Milt Gabler may not be the most recognizable name, despite his Lifetime Achievement Award honoree from the Recording Academy and membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but who knew that actor and comedian Billy Crystal is the nephew of this music businessman? On Jan. 11, that relationship will be spread around the world as Verve Records releases Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story, a music and video tribute compilation that will feature songs related to Gabler’s business life.
The 26 songs, selected by Crystal, reflect the variety of genres Gabler worked with in his career. Gabler was the founder of both the Commodore Music Shop in New York and its namesake label and was an executive at Decca Records. He recorded everyone from Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis, Jr. to Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters and even produced the album for Jesus Christ Superstar. During his career, he helped change the face of popular music by releasing Billie Holiday’s controversial Strange Fruit and “(We’re Gonna) Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets; both songs are included on the tribute album.
The rest of the tracks on Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story are primarily from Gabler’s tenure at Decca, although there are a couple tracks from his work at Commodore. “Love is Just around the Corner” by Eddie Condon and His Windy City Seven, “That’s a Plenty” by Wild Bill Davison and His Commodores and “Them There Eyes” by The Kansas City Six are all album tracks from Commodore.
Gabler’s work at Decca is reflected in the diversity of the album’s tracks, which range from “Flying Home” by Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra to “Lover” by Peggy Lee. The songs “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” by Louis Jordan and His Tympany 5, “Danke Schöen” by Wayne Newton and Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” were also co-written by Gabler.
January 11 will also see the release of Billy Remembers Billie, a selection of Billie Holiday’s Commodore and Decca works chosen by Crystal. Crystal said he remembers Holiday as “the lady with the scratchy voice” from his childhood who took Crystal to his first movie when he was five. This album contains songs such as “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “As Time Goes By” and “Embraceable You.”
Both compilations include commentary by Billy Crystal and Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story also includes a DVD portion that features home videos of the Gabler/Crystal family and an interview with Crystal speaking about both his uncle and his own involvement in the album.
Crystal will also pay tribute to his late uncle with his one-man Broadway show 700 Sundays, which will include reminiscences of his uncle as well as much of the music found on Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story.