Fred Astaire

Jazz Time

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In 1952, jazz concert promoter and record company owner Norman Granz approached 53-year-old Fred Astaire with a proposal that he re-record the highlights of his repertoire of classic movie songs backed by a small jazz band. Astaire agreed, and in December Granz assembled a group consisting of a rhythm section of Oscar Peterson on piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and Alvin Stoller on drums, plus trumpeter Charlie Shavers and tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips, and set them loose on the songs Astaire had introduced in his movie musicals of the 1930s, songs written by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter, among others. The results were issued in 1953 as the four-LP set The Astaire Story on Clef Records; a slightly expanded version, including more of the band jamming without Astaire, was reissued by DRG Records in 1978. European copyright law places all recordings in the public domain after 50 years, and Britain's Proper Records wasted no time in putting out its version of the session in 2003. Proper is one of the more conscientious of the raft of European reissue labels benefiting from the copyright law, so the sound on the two-disc set is good and the package includes a 16-page booklet containing extensive liner notes and a discography. Compiler/producer/annotator Joop Visser acknowledges that the album was not favorably received by critics upon release; it seemed to fall between the stools of jazz and pop, with the band in one mode and the singer in another. It was, however, typical of Granz, whose love of jazz was equaled only by his love of pop standards, as seen in similar albums with more overtly jazz-oriented singers such as Ella Fitzgerald for his later Verve label. Astaire, for his part, always sounds delighted with the musical company, even if his performances often seem too low-key.

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