Harry James

America Swings: The Great Harry James

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Representing a cross section of his bands and the music they were playing from the mid-'40s to 1953, this album chronicles why Harry James was one of the most consistently acclaimed big-band leaders in popular music history. There's music performed by James' orchestras with and without strings playing jazzy instrumentals, like a swinging "The Man I Love," and romantic ballads featuring the band's current vocalist, all supported by tasteful and imaginative arrangements. There's also a bow to bebop. James was ambivalent about the "new music." He publicly complained about the bad influence it was having on jazz. But he was not loathe to hire bop-inspired musicians such as pianist Arnold Ross and guitar player Allan Reuss who are featured on a mid-'40s version of bop anthem "How High the Moon," a rendition much different from his first recording with Dick Haymes. From time to time, James also incorporated some bop licks when soloing as on "I May Be Wrong." Joining James in 1943, the fine big-band singer Helen Ward is represented with two cuts. Although her tenure with James was a short one, together they turned out some memorable performances like the upbeat "All of Me," James was never afraid to give his sidemen plenty of solo time. One example of that generosity is on a romping "What Is This Thing Called Love?" where Eddie Rosa gets a footnote in the history of jazz with a sterling clarinet solo.

James attracted the best musicians; they just liked playing with him and many of them are heard on this disk. Juan Tizol (whom he lured away from Duke Ellington), alto player Willie Smith, Buddy Rich, and Corky Corcoran, who was the mainstay of the sax section for more than 30 years, are a few of the high caliber performers who were James' sidemen. Unfortunately, there's only a little more than 35 minutes of music and the liner notes do not give a full roster of the players. Other than these annoyances, kudos to Hindsight for releasing this hitherto unavailable material from one of Harry James' most productive periods.

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