Tony Bennett/Dave Brubeck • The White House Sessions, Live 1962

Sony Music/Impex Records IMP6024
Two 180-gram LPs



by Guy Lemcoe | May 2, 2016

n late August of 1962, two musicians at the height of their popularity performed separately and together (for the first time) before an audience at the Sylvan Theater in the shadow of the Washington Monument. History was being made, and producer Teo Macero wanted all to go well. The concert featuring Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck went as planned, but later Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head and the tapes were lost due to a clerical error. They were discovered in the Sony Music vaults fifty years later, misfiled, ironically, with some classical titles. Finally, in 2013, the hour-long concert was released on CD. Now, as a treat for LP lovers, Impex Records has released this memorable concert on two heavyweight slabs of quality vinyl encased in a stout, high-gloss gatefold jacket replete with generous liner notes and historic photos.

After a few introductory words from DJ William B. Williams, the concert is underway and the Dave Brubeck Quartet tears into a rousing version "Take Five." At the time and for years to follow, the Dave Brubeck Quartet was the most popular jazz ensemble in the US, and "Take Five" was their bona fide hit. I latched on to their music at an early age and have returned to it often. There are times when I’m trolling through my collection looking for musical revelations and only an album by the Brubeck Quartet will satisfy the need. With the million-selling and Billboard-charting Time Out to his credit and awards too numerous to mention here, Dave Brubeck became a jazz legend.

The remainder of side one and all of side two find the Quartet playing tunes drawn from the globetrotting repertoire heard on their Jazz Impressions of Eurasia. The 11-minute "Nomad" allows everyone to stretch out. Brubeck’s solo here is one of his best, and Joe Morello reminds us how imaginative a drummer he was. Desmond’s playing, as always, is beyond reproach and his singular tone is captured well by the microphones. Even bassist Eugene Wright gets in a few licks. Brubeck’s homage to Chopin, "Djiekuje," opens side two with the leader’s classical roots clearly on display. Desmond solos beautifully, and Brubeck, midway through the solo, seems to want to see how soon he can run out of keyboard. Thankfully, he doesn’t and continues with a mannered, classically inspired finish. Desmond, sounding as "cool" as ever, leads off "Calcutta Blues" and Brubeck follows with another distinctive solo. The highlight of this cut, however, has to be Morello’s cerebral yet dramatic drum solo. With passion and inspiration he makes use of every piece of his drum kit. The nuance and unique sound of each tom-tom, snare, cymbal and bass-drum strike are beautifully captured by the vintage recording. The time signature is 5/4, and Morello loses nary a beat as he reaches an exciting climax.

The second LP is given over to the velvety, burnished voice of then rising star Tony Bennett just a few months after his triumphant Carnegie Hall concert. He sings with his own trio on side three and with the Brubeck Quartet (minus Desmond) on side four. I must confess that I had never paid much attention to Bennett. Wasn’t he just another crooner whose brown eyes, chiseled good looks and confident swagger captured the hearts and ears of legions of female listeners? Yes, but he was more. He was and still is the consummate singer, possessing a rich voice couched in impeccably phrased lines. His recent popularity notwithstanding, he is also the master of good taste, rarely, if ever, stooping to record novelty songs. I can’t imagine him joining a "rat pack" either. He has won 19 Grammys (including a Lifetime Achievement Award) and two Emmys. Of his over 70 albums, 50 million of which have sold worldwide, three have gone platinum and eight have gone gold. And, he will celebrate his 90th birthday this August. Not bad for a singing waiter from Queens!

Stimulated by what I heard on these sides, I’m now on a quest to add more Tony Bennett to my record collection. After a brief introduction and with superb support from pianist Ralph Sharon (who remained Bennett’s accompanist for the next four decades), veteran Canadian bassist Hal Gaylor and drummer Billy Exiner, the singer launches into a willowy version of "Just In Time." The ballad "Small World" follows before things liven up to a sprightly "Make Someone Happy" and all-too-brief "Rags To Riches." The torch song closely associated with Frank Sinatra and all those left alone in the corner bar at closing time, "One For My Baby," is given a lighter treatment before Bennett breaks into his just-released, soon-to-be-signature hit, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." Side four opens with a Bennett introduction accompanied by a distant siren, which reestablishes the outdoor venue. With Bennett and the Brubeck trio on stage, things take on an up-tempo, jazzier feel as they work their way through a set of American standards: "Lullaby of Birdland," "Chicago," That Old Black Magic," and "There Will Never Be Another You." The concert ends way too soon, leaving me wanting more.

I was unprepared for the quality of the sound, given the circumstances of the recording. It is remarkably good for its age and captures the event in honest, unfettered fidelity. I’m certain that the remastering by Kevin Gray and Robert Pincus, along with the dead-quiet surfaces of the RTI-pressed vinyl, contributed to this. If the soundstage is a bit flat, blame that on the limits imposed by the outdoor acoustics.

I heartily recommend this set to anyone who wants to settle in for an hour of grand music-making by two masters of the craft. Disappointment is not an option.

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