Saturday, 26 September 2009

Two Faces of Peggy Lee

What's even better than finding a great LP in some shop? Discovering a great LP you didn't know you had, already lurking in your record collection. From time to time, as I merrily scour through boxes of second hand albums ("crate digging" as it's known to today's hipsters), or sleuth the internet, I pause to think that I should be devoting a little more time to listening to the phenomenal selection I already have. It's like my dad used to say when I was buying books. "Why don't you read the ones you've already got?" Well, the answer is, I did, Dad. And I do. And I did — and do — listen to the records I already possess. I make great inroads into my jazz and soundtrack library almost every day. That's one of the sweet things about writing. You can work at home with the music playing. So on a good day I've got the valve amps glowing from dawn until dusk, and the turntable spinning. The first order of business is always to play my way through new acquisitions. (And, since the gods of vinyl have been smiling on me lately, there have been plenty of these — see my previous entry about the Unknown Jazz Fan.) But as much fun as it is assimilating new arrivals, it's rewarding in quite another way to take something down from the shelf and rediscover it. This just happened to me this afternoon when, after a hard day writing (it went very well, since you ask) I decided to unwind by browsing through a for-sale list of jazz vocal LPs — one of my favourite kinds of music. The LPs were on the website of my friend Alan Ross who runs the truly wonderful Jazz House Records here in the UK. I saw that Alan had a Peggy Lee album listed with an ace jazz pedigree including contributions by Bud Shank, Bob Cooper and Shorty Rogers. The album was a re-release on Jasmine, a dependably high quality British reissue label. But the title rang a bell (there was no picture of the record, or I would have recognised it instantly). I remembered finding a nice early British copy of a Peggy Lee LP a few years ago, with a title like that. I went to the shelf and sure enough there, between Yusef Lateef and Michelle Legrand, it nestled. An immaculate original Brunswick pressing in glorious mono, which was pretty much the only recording option back in June 1956 (some would say this was the high water mark of recorded sound; I'm willing to put it a few years later and allow that there are some virtues in early stereo). I'd listened to the album before and enjoyed it, but it's not a straight ahead jazz session and I'd never dreamed (no pun intended) that it featured sidemen like Bud Shank. Actually, according to a highly informative discography by Ivan Santiago, a Downbeat article in 1957 stated that the album "has the cream of West Coast jazzmen in [Lou] Levy, [Larry] Bunker, [Max] Bennett, Shorty Rogers, Buddy Clark, Bob Cooper and Bud Shank, to name but a few." Oh yes, and one Peggy Lee on vocals. By the way, the US (Decca) and British (Brunswick) releases had different covers, as shown here for your viewing pleasure. In my estimate the UK version has the edge, perhaps because it's an honest to gosh photo instead of a slightly goofy painting (based on a photo you can see here). The British cover's photo is taken from the back sleeve of Peggy's earlier album, Black Coffee. That's another classic LP, well worth your attention, even though the cover does feature a picture of a coffee cup (yes, really). Take your pick between the garishly kitsch 1956 (12 inch) release and the marginally more stylish monochrome version for the original ten inch LP in 1953. Any way you cut it, a waste of Ms Lee's visual charms, methinks.

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