Review: Rosemary Clooney Mosaic Boxed Set

Rosemary copyLet’s move off jazz vinyl for a day. I’ve been listening to a recent Mosaic release: The Rosemary Clooney CBS Radio Recordings 1955-61. This is a five-CD set of 104 songs recorded by Clooney for three CBS radio shows produced by Bing Crosby. Why have I been listening to these CDs when I could have used the same time to place original Blue Notes or Prestiges on my beautiful refurbished Lynn Sondek turntable? Two reasons:

One: I happen to be a huge fan of Rosemary Cooney—not her work in the 1950s when she was a pop icon, but the series of albums she made for Concord Jazz starting in 1977 and ending with her death in 2002. These, in fact, are some of my favorite vocal records in my collection, particularly Everything’s Coming Up Rosie, Here’s to My Lady, Rosie Sings Bing, For the Duration, and Rosemary Clooney Sings the Music of Irving Berlin. I like them all, to be honest. It helps that on these albums she is typically accompanied by top-flight jazz artists such as Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Nat Pierce, John Oddo, Chuck Israels and many others too numerous to name. But it’s not the accompaniment that knocks me out. It’s the singer. The simple, clear, moving and heartfelt presentations of the songs, each one sung as if the singer had lived and experienced them deeply—and had also experienced quite a bit of life along the way. Which, of course, was exactly the case with Rosemary Clooney.

Two: I felt compelled to write about this set because I wanted to share my appreciation for Rosemary Clooney and, to be perfectly honest, because I felt an obligation to Mosaic. In all the time I’ve been doing Jazz Collector, going back to 2002 when I used to send out e-mail newsletters, I’ve rarely, if ever, actually requested review copies of anything. But when I saw the notice for this release, I decided to reach out to Mosaic and ask for a copy to review, which they were very kind to send me.

I wanted this set because it was a collection of small group recordings and I was curious to see if they would expose something new to me, something that would perhaps serve as a bridge from the kitschy pop singer I was familiar with from the 1950s to the jazz-infused recordings of her later years. The answer is a qualified yes. The singing on these records is quite reminiscent of the later Clooney. The voice itself is actually stronger with more range, but it doesn’t quite have that lived-in feeling of the later records. But this is clearly a singer of exceptional ability and depth, singing songs from the Great American Songbook, and a little bit beyond. So, from that standpoint, I highly recommend this set if, like me, you are a fan of the Concord records.

Where the set disappoints, from the jazz enthusiast’s viewpoint, is in the arrangements, by Buddy Cole. They are definitely of their time, very ’50s, very tight, very pop, very much designed for background music, which, was in all likelihood the expectation for these recordings, which were put out, after all, for the radio. Nothing too daring and, for me, a bit too much organ, celeste and harpsichord as opposed to piano. Also, with 104 songs and the same arranger/musicians for all of them, there is a certain sameness after a while. It’s interesting to me that the best jazz music of the same era — think Coltrane, Rollins, Kind of Blue, among others — seems absolutely fresh today, while this kind of pop sounds dated, except, of course, for the singer, who is marvelous.

The highlights of the set, for me, tend to be the ballads—The Nearness of You is playing in the background as I type this and the singing is lovely—as well as some of the songs Clooney subsequently recorded for Concord. These include, among many others, Everything Happens to Me, Cheek to Cheek, There Will Never Be Another You and a gorgeous version of But Not For Me (unfortunately, without the verse). As always, the Mosaic set is meticulously produced, with a 16-page booklet loaded with details, photos and context, written by James Gavin. This is a limited edition of 5,000.

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