Picks and Pans Review: Bing Crosby: the Crooner

updated 09/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bing Crosby

Many of Crosby's best performances had a jazz tinge. Fans will recall records he made with his brother Bob's Bob Cats or with Woody Herman's Dixielandish subgroup, the Woodchoppers, or his movie duets with Louis Armstrong (High Society) and Jack Teagarden (Birth of the Blues). This collection of 65 songs Bing recorded from 1928—34 includes some abysmal pop shlock. The next time Grandma or Grandpa get on your case about Def Leppard, kids, ask if they remember Crosby's (Anyone Can See with Half an Eye That) I'm in Love with You: "It's hard to see a fly upon a mountain/ The distance interferes with the view.... You need a telescope to really get the dope/ On the stars up in the blue.... But anyone can see with half an eye/ That I'm crazy over you." There are also plenty of cuts, however, that show how responsive Crosby was to good musicians and how swinging his then-revolutionary scat-singing could sound. On Oh! Miss Hannah, for instance, he has to wait through a dreary Paul Whiteman Orchestra arrangement and sing foolish, if not (in a song with a plantation context) racist lyrics—"The mockingbirds am singing/ And the moon am shining bright." There's a unique warmth and richness to his vocal, though, and it leads to a startlingly tuneful solo by Bix Beiderbecke, whose jazz cornet was far beyond Whiteman and most of his contemporaries. Then on Some of These Days, Crosby scats along briskly in front of a band including guitarist Eddie Lang and saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer (two other talented Whiteman alumni). Columbia collections of Beiderbecke tracks include a few Crosby vocals omitted here—a notable Mississippi Mud, for instance—and Decca collections have included most later Crosby favorites. But this four-record set still has plenty to offer general music lovers as well as Crosby archivists. The album notes by musicologist Michael Brooks are informative and amusing too. He notes, for example, that Lawd, You Made the Night Too Long, an extralong 1932 record Crosby made with the estimable Boswell Sisters and a band led by saxophonist Don Redman, was dull then and is unlistenable now: "Another great rarity and I salute the American public for helping it achieve that status. You have 5:21 to fix yourself a drink." (Columbia)

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