Matt Dennis

Play Melancholy Baby

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Thanks to the inventive power of jazz, a weak voice need not mean a bad performance. Matt Dennis, who worked in the business as a musician, arranger, composer, accompanist, and coach before he recorded a note at the front of a band, possessed a limited voice but wielded it in a way that endeared him to vocal fans. He was capable of singing sweet music or swinging the blues or leading a high-powered orchestra, he had high interpretive skills, and he was a great scatter. Dennis particularly excelled in comfortable settings (the live Plays and Sings Matt Dennis is a highlight), and Play Melancholy Baby is quite comfortable indeed. He leads a sympathetic quartet occasionally augmented by trumpeter Don Fagerquist and alto flutist Ronnie Lang, and sings a set of appropriately melancholy standards -- "A Cottage for Sale," "My Funny Valentine," and Dennis' own "This Is My Story." The casual nature of the date is unfortunately tarnished on the highlight "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," when a vocal chorus commits a unique brand of heresy by enthusing right over one of Dennis' fine scats. Despite a good selection of songs, Play Melancholy Baby doesn't portray Matt Dennis in the proper light; ballad singing wasn't a specialty for this singer. One exception comes with "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues," which allows him more latitude to bend his notes, and also gives his piano (and Fagerquist's trumpet) some meat to chew on for their accompaniment.

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