Between 1956 and 1964, at least 16 jazz interpretations of Porgy & Bess were recorded and released. Why the frenzy? Part of the reason was the opera's global popularity by 1955.
In 1952, Robert Breen directed and co-produced with Blevins Davis a revival of the George Gershwin opera in New York that eventually toured 29 countries in four years. The opera eventually wound up being performed in Leningrad and Moscow in December 1955—the first postwar U.S.-Soviet cultural exchange. An account of the event was written by Truman Capote for The New Yorker and later included in his book, The Muses Are Heard.
Within months of the news, arranger Russ Garcia set to work on a score that jazz-ified the opera. Recorded for Bethlehem, the album featured the best artists on the West and East coasts and set new standards for large-scale arranging, though the use of hipster disc jockey Al Jazzbo" Collins to narrate the recording seems now like overkill.
Nevertheless, Porgy & Bess became an ideal jazz-classical canvas on which artists could express their improvised interpretations. Porgy & Bess recordings followed in quick succession, including albums by Buddy Collette, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald (also by Russ Garcia), Mundell Lowe, Miles Davis (arranged by Gil Evans), Bob Crosby, Ralph Burns, Sammy Davis Jr. and Carmen McRae, Hank Jones, George Rhodes, Rex Stewart, Billie Brooks, Diahann Carroll, Oscar Peterson and the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Perhaps the best (though the recordings by Miles Davis, Mundell Lowe and Buddy Collette are superb as well) was The Jazz Soul of Porgy & Bess, by Bill Potts and His Orchestra. Recorded in January 1959 for United Artists and produced by Jack Lewis (our Jazz Workshop friend), Potts broke free of the score's traditional constraints and added enormous inventiveness, punch and swing. On the session were Art Farmer, Harry Sweets" Edison, Bernie Glow, Marky Markowitz and Charlie Shavers (tp), Bob Brookmeyer (v-tb), Frank Rehak, Jimmy Cleveland, Earl Swope and Rod Levitt (tb), Gene Quill and Phil Woods (as), Zoot Sims and Al Cohn (ts), Sol Schlinger (bar), Bill Evans (p), Herbie Powell (g), George Duvivier (b) and Charlie Persip (d).
You can find the album at Amazon as a download here or here on CD (Fresh Sound).
The reason for this post, in addition to telling you about a worthy musical investment, are photographs by Lawrence N. Shustak from the booklet that accompanied an original limited edition version of the album. Many thanks to JazzWax reader David Langner for sending them along:
JazzWax clip: Here's an audio clip from the album, featuring Sol Schlinger, Bill Evans, Gene Quill and Jimmy Clelveland as well as a sax soli at the end...
JazzWax bonus. JazzWax reader Peter Levin sent along the album's soloists, for those who have only the album's download...
1 . SUMMERTIME: Harry Edison, muted trumpet, Al Cohn, tenor sax, Zoot Sims, tenor sax
2. A WOMAN IS A SOMETIMES THING: Gene Quill, alto sax, Earl Swope, trombone, Charlie Persip. drums, Markie Markowitz, muted trumpet
3. MY MAN'S GONE NOW: Markie Markowitz. trumpet, Al Cohn, tenor sax
4. IT TAKES A LONG PULL TO GET THERE: Sol Schlinger, baritone sax, Bill Evans, piano, Gene Quill, alto sax, Jimmy Cleveland, trombone
5. I GOT PLENTY O'NUTTIN: Gene Quill, alto sax, Zoot Sims. tenor sax, Al Cohn. tenor sax
6. BESS, YOU IS MY WOMAN: Phil Woods, alto sax, Charlie Shavers, muted trumpet
7. IT AIN'T NECESSARILY SO: Al Cohn, tenor sax, Rod Levitt, bass trombone, Bill Evans. piano
8. MEDLEY: (Minor themes, Prayer, Strawberries, Honey Man, and Crab Man): Gene Quill, alto sax, Jimmy Cleveland, trombone, Zoot Sims, tenor sax, Sol Schlinger, baritone sax, Bill Evans, piano, Charlie Shavers. trumpet, Harry Edison, trumpet
9. I LOVES YOU, PORGY: Bill Evans, piano ,Art Farmer, trumpet, Zoot Sims, tenor sax IO. CLARA, CLARA: Markle Markowitz, trumpet, Harry Edison, trumpet, Phil Woods, alto sax, Al Cohn, tenor sax
11. THERE'S A BOAT DAT'S LEAVIN' SOON FOR NEW YORK: Bill Evans, piano, Phil Woods, alto sax, Gene Quill. alto sax, Al Cohn, tenor sax Art Farmer, trumpet
12. OH BESS, OH WHERE'S MY BESS: Bobby Brookmeyer, trombone, Charlie Shavers, trumpet
13. OH LAWD, I'M ON MY WAY: four bar solos around the sections
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