Weekend Listening Tip: Singers Unlimited

Bill Kirchner sent a description of his next program in the Institute of Jazz Studies “Jazz From The Archives.” He will feature a vocal group with close ties to jazz, that for more than a decade reached a wide audience with its rich series of recordings and continues to amass new fans. Here’s Bill’s announcement.

Between 1971 and 1982, The Singers Unlimited (pictured left to right, Bonnie Herman, Len Dresslar Gene Puerling, Don Shelton) recorded fifteen albums, mostly with varied instrumental backups. The innovative vocal writing by Puerling featured extensive studio overdubbing using as many as 27 voices; for this reason, the group never appeared live. They performed rich, difficult harmonies flawlessly and were a major inspiration for the popular vocal group Take 6.

We’ll hear several of The Singers Unlimited’s albums: one a cappella, and others with instrumental arrangements by Robert Farnon, Clare Fischer, and Rob McConnell.

The show will air this Sunday, August 26, from 11 p.m. to midnight, Eastern Daylight Time.

NOTE: If you live outside the New York City metropolitan area, WBGO (88.3 FM) also broadcasts on the Internet at www.wbgo.org.

To further whet your interest, here’s a sample, with orchestral accompaniment by Farnon and a video biographical sketch of the composer, a certain Velvet Gentleman. If Mr. Kirchner includes it in his program, perhaps you won’t mind hearing it again.

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  1. Terence Smith says

    Oh, boy, Erik Satie of the “Gymnopodies”. THANKS, DOUG.

    As far as I’m concerned, this is still Bill Evans Month, maybe Bill Evans’ century. And I think one of the most underrated Evans albums is Nirvana with Herbie Mann. The simplicity, albeit looseness, of Bill’s interpretation of the Satie creates a moment of absolute stillness which really lasts forever.

    And there is no word or words, children of reason, to describe the feeling of Bill’s and Herbie’s “Gymnopodie”, so Erik had had to anticipate for this by coining a new word for it. I remember trying to look up the title’s “meaning”, years ago, after of course listening to it NUMEROUS times.

    RE “Singers Unlimited”: I once heard them, on record, do the “Sesame Street” theme with the Oscar Peterson Trio. It was phenomenally swinging and great harmony stuff. It was probably arranged by Clare Fischer, come to think of it. If anyone has that album, listen to it again for me!

  2. says

    Yeah, Terence, you are talking about my absolute favorite with “The Singers Unlimited”, namely their outstanding album with the Oscar Peterson Trio:

    In Tune (1971).

    It was recorded in the Black Forrest, close to my hometown. ∽ MPS = Music Production Schwarzwald :)

    I especially recommend for your listening pleasure Bonnie Herman’s solo feature “Once Upon A Summertime”. For me, a classic interpretation. Simply beautiful!

    Here’s more information about In Tune.

    P.S. — All those ingenious arrangements are not by Fischer but by the late Gene Puerling. — As for Bonnie Herman: “It Never Entered My Mind”… slipped mine. A class act!

  3. says

    As a very big fan and sometime practitioner of vocal jazz. I’ve always found myself respecting the skill of Singers Unlimited, but not being drawn to their sound. Partly it’s the arrangements, partly the recording and mixing, which go to all possible lengths to eliminate any wrinkles from the music and I think actually undermine such piquancy and tartness as the arrangements have. Essentially, it’s too smooth.

    Take Six has some of the same arranging proclivities, but they are a live performance group and way, way funkier. The Swingle Singers also sometimes inhabit a similar space as S.U., but they also perform live, which carries over to their recordings, where they are less apt to layer so many voices to create the ‘celestial chorus’ effect.