Percy Faith & His Orchestra

Porgy and Bess

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In 1959, a long-awaited film adaptation of Porgy and Bess was released, and various record companies piggybacked on it with LPs of the score, among them versions by Miles Davis on Columbia, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on Verve, Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte on RCA, and Sammy Davis, Jr. (one of the film's principals) and Carmen McRae on Decca. Of course, the soundtrack album was the big seller, but the Horne/Belafonte LP also got some chart time, as did the instrumental version by Percy Faith. Columbia let Faith go to town on this one; he used two different orchestras, one of 37 and another of 42 pieces. He began things with jazzy big band arrangements of "Catfish Row" and "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing," but he could also be quite delicate, particularly on "Summertime" and "I Loves You, Porgy." Not settling for the best-known songs, he dug into the score for pieces like "Oh I Can't Sit Down," which he put in marching band mode. But for the most part, this was an interpretation informed by the leader's swing band background, not an inappropriate understanding of George Gershwin, whose jazz sensibility was pronounced. Faith gave plenty of room to his soloists, especially saxophonists Jimmie Abato (alto) and Russ Banzer (tenor), who often stood in for the absent vocalists. With all the competition available in 1959, you couldn't say that this was the best new recording of Porgy and Bess around, but it was a respectable effort from an arranger/conductor who seemed to have a good sense of the score.