In 1952, jazz impresario Norman Granz invited 53-year-old Fred Astaire to re-record some of the songs associated with him from his movie musicals. Astaire agreed, and Granz assembled a backup sextet drawn from the ranks of the jazz musicians he frequently used for his Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts: trumpeter Charlie Shavers, tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips, guitarist Barney Kessel, pianist Oscar Peterson, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Alvin Stoller. Recording sessions held in December 1952 produced more than three dozen sides released by Granz's Clef Records the following year on the four-disc box set The Astaire Story. Ever since, Verve Records, the Granz-founded successor to Clef, has compiled a series of single-disc collections from the material, and this is yet another one. In keeping with a reissue series devoted to the music of particular artists (Dinah Washington's The Fats Waller Songbook, Sarah Vaughan's The Rodgers & Hart Songbook, etc.), Verve has excerpted the ten Irving Berlin compositions found on The Astaire Story to compile this album, The Irving Berlin Songbook. Astaire sang Berlin's songs in such films as Top Hat (1935) and Follow the Fleet (1936), and he reinterprets them here with the help of the group, which casts them in typical early-'50s small-band jazz arrangements. Sometimes, as on "Change Partners" and "I Used to Be Color Blind," the songs are treated as slow ballads; others, such as "No Strings" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," are given uptempo treatments. Astaire seems to have plenty of enthusiasm for the sessions and the material. (Unlike other singers when re-recording their signature songs, he hadn't been singing them over and over in concert for years.) The musicians are allowed a moderate amount of room for solos, with Peterson particularly standing out, notably moving to celeste on "No Strings." The entire collection of this material heard on The Astaire Story is recommended over this abbreviated version, but it does give a good sense of what that package sounds like.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann