Because of its warmth and range, jazz guitar (in the right hands) is perfectly suited to accompanying vocalists singing standards in intimate settings – sometimes requiring no other instruments at all.
The best-known example of this combination is Barney Kessel’s work backing Julie London (with Ray Leatherwood on upright bass) on the 1955 hit LP Julie Is Her Name – a formula Kessel repeated, with variations, behind Sarah Vaughan and Dean Martin. (For Julie Is Her Name, Vol. 2, London kept the format but used Howard Roberts on guitar.) Al Viola’s guitar was the sole accompaniment for London’s follow-up, Lonely Girl, and was featured in a sparse setting behind June Christy on This Intimate Miss Christy. Johnny Mathis’ 1959 classic, Open Fire, Two Guitars, featured Al Caiola and Tony Mottola, and one of Sammy Davis, Jr.’s finest albums paired the singer with Laurindo Almeida’s lone guitar, in 1966.
Similarly, in 1954, after a string of hit singles with orchestral backing, Tony Bennett recorded Cloud 7, his first full-fledged album, backed by a jazz septet featuring guitarist Chuck Wayne. The album begins not with a bang, but with the floating sound of Bennett humming a counter melody to Wayne’s harmonics on “I Fall In Love Too Easily.”
What will strike newcomers to the Bennett camp, who only recently discovered the “Unplugged” Tony dueting with k.d. lang or Elvis Costello, is the soaring quality of his voice – its power and flexibility. Of course, at 78, Bennett is still a fantastic singer, in some ways more expressive than the Bennett of yore, but there are things that he’s not physically capable of that he was at 28 – things that are on ample display here.
As usual, Bennett’s song selection is impeccable, and Wayne’s solos are impressive and hip without ever detracting from the song or singer. The guitarist received marquee billing on the album, and his bouncy single-note work on “My Baby Just Cares For Me” and lush chordal bed on “While The Music Plays On” demonstrate why. Charles Panely’s trumpet swaps center stage on most songs, and the two split arranging duties.
Needless to say, the CD issue of this out-of-print album is most welcome and highly recommended. But it’s just one chapter in a book that’s still being written. Having already compiled a career-spanning four-CD retrospective, >Forty Years: The Artistry Of Tony Bennett, Legacy has now issued an expanded, five-disc version, appropriately retitiled Fifty Years Of Artistry. Hopefully, when Tony turns 88, there will be a six-CD version celebrating Sixty Years Of Artistry.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.