Shelly Manne & His Friends
Modern Jazz Performances Of Songs From My Fair Lady
Recorded August 17, 1956 at Contemporary's Studio in Los Angeles.
This trio set by Shelly Manne & His Friends (consisting of the drummer/leader, pianist Andre Previn, and bassist Leroy Vinnegar) was a surprise best-seller and is now considered a classic. Previn (who is really the main voice) leads the group through eight themes from the famous play, including "Get Me to the Church on Time," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," "I Could Have Danced All Night," and "On the Street Where You Live." A very appealing set that is easily recommended; an audiophile version has also been released on CD by DCC Jazz.
All Music Guide
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Shelly Marine & His Friends: "My Fair Lady"
Recorded August 17, 1956 at Contemporary's Studio in Los Angeles. Produced by Lester Koenig. Roy DuNann was the recording engineer and technical supervisor.
George Bernard Shaw, in Pygmalion, from which My Fair Lady is adapted, proved that the difference between a Cockney girl and a fine lady was mainly one of pronunciation. In his fable, Henry Higgins reaches the girl to speak English, thereby working a startling transformation in her. Actually the language she speaks remains the same. The difference is almost entirely a matter of accent.
And coincidentally it is also largely a matter of accent by which the wonderfully original and entertaining score written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe for My Fair Lady has been transformed by Shelly Manne & His Friends to a wonderfully original and entertaining modern jazz album. In the main, the melodies and the harmonies remain unchanged. But not the accent, the rhythm, the phrasing, the way the notes are attacked. It is still My Fair Lady, of course. But it is, at the same time, modern jazz at its best.
The sources of jazz have always been many and varied. The late jelly Roll Morton claimed Tiger Rag was derived from an old French quadrille, so it should not be too surprising to find modern musicians finding jazz in Ascot Gavotte fifty years later. And in any case jazzmen have always turned to Broadway. The sophisticated melodic and harmonic material in the works of the Gershwins, Cole Porter or Jerome Kern have always stimulated creative jazz musicians to improvise original, entertaining, and often moving performances. It usually takes a very long time, however, before jazzmen accept show runes, and accord them the honor of a jazz treatment "Jazz standards" are usually some time in the making. A case in point is Rodgers & Hart's My Funny Valentine which originally appeared in 1937 and had to wait over fifteen years before the modern jazz movement gave it new life in the '50s. And so it is a tribute to the My Fair Lady score that within a few months of the show's opening, such gifted jazzmen as Shelly Marine, Andre Previn and Leroy Vinnegar were moved to play it.
Let Andre Previn explain the Friends' approach: "What Shelly, Leroy and I have attempted in this album is unusual insofar as we have taken almost the entire score of a musical, not just 'Gems from …, have adapted it to the needs of the modern jazz musician and are playing it with just as much care and love as the Broadway cast. There has been no willful distortion of the tunes simply to be different, or to have a gimmick, or to provoke the saying 'Where's the melody?' We are all genuinely fond of every tune and have the greatest respect for the wonderful score in its original form, but we are paying our own sincere compliment to the show by playing the complete score in our own metier."
SIDE 1 starts with a Count Basie-like treatment of Get Me To The Church On Time. Andre announces the theme, Shelly provides an "explosion," Leroy's bass starts to walk, and the jazz mood is created instantly. In the original this is a Cockney number by British comedian Stanley Holloway. Here the Friends remain faithful to the melodic and harmonic elements of the nine yet effect a subtle transformation as they make it swing. Next comes the hit love song On The Street Where You Live. Andre plays the lovely verse out of tempo, and Shelly and Leroy join in after the start of the chorus as the Friends go into an easy, swinging groove. Here again the melody and harmony remain the same; it is the rhythm which makes for the subtle transformation to jazz. All three musicians have nothing but admiration for the hauntingly beautiful ballad I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face which Rex Harrison performs so movingly in the play. Andre treats it with great sensitivity and tenderness. Shelly who is famous for his ability to use the drums as a melody instrument echoes the last five notes of the theme with mallets in a most effective fashion. The final selection on Side 1, Wouldn't It Be Loverly, is sung in the play by Julie Andrews. In the hands of the Friends it becomes a "swinger" with echoes of rhythm and blues and the gospel style of the "down South camp meetings".
SIDE 2 starts with Ascot Gavotte. The charming and stately dance of the original production becomes an up tempo modern jazz piece with improvisation from Andre and an exciting solo from Leroy. Show Me, which Julie Andrews sing as a waltz in the original, is taken in 4/4. Perhaps the most remarkable transformation in the album is that of With a Little Bit of Luck, which Andre plays as a slow romantic ballad. In the original, it was sung by Stanley Holloway as a comedy number in the period English music hall fashion. The final selection on Side 2, I Could Have Danced Ail Night, is a romantic number as Julie Andrews sings it on the stage. Here the Friends have given it a Latin flavor. With Shelly's tambourine, Andre's intricate cross rhythms, and Leroy's driving bass line, it provides an exciting finish to the album.
As Andre says, "This album was a labor of love for everyone concerned; we had, a ball making it. We hope you have a good time listening to our low bow in the direction of the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York."
Shelly Manne was born in New York City, June 11,1920. He joined the union^vhen he was 18, and his first job was with a band on ship playing between New York and Le Havre. Between trips he spent much time in the clubs on 52nd Street and in Harlem,.listening and learning. Before joining the Coast Guard for 3 1/2 years he played with leading big bands. Upon discharge he worked on 52nd Street again, then joined Stan Kenton for three tours of the U.S. In 1951 Shelly left Kenton to settle in California. He played for motion pictures, radio, TV and night dubs until 1952 when he joined Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars. In 1954 he left the All-Stars to co-front a group with Shorty Rogers until the Fall of '55 when he formed his own quintet, Shelly Manne & His Men. He is generally considered to be one of the all-time great jazz drummers, is a consistent winner of Down Beat and Metronome popularity polls, and was Metronome "Musician of the Year" for 1955.
Andre Previn was born in Berlin, Germany, April 6, 1929 and began his musical studies in Europe. He came to the U. S. in 1939 and continued studying in Los Angeles, first with the late Joseph Achron, and since 1944 with Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He has been composing and conducting film scores at MGM since 1949 (except for two years 1950-51 spent in the Army), and is currently working on his 25th picture. He has been nominated three tunes for Academy Awards. He is a gifted classical, popular and jazz pianist, and his appeared on the concert stage and in night clubs with equal success. He became interested in jazz after hearing Art Tatum and realizing what could be done in jazz forms. His conviction jazz is "a very important and genuine American art form" was strengthened in the 1950s when he heard Bud Powell and the late Charlie Parker. He enjoys playing with Shelly Manne, and appeared on the first Friends album (C3525) with Shelly in February 1956.
Leroy Vinnegar was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, July 13, 1928. He is a comparatively new name in jazz, yet critics and fans are beginning to recognize his extraordinary talent He is a completely self-taught bass player who "just picked it up!' as a 'teenager in Indianapolis. He had fooled around with the piano, but the first time he tried the bass he "discovered that was for me." He has been a professional musician since he was 20, first with local groups in Indianapolis, then for a year in Chicago. He came to Los Angeles in 1954, and his first "real gig" with Barney Kessel's Quartet at jazz City led to his playing and recording with many of the best-known West Coast musicians. Since October 1955 he has been a regular member of Shelly Manne's group.
- Lester Koenig (August 27, 1956)