who earned his stripes playing with Duke Ellington’s Big Band, Hodges assembled one hell of a band for this ’64 jazz record. I find this to be an almost cinematic experience, minus visuals, without it intentionally trying to be. If you’re a movie buff, and a fan of the great 50′s & 60′s dramas that contain at least one night club or dark bar scene, this record will spark a sense of familiarity. The jazz presented here sounds very much like the wonderful background jazz used in movies like Some Came Running, The Fine Young Cannibals, Ocean’s Eleven, or pretty much anything that takes place in a city during the 1960′s. I love old movies — the music being one of the main reasons — and this album surrounds the listener in a curtain of that kind of sound. What makes a jazz score or scene stand out on film is the same reason this record will stand out at your next gathering — rich, up-tempo (w/o being obnoxious), smoky jazz that comforts and titillates as it allows life & drinking to happen around it. With Mr. Hodges on alto-sax, Jimmy Jones on piano, Johnny Hodges & Grady Tate on drums, and many more talents along for the ride, Everybody Knows… is a gem. My thanks to a fellow music lover for pointing this one out to me. Songs include Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Little Brother, Mood Indigo and more.
Quartet, Jerry Mulligan & Paul Desmond – Too soon to post another review of a Mulligan/Desmond team-up? Never! This is the first of two albums the sax players recorded together (see Two Of A Mind reviewed below), and this one stands a bit apart as the more experimental one. Still, the avant-garde nature of this first pairing shouldn’t scare you off. This is cool squared; an album, when played over a round of cold cocktails, will take you some place special. These two men carry on a beat conversation on this album which will join in with the talk taking place ’round the hi-fi. Where the Two Of A Mind record seduces with standards, Quartet provokes with unobtrusive, pure playing. I’m no jazz snob. I’ve tried to present jazz recordings which, to the dabbling, casual, open-minded fan, will fit into your evening of home entertaining. To have practically two of the greatest coast-to-coast saxophonists playing, free forming, and musically conversing is a feast for the ears. Fifties’ cavern jazz at its best and an album that, like most great jazz records, will challenge as it relaxes. Songs include Stand Still, Lover, & Tea For Two.
Sinatra Vegas – My second box-set review, but I’ve noticed that the price is seriously comin’ down on these, so I thought I’d throw another one at you. This is a 4-disk DVD set recorded at three different casino theaters over three decades. Believe me, if you’re a Sinatra fan, this collection should satisfy. Too young to have ever caught him in his glory days, I did have the opportunity once to see him in NYC. I passed ’cause I didn’t want to cloud my perceptions with a too-old Frank. At this point, he was relying heavily on teleprompters and an overzealous booking agent. For reasons you can hear, this box-set scratches that “live” itch. You’ll feel as if you had the pleasure of catching him at The Sands, Golden Nugget, or Caesar’s on top of his game. Concerts from 1961, ’66, ’78 (DVD), ’82, & ’87 are represented, each disk carrying around 17 full songs. What’s cool is that you get to hear the change in voice & attitude over the years. The jokes, zingers & monologues change style, too, which is to be expected. This isn’t a Vegas Rat Pack style collection. This is Sinatra always on top of his game singing through the ebbs & tides of his career and his popularity. No idea how big the audiences are, that doesn’t come through, but one can imagine that in the ’61 show, there may not have been that many. Still, this is Frank Sinatra, always on top of his game, singing through the eras. Play it for Sinatra fans when they come over. Martinis and a pizza with a couple beautiful hours to kill.
Tony Bennett Sings For Two – It’s nice to be kicked in the chops by a record on occasion and flat-out reminded just how damned glorious the American Songbook is. A young Tony & just a piano punch you in the chin with this “reminder.” Now, I don’t know if Mr. Bennett has ever been classified as a melancholy saloon singer, but he kinda is. It’s the tempo & choices he makes with this record that include the salt from a few tears in the mix. Sings For Two implies that this is a couple’s album but, for me, it’s more of a recently single’s album. The song choices are haunted by shoulda, coulda, woulda examples of our collective song book, yet Bennett sings them with such panache & perfection that you’ll feel it’s a rite of passage to be alone sometimes. He obviously feels that. The singer’s singer was on top of his game in ’59, singing ballads like My Funny Valentine, Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered, & Just Friends. Romantic? Sure. For Two? Not so sure…. How about one, some nice memories, and a double bourbon rocks?
Walk Hard, The Dewey Cox Story Soundtrack – Sometimes…you just want to laugh. When John Riley starred, a few years back, in his mocumentary on the life and death of southern rock legend Dewey Cox, little did I know that such a fantastic soundtrack record would come from it. Parody is often just disguised flattery, and nowhere is that more musically true than with this album. John Riley is actually quite a good singer and musical impressionist, and the rock eras that he covers with this collection hit home. You will find yourself laughing over drinks as you listen to Riley’s takes on Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Herb Alpert, Brian Wilson, Joan Mitchell & more. So much of rock takes itself way too seriously that a comedic poke in the ribs, especially on this level, is refreshing. Sure it helps to have seen the movie but that’s not entirely necessary with this soundtrack. The songs are very well written with production and tracking values as good as the original pop-music classics they make fun of. Zany, unapologetic, hilarious, and perfect for a night with close friends with even a slight knowledge of the original source material. Songs include Dear Mr. President, Guilty as Charged and It’s a Beautiful Ride which is actually a pretty fantastic song in its own right. A comedy album that’s as current as it is classic.
Darin 1936 – 1973, Bobby Darin – (No longer available on CD, I still have to mention it and will leave a Rhapsody link at the end of my review for downloading purposes.) This is simply an incredible record which so demonstrates the metamorphosis of a great singer. Darin did start out recording teen 50′s rock ‘n roll party cuts before sliding so gracefully towards jazz standards and lounge, finally ending his career and life with folk vocals. What is so musically brilliant about Darin’s three stages is that you can hear the singer, and who he actually is, through all phases. I’ve been playing this record a lot lately ’cause it fits into more than a few facets of life as equally as it fits into facets of home entertaining. You can play it alone, with a friend, or during a party. Released just weeks after Darin died, his live, soft performances of I Won’t Last A Day Without You, The Letter, Mac The Knife and especially, If I Were A Carpenter will floor you. He was at the top of his game at game’s end, and we’re fortunate enough to have it still.
Equinox, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Say you are Audrey Hepburn or Albert Finney, and you are in Rio in the late 60′s, sipping daiquiris while filming a romantic comedy . This is the soundtrack to your movie! Sergio Mendes and his band did it again with Equinox. Like the album Brasil ’66, this record is a bit less summer than their other album reviewed in our music section, but it’s still sophisticated latin jazz that justifiably holds its own forty years later. Mendes invented this sound, and while others do it well, Brasil ’66 put their mood into it. You’ve not heard many of the songs on this album, but they will feel familiar as much as rhythmically exotic. This is a steamy, steel-string guitar-spiced record with those amazing Brasil ’66 vocal harmonies wrapped around everything. Electric pianos, maracas, bongos … all the forgotten 60′s instruments intertwine to bring the listener such an exotic , yet melodic , sound you’ll be thrilled to rediscover it. This is sophisticated, grown-up cocktail music in all its glory. Songs include Cinnamon & Clove, Constant Rain, Night & Day, and more.
Bossa Rio – Produced by Sergio Mendes back in 1969, this is another South American jazz album that will absolutely carry a warm weather cocktail party. This is an extremely optimistic record, just loaded with 60′s bossa nova voices and a groovy Hammond organ. Very poppy without being a sugar-coated 60′s pop record. Bossa Rio sounds like they were made to play the pool patios of ritzy South American hotels as fruit-coolers were served in tall glasses. Think “the house band that played behind Sean Connery” in a hotel scene in one of his Bond films. Very dated but still very cool, this record will be one to play as you barbeque and the pitcher of Planters Punch is emptied. Songs include Do You Know The Way To San Jose, Wave, Old Devil Moon, and Nana.
When The Feeling Hits You, Sammy Davis Meets Sam Butera & The Witnesses – Going back to Sam because his career is such a deep well to draw water from. Sammy Davis teamed with LasVegas staple and tenor saxophone guru, Sam Butera, on this recording back in 1965. Sam Butera & The Witnesses were a Vegas sextet that backed up many a Vegas nightclub performance and spent quite a while teamed up with Lois Prima and Keely Smith. The point I’m trying to make is that this is a pure 60’s Vegas swing album. Sammy morphed into just the type of singer needed for whatever mood was called for, and with these 10 songs, he’s pure lounge. This is cocktail music, pure and simple, originally played in smoky lounges tucked away behind main casinos. Off the beaten path with such an adult vibe, this album may surprise you with its sophistication. Two men, on top of their games, on their own in Las Vegas, teaming on a record that captures lightening in a bottle. This album only calls for classic cocktails; no beer, no wine, just make ‘em strong. Songs include When The Feeling Hits You, I Should Care, Cry Me A River. *As I write this, Collectorschoicemusic.com is selling all their Sammy for under $8 a disk!
Adventures In The Modern Lounge, Ric Cunningham – I’m grinning ear-to-ear as I write this ‘cause I’m excited (I’ve also had a drink). Ric Cunningham is a current jazz musician who “gets it” when it comes to cocktail music. I’m listening to a record that was just recorded last year, yet evokes a mood I thought was just completely lost decades ago. Primarily a sax album, the jazz represented here also carries rhythmic undercurrents of mambo beats, 60’s pop back-up vocals, and melodic riffs positively engineered for cold martinis. I was stunned to discover that this album was Ric’s sole musical vision from concept to arrangement to finish. He’s a complete package. It’s hard to explain, but I think you will be reminded of 60’s Blake Edwards’ movie soundtracks & other things 60’s, yet be titillated with these little modern touches, some quite pronounced, that will remind you that you’re listening to something fresh. Noir, big band, 50’s jazz, cha-cha, even R&B make their presence known here. I’d given up looking for music like this still being produced, and I was wrong to do so ‘cause here it is! Picture postcard perfect to go with your next fun cocktail party, play this record during the 3rd round of tiki drinks or whiskey sours. Songs include Europa, Harlem Nocturne, Must Be Dreamin’.
Portrait In Jazz, Bill Evans Trio – This is the kind of jazz you want to walk into. The rainy evening type of sound that encourages you to stop going to wherever it is you’re going and just listen. Your guests will feel the same way the moment you put this on your hi-fi. A piano-led trio that is about as sophisticated as it gets, this is much more an album for the conscious guest than the folks just there for the booze and cheese-puffs. Each of the three artists, Bill Evans – piano, Scott LaFaro – bass, & Paul Motian – drums, play almost as if alone. The trio stand apart as they harmonize providing the listener with a pretty unique, yet highly listenable, jazz experience. You’ll know the songs as the lion’s share of them are standards and comfortable enough to hold their own at your cocktail gathering. Bill Evans was such a risk taker and so influential on jazz piano that his playing on this album will thrill you. Add to that two equally accomplished musicians and you have something pretty darned special for your next get-together. Manhattans or martinis should be served with this one. Songs include Witchcraft, Autumn Leaves, What Is This Thing Called Love and When I Fall In Love.
Jackie Gleason presents Velvet Brass – I’ve mentioned Jackie Gleason before in my music reviews but only over in our Christmas section. His musical musings are definitely worth another time up at bat. This is a big band album, but not so plain and simple. I believe Mr. Gleason was trying to make a sexy huge brass, big band album, and I salute him for that. “Sexy” because Gleason wanted you to enjoy this record over brandies with an overly lip-sticked femme fatale’ next to a crackling fire in your bachelor pad. Yet, there’s a twenty piece horn section tellin’ you to “go for it!” It’s this contradiction that makes this one a gem in my cocktail collection. No singing, just that sexy brass reminding you how swinging the 50’s were for sophisticated adults in their living rooms.
Jackie Gleason was a man of many talents, and I’m a huge fan. His skills at conducting and arranging thick, rich records should not be forgotten. So buy this one and “don’t forget” over a rich whiskey sour and a couple of friends over. This is a very cool horn album, look how much fun the dolls on the cover are having. Songs include You’re Driving Me Crazy, But Not For Me and What’s New.
The Ballad Style of Stan Kenton– I’m sticking with the rich, later big band stylized recordings for a review longer, so stick with me. Stan Kenton was a pianist, jazz musician, arranger and conductor, and with this album, large bits of all four come into play. Apparently, Stan handpicked the thirteen songs on this recording because of their melody, richness and appeal. Even though intimate, there’s a weight to this record that makes it worth pointing out. Kenton’s piano is just gorgeous here. Once again, I’m stepping into my “way-back” time machine in a musical attempt to remind you of days gone by and their connections to classic cocktails and home entertaining. This is an unobtrusive, beautifully arranged and musically enjoyable reason to throw a St. Valentine’s dinner party or pop open a bottle of champagne with somebody you love. Old fashioned? Yes, today it is, but, still a wonderful way for you and someone special to lose yourself in for an hour. Songs include The End of a Love Affair, How Deep is the Ocean and The Night We Called It a Day.
May I Come In? – Blossom Dearie – I can honestly say that I’d never heard of Blossom Dearie. With all my “lounge this” and “jazz that,” my “singer this” and my “American songbook that,” I’d never once listened to this singer …and she impressed the hell out of me. A friend pointed this record out to me a few weeks ago; I bit … and man, am I glad I did. Her voice is very soft and sweet. She’ll remind you very much of the sixties Euro female wave, with singers like Astrud Gilberto & Genevieve Bujold, with a touch of Bossa Nova singer softness. Yet, she’s quite American in her delivery. This record was recorded for Capitol in ’64 and it sounds like it in that “sixties jazz standards” way. She sings the songbook sincerely & elegantly, yet there’s this queer undercurrent of skepticism & intelligence which reminds me of Cole Porter and his been-there-done-that approach to a song. One of the sexiest singers I’ve heard, her cabaret approach to a song is perfect for her song choices on this album. If you’re a deep listener and appreciate a more sophisticated singer, you have to try Blossom. Songs include Quiet Nights, I’m Old Fashioned, When Sunny Gets Blue and more. A Sidecar’s the perfect cocktail for this one.
I’m Glad There Is You – Vic Damon – You know, critics back in the day compared Vic Damone’s voice to Sinatra’s, and often set Vic’s on a higher shelf. To me, they’re apples & oranges. Sure there’s the Italian connection and the masculine confidence, but I’ll draw the line there. It took me a few years to warm up to Vic’s approach. I guess I wasn’t ready to interpret his straightforward way with a ballad as, actually, an experienced approach to his music. Like Sinatra, the singer had lived this stuff and was simply telling a story he’d lived. When I figured this out, Damone’s music opened up and I “got it.” He’s quite theatrical, but that’s nothing but fun if you let your guard down. This is a great record to put on when you’re having a quiet drink or a Campari & soda with a few close friends. It’s old school, but it’s really not; just a great singer, who was immensely popular in his day, singing about love. What the hell’s wrong with that? Nothing, and it’s nice to be musically reminded that a good singer singing a good song is sometimes all you need. Songs include How Deep Is The Ocean?, I’m Glad There Is You, The Things We Did Last Summer, and more.
Bing Sings the Sinatra Songbook – Not quite what you think it is, this is not an album Bing Crosby recorded to salute his chum. No, this is a collection of songs Sinatra made famous that Bing either sang or took a crack at on his own. Just released by Collectors Choice Music, I was “pleased as punch” (a ‘Bing-ism’) to learn of its release. Bing Crosby is sort of “an acquired taste.” For the uninitiated, it might take you a listen or two to adjust your musical pallet and “get him” in our modern age. This was not always the case; and if you take that into consideration and realize that for decades this man was America’s most popular singer, your Bing discovery will nostalgically unfold in your lap. Soft paced, relaxing, almost therapeutic in his musical assurance, Crosby will sooth you into a soft evening. Do not plan on building a party around this album. Plan on building a nice intimate evening around it. If you’re a Sinatra fan, this is a no-brainer. Bing was Frank’s number one influence. Why not spend a night listening to how the two masters interconnect. Songs include Imagination, The Lady Is A Tramp, Summer Wind and more. Gotta go Old Fashioned as the drink with this.
Tell Me About Yourself/The Touch Of Your Lips, Nat King Cole – I’m in a Nat Cole frame of mind with these reviews. I find him my favorite balladeer during the cool months. Nat’s voice, pacing and instrumentation are just so warm, they compliment the cool seasons. This double album CD offers a selection of Cole standards that were recorded when the guy was at the top of his game. Recorded in 1960 & 1961, Nat Cole knew exactly what he was doing with every track. Both have the full backing of large studio orchestras, yet threading through the rich brassy backgrounds are Nat King Cole and his beautiful piano playing. There’s a wonderful blend of both known and forgotten ballads and standards that will draw the listener in with the familiar yet also entertain with a song or three you’re unfamiliar with. Anyone of our fall drink picks would be a perfect match with this 24 song double album. This collection will easily hold its own through a party. Songs include Funny, A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, I Remember You, & Until The Real Thing Comes Along.
Modern Art, Art Pepper Quartet – A really perfect example of the West Coast jazz sound, this 1950’s recording by alto sax master Art Pepper musically explains the differences between what was coming out of San Francisco & Los Angeles around the same time Miles Davis, Mingus, Coltrane & the bohemian NY 50’s sound was making its way up and out of the caverns of the Big Apple. This record may remind you of Chet Baker in its cool, jazzy optimism, but it stands a few yards apart. Art Pepper blew sax as no one had ever done. Sure it’s intense, light and melodic, it will definitely hold up in a small gathering and compliment your gingery cocktails, yet, there’s an undercurrent of hard knocks on the record. Like many great musicians, Pepper did some time for drugs and the like. The hardships weep through a little on this gorgeous record. He’s a master, and recordings like this demonstrate that skill in an hour’s time. Songs include Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered, Begin The Beguine, Blues In & Summertime.
Blame It On My Youth, Matt Belsante – All right, all right…I know what you’re thinking. This kid has not earned his stripes. How in the sam-heck can this young man have the experience to croon on some of the most recognized ballads ever written? He’s too young to have the chops. Well, my answer would be that you have to start sometime, and if this early album is any indication of things yet to come, I’ll bet on the kid. His voice is great and, unlike Buble’ or Connick, reminds me of no particular singer of standards who’s come before. You can hear the Italian upbringing in it, softly and subtly, which is a nice thing. You can also hear that the gravel and thickness of age has yet to hit the singer, which isn’t always a good thing but works here. There’s a musical optimism that shines through. Songs 50, 60 years old sound new again which I didn’t feel was possible. Masculine enough to own the song he’s singing, Belsante’s voice also sounds young, crisp and jazzy. Look, I guess what I’m saying is that you gotta buy “new” sometimes, and this record is a surprising example of something old/something new. Songs include Beyond The Sea, At Last, Blame It On My Youth & Witchcraft.
When Harry Met Sally Soundtrack, Harry Connick Jr. – This kinda did kick-off the new wave of standards, crooners, kid jazz-singers, and bag-band appreciation. I know. I was right there standin’ in line to catch this young upstart at the Kennedy Center on Thanksgiving eve in the 80’s right as this record hit. I loved this album a whole lot more than I liked the movie from which it sprang. Who was this kid who could wrap a huge brass, swing band around himself and sing the songs that you used to hear in the car in the mornings with your dad as he drove you to school? Harry Connick Jr. sings like Sinatra…only different, only he has his own voice. I know it sounds confusing because it is kind of confusing. Connick brought it all back with this album and made the world listen again. I will never stop thanking him for that nor will I ever stop listening to this album in the fall because it is an autumn record. Unlike the movie, the music doesn’t date itself. Brassy, bold, melodic & beautifully sung, this 20+-year-old collection of jazz ballads and big band powerhouses should still send you. Songs include I Could Write A Book, It Had To Be You, But Not For Me & Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.
After Midnight, The Complete Session, Nat King Cole – A pretty interesting “grand experiment,” here’s a Nat Cole album that just doesn’t fit the bill. Even more intimate than usual, Mr. Cole takes a small group of accomplished jazz musicians and attempts a more inventive style of music. It took a song or two for me to get my ear around it, but, with the help of an Applejack cocktail and some quiet time in the living room, I opened right up to Nat’s chance. I wouldn’t play this at a bustling party, it would get lost and audibly pushed aside. You play this during a dinner party or back at the ranch with friends after a night out. It’s a slightly demanding collection of recognizable popular songs; it’s just the smaller instrumentation deserves a bit of attention. What I like so much about this record is that one can really hear Nat Cole steering the ship. His vision isn’t lost in a forest of brass and drums and up-tempos even though there are some toe-tappers on this album. Go figure, a smaller Nat King Cole album that sounds much more like a 1950’s night out at The Village Vanguard or other jazz club than it does a large production. Songs include Just You, Just Me, Sometimes I’m Happy, Blame It On My Youth, & I Know That You Know.
The Millennium Collection, The Best Of Brook Benton – A great voice is a great voice and, of course, I realize that not every singer is only perfect for cocktails. I’m just suggesting artists that might combine well with your single malt, martini, or gimlet. Brook Benton can just as easily and perfectly be listened to on a drive through the countryside or over headphones on a subway ride. Here however, I feel it my duty to point out how well this influential baritone, this smooth as silk, honey voiced singer of nocturnal melodies does indeed team with a Rusty Nail, Old Fashioned, or Guinness. What can I say about Benton’s A Rainy Night In Georgia that hasn’t been said before? I’m almost embarrassed to try, but here goes; this is one of the greatest sad songs ever recorded and, for the drinkers out there, simply must be heard with a little down time on your hands and a perfect Manhattan. It will give you the shivers, it’s so perfect. Regionally, you can hear the South Carolina in this man’s rich voice. He didn’t hide it. Landing more than 50 songs on the Billboard top 100 over his career, Benton knew what he was doing. Like a few I’ve reviewed today, this collection is best played in small company; it won’t work in a rousing party. Songs include It’s Just A Matter Of Time, Rainy Night In Georgia, Fools Rush In & Lie To Me.
Anita O’Day Sings For Oscar – Wow! Just picked this reissue of two amazing O’Day 1957 albums up and was blown away! Combing the records “Anita Sings the Most” with “Pick Yourself Up,” this 24-song CD is a great example of vocal jazz singing, which positively holds its ground against any instrumental jazz album of the same era. Oscar Peterson only plays piano on the 1st eleven songs, and they’re amazing. His playing is such a sophisticated compliment to Ms. O’Day’s singing that you’ll feel it just couldn’t get any better. But then, you start to hear jazz guitarist great, Herb Ellis, on guitar, Stan Getz on tenor sax, Larry Bunker on drums & vibes, and you’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled on to musical gold. Both records on this CD earned five stars in the 1957 editions of Downbeat Magazine, during one of the most exciting periods in the music’s history. Anita O’Day’s voice, like that of June Christy, will add so much to an evening spent in your living room. She borderline tackles a tune almost as an instrument herself, only the warmth is there; the humor, pathos, and sensuality that a woman on the absolute top of her game can deliver. This is sophisticated stuff that is in no way intimidating. What an edition to an iced-pitcher of martinis or manhattans will this recording make. Songs include They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Old Devil Moon, Them There Eyes, & I Won’t Dance. I am so glad I found this recording!
Kay Kyser & His Orchestra, I’ll Be Seeing You – I’m going a ways back in the Mr. Booze musical time machine with this one. I’d like to hope I have readers that remember Kay Kyser and understand & appreciate his unique way with a big band, but for those of you unfamiliar with his “College of Musical Knowledge,” let me tell you that there was nothing at all like this 40’s swing band and how entertainingly they can fit in to a night ‘round the home bar. There’s an awful lot of 1940’s energy locked away into this music. You can listen and hear the fun that was offered up through these mostly recognizable tunes. It sounds like a great big auditorium party captured for us. I like this recording with the old drinks. An Old Fashioned and the Let’s Get Lost big band style works wonderfully. The majority of these tracks were recorded for Armed Forces Radio so they’re all top-drawer in terms of production value. I realize that big band music isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea, but…this isn’t your everyday big band recording; it’s loaded with an energy very reminiscent of Crosby/Hope and Abbott & Costello movies. Anything by Kay Kyser in this era deserves a couple hours with cocktails in the living room. Check him out. Songs include Great Day, I’ll Be Seeing You, Brazil, In My Arms & 23 more.
Phil Harris, His Original and Greatest Hits – I try and stay away from “Greatest Hits” recordings, honest I do. I don’t feel they capture the essence of the artist, having flushed away all musical themes, feelings, and intentions the actual album originally intended. But, on occasion, a “hits” album works as it does with this one by Phil Harris. You’ll recognize his voice if you’ve ever seen Disney’s Jungle Book. He voiced Baloo, the bear. I guess I’d describe him as a folk singer with big band orchestration that now leans towards nostalgia. He sings about the life around him that for us, no longer exists. His smoky baritone is perfect for part of an eclectic rotation of music during a night of home entertaining. When I put this album on someone always stops to listen. You just don’t hear stuff like this anymore, and it’s a shame ‘cause it’s fantastic. I wouldn’t kick off a party with Phil Harris, but I’d sure play him two hours deep when the gears are properly lubricated and a tweak in the fun department is called for. Songs include That’s What I Like About the South (for my Southern fans, this is an absolute must own), It’s a Good Day, & Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette.
Johnny Mathis, Heavenly – You know, I wasn’t always a fan of Johnny Mathis and still consider him a “right place at the right time” sort of singer believing that his lovely but soft, lilting voice can be, at times, hard to fit into a night of thick jazz or bourbon voiced singers. Having said that, Mathis truly is gifted. You just need the proper set of home bar circumstances to let him come out and entertain. I play his music at the shank of the evening when either the conversation is hushed down a bit, you’re down to your best friends, or you’re entertaining more romantically with a couples dinner party. He never interrupts with his singing; he adds a rich tone to late night that goes perfectly with that last bottle of red, that final Manhattan or that whiskey spiked coffee. No one sings like Johnny Mathis…no one. This album has the gems. Songs include More Than You Know, Misty, That’s All, A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening and more.
Johnny Hartman, I Just Dropped By To Say Hello – I’ve heard folks compare Hartman’s singing with Billy Eckstine, and I just don’t agree. While both were excellent singers and both deserve mention on this page (don’t worry, Mr. Eckstine will arrive shortly), Hartman sang as if a jazz instrument and in a different style entirely. There are a few singers I carry into my cocktail parties like the gin, vermouth, whiskey and rum necessary, and Johnny Hartman can be considered a necessary ingredient. A while back and down the page, I reviewed an album he did with John Coltrane. Well, I’m inviting you now to listen to how Mr. Hartman’s songs stand up and alone as jazz standards. Sure he was backed by some of the princes on the instrument side with guys like Hank Jones on piano, Kenny Burrell on guitar and Illinois Jacquet on tenor sax. Hartman’s the instrument of this recording. These soft, cigarette stained melodies will raise the bar on your get-together creating a sophisticated event in combination with gin martinis, rye manhattans and a bed overflowing with winter coats. Songs include In the Wee Small Hours…, I Just Dropped By To Say Hello & If I’m Lucky.
Victor Buono, Heavy – I’ve reviewed a few 60’s comedy albums & oddities before. Remember Bob Newhart & Orson Wells? This one kind of falls into both categories. Way too self-deprecating to be considered today, I like this record because Victor Buono was smart, and his intelligence shines through on this recording like a light bulb. Not for everyone by any means, I bring this to your attention ‘cause I realize some of you there who entertain with cocktails at home, occasionally like to spice it up with a queer pick from the past bordering on the kitschy that can hold its own. Buono recorded this live at some cool supper club in LA back in ’71 (just a guess on where). I enjoy it because it’s clean and rhythmic and cool and old school. If you’re searching for something different that will play interestingly with a whiskey sour or two, try this one.
Jim Backus, The Comedy Classic – I’ll be short and sweet with this 2nd comedy album review with this batch. I apologize to those of you not into this sort of recordings. I’m only mentioning them because I feel they really can be enjoyed ‘round the home bar. They often impart a lost feeling of fun as it once was bellied up to the basement bar, that I feel a few are worth a mention, though I promise not to make a habit of it. For those of you like me, who love the cocktails history, there’s some great “drunk guy” humor on this record, clean enough to play around your kids yet hilarious enough to still get you slapping the table top w/ Jim’s impersonations of the boozer at the Xmas party or at the bar on the way home from work. If you like movies like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Russians Are Coming, you’ll like this old classic comedy album actually recorded for folks to enjoy while having drinks at their home bars. Can you believe it!
The Rat Pack (Frank, Dean & Sammy), Live and Swingin’ – I have the original Live at The Villa Venice discs that this was edited from, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I don’t know why I’m so all over the board with this batch of reviews but all sorts of cool for the home bar recordings are popping into my head, this being a jewel. Going into this one, you have to remember that “politically correct” was a term not even considered at the time, so if you’re easily offended, you may wanna take a pass. Apparently, the 3 played the Villa Venice on account of some organized crime department, favor or promise one of them had made, and hence had to return once a year to entertain the wise guys. Even so, the tuxedoed trio put on their Vegas show in the windy city perfectly. I bought it because I was beyond interested; I wanted to know what it was like when The Rat Pack performed. Was I impressed? Well, hell yes and so shall you be if you buy this recording. A perfect break between hands at your poker game or for a fun night out on the patio with friends and high-balls.
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook – Ella Fitzgerald is a lot like Frank Sinatra in terms of establishing herself in most Jazz Vocalist record collections. Chances are if you’re interested in the kind of music represented in this section, you have an Ella disc in your home. She covers the standards, scats with discipline and elegant restraint, makes listeners feel a bit more grown-up and sophisticated, I get it. But…with this record, she teams up with the greatest American Popular catalog ever written. Johnny Mercer, the Huckleberry Friend’s songs and Ella Fitzgerald’s way with a song team-up for recorded magic. Did I mention that Sinatra conductor, Nelson Riddle lends his baton to the show? This is a positively brilliant album that often is missed by Ella fans both serious and casual. Songs include Too Marvelous For Words, I Remember You, Day In, Day Out and Something’s Gotta Give.
Jeri Southern: The Very Thought Of You, The Decca Years 1951 – 1957 – Jeri Southern sings tired; that’s the best and most encompassing way to describe this mid-Western transplant. I suppose “road-weary” and “experienced” may be more appropriate adjectives, but I’ll stick with tired. Jeri Southern sings like she knows exactly what she’s singing about — love gone bad, hope, promise and some regret. Here’s a gal that toured Europe during WWII, after embracing jazz as a later career, who sings with such control and soft finesse, you’ll swear she has lived each moment of each lyric. This isn’t an up-tempo, frilly vocal jazz record, no sir. Jeri Southern is the soft-spoken girl in the back of the room who, eventually, turns your head and whispers to you ‘til you get it. Put this one on around ten, when everyone’s had one or two and is ready to lose themselves in some wonderfully soft vocals.
Barbra Joan Streisand – Don’t worry, I’m not a Barbra head, scrambling for $400 tickets when she comes to town every 3 years on yet another “Final Tour.” I’ll admit she has a dynamite voice, which she has spread on an awful lot of records I haven’t listened to over the past four decades. I only own this one album, but here’s the rub — parts of it are beyond brilliant and deserve a listen when teamed with a fireplace, a malted scotch, or small batch bourbon. Out of the eleven songs on the disc, four are simply superb. Her version of the Hal David-Burt Bacharach’ song(s) One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home, is, without a doubt, the best version ever recorded (umm, forget about what I said about the Fifth Dimension’s version in my Bacharach album reviews below). Just download it and listen. She also sings great versions of The Summer Knows (from Summer of ’42) and I Never Meant To Hurt You on this album.
Jo Stafford: Autumn In New York & Starring Jo Stafford –
Another slow, soft & smooth one from America’s female Pied Piper. For me, Jo Stafford is the 40’s & 50’s. There’s something so lost, so yesteryear & romantic about her voice, I put her records on when I want to be reminded about music and life as it used to be. This double album has that big band, jazz spirit that you look for when the weather turns a little chilly and the spicy, ginger cocktails come out. Jo swings from big band treatments to torch song expressions on both records, so it really doesn’t feel like much of a jump from one record to the other. The Autumn in NY is my favorite of the two, with Jo covering Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Just One Of Those Things, Autumn In New York and more. The “Starring” half contains No Other Love, The Gentlemen Is A Dope, Day By Day and more not as well known picks.
Nancy Sinatra: How Does That Grab You? –
I really like Nancy and feel she more than fits into a night of cocktails and friends. I like how she pulled a 180 on her father’s territory and swung and strode her way into the younger generation’s go-go nightclubs. I like her white-frosted lips, her wicked mini-skirts, her famous boots, and her sincere 60’s attitude. I like her music a lot too, and this album pretty much captures the spirit of the other Sinatra. She’s kind of a cool bit*# in this album and that aspect of it doesn’t date. With a seriously sexy, tries-hard-voice, Nancy almost picks a fight on this record. I’d go 60’s with my drinks on this one, and mix up Martinis, Harvey Wallbangers, Grasshoppers, & Stingers. Like a lot of my music picks, if you’re a dabbler, you only need one, and How Does That Grab You? can be your Nancy Sinatra album (‘til you realize how cool she is and go back for more). Songs include the amazing Bang, Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down, Until It’s Time For You To Go, Call Me, and Feelin’ Kinda Sunday (a duet w/ her dad).
Spotlight On Keely Smith –
Let’s go back to 1950’s Las Vegas again and drink and gamble with one of Sin City’s star entertainers, Keely Smith. I love Keely and Louis Prima, and I haven’t forgotten that for most of the time, they’re as inseparable as salt and pepper. That being said, Keely Smith was a great vocalist on her own and can more than hold her own during your next cocktail party. Like a few of the 50’s & 60’s sirens, Keely is a one-of-a-kind with a soft lilting, girl’s voice exploding above the bee-bop jazz swing that thunderously accompanied her. She carries her Virginia southern accent straight into her singing and the result is intoxicating. This “best of” collection is up-tempo and will have your guests feeling a part of yesteryear in Vegas. Songs include You Go To My Head, I’ll Get By, Mr. Wonderful and Stormy Weather.
Mambo With Tjader – Recorded back in the fall of 1954, this Mambo record debuted at the near pinnacle of the tiki wave. I became hypnotized by this album’s cover (just look at this cat, he’s definitely caught the fever), but went on to discover that Cal Tjader had caught lightening in a bottle. It’s like the artist combined the cool, NYC style jazz of the era and combined it with tight, rhythmic, Mambo cha-cha-cha-strong accents. Tjader’s bongo and vibes playing combined with the rest of his band’s established 1950’s jazz background will really send you. Sophisticated, fun, and very reminiscent of the Cuban sound invasion of the previous decade, if you kick off a tiki party with this one, buddy, you’re setting a strong vibe. Songs include This Can’t Be Love, Cherry, Miami Blues and Midnight Sun.
The Very Best Of Tito Puente “King of Kings” – After being turned on to traditional big band Cuban Mambo in the movie “The Mambo Kings”, I tried to go out and find some of this 1950’s vinyl and delve deeper into this gorgeous, Latin sound. A swing and a miss because I can’t find any of the old originals. Next best thing, in my book and especially when you’re learning, are these “best of” packages. This one was released back in 2002 and is quite affordable. You get 21 Mambo powerhouses on this record. An ultimate twilight album, this one is ripe for that golden hour between late afternoon and darkness when the grill is hot, the party lights are swaying in the breeze, your guests are on their 3rd daiquiri and you’ve just put the meat on. Big Band Mambo is a thick, heavy sound, which will permeate your gathering like a cool breeze. No familiar standards Latinized for your listening enjoyment, these are all original, bold, brassy, bongo and vibe-laden songs which will absolutely get your hips swaying or at the very least your palms tapping the top of the tiki bar. Songs include Dance of the Headhunters, Dance Mania, Mambo Gozon and Night Ritual. This is a collection from a legendary percussionist and band leader, all great songs.
The Exciting Sounds of Martin Denny: Exotica Volumes 1 & 2 – Wow, do you get a lotta bang for your buck with this collection. For those of you out of “the know”, Martin Denny was a pianist and composer who fathered a 1950’s style of music known as Exotica. He literally created a style of orchestration which celebrated tiki culture which, believe me, was huge 60 years ago. Basically, Martin’s Exotica was supposed to be played when you were sipping rum drinks out of scorpion bowls with long straws and eating the, as then unheard of, egg roll and mu-gu-gai-pan. By playing Denny’ Exotica at your exotic drink get-together, you’re merely continuing a tried-and-true tradition just forgotten. Well, I believe it’s time we welcomed this tradition back to our candlelit patios. This music is less demanding than other records I’ve recommended here; this is background music designed to invoke thoughts of exotic and mysterious locales. Very imaginative, provocative and conducive to ice cold, layered drinks, adult banter and soft conversation. If you’re up for something cool and different, you can’t go wrong with Exotica…just open your mind a little (rum helps). Songs include Lotus Land, Jungle Flower, Singing Bamboos and Ah Me Furi.
Ultra-Lounge: Tiki Sampler – I’ve mentioned these Ultra-Lounge collections before, although not this one. I’m scared kids! These are now starting to get hard to find, so I urge you to scramble and gather as many of them as you can find before it’s too late. I’m not too sure how much of these forgotten gems will be available for download later, there’s just not that much of a demand. This is a great, fun album that’s light enough to play during your party. It’s a collection of exotic and tiki themed songs from the rest of the ultra-lounge albums. A real mish-mash of songs, this is a kinda perfect one to put on when things begin to go a bit zany. In no way coherent, your guests will be bounced around from one rummy song to another. Bottom line? Tons o’ fun. Songs include Munsters Theme, Boy From Ipanema (take that, Stan Getz), Come On-A My House, and Brazil. These are all songs by different, popular artists from back in the day, all of whom you should recognize. The TV themes are orchestrated versions. This is tough to find (should take you about an hour on the Internet) but well worth it.
Come Softly To Me: The Very Best Of The Fleetwoods – Nocturnally surreal, that’s how I would describe this record. You know how every now and then, you and a friend or friends, or significant other are up late drinking? The rest of the house is asleep, yet for some reason you are still mixing manhattans and whispering to someone across the bar about something deep, or stupid, or just talking nonsense. I’ve rediscovered that The Fleetwoods, a singing trio from the late 1950’s, celebrate late, late nights. They’re a regular ode devoted to staying up late. This is music meant to be played softly, barely audible. The backing instruments, sparse as they are, combine brass jazz horn hooks, jazz guitar, Beatnik bongos, and little sprinkled riffs as if an angel were accompanying. It’s almost weird, I tell you, but sweetly hypnotizing and perfect for when you’re up way too late sipping cocktails. Songs include Come Softly To Me, Goodnight My Love, The Great Imposter and Runaround.
The Four Lads: 16 Most Requested Songs – Not that I think there’s anyone still alive requesting The Four Lads’ songs, I still feel they have their place. What you have to do when listening to this record is to use your imagination & think of the time in our past when heavy-handed, nostalgia music was common place. Husbands rushed home to warm living rooms, mixed a martini while their wives put the finishing touches on supper, and lost themselves to these simple, positive poems to good times. I love this recording while sipping the obvious drink choice, an Old-Fashioned. You have to be a little corny & square to “get it” but if you think you may be, this album can be loads of listening fun. Songs include Standing On The Corner, Fly Me To The Moon, and Breezin’ Along With The Breeze.
When I Fall In Love: The Lettermen – I’ll close out my visit to the great vocal groups of the 50’s and 60’s with The Lettermen. All three of my vocal band recommendations are schmaltzy and dated, but…so what? Sometimes, that’s exactly what I want to hear when I’m at my home bar. No one sounds like The Lettermen. They appear to have walked straight out of a Frankie and Annette beach movie. The mellow California sound (think early Beach Boys) permeates the trio’s music, making this record picture postcard perfect for a Harvey Wallbanger. The harmonies here are, at times, downright amazing. I’ll recommend this one, once again, only to the few of you out there who can handle a trip back to a time when goofy was sometimes the norm. Songs include When I Fall In Love, Sealed With a Kiss, Come Back Silly Girl and If Ever I Would Leave You.
Blue Hawaii: Elvis Presley – You know when this album’s perfect? This Elvis soundtrack album, the only one I own, is just perfect for a day in the backyard with tiki drinks. I love tiki drinks and will be devoting (or have devoted) a special recipe section for them. There’s just something crazy-fun about a warm day, a silly shirt, flaming tiki-torches, a sizzling grill and round after round of tart, fruity, coco-nutty, rum thick tiki drinks and this Presley album … puts a shine on the whole thing. Even if you’re only whipping up a pitcher of banana daiquiris, Blue Hawaii will elevate your drinking experience tenfold. This is fun, charming, exotic, hilarious, nostalgic music ready to listen to on a chaise lounge with a tall, cool drink in your hand. Songs include Blue Hawaii, Rock-A-Hula-Baby, Beach Boy Blues and more. Out of print but very easy to find.
Gidget Goes Hawaiian/James Darren Sings For All Sizes – I’m just gonna keep with the tiki night picks. I have a tiki-bar our in my carport that my friends and I gather ‘round throughout all the warm months. We make exotic drinks, grill, laugh and listen to music. When that Hawaiian steel guitar bongo drums swell up in the background of our outside activities, I’ll tell ya, it’s something special. This is one of those import double albums that really are a good deal. Darren, before joining the cast of T.J. Hooker, had a nice career as a singer. His voice is excellent in a tough-guy sorta way. He swings and croons his way through the Gidget movie soundtrack and really holds his own through the American pop half of the CD. Songs include Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Not Mine, P.S. I Love You and Angel Face. This is an old fashioned, 50’s teen recording that works great with summer.
Come Spy With Me – Conductor Hugo Montenegro really threw one together when he recorded this album back in 1966. This is a killer collection of spy movie and TV theme songs perfectly meshed together. Hugo scored movies and TV shows so he knew what he was doing when he made this. He recorded albums of Man From U.N.C.L.E. music and spaghetti western themes. Honestly and in my opinion, one of the best thing this man recorded was the absolutely swinging opening theme to the I Dream of Jeannie show. C’mon, when you think about it, or remind yourself to really hear it on a re-run, this is the swinging-est theme ever on television. So, if you’re a fan of the great 60’s spy music that rolled out of Hollywood accompanying all those great kitschy movies, buy this, pour yourself a gin & tonic, put on your slippers and find your Walther ppk. Songs include Secret Agent Man, Theme From I Spy, Our Man Flint, The Silencers and more.
The Mills Brothers: All Time Greatest Hits – Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat Cole, Sinatra, I could go on, all of these performers listed the Mills Brothers as one of their major influences. The Mills Brothers, four men who knew jazz whom, when singing together in such unique harmony, pretty much infiltrated all popular singers music that came after. You’re not going to find any major, soul stirring instrumentation on this record. No sir, this is music meant to wrap you up in warm harmonies and leads. I like this greatest hits collection ‘cause it dips through the four brothers’ war and post-war years. You get a nice sampling of what these guys were capable of. Hopefully, it’ll lead you on to more specific records. After all, The Mills Brothers recorded some 2000 songs. This is soft, complex, comfy music for small affairs at home. A perfect record for bourbon & ginger and a few friends over.
I Know What It Is To Be Young: Orson Wells –This is a very odd recording made by America’s Olivier in the kick-off to his declining years. Probably mere months away from his Paul Masson’ “We’ll sell no wine before its time” commercial campaign, I can’t for the life of me imagine the motivation behind this recording. Did Orson think this was going to be a disc jockey ‘go-to’? What I can say about this record is that it’s weird, fun, entertaining and one-of-a-kind. I’ll occasionally put it on when having a drink or two, and I always bizarrely enjoy it. Orson, slow of breath and full of sigh, kind of sings as he imparts his old man wisdom on the day’s hip, acid-washed blue-jeaned wearing twenty something. You tell ‘em Orson Wells, teach these young punks what it’s like to look at life from the back nine. Bourbon rocks with this one.
Clifford Brown’s Finest Hour – I’ve heard him called jazz’s most skilled trumpeter, and I’m inclined to agree. Brown had such amazing control on even the slightest notes and changes. He’s so good that you have to wonder what else this man could have possibly, musically learned. You know why I love this album so much? It carries an absolute master’s skill of the craft into your living rooms and bars and wraps it in standards that you all know and love. Make no mistake about it — this is a pretty strong, no-punches-pulled jazz record, but, god love it, it flows perfectly into a festive evening. Ballads cushioned in attention calling trumpeting. How great is that? You get Sonny Rollins and Max Roach along for the ride, too. Songs include Stardust, I Get a Kick Out of You, Delilah, Cherokee and more. This is a cool album to play at a party. Twenty-five when he died which is the real shame.
The Country Side of Dean Martin – No longer in print (but there are plenty of used copies on sale for a song), this odd, hodgepodge collection of Dean’s exploration into the twangy side of standard pop is a grand throw-together. Released by Heartland Music back in 1998, somehow they managed to catch lightening in a bottle. It’s a collection album of some outstanding material from other Martin endeavors with more than a few drinking songs that I’d put on a top ten list. Little Old Wine Drinker Me ranks right up there with any drinker’s lament song including Sinatra’s One For My Baby. Dean’s version of By The Time I Get To Phoenix is more than worth a listen and his’ King Of The Road is bested only by Roger Miller’s original version. Every now and then I’ll put up an album that works best when you’re drinking alone. This is one of those albums because it’s just full of introspective, Dean Martin drinking songs.
The Nearness Of You: Ballads Played By Red Garland – After Oscar Peterson, Red Garland is my favorite jazz pianist and does, in no way, fall far behind. Piano jazz albums work on so many different cocktail levels. You can play them at big noisy parties as background music; you can play them at small gatherings to fill in the pregnant pauses that often permeate tipsy guests; or you can play them while you catch a drink alone or with your wife. This record slips easily into any of the three situations. It’s pretty soft, I’ll give you that, through slow tempo. But, with songs like Long Ago and Far Away, Where or When, and I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good, you will have a grand time listening. Red Garland, and I mean this as an absolute compliment, played the kind of piano you’d want to hear filtering out of a dim New York bar on a rainy night in say, 1962.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s Soundtrack – The price is right to buy the entire CD yet, if you’re on a budget and download music, you can get a lot of cocktail music pleasure by just buying a few of the songs. I play this one at parties but find that I skip through a few of the songs which slow the mood down quite a bit. However, we all remember the cocktail party scene in Holly’s apartment as being one of the best, most energetic and hilarious party scenes ever filmed, and the music had a lot to do with it. So The Big Blow Out is a must. What can I say about Moon River that hasn’t been said — it’s a must-own and a must-be-played. Mancini and Mercer co-wrote one of the most beautiful theme songs in all of cinema, and not a cocktail party can be had without this song enjoyed. Great songs include Moon River (all versions), Latin Golightly, The Big Blowout and Hub Caps and Tail Lights.
Gene Ammons, Angel Eyes – I’m going heavy on the jazz in this winter’s music picks update but for a reason. When I’m inside more, as I am in the cold months, I spend a hell of a lot more time in my living room reading, or just hanging out with a drink. Jazz is perfect for this indoor downtime ‘cause you have more time to devote to simply listening.
Your mind isn’t wandering all over the place with the activities that warm weather brings. Here’s another one, folks — a musician so accomplished and soul-stirring that I have to mention this as another great cocktail album. Gene Ammons is a very deliberate sax player. One can hear the thought process in most of what he plays; it’s strong, penetrating music that will remind you a bit of film noir music. This is a very sexy, very haunting collection of mostly recognizable standards played for jazz enthusiasts or those in search of some great, soft vibe for their next dinner party. Songs include Angel Eyes, Getting Around, You Go To My Head and more. He recorded it right before going down the river on a narcotics rap back in ‘65.
The Very Best of Trini Lopez, The Reprise Years – How the hell does one classify Trini Lopez? I know I can’t. I suppose if there were a “fireball” category, he’d fit well into that. Part 60’s folk musician, part 50’s beat poet, part Texican country, part Darin-esque Vegas entertainer, this guy’s just the life of the party. What a unique and gifted singer you’ll find on this record. Sinatra’s Reprise Records was smart enough to scoop him for a couple of great albums, the gems that make an appearance here. Songs include Lemon Tree, I’m Coming Home Cindy, Are You Sincere, Sinner Man and more. Sunglasses, sour drinks with straws, a day out on the patio and Trini Lopez would add up to perfect.
Burt Bacharach Classics – Had the good fortune to catch Burt last summer with my wife for our anniversary. I was in awe. He’s the guy who wrote my favorite standard of the 60’s, the song that gets to me every time — Alfie. I’m almost at a loss for words with this talent. He’s the songwriting genius of my generation, and we all know his music. This album, which is another record absolutely perfect for a couple’s night in with cocktails and bridge mix, is an all Burt endeavor. Is he the best singer in the world? Not by a long shot, but he does sing well enough. Let’s face it, this record is one of a few that’s not about the voice; it’s about the songs, man … the songs. Twenty-three of ‘em on this disc which includes such brilliant works as Alfie, One Less Bell To Answer, Make It Easy On Yourself, and This Guy’s In Love With You. Perfect for a quiet drink at home.
The Very Best Of Burt Bacharach – I know I just this second reviewed an album by Burt above, but stay with me while I mention just one more. Whereas “Classics” is more of an overview by the artist on the artist, this record is more of a love letter to the artist. Simply a collection of great interpretations by singers, this record is a solid and extremely enjoyable choice for a small cocktail party or a night when friends drop over. Like I mentioned above, he’s the guy who wrote the songs anyone in their 40’s sang while growing up. Younger drinkers will certainly know his music from movies and the lounge circuit. Some of the songs you get here are Walk On By and I Say A Little Prayer by Dionne Warwick, Only Love Can Break A Heart by Gene Pitney, and the best version of One Less Bell To Answer by The Fifth Dimension. Somebody is always singing along to this CD soon after I put it on.
Lex Baxter, Ritual of the Savag – Exotica … this is the album that started that strange, hypnotic trend in music that lasted a decade or so. No toe tappers here, no humable melodies that will haunt you in the shower the next morning. This is true cocktail music created to be enjoyed sipping tiki drinks in the leafy wet annexes of yesterday’s Polynesian themed restaurants. Ritual of the Savage is a true sound experience that our parents used as audio lubricant to their own wild, rum and gin soaked parties. This is theme music for patio parties. Think rain forests, palmetto freckled beaches, rum and tiki drinks, cawing tropical birds and moonlit bamboo forests and you’ll have an idea about what’s in store if you take the plunge. If you buy it and love it as I do, the Exotica scene doors will be thrust wide open, and believe me, there’s more.
Chet Baker, It Could Happen To You – One of my earliest jazz singer purchases, this record opened a lot of doors for me. It was a crash course in jazzy love songs. I was in college and just so very tired of having people from Seattle yelling at me every time I turned on the radio when I met this guy on CD. Chet covers a lot of the more obscure standards here. I mentioned earlier that his voice is really unlike any other. He sings with such conviction, sadness and style that you’ll be truly impressed he was a trumpeter first. One of the most romantic albums ever recorded, in my opinion. Stir a pitcher of cold gin martinis and drift on off. Songs include I’m Old Fashioned, The More I See You, Old Devil Moon and Everything Happens To Me.
My Love Forgive Me/Sincerely Yours, Robert Goulet – This Canadian, who stole the musical Camelot from Richard Burton on Broadway back in 1961, really could sing. He poked fun of himself in the 80’s, tarnishing his own reputation, but at the same time showing how good-sported he was. He’s another beautiful example of the type of singer we’ve sadly lost. He was class-in-a-glass with a rich baritone that belted a soft show tune, love or torch song with the best of them. There’s a tenderness and empathy towards the songs he’s chosen found in his voice that I’m often blown away by. People forget, but he was hugely popular in the 60’s and was a cocktail party mainstay for a decade. Find out why as you pour the gimlets. Some songs included on this twofer are Tonight, What Kind Of Fool Am I, Now That It’s Ended and Ebb Tide.
Sammy Davis Jr. & Buddy Rich, The Sounds Of 66 – Recorded live at The Sands Hotel with the Buddy Rich Orchestra in Las Vegas in 1966, this is an absolute era on disc. Before Vegas had amusement parks, it had lounges where gamblers and their spouses, bachelors, gangsters and broads drank cocktails while being capital “E” entertained. This album electrifies plain and simple. We all dream about being in Vegas back in the day, and with this album you get a big old swallow of what it must have been like. Sammy Davis could sing and laugh and make jokes with the best of them. Need proof? Get this record. Perfect for a party or a poker game. Songs include Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead, What Now My Love, What The World Needs Now and more.
Tom Jones, Greatest Hits the Platinum Edition – May the 8th, 1998, Las Vegas, Nevada…Mr. Booze’ Wedding Day. That eve., while out and about with Mrs. Booze, celebrating the 1st day of a life-long, passionate and boozy relationship, the two giggling lovebirds make there way into a Vegas Strip theater to catch the quintessential Neon City’s ode to cool…Mr. Tom Jones. I’d never really caught the Jones bug, always kind of considered him too flashy, too showy til’ the House lights dimmed, brass horns came up, and Tom entered my life. Mrs. Booze didn’t see the lone tear make it’s way down my cheek that night. She didn’t look over as I softly bit me knuckle, but I’ll tell you this my friends…two life-long love affairs started that night in Sin City. You need some Tom Jones in your cocktail collection. Not a lot, just one will do in a pinch. But, that time will come. The night will call for more than lounge or jazz or standards. Hard to put into words…but Tom will find the time to make his mark on your party.
Anthony Newley – Love Is A Now And Then Thing/In My Solitude – I know he starred with Rex Harrison in Dr. Doolittle, an upbeat, delightful family film, but I’ve always thought of Singer/Composer, Anthony Newley as something of a sad-sack. He certainly had a way with the pen and a song and when others sang his beautiful songs, especially Sammy Davis Jr. the listener could be transported. When Newley sings his own songs and others, it’s time for a drink and a bit of reflection. His is the voice of the haunted artist; the voice that calls for a bourbon rocks, the gin and tonic, the strong drink for the strong words. I’m a huge fan of this singer/songwriter. He recorded some amazing songs, all with a twinge of sadness and a look of longing. This is a record for late nights. You’ll hear on this record Thrill is Gone, What’s Good About Goodbye, For All We Know, I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan and more. One of the greats, folks.
Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre : Finian’s Rainbow, Guys and Dolls, Kiss Me Kate, South Pacific – It’s a box-set, a few years our of print, and it’s pretty expensive, there …I got that out of the way. You have to find this! It’s off-the wall, fantastic! Back in 1963, Frank Sinatra pretty much invited anyone who was anyone in the music business to add voice to this collection of four-album collection of popular Broadway Shows. It so epic of a collection that I could ramble on about it. Here are just some of the stars and songs: Dinah Shore, The Hi-Lo’s, Jo Stafford, Keely Smith, The McGuire Sisters, Rosemary Clooney, Lou Monte, Debbie Reynolds, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra, singing songs like Old Devil Moon, Look To The Rainbow, I’ve Never Been In Love Before, Luck Be A Lady, I’ll Know, So In Love, Too Darn Hot, Why Can’t You Behave, Cock-Eyed Optimist, There’s Nothing Like A Dame, Bali Ha’i and dozens more. Back when Broadway was more than just children’s cartoons set to music (“sigh”) there were these glorious shows with songs still sung today. This boxed CD set came out in 2000 and if you’re fortunate enough to track one down on Amazon or ebay, you’ll make it your main go-to album for lazy Sunday afternoons with Brunch and a Bloody Mary. Find it, you’ll thank me.
The Mambo Kings Soundtrack – Besides being a damn good, period piece and movie, the Mambo Kings turned out to be a hell of an introduction to Latin Big Band and Mambo music for me. This record offers perfect introductions and exposure to Mambo greats like Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, The Mambo All-Stars and more. I knew very little about Mambo when I watched the movie back in 1991 but that changed soon after. Mambo and cocktails go together like rum and pineapple juice. Besides classic 50’s recordings, the album manages to thrill with the few more modern additions as well. Linda Ronstadt, The Gypsy Kings and even the star, Antonio Banderas all contribute wonderful ways. This is a great Latin Rhythm album built around a movie devoted to Mambo history. Here’s a record perfect for Rum, tropical juice and cigars.
Ed Ames – Who Will Answer?/My Cup Runneth Over – Hmmm? How do I put this? This is an Ed Ames double album, containing two of his biggest successes, that just drips with schmaltzy charm. It isn’t a jazz record nor is it a finger snappin’ vocal blockbuster. This is a double CD I go to when I want to be swept away in nostalgia as I sip my drink.
This guy had a voice. Ed Ames tackles just a medley of soft, hauntingly hummable, beautiful popular at the time, songs. He has a voice that you’ll never hear nowadays; a rich baritone that would have knocked ‘em dead on Broadway in say…around 1956. I’ve learned with many of these older singer’s albums, that music was not meant to be listened to everywhere. Records, back in the day, were for Hi-Fi stereos in deep, curtained living rooms, enjoyed with a iced Manhattan in your hand. This is not a CD for everyone but, if you like old movies and cast albums, occasionally sport a cardigan or smoke a pipe, then by all means. Songs include My Cup Runneth Over, Cherish, Watch What Happens and Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.
The Nearness Of You; Ballads Played by Red Garland – Back to Jazz for a sec. I’ve mentioned Oscar Peterson and his Jazz Piano albums on this site. Jazz Piano and late evening cocktails, I can’t think of a better party combination. So, I must continue this marriage by mentioning this wonderful Red Garland record. Discovered by Miles Davis, Garland played piano in many important and amazing Jazz groups. With this recording, he concentrates on just ballads, making a statement perfect for entertaining. Soft, non obtrusive yet titillating enough to more than fill a room with music, this Ballad album mixes perfectly with whatever’s cold and in your shaker. Songs include Long Ago and Far Away, Where or When, Lush Life and Don’t Worry About Me.
Blue Note Plays Sinatra – If you like Frank Sinatra and you like Jazz standards then this is really a Mr. Booze no-brainer. You get many of the greats with this one – Miles blowin’ horn on It Never Entered My Mind; Dexter Gordon’s big, fat sax playing Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry; Sonny Rollins’ I’ve Got You Under My Skin; I could go on. This is a great, no vocals record for the shank of the evening, when people are a little drunk and the conversations are a little heavy. Background music that demands a little attention. Sinatra was a living jazz instrument so you just know that his songs work wonderfully with pure jazz. a great Latin Rhythm album built around a movie devoted to Mambo history. Here’s a record perfect for Rum, tropical juice and cigars.
Andy Williams – Honey/Happy Heart – What can I say, Andy Williams is an acquired taste and I happened to acquire it as a child watching his Christmas Specials on TV. This guy’s voice and song delivery just scream 1960’s, family-friendly far-out fun. I don’t listen to Andy Williams often but when I do, these are the records. Andy successfully tries to bridge the generation gap by tackling such hippy ballads as Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair; Windy and Little Green Apples. Andy also manages to squeeze in a couple 60’s tearjerkers like Honey; By The Time I get To Phoenix and Didn’t We. Light and breezy like an icy Harvey Wallbanger, this CD calms the nerves. So slip into a pair of white bellbottoms, throw on the ascot … and indulge. Andy’s groooovy.
Dakota Staton -Time To Swing – Title kinda says it all. What a set of pipes on this Jazz Singer. She was amazing and this record is a fantastic dip in the pool. Another one of those 1950’s, jazzy, tap-your-toes recordings, this record positively calls for a drink. Perfect for a small gathering or a big ole’ birthday bash, Ms. Staton will absolutely entertain. You’ll find it goes well with long, cold drinks like a Buck or Planters Punch. Let’s bring swinging and music back, shall we?
Peggy Lee – The Man I Love – This is a pretty interesting and entertaining album. Peggy Lee sings, Frank Sinatra conducts and Nelson Riddle Arranges. Three enormous talents of the time, teaming up on a standards album is a rare thing and one worth playing during your next night of adult imbibing. This isn’t a particularly up-tempo album, but then again, you can’t always be playing head-bobbers. This one’s great for when the folks come over, or for after a big meal when the ashtrays and snifters are coming out. Songs like The Man I Love; That’s All; Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe and He’s My Guy remind you to slow things down, relax and taste your drink. This is a warm album. (wonder if that’s Sinatra w/ Peggy on the cover?)
The Oscar Peterson Trio – A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra – An all-weather recording that goes just as well with a winter night and a rich Bourbon and Ginger as it does with a spring evening out on the patio with a fresh Mai Tai, pianist Oscar Peterson slides over Sinatra’ standards with the grace and subtle charm of a perfect bartender. Sinatra was a Jazz vocalist, and the choices he made with the songs he picked reflect a jazzy spirited edge easily borrowed within other musical boundaries. Overplayed standards, the mainstay of elevators and early bird specials, become cocktail drinking jewels when explored by my favorite jazz pianist. No vocals, just pure, soft tempos are what this record’s all about. Just in Time, The Tender Trap, Witchcraft, How About You, will become the subtle background music of whatever 80-proof evening you happen to be planning.
John Coltrane – My Favorite Things – Stickin’ with wonderful jazz recordings for a minute, this effort by Coltrane absolutely demands to be played three-fourths of the way through an at-home night of soft, well thought out imbibing. Look at it this way, you’ve gone through the enjoyable effort of inviting the right friends over; you’ve been mixing the right cocktails, peanut bowls are empty, a chair is piled high with coats, the sitter still has another hour upstairs with the kids, why not drop the party into low gear and play some music that will have all your guests speak a little more softly, listen a bit more intently, savor the flavor of the evening more. That’s what this recording does. Mr. Booze loves his standards, loves a song he knows well no matter the interpretation. Coltrane’s interpretation of My Favorite Things, Every Time We Say Goodbye, Summertime and But Not For Me is an absolute perfect period at the end of the sentence called your party. Trust me on this one.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out – Since I went out of my way to point out a suggested playing time for the above recording, I’ll stay with it and suggest this recording be played sometime around your perceived mid-point of your cocktail party. Most all your guests will recognize Dave Brubeck’s
recording of Take Five, and rightly so. It’s been used over the years in many shows and movies (one that comes to mind is Pleasantville, where Toby Keith’s character uses the song to wake-up the kids to the power of Beat Poetry). With Brubeck on piano and Paul Desmond on sax, you truly have a jazz masterpiece on your hands w/ this record. There’s a reason every cocktail party during the late 50’s and early 60’s had this album playing at some point during the evening. The Morello Drum solo during Take Five is absolutely amazing and well worth the enjoyment of an ice cold martini through. This album has the distinct ability to make people feel special just to listen to it. It’s unlike any jazz record I own. It’s its own mathematically melodic animal that simply must be let out of its cage on cocktail nights.
Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan – Two of a Mind – Mr. Booze is on a jazz roll here so please bear with me. So many times when I have a gathering and am pouring into my jazz albums towards the shank of the night, I’m asked by slurring guests, “What are youuu playinnng?..I love it.” For that reason, I’ve decided to drop another jazzy party bomb on you. C’mon, it can’t all be vocal standards; we gotta mix it up for our swanky night of ice, shakers and tall bottles. I mentioned Desmond above on Time Out and here he is again teaming with baritone sax player Mulligan on a record of cooler-than-hell standards interpretation. For some audio reason, I associate this record with the Beatnik generation. For no reason other than this is the type of New York, early 60’s jazz that I always imagined accompanied black coffee and Beat fiction. On the Road by Kerouac, a cold stout or porter, this album and a little bar time and you’ll be in a drinker’s heaven. Just as good, a small social gathering, some strong, bourbon based cocktails, this record and dim lights and you and your guests will have it made in the shade. Beautiful interpretations of Stardust, The Way You Look Tonight, and All the Things You Are plus more must be enjoyed.
Peggy Lee – Trav’lin Light – A ways before she became that smoky-voiced, platinum blonde, Lady in the Tramp-singing “acquired taste,” Peggy Lee was a damn good band singer. She recorded the songs on this record more as a lark than for commercial release. I don’t know why ‘cause they’re absolutely wonderful. Soft, feminine, sexy and optimistic, this collection will really add bubbles to an evening gathered ‘round the basement bar. They’re all pretty much love songs so you won’t hit that sudden downer ballad that can crash a party quicker than running out of ice. Songs like Goody Goody, Aren’t You Glad You’re You, Trav’lin Light, Fine and Dandy, and Imagination are just a few of the ditties that Miss Lee brings to the party. Yet another album that will have your guests smiling and laughing yet not sure why. Perfect for a party.
Anita O’Day Swings Cole Porter With Billy May – Holy hammana! – Mr. Booze did not see this record coming, and it ran over him like a beer truck. It’s that spectacular. Here’s this little brunette, swinging on a swing on the record cover, white gloves dating the album to the late 50’s, and she positively belts ‘em out. Honestly, this is an absolute 100-proof collection of Cole Porter’ standards sung in such an upbeat jazz tempo, it’ll make you feel as if you’ve jumped a time machine and are sitting in the Tropicana Nightclub sipping a daiquiri and calling over the cigarette girl for a pack of Luckys. It’s a magical, boozy album that Mr. Booze plays more than he doesn’t. Just One of Those Things, Love For Sale, It’s Delovely. I Get a Kick Out of You, the album’s just choc-a-block full of finger-snappin’ vocals singing to be accompanied by the sound of a chrome shaker. Perfect for a Saturday, say, ten o’clock.
Hoagy Carmichael – Hoagy Sings Carmichael – A bit of an acquired taste, I first was introduced to pianist/singer, Hoagy Carmichael in an old Kirk Douglas/Doris Day movie. Hoagy played the saloon piano player who was quick to spark a butt and even quicker doling out advice to a very messed up Kirk Douglas. Most of Carmichael’s scenes involved him just singing some old, great songs while playing a pretty great jazz piano. It took me about a second to do the math, singer + piano + jazz band + unique voice = great cocktail music. This record happens to be one of his best and is absolutely perfect for a night of boozing and cards, or boozing and the boys, or boozing and a few neighbors and friends. He has a hell of a backing band on this record. A few of the tunes you’ll be drinking to are Skylark, Georgia On My Mind, Winter Moon, and Two Sleepy People. You’ll feel like your drinking to a guy who’s been around the block a few times.
Fran Warren – Hey There! Here’s Fran Warren – So you want to have a cocktail get-together with a real retro feel to it. You’ve found the perfect sport-coat and skinny tie, you decked your party area with throw pillows, and all the cool little touches, you just need the perfect kick-off tunes to let your guests know they’ve strolled in to a real late 1950’s throwback. Fran’s your gal. One of the last of the Big-Band singers, Fran made the jump from belting over a thirty piece orchestra to singing on Broadway and jazz joints with grace and loads of style. What a voice! Mr. Booze can mix a pitcher of Manhattans and listen to this one, no problemo. She really goes well with stiff drinks. Her voice is pretty unique; I can’t really compare her to anyone else. Lilting, soft, sexy and confident, Fran Warren will impress the hell out of you. Her versions of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Imagination, You Don’t Know What Love Is and Imagination are tailor-made for the tail part of the night, a candle lit somewhere on the bar, and a sad-eyed “companion”. Booze-soaked romantic music never sounded so good.
Mambo Cha-Cha – Pure, early 1960’s kooky F-U-N, this collection of “safe” Mambo music will have your guests giggling and maybe a few of the more tipsy ones cha-cha-cha-ing around your bar. I’ve heard more than a few of the selections offered here as background music on the AMC Retro Series, Mad Men. Julie London singing a Mambo Fly Me To The Moon takes off like a rum and pineapple fueled rocket. The Choo-Choo Cha-Cha is hilarious in a good way. In fact, a lot of the songs on this collection have the words “cha-cha” incorporated into their titles. Sway by Dean Martin kicks it all off and the record just never lets up with that retro vibe. Perfect CD to have tucked somewhere in your bar.
Jimmie Rodgers – The Best of Jimmie Rodgers – He’s known as a folk singer but Mr. Booze thinks that there’s a lot more there with Jimmie Rodgers. Another in my long list of great albums to drink to, this greatest hits collection works on a few different levels. Jimmie had a damn fine voice and while folk, these songs work much better with a whiskey sour than they do with a political protest.
Goofy, sentimental, toe-tappin’ arrangements make most of the chestnuts on this record more than suitable for a fun-filled night of cocktailing. Honeycomb, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, Oh-Oh, I’m Falling In Love Again, and The Long Hot Summer will all take you back to simpler times. The music pops and is guaranteed to add to a late afternoon or evening’s relaxed atmosphere.
Michael Buble’– Michael Buble’ and It’s Time – I’ve thrown two Michael Buble’ albums up together ‘cause when I play one, I usually go right on and play the other. This kid knows how to swing, ain’t no two ways around it. As a huge fan of the old stuff, I’m man enough to admit that this singer can absolutely hold his own with the best of them. Jumping from Sinatra to Jack Jones to John Hartman to Dean Martin to Buble’ presents no problem whatsoever. My younger, more hep guests know this guy and my older, stick-in-the-mud guests appreciate the hell out of him, too.
I’m impressed as hell with this kid and can’t say enough about him. His voice positively lends itself to a night of bar-gathering. Of the two, It’s Time has the more old-school, classic approach; songs like A Foggy Day in London Town, The More I Ssee You, Save The Last Dance For Me, all prove that the kid can handle a standard. But, then he pops you with Home and Song For You and you realize maybe there is hope for the “Lounge Genre” after all. Buy ‘em, pour yourself a drink, hit play and get taken away for an hour or two.
Chet Baker, The Best of Chet Baker Sings – A must-have record if there ever was one. I’ve never been certain if Chet Baker singing was more of an accident than intentional. Chet Baker was a jazz trumpeter; one of the best, a master of the West Coast jazz sound with his horn. Yet, here he is…singing! However this happened, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he sang because it’s absolutely amazing. Chet sang like he played his horn, softly, with grace and charm, and with amazing phrasing. This is truly a jazz vocal album you’ll want on as you mix drinks and pour the nuts. This was one of Mr. Booze’s first albums, and it is still an album he comes back to again and again. Chet Baker’s alto voice simply wisps its way through these standards. Sophisticated and subtle, a perfect cocktail album for a rainy night, here are a few of the songs — But Not For Me, Lets Get Lost, I’ve Never Been In Love Before, and I Get Along Without You Very Well.
Chet Baker – The Italian Sessions – Here’s the flipside of the Chet Baker coin, the heads. One of the finest jazz trumpet albums I’ve ever heard. This recording is perfect for drinks between two or a few. The music is almost too amazing to be limited to the background of a cocktail party, although it works well in that role too.
You will hear, through this recording, the beauty and pathos Chet Baker expressed through his trumpet. At times sad, at times uplifting, this is a record which, when combined with a well made drink, will lead to people speaking softly and pausing to listen between points being made. Available for download, if you want some melodic, quiet, recognizable jazz for your evening, this is the one. Songs include — These Foolish Things, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and Well You Needn’t.
The Ultra-Lounge Collection by Capitol Records. – I love these collections. The folks at Capitol Records obviously had some time on their hands when they started this boozy collection because they must have looked everywhere. The CD’s even come with a classic cocktail recipe in the liner notes. No need for the listener to buy individual albums to shake off a chestnut-song or two, these CD’s gather the truly great Lounge music of the past and collect it by theme. They really help set the stage for drinking. You can’t loose with one or all twenty-one disks. I play them almost every time I entertain. Here are a few you can’t go wrong with. Browse the colletion here.
Wild, Cool and Swingin’ – This one was the 1st U-Lounge record I bought and I still play the hell out of it. Just tons of fun. This is the disk to play 20 minutes into a get-together, after folks have had a belt and are ready to really unwind. This one has ‘em all and they really are at the top of their game in terms of finger-snappin’ swing. Dean Martin singing Ain’t That a Kick in the Head, Bobby Darin’s More (one of my top 5 fave. Lounge songs), L.O.V.E. sung by Nat King Cole practically shakes the shaker by itself, and Julie London whispering You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To all add up to some fantastic cocktail sipping listening.
The Crime Scene – Is so fabulously what it sounds like, a very drinkable collection of Crime Show and Movie Theme Songs. This one is fun pure and simple. 60’s television staples, like the themes from I Spy, Mission Impossible and Peter Gunn combine with the Murder and Spy Thriller themes of James Bond, Man With The Golden Arm and The Silencers to be just the ticket for a rainy, fun evening gathered ‘round the basement bar. Engaging background music that should spark conversation and smiles. Very exciting and goes quite well with ice-cold martinis.
Mambo Fever – Mr. Booze plays this one to set the drinking vibe on warm evening get-togethers. These songs are really quite unique and you’d have a hell of a lot of trouble gathering a musical feel anywhere close to this one. The songs are all semi obscure but that shouldn’t be cause for alarm. This is a collection of wonderful background music, to compliment the cold drinks and spirited conversation. At times, this album borders on the campy, but that’s a good thing. When you enjoy a balmy evening of friends and drinks, surrounded by vintage barware and glasses, this is the album that will subtly remind your guests that they’ve slipped back in time this evening. Their in a safe place where Mambo versions of Hernando’s Hideaway, I can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me and Hooray For Hollywood even exist. A few serious Exotica Mambo efforts also make this a CD, which can pack a punch. This one’s fun, pure and simple.
Bossa Novaville – Another must own in the Ultra-Lounge series. I tell ya, this is the perfect disk to throw on when the gang follows you home from work. While you fill the ice-bucket and find an ashtray, the music on this record will make sure the party is safe without you for a few seconds. 60’s instrumental versions of Witchcraft, The Girl From Ipanema, and The Look of Love are unmatched in terms of pure 1960’s sparkle. Drinkers will feel like they’ve stepped back in time. This Rio inspired collection walks hand in hand with a deep winter night. The song Corcovado (Quiet Nights) combined with a properly mixed Gimlet will cause the participant to completely forget that it’s ten degrees outside. This is a great CD to own and use.