File Under "Shows"

Recalling jazz's brief, obscure, but occasionally revelatory love affair with Broadway

In 1957, an era when singles were for kids and Broadway shows dominated the LP charts, drummer Shelly Manne scored a surprise hit with an album of jazz treatments of songs from My Fair Lady, featuring the coy piano stylings of Andre Previn. Its success started a trend for Broadway tie-ins that lasted well into the '60s. These were a&r department concoctions—exploitation records, pure and simple—because even though vintage show tunes still rivaled the blues in providing raw material for jazz, sharing billing with a recent stage hit in pursuit of bigger sales meant staying closer to the melodies than most jazz modernists generally preferred. Even so, the attempt at piggybacking yielded a surprising number of musical successes. Following are a baker's dozen in no particular order, except as I thought of them. An asterisk indicates current availability on CD.

Cannonball Adderley
Cannonball Adderley's Fiddler on the Roof
Capitol, 1964

Auteurist film critics revere Howard Hawks precisely because he was a glorified assignment director, a hired hand whose touch was clearly visible whether the film was a John Wayne western or a Marilyn Monroe musical. Though an LP of songs from Fiddler almost certainly wasn't Adderley's idea, his sensibility pervades—with help from a Coltrane-obsessed Charles Lloyd, he earns the auteur's possessive by strong-arming Sheldon Harnack's schmaltzy Broadway yi-diddle-diddle into funky, Eastward-looking, modal hard bop.*

Kenny Dorham Quintet
Show Boat
Time, 1960

A first-generation bebopper overshadowed by Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Navarro (and then by Miles Davis and Clifford Brown), Dorham by this point in his career was more beholden to Sonny Rollins than to any fellow trumpeter. Six melodies from the mother of all "book" musicals show off his Rollins-like flair for thematic improvisation while setting free his inner comic thespian.

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers
Golden Boy
Colpix, 1964

Sammy Davis, Jr. starred as a singing prizefighter in this civil rights–era hit musical, adapted from Clifford Odets and boasting one Strouse-and-Adams showstopper after another. An expanded edition of the Messengers (including both Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan) lets Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, and Wayne Shorter test their wings as arrangers—Shorter's the one who soars, on the flapping "This Is the Life."

Duke Ellington
All American in Jazz
Columbia, 1962

More Strouse and Adams, this time reconceived as Ellingtonia. It's as remarkable a transformation as the maestro's adaptations of rival bandleaders' themes a few years later, and Paul Gonsalves's leaping balladry on "I've Just Seen Her" is a performance for the ages.

Gary McFarland Orchestra
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Verve, 1961

An underacknowledged classic, briefly available on CD about 10 years ago. The Frank Loesser tunes are among the most clever ever written for Broadway, and the liberties taken by arranger McFarland are based on recognizing what made them special to begin with. Amid a parade of star soloists, Clark Terry is the standout for the insouciant way he sails through "I Believe in You."

Coleman Hawkins
No Strings
Prestige Moodsville, 1962

The show was talked about for its color-blind casting of Diahann Carroll, for putting a chamber orchestra onstage, and for Richard Rodgers writing his own lyrics. The only song that caught on was "The Sweetest Sound," but you'd never guess the others are mediocre from the courtly treatment tenor patriarch Hawkins gives them. Featuring his regular quartet from this period, including the infallible Tommy Flanagan on piano.

Jimmy Giuffre
The Music Man
Atlantic, 1958

The clarinetist/saxophonist's own rural leanings and respect for simplicity made him the ideal man to jazz up Meredith Wilson's paean to small-town America. The ballads yearn, the marches strut the blues, and "Marian the Librarian" is treated to a stylish makeover.*

Ruby Braff
Goes "Girl Crazy"
Warner Bros., 1958

Reviving material from a show that had closed almost 30 years earlier was merely an excuse to let the vinegary cornetist lavish attention on "I Got Rhythm," "But Not for Me," "Embraceable You," and lesser-known Gershwin gems alongside Al Cohn, Hank Jones, and Jim Hall. As if Braff needed an excuse to play Gershwin, or to treat melodies gorgeously.*

Herb Geller & His All-Stars
Atco, 1959

A British LP reissue was called The Rhythm Section, and you'll know why after hearing Scott LaFaro and Elvin Jones lay the blueprint for free jazz in support of Thad Jones's trumpet and the leader's Parker-fluent alto on a pair of piano-less romps. Elsewhere, Hank Jones alternates piano with Billy Taylor, making this one of very few albums to feature the entire Jones clan. But what really clinches it for me are four fetching vocals by the forgotten Barbara Long, who was obscure even then.*

Eddie Costa Quartet
Guys and Dolls Like Vibes
Coral, 1958

I'm one guy who might have liked this even better if Costa and Bill Evans had gone mano a mano on piano. But it reminds us that Costa, who died in a turnpike accident in 1962 at the age of 31, was no slouch with mallets, either. And with songs this generous, all he and Evans had to do was agree on head arrangements and leave the rest to chance and chemistry.*

Rex Stewart & Cootie Williams
Porgy & Bess Revisited
Warner Bros., 1959

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