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Jewish World Review June 13, 2000 / 10 Iyar, 5760

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Consumer Reports

The Sweetest Sounds -- I SIT HERE at my computer as Margaret Whiting coos “But Beautiful” to me from across the room. Singing doesn’t get much better than this. Just give me Maggie, Ella Fitzgerald, Keely Smith, and Peggy Lee ... and close the door on your way out. I love the sweet sounds of these “girl singers” as they were referred to in the days of the Big Bands. You can add Helen Forrest, Doris Day, June Christy, Jo Stafford, Kitty Kallen and Helen O’Connel into the group, too. And while your about it, don’t forget The Andrews Sisters.

It seems every now and then a contemporary pop singing star decides to record an album of standards with traditional Big Band arrangements in an attempt to replicate the sound of that earlier era. While I’m happy that the try is being made, I’m sorry to say the talent of today can’t quite bring it off.

They just don’t have the range, the discipline, nor the “sweetness” in their voices. I wish they did. I would love nothing more than to hear a twenty-something girl singer purr out a Rogers and Hart ballad the way Ella used to do. The thought of it actually brings chills.

There’s another element missing, possibly the most important ingredient, in the sound of today’s female pop singers -- innocence. You can’t fake it. You can’t train for it.

Either you have it or you don’t. Innocence is the vessel from which those sweet sounds are poured.

And it’s nearly impossible for a performer to retain an aura of innocence at a time when the music business is selling the antithesis. The angry, nihilistic, in-your-face attitude of contemporary popular music does not mix well with a wistful Johnny Mercer lyric or a Cole Porter refrain. It’s got to be rough for singers of today who really want to sing the standards. Even if someone has the talent, not only are they going against the tide of contemporary style but they are also competing with all the greats who have ever recorded.

At one point Streisand might have been able to pull it off -- but then again, maybe not.

Perhaps her full-throated style was always better suited to the musical theater/pop/rock genre she excelled at. More of a “belter” than a “songstress” (or whatever the female equivalent is of a “crooner”). Still, it would have been interesting to have heard her personal take on the “songbook series” that Fitzgerald did so well.


All is not lost, however. There is a young Canadian woman who has been recording for the past seven or eight years and is catching on in a big way. Her name is Diana Krall, and while she doesn’t exactly have that innocent sweetness to her voice, she does posses an ample amount of style and feeling and honesty. Her sound is more Anita O’day than Margaret Whiting -- with maybe just a touch of Julie London breathiness. Her voice has that throaty chanteuse quality to it that makes you want to order a dry Martini... with extra olives, please.

A true jazz stylist, Miss Krall does much of her own arranging. Accompanying herself on piano, she usually performs in trio or quartet, although of late she’s been getting the full orchestra treatment as well. I’m thrilled that someone under the age of forty is continuing to sing traditional jazz vocals and sultry ballads. If you haven’t heard her yet, do yourself a favor and pick up one of her albums.

Her enormous popularity has become somewhat of a mixed blessing for me. While I absolutely wish her continued success -- and she certainly deserves it -- that same success necessitates that her performances be held at larger concert halls and other massive outdoor venues, not the small clubs and intimate lounges that her style is really meant for. It would have been terrific to have heard her perform in a cozy cocktail lounge on a cold winter night. But that’s okay. I’ll just put on one of her CDs and listen in the intimacy of my own den.

That is after I finish listening to the sweet vocals of Maggie Whiting.

Thank goodness for recorded music.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Greg Crosby