Classy music: Astaire and Cooke

Two albums I’ve been listening to pretty much non-stop the past few days:

The Astaire Story

Vocals and occasional footwork by Fred Astaire, and accompaniment by the Jazz at the Philharmonic crew, most notably Oscar Peterson on piano. Many (if not most) of the songs come from Astaire’s films, so expect a lot of Gershwin, Berlin and Porter, but the arrangements have been slowed down and loosened up, making for a wonderfully low-key affair. Astaire’s voice isn’t exactly a stunner on any technical level, but his phrasing is so playful and his delivery so sincere that he puts to shame a lot of more full-throated competitors.

Sample songs:
They Can’t Take That Away From Me

S’Wonderful

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Sam Cooke – My Kind of Blues

But if you do want a stunning voice, it’s hard to do much better than Sam Cooke. He’s more often remembered for the upbeat  “Wonderful World” (the one with “Don’t know much about science book”, not to be confused with the Louis Armstrong song) and protest classic “A Change is Gonna Come” — although his “Bring It On Home to Me” is one of the all-time heartbroken soul classics — but his blues album is brilliant through and through. It’s still more a pop album than blues, with bright horns and fairly gentle swing, but Cooke’s vocals tease the emotions out of every line.

Sample songs:
Baby Won’t You Please Come Home
You’re Always On My Mind

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