Recently I had the privilege of producing an album with Patti Page featuring the Lou Stein Trio. This was the very next album after I produced Doris Day “With Love.” There will be a follow-up post regarding my process on this album, but for now these are the liner notes and review by Los Angeles jazz journalist, Scott Yanoh:
When one thinks of Patti Page, it is of a very appealing pop and country vocalist who had a giant hit with “Tennessee Waltz” and recorded other best sellers including “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window.” More than 60 years after her heyday in the 1950s, she is still remembered today for her warm voice and accessible style.
But even her longtime fans will likely be surprised by the music on this release, for Patti Page is not generally thought of as a jazz singer. However early in her career and on a few occasions later in the 1950s, she showed that she sounded quite at home swinging jazz standards. Hindsight’s reissue of these classic performances with the Lou Stein quartet sound brand new for they have been enhanced quite tastefully by the arrangements and orchestrations of John Forbes.
Patti Page was born as Clara Ann Fowler on November 8, 1927 in Claremore, Oklahoma. She grew up as one of 11 children in a poor family, living in a house without electricity. After graduating from high school in 1945, she became a professional singer, working with Al Clauser’s Oklahoma Outlaws and making her recording debut. She started using the name Patti Page after she was given that title on a radio show sponsored by the Page Milk Company. Discovered by Jack Rael who managed the Jimmy Joy Band, she joined the orchestra, touring for a year until she landed in Chicago. While there she signed a contract with the Mercury label and recorded with the Eddie Getz Orchestra and guitarist George Barnes. In 1948 Page sang with the Benny Goodman Septet which included the bop clarinetist Stan Hasselgard and tenor-saxophonist Wardell Gray. While that unit did not make any commercial recordings due to the musicians’ recording strike, broadcasts exist that find Patti Page sounding quite comfortable performing with the King of Swing.
In 1948, Patti Page had her first hit, “Confess.” On that song via overdubbing she became the first pop artist to harmonize her own vocals on a recording. That was the start of a solo career that would find her selling over 100 million copies of her recordings including 15 million sellers during 1950-65: “With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming,” “All My Love,” “The Tennessee Waltz,” “Would I Love You,” “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “Mister and Mississippi,” “Detour,” “I Went To Your Wedding,” “(How Much Is) That Doggie In The Window,” “Changing Partners,” “Cross Over The Bridge,” “Let Me Go, Lover,” “Allegheny Moon,” “Old Cape Cod,” and “Let Right Out Of Your Heart.” Considered the top female pop singer of the 1950s, she was a regular on television (including having her own specials and even a series during 1955), and also worked as an actress, appearing in 1960’s Elmer Gantry.
In her career, Patti Page had 110 hits and recorded 39 studio albums. Her recordings continued selling well in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, particularly in the country market, and she remained active in live performances until her retirement in 2012. She passed away on Jan. 1, 2013 at the age of 85.
While most of her recordings fall easily into pre-rock and roll pop music, country, ballads, novelties, and easy-listening, Patti Page loved jazz standards and during 1956-59 she recorded three excellent albums (Patti Page In The Land Of Hi-Fi, The East Side, and The West Side) in which she was accompanied by jazz all-stars and the arrangements of Pete Rugolo. However the music on This Can’t Be Love is from an earlier period when the singer was just starting to achieve her first successes.
On Nov. 30, 1950 and Nov. 16, 1951, Patti Page recorded two sessions for the Lang-Worth Transcription radio service. The singer is heard backed by the great pianist Lou Stein and his quartet on a set of tunes that were mostly from the swing era. Those radio transcriptions were not sold to the general public and instead were designed for radio stations to use as fill-ins between shows in case their live programs ended early. After the mid-1950s, the performances went unheard for decades before their rediscovery.
On this new reissue, the recordings come with something extra, the tasteful arrangements and orchestrations of John Forbes who directed and produced the release. To say that Forbes has had a diverse and busy career would be an understatement. Born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, he studied classical piano for 14 years, attended the Berklee College of Music in the mid-1980s, and in Austin, Texas played with the popular reggae band “The Killer Bees.” During 1989-95 he worked as an r&b/Hip Hop keyboardist for Bobby Brown, touring the world. Forbes developed his talents as a programmer and a producer during that era. He next worked with The Gnarley Braus, a band that became Cross Culture when it was signed to Warner Bros. Forbes arranged and played keyboards with Rick James, worked as a keyboardist and orchestra for six of Tyler Perry’s plays on and off Broadway, and became very active on television shows and films. In addition to working with Shawn Rivera and Leona Lewis, he has his own studio and production facility, producing music for a countless number of film, television and recording projects.
Hindsight hired John Forbes for their previous Doris Day album on which he added his arrangements to performances which feature Day singing with the Page Cavanaugh Trio. “Those were songs that I remember my Mom singing when I was five years old,” he recalls. “I used a small ensemble orchestration that was cello-heavy with woodwinds as the only horns. That was also my recipe for the harmony support that I use for the Patti Page album. Patti Page sings like a horn player with her phrasing, and she really burns. I laid the arrangements out after I really dug into the music and knew each song completely. I was careful to not step on her singing, complementing her phrasing and following Lou Stein’s lead.” Forbes remembers with affection and joy the period that he spent studying the recordings. “I have always had a deep love and respect or jazz. I love Lou Stein’s playing. I spent a lot of time playing along with him in the studio while doing the orchestration; it was quite fun.”
Although never a major name, Lou Stein (1922-2002) was a very valuable pianist to have around. He began his career in 1942 performing with Ray McKinley’s big band before being drafted. While in the military, he had an opportunity to work with the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band before it went to England. After his discharge, he resumed playing with McKinley, was part of the popular Charlie Ventura group during 1946-47, and then became a studio musician. A versatile and virtuosic pianist, Stein appeared in many different settings in his career, always finding time to play jazz, from Dixieland to swing and bebop. Along the way he worked with Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughan, Yank Lawson, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Charlie Parker, Louie Bellson, Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Lee Konitz and, later in his career, with Joe Venuti (1969-72) and Flip Phillips. He also led at least 16 albums as a leader.
For the Patti Page sessions, Stein utilized bassist Jack Lesberg and drummer Allen Hanlow. Lesberg (1920-2005) had a long career that included working regularly with Eddie Condon (1945-50), being a studio musician, touring with the Louis Armstrong All-Stars in 1956, visiting Europe in 1957 with a group co-led by Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines, and playing with Sarah Vaughan, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, and symphony orchestras.
In contrast, virtually nothing is known about Allen Hanlow beyond his participation on these sessions. Even more mysterious is the identity of the guitarist. There are two possible suspects. Starting in 1951 and occurring much more in the middle of the decade, Lou Stein often crossed paths with his fellow studio musician guitarist Tony Mottola (1918-2004). A bit of a musical chameleon, Mottola started out performing swing but could play credibly in practically any popular style as he showed on his dozen albums as a leader. It is possible that he is heard here as part of Stein’s band. To make things a bit more confusing, Lou Stein was on several sessions during 1950-56 that included guitarist Allen Hanlon. Could Hanlon’s name have been misspelled as Hanlow and his instrument mixed up in the listings?
Much less debatable is the quality of the singing and the playing during these two sessions. From her first unaccompanied note on the opening “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” it is obvious that Patti Page was a great singer who was always very much in-tune, perfectly placing her notes and swinging at every tempo. During the Duke Ellington piece, Stein’s half-chorus solo and accompaniment, along with the quiet support from the rhythm section, serve the music and the singer quite well. On “Blue Moon” as is true elsewhere, John Forbes’ arrangement for his little orchestra uplifts the music while never getting in the way of the singing and piano. It is all so subtle and tasteful that it sounds quite natural.
On “This Can’t Be Love,” Patti Page shows that she can swing at a fast pace, certainly not sounding like a pop or country singer in this setting, and she really seems to be smiling during the final chorus. “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” starts as a waltz and then surprisingly cooks; if only this version had been much longer than its two choruses. The even briefer “I’ll Never Smile Again” has superior ballad singing that is uplifted by the strings. “Exactly Like You” includes a tantalizing eight-bar solo by the mystery guitarist along with a short waltz interlude in the final chorus.
Patti Page pours her heart out on “Don’t Blame Me” and then sounds joyous on “It All Depends On You.” “I Can’t Get Started” begins as a duet with the guitarist before the orchestra and eventually the rhythm section join in to accentuate the thoughtful mood. “It Started All Over Again” was a hit for Brenda Lee in 1962. One hears Patti Page singing her own rewarding version from 11 years earlier. Listed in previous releases as “Prisoner’s Blues” and “Oklahoma Blues,” the next tune is actually “The Prisoner’s Song” which Bunny Berigan had recorded as a stirring instrumental in 1937. Patti Page interprets it as a heartfelt ballad. After a jubilant version of “The Glory Of Love” and a torch song interpretation of “You’ve Changed,” the set concludes with the obscure but happy swinger “Goody Goodbye.”
John Forbes sums up the project. “The music is timeless and these songs will be around forever. Hearing Patti Page, it is obvious that this was a real singer as opposed to many of today’s vocalists who have to use auto tune. The standards of the time were so high. It is a real thrill to hear her singing jazz on this level.”
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including Swing and The Jazz Singers.