January 1st – Jack Jones – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I get a bit defensive about Jack Jones.  I can’t understand why, for example, when virtually everything recorded by Tony Bennett is (rightly) available on CD, the majority of Jones’ 60s and 70s albums have never been reissued.  Perhaps because he is younger and not touched by the romanticism of the ‘swing era’ he is bracketed and dismissed as ‘easy listening’ – that vapid term that condescends to both audiences and artists, brackets the likes of Burt Bacharach with Andre Rieu and manages to imply that  the output of say, Karen Carpenter, somehow demands less of a listener than that of Ellie Goulding.  Of course music shouldn’t, necessarily, be ‘hard’ but neither do I think the term ‘easy listening’ is primarily meant to imply quality.

Yet that is exactly what Jones’ music has been throughout his career.  He’s worked with most of the top arrangers (Paich, Riddle, May) and some that are less well known but equally accomplished (Pete King).  His big hits (Wives and Lovers, Lollipops and Roses, Call Me Irresponsible) are pure class.  Most importantly, singing as beautifully, as simply and with the shades of emotion that Jones summons is HARD.  Just try singing along with this one if you don’t believe me!

He is virtually unique among the major exponents of the Great American Songbook in that he draws equally on what are often seen as opposing traditions.  He grew up with Sinatra, Tormé, Bennett et al but his father, Allan Jones, was a tenor star of 30s and 40s movie musicals (most notably the 1936 Show Boat) and it’s probably because of the classical training that his father insisted upon that Jones fils is still singing so well today.  Two years ago I heard him sing The Impossible Dream with more energy and passion than many singers half his age.  Given his background, comparisons with the likes of Vic Damone make at least as much sense as with Sinatra et al.  Like Damone, he can swing if he wants to but his key selling points are a lovely voice and direct emotional connection to a lyric – and, while Vic has just about the most beautiful voice in pop, Jack brings a greater variety of tone and emotional shading.  It didn’t hurt that he was also much sexier than his other nearest rival, Andy Williams.  In fact he mastered the art of combining sex and romance (even Sinatra tended to go for one or the other).  And, more than any other male singer of his era – with the exception of the otherwise very different Bobby Darin – he is just as adept at standards as he is at pop songs – check out his version of Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows.

While RCA seem uninterested in reissuing his albums (his earlier Kapp LPs have appeared on CD in dribs and drabs), Jones has pressed up a few of them himself and they’re available via his website.  Along with collections of Legrand and Aznavour songs, there’s his 1969 Christmas With Jack Jones.  Pete King’s arrangement of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas starts in a rather dark place but, as Jones begins to sing, the winter sun comes out and all is comfort and warmth.