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Tuesday, January 9, 2024

A Touch Of Elegance - André Previn


Le Sucrier Velours

A Touch Of Elegance
André Previn
His Piano and His Orchestra
Cover Photo: Jerry Schatzberg
Columbia Special Products
Special Archives Series CSRP 8449

From the back cover: Whenever I think of André Previn, I think of Robert Graves. An English critic last year called an essay on Graves' vast works Nowhere Is Washing So Well Done, referring to his abilities as novelist, historian, critic, poet, essayist, and writer of letters to editors; Previn, right now, is Grafes' only counterpart of the music scene. Must I say how many fields he functions so ably in? I think not. If I say anything more in public about Previn's horizon-braking talents, people will say we're in love.

I think so. André also is equipped with a sharply satirical mind. The last time I did a note on an "LP" of his I tried to put in at the story about the time that he and Red Mitchell and Frank Kapp, who play bass and drums with him on this, were going east on an aircraft and were told that the bass would have to have a ticket. André thereupon insisted that the bass be given the usual passenger's drink. Somebody cut that out of the last note, but I am not only persistent but adamant; there, you've heard it. Now you hear another. When I was asking André about this "LP," he said, "Listen, do you know that they're making Tristan And Iseult out at Fox? I had not known, but I was not surprised: Jerry Wald is making Ulysses, he says. "How do you think's playing Tristan?" That, I couldn't guess. "Gardner McKay," said André.

That's André Previn, and that's about all I plan to say about him. It seems only proper to let him speak for himself: "I've admired Duke all my life," he said recently. "On this record, I've put in some of the 'obvious' things, such as Sophisticated Lady, and some of the 'long-lost' things, such as Prelude To A Kiss and A Portrait Of Bert Williams." (I'm sure André will know I'm only lint-picking if I interject a comment here. No Ellington song is ever "obvious," and to an Ellinton fan like me, one who plays his old 78s until the scratching-reducer on the hi-fi is ready to quit, no Ellinton song ever is "one-lost.") There is also an Ellington premiére Le Sucrier Velours, which Duke gave to André especially for this collection.

The idea here, André continued, was to show the poems themselves – not to do them in anything approximating Ellington's own marvelous voice, but in another voice altogether. Therefore he, Red, Frank and twenty strings sat down for two nights and did them. The Ellington melodies emerged in a new, original Previnian concept, and the nearest I can come to defining it is to say that it is a little like Bernard Buffet doing his own idea of a Picasso he especially likes.

"The worst you could do would be to try to imitate Duke, " André told me. "His own ties are 'way out of their won league. The can stand up in any way they're played and still maintain their own point of view. Many bandleaders write things for their own work that won't work outside it in different voicing. He doesn't. He work. They can be played by anybody, almost any way."

Here I must disagree. Offhand I can think of forty bandleaders ho couldn't begin to play Ellington. And now that I've disagreed, I've got to agree (this is why Zero Mostel used to call The Flexible Mind). Eddie Condon's band used to play Prelude, and very nicely, too. Chet Lincoln and his Royal Lancastrians, a band I described as the nuts when I was a frenzied fourteen in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, used to play Solitude. My wife, formerly with Husk O'Hare and other revolutionary groups, make me keel every time she sings those hilariously ingenious lyrics to Sophisticated Lady (in what other composer's works could one find "nonchalant" rhymed with "restaurant"?) Nobody, however, has yet done Ellington the way André and his friends have done him here – warmly, admiringly, and outside yet inside the master's idiom. The song, A Touch Of Elegance, is André's own homage to Duke. Pretty good washing, I'd say. – Richard Gehman (Richard Gehman writes frequently on people in the musical and entertainment worlds. He is at work on a profile of André Previn for the new magazine Show Business Illustrated)

I Got It Bad
Satin Doll
I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
Le Sucrier Velours
A Portrait Of Bert Williams
A Touch Of Elegance
It Don't Mean A Thing
Prelude To A Kiss
What Am I Here For
Sophisticated Lady

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