Elusive-Lee

Simply titled Two Shows Nightly, it has remained the Holy Grail of Peggy Lee albums for over 40 years. In the discography attached to Lee’s 1989 memoir, there appears the (likely apocryphal) footnote that “fewer than 10 copies have been traced as in existence in private collections in the USA.”

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Peggy Lee
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The intent was to capture Lee live during an April 1968 appearance at what was then her Manhattan venue of choice, the Copacabana. The recordings were made over a series of three evenings then, like all of Lee’s “live” recordings, subsequently “sweetened” in the studio.

As the 1960s were drawing to a close, Lee remained one of the few star vocalists under contract to a major record company. Sinatra, of course, had his own Reprise label (distributed by Capitol). At Columbia, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand and Andy Williams continued to sell well. But Rosemary Clooney, Anita O’Day, Chris Connor, Ella, Sarah, Carmen and too many others of their elite ilk were either bouncing from one small label to the next or were entirely unattached. Nor was Lee’s recording schedule as robust as it had been. Earlier in the decade, it wasn’t unusual for her to release three or even four albums within a single year. By 1967, the output had slowed to two, and for ’68, the Copa album was the only one on Capitol’s docket.

Scheduled for release in November, Two Shows Nightly was pressed and ready to ship when Lee pulled the plug, claiming dissatisfaction with the final mix. A few finished albums, mostly promotional copies intended for radio stations and reviewers, did slip out. Over the years, on the rare occasion when one surfaced, collectors didn’t hesitate to pay in the high triple digits.

In 1996, a bootleg disc, released on the overseas Entertainers label, earned fairly wide circulation. The disc, called Peggy Lee In Concert, combined the 12 tracks from Two Shows Nightly (transferred directly from a vinyl copy of the album, with several of Lee’s spoken remarks edited out) with 11 from Lee’s 1961 Basin Street East album.

Finally, late last year, California-based Collectors’ Choice Music was granted permission by Lee’s estate to officially release Two Shows Nightly, together with a dozen near-equally rare bonus tracks, on CD.

In typical Lee fashion, she opens with a swinging number, Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim’s lilting “Do I Hear A Waltz” from the moderate 1965 Broadway hit of the same name (a musical adaptation of the Arthur Laurents play Time of the Cuckoo, also the basis for the Katharine Hepburn film Summertime). Never included on any of Lee’s studio albums, it is her only recording of the lovely and too-rarely-covered tune. Next, Lee slows the proceedings, invading the pop hit parade for a deeply poignant reading of Jimmy Webb’s megahit for Glen Campbell, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Lee stays in a contemporary groove for a borderline psychedelic shimmy through Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” and an appropriately dreamy treatment of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It.”

As a salute to her audience of Manhattanites, Lee offers a preview of “My Personal Property,” the peppy New York travelogue penned by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields for the still-to-be-released film version of Sweet Charity, starring Shirley MacLaine. The Copa orchestra, including Lee’s frequent studio and stage collaborator Toots Thielemans plus Grady Tate, Hubert Laws and Lou Levy, revs it up for Lee’s own, inspirational “Hand on the Plow,” then slows to a lullaby pace for Buffy Sainte Marie’s tenderly fragile “Until It’s Time for You to Go.” Thielemans’ whistling figures prominently in a bossa-fueled “Somethin’ Stupid,” one of only two selections (along with “Come Back to Me”) culled from recent Lee albums. (A more tepid version led off Lee’s 1967 release Somethin’ Groovy!)

Another recent Broadway musical, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s I Do! I Do! was the source for “What Is a Woman?,” a contemplative confection ideally suited to Lee and, stylistically, a precursor to her 1969 smash “Is That All There Is?” The sly, sexy “Alright, Okay, Win,” recorded by Lee in 1957 and again in 1966, and presented as a call-and-response with the orchestra, is Two Shows Nightly’s only nod to pre-1960s material.

In closing, she raises a toast to the audience with “Here’s to You,” a delightful, multilingual salutation composed a year earlier by Lee for her dear friend Cary Grant, then encores with a thundering “Come Back to Me” (from Broadway’s On A Clear Day You Can See Forever that is a near note-for-note replica of the rendition included on her 1996 LP Big Spender.

First-time listeners might question Lee’s original concerns about sound quality. But for the Collectors’ Choice release, re-mastered from the original Capitol two-track tapes, the once murky sound has been significantly improved.

As for the bonus tracks, the dozen additions are all singles and unreleased tracks spanning the half-decade from 1964 to ’68. Two, the gentle “Stay with Me” and bouncy “Happy Feet,” were written by Lee and Quincy Jones for 1966’s Walk Don’t Run, the film that marked Cary Grant’s final screen appearance. Two others from the Two Shows Nightly playlist, “Reason to Believe” and “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It,” are studio recordings from later in ’68. Tim Hardin is again represented with a guitar-driven treatment of “Misty Roses.” Also included: Lee’s enchantingly playful treatment of “Make Believe” recorded in 1964 (and previously available only on the 1992 CD release Capitol Sings Jerome Kern), plus the quirky Lee composition “I Wound It Up” and the rock anthem “Money,” John Sebastian’s curious homage to cash flow. But surely the oddest track is “That Man,” Lee’s bizarre valentine to Batman. It was originally intended for inclusion on her 1966 album Big Spender, but didn’t actually surface until several years later on a compilation of Batman-related tunes. As Lee enthuses in the lyric, “Holy popcorn!”

Interestingly, the cover image of Lee for Two Shows Nightly and the font chosen for the display type are the same as those used for 1967’s Somethin’ Groovy!, though the photo is more tightly cropped and is juxtaposed with a black-and-white shot of an eager crowd filing into the Copa.

Adding to the immense worth of the Two Shows Nightly disc are Iván Santiago’s engaging and extensively detailed liner notes. Santiago is also the creator of the online Peggy Lee Discography (www.jazzdiscography.com/artists/lee), a remarkably comprehensive source for information about Lee’s recordings, concert dates and radio, TV and film appearances.

Oh, and speaking of Lee rarities, diehard aficionados might also want to pick up Petula Clark’s Duets, a compendium released a couple of years ago by Varèse Sarabande. Included among the 16 tracks is a 1970 pairing of Petula and Peggy on a custom-tailored version of “I’m A Woman” entwined with “Wedding Bell Blues.” It’s from the 1970 TV special Petula. The sound quality is surprisingly good, and it captures Lee at her
insouciant best.
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If you’d like to share your thoughts on Peggy Lee or any other vocal topic, you can reach me at jtvocaljazz@gmail.com. And, as always, I’m interested in creative ideas for future installments of Hearing Voices.

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