Billy Eckstine

1947

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By his own admission, Frank Sinatra owed a lot to Billy Eckstine and Al Hibbler, radically stylized singers with deep, honeyed voices. While some prefer Hibbler's more eccentric approach, Eckstine was the archetypal romantic postwar crooner, widely imitated during a period when the recording industry and the record-buying public became increasingly obsessed with star vocalists. Dozens of likely suspects, most famously Perry Como, Sinatra, and Eckstine, were soon able to cash in on this trend. In the case of Eckstine, who had earlier courted bankruptcy leading an exciting band fortified with such innovative jazz musicians as Fats Navarro, Gene Ammons, and Art Blakey, the commercial undertow eventually drew him off into a fluffy netherworld of increasingly jazzless pop music. An overview of his recording activities during the spring and summer of 1947 paints a slightly grim picture of this sugary embalming process. Although the seven-piece band backing him on four selections recorded in April of that year contained Sonny Criss, Wardell Gray, and a bassist by the name of Shifty Henry, the players are there solely to provide a cushion for Eckstine's epiglottal warbling. A few of the next eight tracks, with "vocal overdubbed on studio band," still retain some measure of authentic jazz levity, particularly Eckstine's own composition, simply titled "Blues." Yet the records he began making for the MGM label in May of 1947 are all too indicative of where a sizable portion of the music business was heading. Drenched in sentimental syrup, with Sonny Burke's orchestra augmented by a string section, these are mostly dreary torch songs, even if jazz elements still peek out from under the arrangements. Eight sides cut in July and August 1947 are swamped in the pop lagoon with Hugo Winterhalter's string-burdened 24-piece orchestra. It is good that Eckstine was able to experience some measure of financial security, but it's easy to see why Slim Gaillard so enjoyed parodying this overbearing confectionary combination of Hollywood production and Eckstine's relentless vibrato.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:57
2 2:53
3 2:55
4 2:55
5 3:10
6 2:31
7 3:14
8 2:58
9 2:41
10 2:53
11 3:06
12
2:34
13 2:51
14 3:13
15 2:54
16
3:10
17 3:03
18 3:00
19 2:58
20 2:55
21 3:04
22 2:58
23 2:49
24 2:55
blue highlight denotes track pick