Found! The Steve Lawrence Sound

lawrence, steve-sound-WEB2I find myself enjoying jazz vocalists more as I grow older. As much as I love Billie Holiday and early Sarah Vaughn, it’s the sound of a vocalist in front of a 1950s style big band that I’m gravitating towards. So when I chanced upon The Steve Lawrence Sound (1960, United Artists UAL 3098, a mono LP), I picked it up. He often paired with his wife, Eydie Gorme, and may actually be better known for that association, but make no mistake, Lawrence easily holds his own without the soaring voice of Gorme.

Despite the youthful good looks on the cover, Lawrence comes across like a crafty veteran who is in complete control of his voice. There is an easy grace here, augmented by Don Costa’s arrangements. Sinatra had that same quality but Lawrence comes across as more of a jazz singer than Sinatra. Occasionally I’ve found jazz singers fronting a band that is a bit more shlock than jazz, but not here. Costa does a fine job with tasty arrangements that don’t overpower. Even when the horn section blares, they aren’t too loud.

Recording quality is quite nice. Is the bass killing it? Nah. But the rest of the frequency spectrum is nicely balanced. You don’t expect monster bass on a big band record anyway. Smooth mids and highs. The balance between his voice and the band is excellent. A nice, warm reverb on Lawrence’s voice is just enough to differentiate it from the band.

Lawrence’s phrasing is cool and relaxed. There are times when his voice blooms with an open quality that allows the note to keep expanding. It’s one of the reasons why I like him so much. And when he needs to swoop from one note up to another, he glides there without hesitation. It’s a pleasure to listen to a voice like this. It sounds like he loves to sing the song. You can practically see him smiling.

Timing is everything if you’re singing jazz; Lawrence hits the notes when it seems right for him to do so. He isn’t one to sing behind the beat and while there is nothing wrong with that, it’s just his nature to mostly be on the beat. But does he swing? Heck yeah he does. This is jazz singing, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing stilted or stiff. It’s foot tapping good.

Lawrence is singing these songs pretty straight, not taking many chances with the melody line. No crazy changes in the notes that made the song famous. If you like the song, you’ll recognize it immediately and not be off-put by experiments in deconstruction. That’s just not Steve Lawrence. In that regard, he is again Sinatra-like; bringing as much as he can to the original melody.

If you enjoy standards, they’re here. Take All The Things You Are. I’d call this easy listening, if it weren’t for the negative connotation associated with that phrase. I’ll praise Don Costa’s arrangements once again; they augment the melody throughout without needing to turn down the volume, while invigorating the tune with really tasty licks. In just two minutes and 19 seconds, you now know what this song should sound like. All the tunes on the LP are that way, short and swingin’. Cole Porter’s Begin The Beguine has been recorded by dozens of artists, but Lawrence articulates the word Beguine (bee-geen) better than most. Face it, reading the title, one wonders how to pronounce that word. The Beguine was a Caribbean dance that Porter witnessed in Paris. If you want to learn the lyrics to the great American songbook, give a listen.

Similarly, Frenesi is another standard that begs defining. It means frenzy in Spanish and while Lawrence’s version isn’t frantic, there’s plenty of swingin’. There’s a fine tempo to all the tunes here, nothing plods, or races. It’s just right. He also seems to know when to pick up the song, to raise his volume a notch, rewrite just a few notes, just at the right time, without false theatrics. When Lawrence decides to bring it, it fits. That’s not skill, it’s talent.

You could listen to Sinatra, Vaughn, Holiday, Julie London or June Christy. I love ’em all, but I enjoy Steve Lawrence just as much. If you haven’t given him a chance because he has never been associated with the greatest jazz singers, try this LP. A CD two-fer is apparently available from his website.

Got one minute and 18 seconds? Listen to a four tune medley direct from this LP!

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Winners (Columbia CL1963)

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2 thoughts on “Found! The Steve Lawrence Sound

  1. Dude, great post. I also enjoyed learning about your conversion setup. That Black Widow arm looks awfully much like my Linn. Any relation you are aware of? Haven’t found anything much lately – haven’t really looked. I pulled some Erroll Garners, some wierd Scottish stuff, and oddball classical disksoutta that box of records you gave back to me and donated the rest. I still don’t have an amp set up yet, but ordered parts to fix my SCA35. Just don’t have time. I fixed a Rotel for my nephew – looks like a 70’s vintage turntable, semiauto with an S shaped arm. I got an Ortofon cartridge on it and hopefully it will sound OK. I can’t check it out yet….also put on a new belt, lubed the main bearing (with synthetic watch oil, high pressure type – costs $30 a teaspoon!). A friend of mine offered me a pair of Vandersteen 5’s for free. I just don’t have room for 200 lb behemoths. If you’re ever in the Emeryville area hit me up for lunch. There’s a dive Chinese/Soul food place I want to try but nobody here has the guts. M.

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    • Don’t know of any relation to the Linn tonearm, but they have a great reputation for turntables. I was never that much of an E. Garner fan. Vandersteens? Keep those puppies! Put ’em in storage, just don’t tell you-know-who!

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