Smewwwwwth Vocal Ensembles/Jazz Category

Y’know what I really hate?

You’re listening to some music that dances on the edge of Hip and Square…say, 1920s/'30s Paul Whiteman, with Bix or Bunny Berigan on lead horn…early '40s Dorsey with Frank Sinatra…late '40s Claude Thornhill Orchestra.

And Berigan will just have taken a hot trumpet solo, or Sinatra will have just belted out “Blue Skies,” or Thornhill will have just done a nifty arangement of Bird’s “Anthropology,” and you’re sitting there popping your fingers and muttering “Beat me, daddy, eight to the bar.”

And then the next cut comes on and you are suddenly awash in syrupy harmonies, worse than the Clydest string section, courtesy of the Snowflakes or the Pied Pipers…vocals that put your teeth on edge more than taking a mouthful of butter when you were expecting a mustard vinaigrette. You have suddenly tipped off the edge of Copacetic and plummeted into musical depths so Square they’re Cube.

The jazz-impaired are invited to recall the soundtrack from Disney’s abysmal 1951 Alice in Wonderland, featuring the cheesy vocal stylings of “The Mellomen,” for an example of the sort of sound I’m talking about.

Who LIKED this stuff? Was it programmed as a sop to Wisconsin dairy farmers and Omaha suburbanites, in the vague marketing department hope that they could be lured into buying jazz recordings?

Sets my teeth on edge too. No idea as to the why, other than that it must’ve just been “normal”, or something. I mean Lawrence Welk had a show for how long?
I’m trying to channel an Omaha suburbanite. Can’t figure that one out though. So Square they’re Cube, mmm…

Okay, Ike, I detect a generic disdain for the smewwwwth vocal ensemble in your kit, and will take the opposing stance that not all of said genre is pathetic and unmusical.

The only albums of such things that I own are from some throwouts at a radio station where I worked. So I just helped myself to some things I would never have bought, but wound up listening to them favorably.

They included:

Jackie and Roy
The Hi-Lo’s
The Four Freshmen
and several “put together” groups for doing some Stan Kenton and Henry Mancini things.

Stuff I have actually bought and liked includes:

Rare Silk
Manhattan Transfer.

Ans I do recall enjoying listening to

The Double Six Of Paris.

Those older backup groups you mentioned weren’t especially bothersome to me, but I basically just blocked them out and tried to hear the foreground singer or instrumenalist.

Now, if you want to broaden the category a little to include the doo-wop and “four fellas” category of 50’s groups, or the larger groups like the New Christy Minstrels, the Bob Crewe Generation, and so on, I could list several I liked and many I didn’t.

But one standout from that era was the Kirby Stone Four.

I’ll await further instructions for whether my tastes are needed here.

Fun thread otherwise.

Oh, nonononono. Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not knocking ALL forms of arranged vocal ensemble music.

I listen to and enjoy The Mills Brothers and the Comedian Harmonists (the German kinda-jazz group of the Weimar Republic era), plus the Ink Spots and King Pleasure’s vocal arrangements.

As for '50s doo-wop and related groups, I revere the Flamingos, Billy Ward and his Dominoes, the Coasters, the Drifters, the Five Royales, the Treniers, etc., etc.

Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross deserved their huge popularity in the early 1960s…their stuff can be extremely hip. And while I don’t own any Manhattan Transfer discs, I don’t look down my nose at 'em…I heard one of their female vocalists at the Blue Note several years back and thought she was terrific.

Among the Brothers groups, I liked The Ames Brothers, Brothers Four (mainly for Green Fields and whatever it was about Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots – unless that was some other group), Four Lads, The Del Vikings, among others. The Mills Brothers were a hot and cold group for me. Loved their imitations of other instruments, but somehow their harmony work was a little outside my taste range.

The Coasters! Yes! Hardly a dull moment with those guys. Lieber and Stoller wrote most of their stuff, didn’t they?

I should have mentioned LH&R. Didn’t care much for the Bavan replacement for Annie Ross, though.

Could it have been Janis Siegel (sp?) from Transfer?

There are several ex-group single singers out now that need to go back to the group or take up some other line. It may be Diane Schurr I’m thinking of who needs to go back to her group.

Ever notuiced how few of the singers from groups do well as a single act?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… The Swingle Singers (turn your speakers on to have your ears assaulted by their version of Austin Powers on their ghastly Flash website). They plagued British TV and radio for my entire childhood. I challenge anyone to find anything more schmaltzy in the modern age.

Ewwwwww . . . I have a 33 rpm record of Fred Astaire. All but two of the cuts are from the late 1920s and early '30s; great stuff with great background.

Then for some reason the idiot producers (Deja Vu records, long out of business, I hope) put two crappy 1970s cuts, with “A Million and One Strings” behind them . . . I have to lunge for the record player to skip over those songs.



Oh, man, I love Fred Astaire records!

I have a bunch of his 20s-30s recordings, too, but my favorite is the 1952 studio sessions with an all-star jazz ensemble behind him…Charlie Shavers on trumpet, Flip Phillips on tenor, Barney Kessel on guitar, Oscar Peterson on piano.

It’s called The Astaire Story. Double-CD set. The best part is, he tap-dances along with the band on a few cuts. I like to tell folks I’m going to go home and listen to my dancing records.

Well, Ike, at least it’s not a Marcel Marceau record, right?