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Trio Who Made the 60s Swing

by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"

 

Rock music in all its guises certainly dominated the Sixties, but the verve and sophistication of the Swing Era never went away. Indeed, it seemed to be reinvigorated by the cultural, social and musical revolution raging all around during the decade. While out with the old, in with the new was generally the norm, the sound of the big band/jazz era bucked the trend. It co-existed on friendly terms with the sexier, raunchier, louder genre and more than held its own. There were three vocalists at the time that epitomised this spirit of survival. The trio were all ultra professional, well grounded in their musical heritage and, arguably, had reached a peak of perfection: Jack Jones, Mel Torme and Sammy Davis Jr.

Of the three, only Jack Jones is still around, still plying his trade as a singer of rare quality. I recently caught the Southend leg of his farewell tour of England and he was, as always, first rate. He’s not, he said, retiring, just calling it a day on long tours.

It’s a shame he won’t be back on stage in Britain again, but he has certainly left many fond memories in his wake, especially his magical Sixties contribution to popular music.

 Jones turned out some sublime pop songs that still entertain today. Who can forget the wistful Lollipops And Roses? It’s a far cry from the testosterone-fuelled sentiments of many of the rock anthems filling the airwaves of the day, but relevant all the same. His Wives And Lovers also ranks high on the best of the ballads barometer. Surprisingly, it caused quite a stir among feminists at the time. They saw it as ultra sexist and detrimental to women! Poor old Jack was taken aback by the protests. He may not have been rock ‘n’ roll, but the adverse reaction wasn’t dissimilar to that aimed at some songs by the likes of the Rolling Stones! Obviously it didn’t do Jones any harm at all, as he went on soon after to hit the Number 1 spot on the American charts with a gritty cover version of George Jones’ country classic The Race Is On and also a powerful rendition of The Impossible Dream from the musical Man Of La Mancha in 1965. Both records fared reasonably well in England too, where he was a very popular visitor.

His fellow vocalists rated him highly. Such doyens as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Mel Torme thought him to be the purest singer around. Praise indeed from such musical giants, particularly that given by Torme.

Torme, a big favourite of mine from my teens, had a magnificent voice that made pop, jazz and swing music a joy to listen to. He was the master when it came to lifting a fairly ordinary lyric into high art. His phasing, interpretation and timing were flawless. I’d become aware of him via his snappy In Our Mountain Greenery and clever scat singing. Then in early 1963, he had a big hit in England with a catchy little number called Comin’ Home Baby. I loved it at the time and still do, although I hadn’t given it any thought at all for years until recently when I heard it playing on TV as the theme tune to a car advertisement. It instantly took me back across the years to a chilly 1965-winter morning in London’s West End when I made my way to the Pink Flamingo club to meet none other than Torme himself. I was one of about five journalists who gathered around the club’s long bar to share a drink and chat with the singer who was on a short tour of Britain.

He was very charming, very witty and extremely affable. He spoke of his great love of jazz, particularly the music of Duke Ellington and Gerry Mulligan. As he regaled us with stories of his early days in the music business, it soon became clear that he was more than just a sensational vocalist. He was an accomplished drummer and arranger and was no mean slouch as a lyricist. I have to admit I hadn’t realised at the time just how versatile he was, so it a real eye opener for me, just turned 19 and starting out on my journalistic career and actually standing alongside one of the greats of swing/jazz. I recall he told us that he was hoping to collaborate with jazz maestro Stan Kenton on a special project, but to my knowledge nothing came of it, although they did appear together in 1968 on British television show, which I have a fond memory of watching

About a year after I met him, I saw a newspaper report about his marriage to English actress Janette Scott. It seemed to be partnership made in heaven but unfortunately ended some years later in divorce. Scott was very beautiful with a melting smile. I always remember seeing her in British films in the Fifties and then in 1962 willing her on as she battled against the vile plants that threatened to take over the world in the horror movie The Day Of The Triffids, which starred Howard Keel as the hero.

Last, but by no means least, of the trio was Sammy Davis Jr. He was a powerhouse of a performer. He was an outstanding singer but he was much more than that. He could tap dance at an amazing rate of knots, tell jokes, have you rolling with laughter at his marvellous impersonations of fellow entertainers, and beguile you with his consummate showmanship.

I’d seen him many times on television, but I was fortunate enough to see him live in 1967 at London’s prestigious Talk Of The Town cabaret venue. He was filming a TV special and special is the right word to describe what he did that night. For sheer versatility and razzmatazz he couldn’t be beaten. It was night to remember, not just for me but also for all the audience. We couldn’t get enough of him. We wanted the show to go on and on. He conjured up some terrific versions of I’ve Got You Under My Skin, the jolly Girl From Ipanema, What Kind Of Fool Am I?, the classy One For My Baby and, my personal favourite on the night, a humdinger of a rendition of Ray Charles’ raucous What’d I Say. He was a true trouper.

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.

 

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