Richard Rodgers Command PerformanceThough he was one of 20th century America's greatest songwriters, Richard Rodgers was not much for singing himself. Members of his immediate family recall that they never heard his singing voice -- that he didn't even sing in the shower. However, he did apparently record some demos in 1934, when he and lyricist Lorenz Hart were under the gun to provide songs for the film Mississippi (1935) starring Bing Crosby. Perhaps singer Jerry Cooper was late to the demo recording session, because Rodgers -- it is believed, as there is no identification given on the original records -- ended up singing the first seven numbers himself, with Lorenz Hart pitching in on the first tune, "No Bottom," as well. As heard here, Rodgers' singing is reedy but surprisingly tuneful and endearing, and these recordings underscore his strong affinity for melody.

These vocal rarities appear on Harbinger's newly released Richard Rodgers: Command Performance. It is the first package in any format –- tape, LP or disc -– to concentrate solely on Richard Rodgers as a performer, and it includes items ranging from Ampico piano rolls Rodgers cut in 1926 to a radio interview recorded in 1971 in which he discusses the nature of his collaborations with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. Rodgers was not a flamboyant showman in the vein of George Gershwin, and he reserved his performing skills for promotional activities like pitches to potential backers, radio guest appearances, and obligatory first night stints leading the band on Broadway.

Richard RodgersRodgers, however, was a fine pianist whose elegant playing matched the nature of his music. Hearing it affords a rare glimpse of his personality, something he wasn't always dying to reveal to the public at large. Many of the songs on this collection are obscure, and one would have loved to hear him play, say, "Carousel Waltz" or "March of the Siamese Children" from The King and I, but such recordings weren't made. Equally fascinating are the vintage photos included, featuring Rodgers in his twenties, freshly scrubbed and looking like an accountant for a Wall Street firm.

Richard Rodgers, voice & piano: No Bottom

Richard Rodgers, voice & piano: Pablo, You Are My Heart

Richard Rodgers, piano (from piano roll): The Girl Friend

Richard Rodgers, piano (from radio broadcast): My Heart Stood Still