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Doris Day: Her Jazziest Moment

Remembering a singer with the voice of a friend

Doris Day (with Les Brown in the mirror) backstage at the Aquarium, New York, July 1946
Doris Day (with Les Brown in the mirror) backstage at the Aquarium, New York, July 1946 (photo: William P. Gottlieb Collection/Library of Congress)

There are certain singers we might consider ’tweeners, occupying some liminal space between jazz and pop. Judy Garland is one of these, though I’ve always heard the commanding jazzer’s way with phrasing in her voice. So too with the recently deceased Doris Day, ever since I first experienced her breathy melismas from “Que Sera Sera” in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Day certainly racked up the pop hits over the course of two decades, starting with back-to-back No. 1s in 1945 with “Sentimental Journey” and “My Dreams are Getting Better All the Time.” She viewed herself as a singer before being an actress, but she was equally devoted to both sides of her creative persona. In fact, Day often sang as Day characters acted, exemplifying the same ideals of a nextdoorness, we might say, that lent the feeling that one had a human angel for a neighbor. Day’s gift was in conjuring a version of this singing and acting self that was a part of our respective worlds, but just a tiny bit beyond them at the same time—though not so much as to be ostentatiously beyond, or make us quibble that ours was not enough.

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Colin Fleming

Colin Fleming writes fiction and nonfiction on myriad topics—art, film, music, sports, literature—for a wide range of publications. He also talks regularly on the radio for the likes of NPR and Downtown with Rich Kimball. His most recent book, Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls (Tailwinds), was published in 2019, with an entry in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club to follow in 2020. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com (where you’ll also find his unique online journal, the Many Moments More blog) and on Twitter @colinfleminglit. He lives in Boston and has contributed to JazzTimes since 2006.