My parents courted to the sound of Big Bands, which meant that the records my parent’s played featured the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Benny Goodman’s band. As a family, we watched Perry Como, Bob Hope and every Bing Crosby Christmas Special. I was weaned on an appreciation of the swing sound, crooners and song and dance men.
For my generation Sinatra defined the Rat Pack sound emulated by Harry Connick, Jr., Michael Buble and countless others. I preferred Sammy Davis, Jr. – Sammy sang, danced, played the drums – he entertained, he was a triple threat. I was lucky enough to see him perform live 45 years ago. His health was failing so the dancing was limited, but not the emotion. When Sammy sang Hey There, I believed no one would ever sing it better. I was wrong. Matthew Morrison does it better.
Matthew Morrison released his sophomore CD yesterday – Where It All Began – a collection of Broadway standards. I haven’t stopped listening to it since I downloaded it last night. The late Phil Ramone – the R in A&R records – produced the album for Adam Levine’s label. The project was one of Ramone’s last…and may be one of his best. A smooth big band sound does not overpower Morrison’s vocals, so Morrison doesn’t have to showboat, or slide into a note. He drops each one like rain on a spring morning, plump and perfect.
My favourite track is As Long as She Needs Me. A lush flourish of strings opens the track, but when Morrison begins to sing all there is a piano and brushes on a drum skin. Delicious. Romantic. Irresistible. The orchestra returns for the build. Everything is restrained. Morrison pining for the love he thinks won’t last. The orchestra echoing his angst.
There are up tempo tunes – The Lady is a Tramp. The only song with a conceit. Morrison drops Ramone’s name, following in the footsteps of everyone from Cole Porter to Sammy. Smokey Robinson duets on On Down the Road from The Whiz.
The most exciting thing about this collection of songs is that Morrison’s interpretations make each one feel new again. I fell in love with the lyrics that I had taken for granted because of their familiarity. Oh, I envy Morrison’s legion of young fans for whom these songs aren’t standards, as they hear them for the first time.
Watch your local PBS station listings. There is a companion broadcast, also called – Where it All Began. I saw it Saturday night. You won’t be disappointed.