Recorded February 6,7, & 25, 1957 at Contemporary's Studio in Los Angeles.
In a follow-up to their hit recording of music from My Fair Lady, Shelly Manne and his Friends (a trio with pianist Andre Previn, bassist Leroy Vinnegar, and the drummer/leader) recorded nine songs from the play Li'l Abner. Although Johnny Mercer and Gene DePaul wrote the score, none of the songs caught on except for the ballad "Namely You," and this LP (whose music has not been reissued yet on CD) was not a best-seller. The musicians are in fine form but the melodies are not too memorable (when was the last time anyone played "If I Had My Druthers" or "Progress Is the Root of All Evil"?). Actually the main reason to search for this album is for the hilarious photo on the cover.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Li'l Abner has had a fabulous career since 1934 when cartoonist Al Capp created him. During the past 23 years he has appeared in hundreds of newspapers, daily and on Sundays, to the delight of millions. Today at last count 700 papers carry the Capp strip, with an estimated 40 million readers. It was inevitable Li'l Abner would eventually, as they say in jazz, "make the Broadway scene." He did, in a hit musical which opened November 15, 1956 at the St. James Theatre in New York.
What seemed most unlikely was that he would make the jazz scene. Now even this has come to pass as a result of the ingenious transformation of nine tunes from the show's score into modern jazz performances by Shelly Manne and his Friends: Andre Previn and Leroy Vinnegar.
For the musical, producer-writers Norman Panama and Melvin Frank retained the basic situation of the comic strip-Daisy Mae's struggle to catch and marry Li'l Abner-but invented a new plot. The government declares Dogpatch U.S.A. (the natural habitat of Li'l Abner, Daisy Mae, Earthquake McGoon, Marryin' Sam, the Yokums, etc.) the "most unnecessary" town in the whole country, and orders its denizens to leave so it can be a testing ground for atomic experiments. It's up to Li'l Abner to save the day. After a wild time in Washington and Dogpatch (Li'l Abner is almost trapped into marrying Appassionata Van Climax), things reach a frantic climax with a plane carrying an atom bomb on its way to Dogpatch while the wedding of Earthquake McGoon and Daisy Mae is about to take place. Li'l Abner does, natcher'ly, save the day.
The score for this bit of madness was written by Johnny Mercer (words) and Gene de Paul (music), and manages to combine the "down home" quality of the Dogpatch milieu with the inherent sophistication of the Al Capp point of view. The Li'l Abner strip has always had its share of social and political satire; on an Odyssey coast-to-coast TV show (March 10, 1957) Capp admitted, "I have a fine time kidding America."
The Friends here have an equally fine time in the wonderful world of Li'l Abner. The deft, lighthearted Mercer-de Paul score provided a provocative opportunity for Manne, Previn, and Vinnegar to follow their highly-praised, best-selling My Fair Lady album with a similar treatment of a second current Broadway hit.
The Friends begin operations with "Jubilation T. Cornpone," a sprightly satire on the founder of Dogpatch who never knew the meaning of fear. "Terror, yes, but fear, never!" The Friends retain the spirit of the original, but even when they use the tempi of the original Broadway performances, as they do in "Cornpone" (and all the songs except "If I Had My Druthers" and "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands"), they manage to effect that subtle rhythmic transformation which makes for jazz. "Cornpone" contains very interesting opening and closing statements of the original theme, characteristic of all the Friends' performances in this album.
The satiric "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands" is sung in the show by Stubby Kaye (Marryin' Sam), Peter Palmer (Li'l Abner), and chorus with a raucous, hoe-down feeling. In Andre's hands, the "Country" becomes a hauntingly beautiful place. Shelly's lacy patterns of brushes on cymbals provide an appropriate background for the first chorus. He then uses brushes on his snare to provide a solid platform for Andre's improvised solo. Andre's talents are many and varied, but he has a special feeling for ballads, and there are three of them in this album.
"If I Had My Druthers," in the original, is a relaxed, medium-tempo explanation by Li'l Abner of his philosophy: while the rest of the world is hustling and bustling he'd "rather watch daisies grow." The Friends hustle and bustle "Druthers" to an uptempo swinger. Andre comes back to the ballad mood in "Unnecessary Town," which remains close in spirit to the original, lovely slow hymn to Dogpatch (unnecessary, but "it's home, sweet home"). Andre improvises on the celesta with haunting effect. "Matrimonial Stomp" was sung in the original by Marryin' Sam ("Gettin' married is for the birds"). The Friends' version features Leroy playing an infectious vamp which, after a swinging solo by Andre, recurs in the minor and sets Andre off on a series of minor variations on the theme.
"Progress Is the Root of All Evil" becomes a swinger in a medium funky groove. "Oh, Happy Day," which follows, is also taken at a tempo somewhat similar to that in the Broadway production.
However, Shelly plays an authentic Brazilian samba behind the opening and closing choruses. Instead of the expected blowing choaises after the statement of the tune, Andre and Shelly play what they call an "abstract." This is a section of free improvisation, with no relation to the tune, and no predetermined melody or rhythm. Shelly and Andre's improvisation is unusual for its form as well as its spontaneous melodic and rhythmic elements. There are very few jazzmen who have attempted this sort of thing. (Shelly did it once before on an early Contemporary 10-inch long-playing album, C2516, with Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre.) That Shelly and Andre carry it off is a tribute to their daring, their exceptional rapport, as well as their expert musicianship.
One of the loveliest ballads of the present Broadway season is "Namely You," sung by Daisy Mae (Edith Adams) to Li'l Abner. In Andre's hands it becomes an impressive example of how modern jazzmen approach a ballad, retaining a spontaneous jazz feeling while remaining essentially faithful to the original. "Past My Prime," which Daisy Mae sings in the show, closes the album, and is taken in an easy, medium, swinging dance tempo. With Leroy "walking" all the way, it provides a perfect tune to "cool out on," as the jazzmen put it.
The Friends have proved to be one of the most felicitous combinations in recent jazz history. Andre's extraordinary piano technique and his gift for melodic and harmonic improvisation are complemented and enriched by Shelly's inventiveness and feeling for time, and Leroy's walking, funky, full-bodied sound. The results of this collaboration, which exists for recording only, has been heard previously on two Contemporary best-selling albums recorded in 1956: C3525, an assortment of jazz tunes and ballads; and M3527, the now famous My Fair Lady in modern jazz.
Andre Previn is, of course, the distinguished motion picture composer and conductor. Though only 28 (he was born in Berlin, Germany, April 6, 1929), he has done scores for 27 films, and three times has been nominated for Academy Awards. He is also a recording star in popular and classical music as well as jazz.
Shelly Manne is the nation's favorite drummer, and recently made a clean sweep of first place in all major popularity polls: Playboy, Down Beat, and Metronome. Bom in New York City June 11, 1920, Shelly has been playing professionally since he was 18 with many famous groups, including a long stint with Stan Kenton's orchestra. Since 1955 he has had his own five-piece group, Shelly Manne & His Men, considered by critics and fans to be one of the top jazz combinations of the mid-Fifties.
Leroy Vinnegar came to prominence as a bassist during 1956, largely as a result of his work as a regular member of Shelly's "Men." The self-taught Indianapolis-born giant, who handles a bass as an ordinary man might a violin, has only been active in jazz since 1955 yet recent popularity polls show he is already rated as one of today's five or six best bass men.
- Lester Koenig