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    J. Caps

    If this is a real forum, newcomers should get some JJ history before being a true fan. It starts mid-century. The Great American Songbook flourished through unique pop singers like Sinatra, Ella, Nat Cole, Tony Bennett; but it became clear by the next generation that the best singer-successor to those classic vocalists was going to be Jack Jones. No contest.

    Of course, first they had him singing teen-tunes like “The Race is On,” but then someone discovered that, with his classical voice training, he could actually hold a note and shape a musical phrase with the breath and beauty of an art-song recitalist. Yet he could also deliver a pop lyric with conversational ease — and he could swing! So Kapp Records bounced him between ultra-romantic ballads like “Lollipops and Roses” and “This Was My Love” (where he sounded as smooth and innocent as a choir boy) and upbeat tunes like “Come Rain or Come Shine” (where he learned to slide into notes like a jazz dude). They also switched him from soft arranger-conductors like Ralph Carmichael to the sharper Marty Paich and even Sinatra’s two-fisted arranger Billy May.

    A couple of movie songs, “Wives and Lovers” and “Call Me Irresponsible” put him on the map and his best Kapp albums — “Bewitched,” “Impossible Dream,” and “JJ Sings” — saw a sharpening of his lyric intelligence and the natural widening of his vocal range from a solid low G to a high tenor’s Bb. Word was getting around: this guy’s got chops! His recordings of songs like “Alfie” or “Feelin’ Good” with their virtuoso vocal crescendos and his intimate, hushed performances of “Street of Dreams” or “Getting Sentimental Over You” were equally gripping.

    With his switch to the RCA Victor label, the songs were newer, the singing more worldly, with more sophisticated orchestrations by Patrick Williams. Albums like “Without Her” or “Where is Love?” for sheer musical tastefulness and, certainly, for the art of pure singing, were never topped in that era of pop music. The strangely elliptical songs that made up his album “L.A. Breakdown,” performed against Pat Williams’s almost abstract string-orchestra, resulted in one of his most mesmerizing programs: witness the album’s title song about homelessness or the existential protest song “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” (scored for voice and harp) — not to mention the scrapbook song “Love Story” or the satiric “But I Loved You”. These strayed far from the usual pop song boundaries. And to make matters even more dramatic, Jack’s voice throughout sounded exhausted as though he had just come off a long nightclub stint: he sounded thin, dry, and breathless, with a tight vibrato — and yet that just lent a poignant ache to these vagabond songs. It remains a haunting album.

    Anyway, he got over whatever was bothering him then: indeed, he would soon follow with musically his best album ever and, technically, his best singing: “Jack Jones Sings Michel Legrand”. Here is Jack’s most mellow and rested voice, great breath control, intonation, diaphragm support, high clean head-tones — all those technical details of operatic-caliber singing — and full command of the material, both the poetic lyrics and Legrand’s complex vocal lines. The quasi-symphonic orchestrations (sometimes even with choir and organ) set a high standard of dignity, yet it all has a brilliant glow and warmth. Millennial bloggers may call this ‘crooning’ but what it is, is first-rate recital singing.

    And this only brings Jack-history to the middle 1970s. We haven’t even mentioned the second part of his career with fine tribute albums to Charles Aznavour, David Gates, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, George Gershwin, the live albums, the really recent stuff… For those who love great song writing and great singing, there is a lot more to be said about Jack Jones. A forum like this is a great place for a new generation to discover him. As more than one critic has written over the years, “Purely as a vocalist, he is in a class by himself.” Go ahead; listen to Jack sing Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” and see if that’s not thrilling.

    #5018 Reply

    PhilipT

    An excellent analysis,J.Caps!
    I agree that the Legrand album is Jack’s masterpiece,
    and “LA Breakdown” is a fascinating,underappreciated
    work that should be on CD.
    Hope more young people discover Jack’s wonderful
    60 year discography!

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