Wednesday's HOT MIC
Your P.M. Post-Political Palate Cleanser
I've been a Boz Scaggs fan since the mid '70s. That's when Silk Degrees came out, and even though I was only seven or eight at the time, "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" left an immediate and long-lasting impression. A couple years later, Boz released Middle Man. Even though the album as a whole was disappointing, the single "Jojo" sealed the deal on my lifelong Scaggs fandom.
For what it's worth, "Jojo" remains to this day the best-ever song about a pimp. So gangsta rap artists, please take note because "Jojo" is how it's done.
But we're not here to talk about any of that.
Years later, back in 2003, Boz released But Beautiful: Standards, Vol. 1. Talk about unexpected -- and an unexpected delight. Who knew that the R&B/Rock/Pop legend could be such a talented and tender interpreter of vocal jazz standards?
The jerks at Allmusic.com (I don't actually know any of them; they might be fine people) hated this album, but I think it's damn-near flawless. Boz's vocals are never forced, his phrasing is warm and underplayed, and his quartet sounds exactly what a smoky jazz club quartet should sound like: The soundtrack to drinking away your sorrows.
I have to admit to some bias on that score, having spent my elementary and middle school weekends getting dragged by Mom to every smoky jazz club in and around St. Louis. This was so long ago that yes, you could still smoke in jazz clubs. And yes, there were still jazz clubs. Lots of them.
So I grew up weird, but lucky. Probably the first hundred or so live acts I heard were little jazz combos. They were usually led by a pianist playing in the Oscar Peterson style -- sometimes with a vocalist, sometimes not -- taking on standards by Basie, Ellington, Mercer, Arlen, Porter, Rogers & Hart... all those guys.
I would wager, since it was Mom's favorite song and she had made friends with damn near every trio/quartet/quintet/sextet in town, that I have heard "Satin Doll" more times than Sir Duke himself. But that's another story.
Boz didn't record "Satin Doll" for But Beautiful. But he did do an impressive job on Duke's "Sophisticated Lady," which is just about as wistfully blue a song as anyone ever wrote. And Boz's performance here... to my ears, it rivals Rosemary Clooney's 1956 (I think) recording, which had previously been my favorite.
I will admit to one complaint, however. Boz released Standards Vol. 1 15 years ago, and we're still waiting ever-so-impatiently for Vol. 2.
So get the jazz band back together, Boz -- pronto! And while you're at it, would you put in a good word with Robert Plant to get The Honeydrippers together just one more time? We've been waiting for their Vol. 2 for over 30 years now.