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WHISPERING JACK SMITH

Me and my Shadow; his 27 finest, 1925-1940

Bert Ambrose and the Whispering Orchestra; Carroll Gibbons and the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra; Leonard Joy and the Victor Orchestra; Victor Young and his Orchestra; with various piano accompaniments

RETROSPECTIVE RTR 4380 [79:59]

 

Me And My Shadow

Cecilia, Does Your Mother Know You're Out

Gimme A Lil' Kiss, Will Ya, Huh?

When The Red, Red, Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along

Baby Face

There Ain't No 'Maybe' In My Baby's Eyes

Clap yo’ hands

It All Depends On You

Blue Skies

The Birth Of The Blues

My Blue Heaven

The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On)

Miss Annabelle Lee

Sunshine

Whispering

I Kiss Your Hand, Madame (Ich Küsse Ihre Hand, Madame)

Ramona

S'Wonderful

My One and Only

Crazy Rhythm

Funny Face

That's My Weakness Now

The Song I Love

All By Yourself In The Moonlight

To Be In Love, Espesh'lly With You

I'm Knee-Deep In Daisies, And Head Over Heels In Love

A Faded Photograph

This is largely a re-run of ASV CD AJA5372, released two decades ago and many Retrospectives have followed the same route drawing to a large degree on the defunct ASV back catalogue. I say largely because there are two extra tracks in the disc under review, Clap yo’ hands and My One and Only, which draws the CD to a very respectable 27 tracks. Transfers are good, as are Peter Dempsey’s notes.

The Whispering Baritone Jack Smith (born Jacob Schmidt) enjoyed a vogue from the earliest days of electric recording. He fostered a particularly intimate association with the microphone, one that was to prove popular to the crooners who followed him. His earliest sides were self-accompanied, and his confiding voice was well served by his rather untaxing piano stylings, as indeed they were by the other pianists who lent their support, such as composer-pianist Dave Dreyer who wrote the music forMe and My Shadow and the droll Cecilia, Does Your Mother Know You’re Out? Many a light-hearted standard such as these and Baby Face, When the Red, Red Robin, Blue Skies, My Blue Heaven and many more were introduced by Smith in his charming cabaret parlando; half-singing and half-confessing.

Smith travelled to London to perform and record, a path taken by many adventurous Americans. His way with what to become standards – Blue Skies certainly wasn’t a standard when he recorded it in 1927, the year after its composition – could be diluted or even fey in that half-whispered manner and the basic voice-and-piano vamp can become rather monotonous. So, it’s good that he was soon to be accompanied on disc by Ambrose’s so-called Whispering Orchestra in 1928, the support being discreet but noticeable even if veering to bland sentiment. This is true of the sweet violins in The Song is Ended where I think Ambrose also employs a vibraharp to shimmer over the last bars. Miss Annabelle Lee shows that Smith could do up-tempo on this most vo-do-do-de-o of varsity songs, though his tempi elsewhere are predominantly medium or languorous. His theme song is naturally here, Whispering, again with Ambrose in 1928, but so too are two sides he made in seething Weimar Berlin in August 1928 when accompanied by an anonymous piano duo; he whispers in German and English on I Kiss Your Hand, Madame.

The sides with fellow American-in-London, Carroll Gibbons, and the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra offer a sequence of memorable songs, some by the Gershwins like ‘S Wonderful, My One and Only andFunny Face and other classics no less good such as That’s My Weakness Now. By May 1929 he was back in New York to record with Leonard Joy and the last sides come from 1940 where one of the tracks has the superior though discreet backing of Victor Young’s orchestra.

Smith’s career saw a diminuendo from the high point of the pre-swing mid to late 1920s. Influential though he was, he - along with singers such Rudy Vallée and Gene Austin - were to be eclipsed by such as Crosby and Bowlly on either side of the Atlantic. The sotto voce half-croon, with skeletal backing, couldn’t compete with the charm and opulent romance of the coming generation and seemed utterly anachronistic. Like the silent cinema, or the candlelit theatre, Smith had had his day.

Jonathan Woolf