This is the birthday of two men who had significant effects on jazz and popular music. Bing Crosby was born on May 3, 1903 in Spokane, Washington, John Lewis seventeen years later in LaGrange, Illinois shortly before his family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he grew up.
Crosby became the world’s best-selling recording artist, a title he holds 40 years after his death. According to his Wikipedia biography, Crosby has sold around the world more than one billion records, tapes, CDs and digital downloads. More important, his relaxed musicianship and charm…and his movie stardom…made him him one of the most influential performers during the period when jazz and American popular music were developing more or less in tandem.
Pianist Lewis came under the influence of an aunt who exposed him to her collection of jazz recordings. He went on to major in music and anthropology at the University of New Mexico. During Army service in World War Two, drummer Kenny Clarke, a fellow soldier, convinced Lewis to move to New York when the war ended. Both men joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in 1945, and Lewis later recorded with vibraharpist Milt Jackson, Clarke and bassist Ray Brown when Jackson formed his own quartet. After Percy Heath replaced Brown on bass, the group changed its name to the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Crosby and Lewis no doubt recorded many of the same songs in various contexts. Happily for our little birthday observance, the pieces include one of the Gershwin brothers’ most charming, durable and adaptable creations.