Sammy Davis, Jr.

The Capitol Years [DRG]

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Sammy Davis, Jr. was as much a visual entertainer as he was an aural one, and his incredible energy and vitality seemed muted somewhat on his various recordings, a case of trying to bottle lightning when it won't ever stand still. That being said, this set of Davis' earliest recordings, done over five sessions in 1949 for Capitol Records, shows Davis was already a pretty versatile and charismatic singer even at the age of 23. Davis had been tearing it up in live shows with the Mastin Trio when he came to Capitol's attention, and although he was then an unknown artist, the label obviously had faith in his commercial potential. Amazingly, the full range of Davis' eventual palette is already in place here, and the 1949 sides embrace the standard pop songs and ballads that Davis loved but they also veer off into blues and bebop territory and feature a nascent shot at the jazz scat vocals that became a Davis specialty. An extremely gifted performer and musician (Davis was quite proficient on drums, trumpet, and vibraphone, sang in a natural low baritone, and could tap dance with the rhythmic precision of a percussionist), he puts a lot of good-willed swagger into sides like "Be-Bop the Beguine" (not a reinterpretation of Cole Porter's classic tune so much as a comment on it) and the R&B-tinged "We're Gonna Roll," then turns sugary sweet for the effective ballad "You Are My Lucky Star." After these sessions, Davis wasn't to enter a recording studio again for five years, a spell broken when he began his long association with Decca Records in 1954. In his later years Davis was often less than kind to these first recordings, but they're hardly throwaways, and they stand, in fact, right in line with the best of what he did for Decca.

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