Billy Eckstine was the archetypal post-WWII crooner; his deep, rich tones and pleasantly exaggerated vibrato influenced dozens of vocalists, especially Earl Coleman, Al Hibbler, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Johnny Hartman. Jazz Factory's double-CD retrospective presents all the Billy Eckstine Orchestra's master takes cut between May 2, 1945, and April 27, 1947, for the National record label and subsequently issued on Regent and Savoy. Eckstine was an extraordinary entertainer, a master of the fine art of polished crooning who swam comfortably through the currents of bebop and blues. What makes these performances so stunning and unforgettable is the combination of his immaculately stylized singing and the amazing instrumental accompaniments, for Eckstine led what is considered to have been the very first authentic bop big band. The brass section, which sometimes featured Eckstine on trombone, included such innovators as Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Hobart Dotson, King Kolax, and Miles Davis (Dizzy Gillespie worked closely with Eckstine but does not appear on this compilation). Eckstine's roster of saxophonists is slightly unnerving; the 1945-1947 bands contained Dexter Gordon, Budd Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Wardell Gray, Cecil Payne, Leo Parker, Sonny Criss, and Gene Ammons, who does a beautiful job of invoking Lester Young on this album's only instrumental track, "Second Balcony Jump." Note also the presence of Art Blakey, Tommy Potter, and Erroll Garner's brother Linton Garner; instrumentally, Eckstine's band was as formidable as those led by Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Earl Hines, or Duke Ellington. Most of the material on this compilation consists of romantic ballads, classy standards, and torch songs. In addition to a small number of blues tunes, Eckstine demonstrated his edgier vocal skills on "Oop Bop Sh'bam," "The Jitney Man," and "I Love the Rhythm in a Riff." Faced with economic hardship, Eckstine dissolved his band in 1947 and achieved unprecedented financial security by signing on with MGM as a pop vocalist often backed by sugary string ensembles, a formula for which a sizable segment of the record-buying American public seems to have had an insatiable appetite.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2