Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck – The White House Sessions (2013)

If there’s any question as to how off-the-cuff, how gloriously in the moment, this ultra-rare one-off concert collaboration in fact was, one need only hear the lead tune — a fizzy, improv-filled take on “Lullaby of Birdland.”

Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck were tandem performers at the Sylvan Theater, in the shadow of the Washington Monument, on August 28, 1962, when they decided to join each other for a completely unplanned four-song encore — to be issued as part of The White House Sessions, Live 1962 for the first time in its entirety. Due on May 28, 2013 from Columbia-Legacy, the album includes “The Old Black Magic” — which memorably appeared on Brubeck’s Vocal Encounters compilation in 2001 — as well as “Chicago,” “There Will Never Be Another You” and, in a stirring moment of joy-filled musical communication, “Lullaby.”

You hear Bennett cop to the thrown-together nature of the proceedings, saying: “We haven’t rehearsed this folks,” before the George Shearing standard dashes forward. As “Lullaby” begins to coalesce around the familiar lyric from George David Weiss, Bennett throws the evening’s first curve ball — introducing a solo opportunity in mid-phrase: “Come along and listen to the lullaby of — Dave Brubeck!” Brubeck takes a fleet detour, brilliantly exploring outward, only to make a seemingly effortless return to theme, and to Bennett’s vocal.

They’re off and running on what ultimately becomes a far-too-brief quartet of tunes. Both men were clearly emboldened by the surroundings, with Brubeck pouring some grease on “Chicago” and Bennett offering some of the most complex, jazz-inflected phrasing of his lengthy career on “There Will Never Be Another You.” Couple this with his triumphal sessions with Count Basie and Bill Evans, and it’s easy to make the argument for Bennett as one of mid-century pop music’s very best jazz interpreters.

The White House Sessions — available now after the long-missing masters were discovered in a storage area marked for classical recordings — is rounded out by the six-song opening set by Brubeck’s quartet, highlighted by a enthusiastic version of his already-celebrated “Take Five”; and by a seven-track visit from Bennett — who closes with his then-new mainstream hit “(I Left My Heart in) San Francisco.”

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso