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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 (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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