The Mood Is Swinging
The Mood Is Blue
The Mood Is Romance

 

Track Listing
The Mood is Swinging, The Mood is Blue, The Mood is RomanceThe great American songbook, inimitably interpreted by the legendary Joni James in this splendid new gathering of three exceptional albums, represents much more than a lavish, expansive visit to an unforgettable musical era. These recordings, in fact, are a consequence of Joni's forward-looking vision (rather than any backward-glancing affection for nostalgia, as nice as nostalgia can be musically), of her self-admitted artistic wanderlust, of her never-ending search for new musical vistas and of her smiling pleasure in winning new audiences.

When Joni burst on the international music scene seemingly out of nowhere with her multi-million hit "Why Don't You Believe Me," the whole world seemed to fall in love with her unusual voice, her one-of-a-kind style and the instantly identifiable sound of her little-girl-blue records. What the whole world (and perhaps Joni herself) couldn't foresee was the Joni they had fallen in love with would evolve into other quite-different Joni's the world would keep falling in love with all over again. For Joni, with her high-pitched curiosity about people and the world and art, and her low level of tolerance for boredom, sticking with the tried - and - true was never an issue. By the end of her first year as a successful recording artist - a year in which she astoundingly had landed a dozen single sides in the Top Ten - she already was making changes.

The albums of classic love ballads gave way to yet another facet of James art: international music. Joni's burgeoning catalog came to cover just about every aspect of popular music imaginable - Broadway and Hollywood classics, inspirational, Italian and French and Irish, country and folk. In just a few years, in fact, Joni James had compiled the largest album catalog of any popular singer.

Joni had reigned at the top of the singles and albums charts a decade when she decided to do the three albums gathered in this new 36-song collection. Though it seemed clear she had long passed the new-star-in-the sky stage of her career and had become a forever-established headliner, she was still looking for new areas of music and new audiences to conquer.

In this case, the new area Joni set out to conquer was jazz and pop music of the type finding favor on both college campuses and in the posher supper clubs and intimate city nighteries. The audience was the hip students on those college campuses and the alive-and-alert young adults in those clubs. Joni already had won a favored place with college audiences, having pioneered the field of campus engagements for popular singers. Before she began her trailblazing college tours as a hot record star, the famous Big Bands mostly had the field to themselves. Innovative Joni came up with the idea of appearing as a headline attraction with those bands-among them, most notably, the Stan Kenton aggregation. The orchestra would do the first half of the concert and then, after an intermission, the star, Joni, would appear, accompanied by the orchestra. These innovative engagements proved enormously successful. (Joni's innovative work with the big orchestras eventually resulted in her being one of the few vocalists to be inducted into the Big Band Hall of Fame and the only vocalist to be inducted who never sang as a member of a big band!)

It was only when the enthusiastic audiences at her college concerts asked her why they couldn't find jazz albums by her or big-band-type albums by her that she considered adding that music to her recording repertoire. The result was a spectacular three-album project representing the first step in what would prove a new era for Joni crossing over from the field of pop music to jazz audiences. The three albums were titled "The Mood Is Swinging," "The Mood Is Blue," and "The Mood Is Romance" and M-G-M Records gave them extra special treatment.

Although M-G-M always granted Joni the best musicians and arrangers for her albums, many of them recording stars in their own right, it outdid itself with "The Mood" albums. Three outstanding and distinctly different arrangers were brought on board. For the "Swinging!'' album, Jimmy Haskell fashioned the arrangements-big, brassy, bold. Fans who had seen Joni James in person knew she could be big, brassy and bold. In fact, in her prerecording years as a supperclub chanteuse she was known for her fast numbers as her ballads. But for her record audience this was a new kind of Joni, a sing-out, full-steam-ahead, hold-onto-that-note-Joni. "I myself was surprised when I heard those recordings," Joni says with a rueful smile, "I'm not sure I ever thought of myself as that kind of singer."

For the "Blue" album Jack Marshall was sought. A favorite of Judy Garland and Peggy Lee, his specialty was bright, crackerjack, brisk-paced (even for ballads) orchestrations with particularly felicitous use of horns and reeds. Joni responded with a sense of musical joy and freshness that makes even the bluest of the songs engaging.

For the "Romance" album Skip Martin was engaged. Famous for his Hollywood studio string voicings mixed piquantly with gentle jazz touches, Martin produced orchestrations, which were distinctly, sophisticated but also whimsical and jaunty. They inspired Joni to cozy performances gently bubbling with humor and sauciness, quite unlike anything she had done before.

The arrangers came to the project after Joni herself had selected the songs. They reflect her lifelong love with American popular music, her knack for bringing fresh insights to well-known songs and her fascination for unearthing long-lost show tunes, little-noticed film songs and pop hits long gone from the Hit Parade but deserving of standard status.

The well-known standards range from a jaunty "Ain't Misbehavin", to one of the raucous highlights of Joni's concerts, "The Lady ls ATramp," to the great Billie Holiday hit "Lover Man", to the wistful "I Remember You." The lesser-known gems include Jimmy McHugh's lovely "The Music Stopped" and "Dream Dream Dream" and Sammy Cahn's nearly-forgotten opus from MGM's "A Date With Judy", "Wonder Why."

Upon their original release, the three "Mood" albums found favor with the college and young adult audiences to whom they were directed. But, sadly, they seemed to have been lost to the wider audience which would have enjoyed them. There seems to have been confusion about whether these were popular albums or these were Big Band albums or these were jazz albums. In truth they were all three at the same time.

All three albums got rave reviews in the popular music press and M-G-M Records certainly was more than pleased with their success. But perhaps because record dealers-at the time geared toward strict musical categories-seemed unsure how to stock them or market them, many people today are unaware they even existed.

This new two-CD set at last corrects that injustice. Here, sounding better than ever thanks to the latest in digital stereo remastering technology, are three absolutely smashing albums which should long ago have found fame. But they are also albums which sound astoundingly fresh and contemporary-they could have been recorded just this year!

The credit for that timelessness goes to the three arrangers who so memorably fashioned the musical settings for the songs and the singer who so indelibly brought enthusiasm and a willing-to-take-a-chance spirit to her performances of them.

Joni James indeed has a way of making every song sound like it has never been performed before. She seems to be telling the story of her own life, and the lives of her listeners, in each lyric. And she seems to be creating each song on the spot, as if it never existed on sheet music, only in her heart, head and unforgettable voice.

Liner Notes: Wayne Brasler 

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