Where we nominate out-of-print treasures for resurrection, or
otherwise talk about the peculiar world of the record collector.
Jimmy Rushing, The You and Me that Used To Be,
RCA LP LSP-4566, originally released 1971
RCA/BMG CD 6460-2 RB, 1988 reissue
Jimmy Rushing was one of the great blues singers, the kind that did not play an
instrument but stood in front of a small or large band and belted out songs. In
spite of the current blues revival, nobody seems to be picking up the wonderful
swinging style of Bessie Smith, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Witherspoon, and a dozen
or so others. These singers played the jazz and ballads side of the street with
equal facility, and brought a blues inflection to the corniest Tin Pan Alley
tune. This style was at the opposite end from the country blues which,
electrified, became the Chicago blues that's the basis of most of what we think
of as blues today.
Be that as it may, here is the last album by one of the best of a different,
jazzier style. Jimmy Rushing, "Mr. Five by Five," worked with Count Basie from
the thirties to the fifties, then recorded a few albums for a variety of labels
until his death in 1972. This was his last album, but his voice here is in fine
shape. He was a blues shouter, with a voice that could carry over the Basie
band, and he still had that pure intensity here. It is not a conventionally
attractive voice (unlike, say, Joe Williams) but that really doesn't matter.
All this is performed with a small group including Ray Nance on trumpet and
violin, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn on tenor sax, Budd Johnson on soprano and tenor,
Dave Frishberg on piano (he also did the arrangements), Milt Hinton on bass,
and Mel Lewis on drums. In case you don't recognize the names, let me just say
this is a crackerjack group. The interaction, the sheer delight of playing
together and with Rushing, is palpable throughout.
The songs, with the exception of "Fine and Mellow," Billie Holiday's hit, are
not blues, but include such treasures as "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," "More
Than You Know," and (even!) "Bei mir bist du shoen." Rushing's phrasing,
inflection, note placement, and vocal tone pull everything out of these tunes
Don Schlitten produced this gem, and it was recorded by one of RCA's excellent
house engineers, Paul Goodman. The LP was released in 1971 on RCA's "Dynaflex"
vinyl, which was paper thin. Of course, it went out of print almost
immediately. The CD reissue came out in 1988, and it is out of print now too.
Which is better? No question: the LP, in spite of the thin vinyl, sounds better
than the CD, literally from the very beginning, a high note on Frishberg's
piano. On the LP, the note has immediacy and punch, and the trailing sound
hangs in the air while the drums kick in and Jimmy starts singing the title
song. On the CD, the note sounds like Frishberg stroked it rather than punched
it, and the result is too polite. The overall CD sound is smoothed out,
altogether pleasant for sure but also altogether less real. But since both the
LP and CD are out of print, grab either one if you find it, and hope BMG sees
fit to do a CD re-reissue with better sound. -- Glenn Brooks