Dame Cleo Laine
Still living at 93, singer Dame Cleo Laine recorded a CD consisting of 12 songs on the BMG Classics label, simply entitled Jazz; they include Duke Ellington’s Just a Sittin’ and a Rockin’, Mel Torme’s Walking Shoes, Johnny Mercer’s Midnight Sun, the Gershwin brothers’ Lady Be Good, W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues, and Cy Coleman’s You Can Always Count On Me, etc.
She had a who’s who of some of the finest jazz musicians – Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) on baritone sax, trumpet player Clark Terry (1920-2015), and harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans (1922-2016) – along with guitarist Mark Whitfield and the soprano saxophone player Jane Ira Bloom, both of whom are still living and active. Laine’s husband, the late Sir John Dankworth (1927-2010) scored the arrangements and conducted a small ensemble of additional lesser-known session players. Ettore Stratta (1933-2015), who produced hit recordings for Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand and others, trouble-shooted the album to completion.
Laine brought her unique savory intelligence to each song, easily joining the ranks of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Jo Stafford, Ella Fitzgerald, June Christy, Suzanne McCorkle, Norah Jones, Michael Feinstein, Nancy Wilson, Dick Haymes and Sarah Vaughan, to name some favorites.
Nat King Cole
Singer Nat King Cole (1919-1965) recorded Home (When Shadows Fall) and Tunnel of Love on a 1950 Capitol ten-inch 78 with the arrangements and conducting of Pete Rugolo (1915-2011) who was noted for the charts he scored for Stan Kenton’s band. It is the kind of record akin to an exquisite flower, whose petals of beauty continue to unfold, every time I hear it in its details of instrumentation from the woodwinds and muted brass or the blending of Cole’s voice with the harmonies of the small sized chorus.
Nat King Cole sold more records for Capitol than any other artist, including Sinatra and the Beatles. He was also very good-natured but an incident occurred just before he died of lung cancer at the age of 45, in 1965. He called the label and, when the switchboard operator replied, “Capitol records, home of the Beatles!”, he slammed the phone down.