Originally recorded at Contemporary's studio in Los Angeles on August 12, 13, 20, 1958.
Remastered in 1991 at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA.
A measure of how respected Andre Previn has long been in many musical fields is that this set of unaccompanied jazz piano solos has liner notes by the composer of the ten songs, Vernon Duke. Previn alternates well-known Duke pieces such as "Autumn In New York," "Taking a Chance on Love," "What Is There to Say," and "I Can't Get Started" with a few obscure numbers including "The Love I Long For," "Ages Ago" and "I Like the Likes of You." This CD reissue finds Previn at the peak of his jazz powers, displaying an original yet accessible style that falls between swing and bop.
All Music Guide
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Previn & Duke at Contemporary
Show music composers are purists, not to say pedants, in one respect: they don't want their music tampered with, insisting that it should be performed and recorded "as is," in other words, that the original versions be adhered to. The pop-tunesmiths, forever on the lookout for the elusive "single" aimed at the teen-age market, are far less finicky. Getting an acceptable record is their one aim in life and they couldn't care less should their song be mutilated beyond recognition, as long as their name is on the label and the contract in their pocket. Understandably, such mutilation is a boon, as often as not, the average contemporary tune being so puerile, that, the deadlier the mayhem performed on it, the livelier the result. The show composer's product being of superior quality, it had, occasionally, better be left unmolested - but that would only apply to its initial appearance in the theatre or in the show album with the original cast; once the song's identity is established, and its commercial potential estimated, I see no reason for the strident hue and cry with which some of my illustrious brethren are wont to greet legitimate deviations perpetrated by the better vocalists and instrumentalists. After all, what does the performer work with? Nothing more than a thirty-two bar chorus (ninety-eight per cent of the songs still adhere to this time honoured formula), the playing time of which is roughly forty-five seconds. For some years now, it has become the accepted practice to dispense with the verse altogether; a great pity, that, because some Kern, Gershwin and Rodgers verses have greater musical inventiveness and charm than the strait-jacketed refrain.
It has always been my firm belief that the piano copy of a standard - or a showtune - is merely the germ, the skeleton of what the composer intended; piano copies have to be playable and simple in the extreme, to be within reach of the buying public. Thus, I regard every recorded version of a song as legitimate variations on a theme - a time honoured musical form, as any purist will concede. In contrast with some of my colleagues, I especially appreciate those recordings of my light music that bring out unsuspected riches in my original, thanks to the performer's inspired meddling with it. I consider such meddling a compliment, not an imposition. Maybe, in the catchline of a tired musician's story, "I dig distortion"; I do prefer inspired distortion to inane repetition.
Having always been a sincere admirer of Andre Previn I was overjoyed when he suggested making a piano solo album of my songs, - incidentally, his very first solo effort - one, that is, where he is not seconded by a rhythm group. Since I own the questionable distinction of having written many hundreds of songs, show tunes and otherwise, of which only a bare dozen or so have achieved the hit, or standard status, I expressed the hope that Andre would pick some of the obscurer items along with the bread-and-butter repertoire. I am pleased to say that he did just that: my own special favorites, Round About and Ages Ago, that have found but few admirers to date, perhaps because of lack of exposure, are among his best offerings in the present album. While these two are little known to the average listener, my "standards" suffer from being over-recorded. Various and sundry waxings of April in Paris, Autumn in New York, I Can't Get Started, and Taking a Chance on Love occupy four long shelves in my library, and I haven't even scratched the surface. This is not a boast, it is a plaint; I would be far happier were the honors more evenly distributed.
Andre recorded ten of my songs; in addition to the four above listed "musts" plus the "new" entries Ages Ago and Round About, he also dealt with What Is There to Say?, Cabin in the Sky, I Like the Likes of You and The Love I Long For. To drive home the point already made, I am particularly keen on those titles whose interpretations are the least traditional, the least "conformist." When I heard the first test record, I was enthused over everything with the exception of my good old trademark - April in Paris. Andre's version of the 1932 ballad was poetic and evocative as all get-out, but too faithful to the original, too "ballady," perhaps. At a subsequent meeting I suggested that Andre use the verse, which, I feel, has even more of the Parisian ambiance than the rest of the piece, and go berserk on the overly familiar refrain. Previn was visibly startled by so revolutionary a request, but complied with it readily; the result, which ends the album, is far and away the best instrumental version of April in this one man's opinion.
Other typically Previnian transformations include / Like the Likes of You which here is imbued with a totally unexpected Sunday-go-to-meetin' flavor; the highly personal and non-Beriganesque conception of / Can't Get Started; and the almost "jump" tune approach to Love I Long For which is certain to startle Howard Dietz, its lyricist. The others are more in keeping with the original intent, but are always aided and abetted by the unfailing fancy and technical dexterity so peculiarly Previn's own.
This being andre previn's first solo venture, I asked him to let me in on some of his pros and cons as regards solo performing. On the plus side, he felt, "One is free and unrestricted harmonically by other instrumentalists; changing tempo at will becomes a possibility." That pertains to spontaneous improvisation only; this al bum is entirely unpremeditated and unrehearsed. He went on: "The cons, from a jazz pianist's point of view, are:
a) After playing a lot with a good rhythm section you tend to lean on it for the rhythmic momentum, and, naturally, miss it when playing alone. b)The pianist does not have to be "on" every inch of the way when supported by the rhythm section. In modern jazz piano playing there is a great tendency to neglect the left hand entirely, since the bass player supplements the lower register. That may be cheating, but it makes one's job easier." Previn further pointed out that he prefers retaining the original harmonic concept as closely as possible only where comparatively untried pieces are concerned - on the universally accepted standards he feels free to indulge in the greatest harmonic and contrapuntal elasticity. I say "amen" to that.
Previn is one of our most superbly endowed and versatile young talents; he is also one of the busiest and most successful musicians in the country today; a two-headed Janus of a pianist - jazz and classical, virtuoso conductor, film composer and musical director (his latest picture is Gigi, and he's currently entrusted with Goldwyn's Porgy and Bess), and apart from films, he's a composer in all existing media, presently working on his first Broadway musical. With pre-scoring on Porgy and Bess completed, Andre left Hollywood early in September for a three month tour of leading Eastern night clubs with his jazz trio. As a record collector as well as composer, I feel doubly fortunate that Andre found time during the busy weeks before his departure to record the ten altogether brilliant performances in this album.
- Vernon Duke (Sept. 10.1958)