Recent Listening: Bennett/Brubeck

Tony Bennett/Dave Brubeck,The White House Sessions Live 1962 (Columbia/RPM/Legacy)

Riding on the success of hit records, in August of ’62 Brubeck and Bennett had a good night in the shadow of the Washington Monument. They played in the Sylvan Theater for college students who had interned in the nation’s capitol that summer. That morning at the White House, President John F. Kennedy thanked the youngsters. The concert constituted an additional bonus for their work. In the last flowering of an era when recordings of the quality of “Take Five” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” could be best sellers, the audience was attuned to the Brubeck Quartet and to Bennett and his trio. At the end, they got an extra treat, an unplanned and successful collaboration

BennettBrubeckIn the previously unissued recording, Brubeck’s full-bodied keyboard style and expansive harmonic chops are up, but he also solos with single-note lines in a personal style that helped to set him apart from bebop pianists. He, Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morello perform four pieces that find the quartet at the top of their game in a period when the band had become one of the music’s great successes. Desmond is notably expansive in “Nomad,” and “Thank You” (“Djiekuje”). In “Castilian Blues” Morello’s solo is restrained, almost lyrical, before he builds it to a crescendo.

With his regular accompanists, the Ralph Sharon Trio, Bennett features “San Francisco” and other songs that were doing well for him, among them “Just in Time,” “Make Someone Happy” and the inevitable “Rags to Riches.” The highlight of his own set, however, is Julie Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s “Small World.” Bennett delivers it with a poetic sensitivity that, when he chooses to use it, puts him in a class with Frank Sinatra as a ballad singer.

Then, Bennett sits in with Brubeck, Wright and Morello. They all rise to the spontaneous and unrehearsed challenge. In four songs, Bennett sings with a collaborative jazz spirit that he had only occasionally found on record in the past and that would not reach full flower until years later in his albums with Bill Evans. On this night, he and Brubeck surprise each other, literally in the case of “Lullaby of Broadway,” when Bennett suddenly says “Dave Brubeck” by way of informing the pianist that he should solo. “Chicago,” gets a shuffle beat. Bennett is almost operatic in the final chorus of “That Old Black Magic,” but that doesn’t keep him from swinging. Following a stately first chorus by Bennett on “There Will Never Be Another You,” the time doubles and Brubeck plays a fleet solo that ranks with his best on record. Hidden in a vault for nearly fifty years, this music is as fresh as the night it was made.

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