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My Fair Lady, recorded by "Shelly Manne & His Friends" and released in 1956 by Contemporary Records, is the first album ever made consisting entirely of jazz versions of tunes from a single Broadway musical. It was an instant hit and became one of the best-selling jazz albums of its day.
Shelly Manne & his Friends* (*André Previn and Leroy Vinnegar): modern jazz performances of songs from My Fair Lady, as the full name appeared on the 12-inch LP jacket (Contemporary Records C3527), was begun when drummer Shelly Manne, pianist André Previn, and bassist Leroy Vinnegar assembled on August 17, 1956, in the Contemporary studios in Los Angeles to produce an album of jazz versions of miscellaneous show tunes. (The three, having already recorded together as "Shelly Manne and His Friends", had some experience performing as a trio.)
Previn and Manne were exchanging ideas with producer Lester Koenig, who suggested they do some tunes from the current Broadway musical My Fair Lady. Manne and Previn were so impressed with the Lerner and Loewe songs for the show, that they decided to record more of them. They ended up filling the entire album with My Fair Lady tunes. Koenig brought in the complete score, and that evening Manne and Previn, between them, worked out the arrangements and recorded the entire album in one session, with Vinnegar providing the third "very important musical voice in the trio."
Lively and appealing, and clearly aimed at popular taste, the music also showed some daring, in the vein of the experimentation that was a factor in much West Coast jazz in the 1950s. Previn, with considerable musical training, and having composed several film scores himself, was able to suggest certain technical modifications to the harmony and other aspects of the music. Manne, as the date's leader, provided suggestions of his own, for example to treat what was a fast number in the show as a slow ballad instead. The final number, "I Could Have Danced All Night", was given a Latin touch, with Manne even adding the sound of a tambourine. "There was a total thing going back and forth," as Manne later put it.
The result of that session was an unexpectedly successful album, generally cited as the most successful jazz album up to that time, or at least one of them. The idea was quickly followed by similar efforts by others as well as by Manne and Previn.
Sometimes under Manne's name, other times under Previn's, as "André Previn and His Pals", they recorded numerous other treatments of Broadway musicals in the next few years (the first with Vinnegar on bass, the rest with Red Mitchell, who took over the bass chair when Vinnegar left the group to pursue other musical opportunities), including Li'l Abner (1957), Pal Joey (1957), Gigi (1958), Bells Are Ringing (1958), and West Side Story (1959), all issued on the Contemporary label.
My Fair Lady itself was redone over the years by other jazz artists, starting very soon after the Manne hit. Billy Taylor and Quincy Jones brought out My Fair Lady Loves Jazz in 1957, and this was followed by albums of My Fair Lady music by Nat King Cole (Nat King Cole Sings My Fair Lady) ; Wild Bill Davis; Dick Hyman with Ruby Braff; Oscar Peterson (The Oscar Peterson Trio Plays "My Fair Lady"); and others.
Manne himself worked with arranger John Williams to present a different whole-album treatment of the musical in 1964, first issued as My Fair Lady with the Un-Original Cast, and later reissued as My Fair Lady Swings. This album was based on arrangements thoroughly worked out in advance, and some of the tunes were sung by Jack Sheldon and Irene Kral.
Some of these albums were performed by small combos, others by big bands. Some used hastily improvised arrangements, others carefully worked out ones. Sometimes singing was involved, but most often the tunes were presented in instrumental versions. Regardless of the exact approach, the practice of recording an entire album of jazz versions of the songs of a single musical play had now been established. Manne, Previn, and Vinnegar's My Fair Lady had started the trend.
Track listing Edit
All tunes by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
- "Get Me to the Church on Time" - 4:11
- "On the Street Where You Live" - 5:37
- "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" - 3:21
- "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" - 5:31
- "Ascot Gavotte" - 4:17
- "Show Me" - 3:40
- "With a Little Bit of Luck" - 6:01
- "I Could Have Danced All Night" - 3:00
- Shelly Manne - drums, leader
- André Previn - piano
- Leroy Vinnegar - bass
- Lester Koenig - producer
- Roy DuNann - recording engineer
- ↑ Gordon, p. 143. Gordon gives the year as 1957, but this is certainly an error. The album cover and other sources give it as 1956.
- ↑ Gordon, pp. 142-43. See also Brand, p. 87.
- ↑ Though this musical became the longest-running Broadway musical of its day, it had at this time been running on Broadway for only five months.
- ↑ Brand, p. 87.
- ↑ Gordon, p. 143.
- ↑ Quoted in Gordon, p. 143.
- ↑ See the comments by Thomas Conrad in his April 2002 article in Stereophile magazine. (See external links, below).
- ↑ See Yanow; also Brand, p. 87 and Gordon, pp. 142-43.
- Brand, Jack. Shelly Manne: Sounds of the Different Drummer (Discography and filmography by Bill Korst) (Percussion Express, 1997)
- Gordon, Robert. Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s (Quartet Books, 1986)
- Yanow, Scott. "My Fair Lady: Review" (allmusic Web site)
- Conrad, Thomas. "The Search for Roy DuNann" (April 2002; Stereophile Web site)