Dipping into its stable of fine singers and previously issued albums, Verve Records has come up with another composer tribute disc, this time honoring master lyricist, Jerome Kern. The results of collaborations, not only with Oscar Hammerstein, II, but with Dorothy Field, Otto Harbach, Johnny Mercer, Jimmy McHugh, and others are included within the 53 minutes of music here. The performers, from the upper echelons of the purveyors of the vocal art, remind us how many fine singers were with Norman Granz at some stage during their careers. In addition to the big names like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Anita O'Day, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Billie Holiday, others who are either not as famous or usually associated with this music are represented. Maggie Whiting does "Let's Begin" with Russ Garcia's orchestra and an unidentified tenor sax sounding much like the way Stan Getz was playing during this period. (Getz made an album with Garcia's orchestra backing him the same year that Whiting recorded this tune, 1960.) Getz is also present with Helen Merrill's on her sophisticated, sensuous rendering of "Yesterdays." Illustrating how well the music from a genius like Kern can be readily adapted to about-singing style is Cassandra Wilson's 1988 boppish rendition of "I'm Old Fashioned," with Terri Lyne Carrington's modern drumming sharing the stage with Wilson. Morgana King's light, feathery voice does justice to the classic "Bill," and Blossom Dearie's tasteful, breathy sound fits very nicely with the coy "I Won't Dance." Arguably the finest arrangement of "The Way You Look Tonight" is included with Ella Fitzgerald backed by Nelson Riddle from the Songbook series, which gave Fitzgerald's career a big boost. It's fitting and proper that Fred Astaire is on the album, given that he introduced many of the popular tunes from the era when Kern, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin were laying the foundation for the Great American Songbook. Astaire reprises "The Way You Look Tonight," which he introduced in the 1936 film Swing Time. All of this good music on one CD makes a fine addition to any collection.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan