In 1960, the New Latin Quarter — Japan’s largest night club — began booking leading American recording stars for its then newly re-built Tokyo venue. Long after the club closed, the discovery of 47 reel-to-reel tapes, comprising some 300 recorded live performances at the NLQ, renewed interest in the glory years of the New Latin Quarter. Jay Warner, CEO of National League Music, an international publishing company, learned of the find and is releasing a number of volumes from that treasure trove. By the time you read this review, Volume 3 will have been issued. Vol. 1 is a name-dropper’s dream, but an audiophile’s nightmare. The headliners at the mike come through fairly clearly, but the orchestral backings of glitzy, well-played arrangements are barely heard. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of all 14 music tracks covering years 1960 through 1970.
Nat King Cole, supported by an energetic house band and an unnecessary harmonica, gives a surprisingly husky version of “The Way You Look Tonight.” Nancy Wilson, at the fastest possible tempo, chases “The Man That Got Away” and handles the wordy tune remarkably well. Don’t know how the unidentified bassist managed to hang in there. Keely Smith, who wasted her vocal talents for so many years as Louis Prima’s deadpan shadow, shows her firm intonation on “I Wish You Love.” Remember Caterina Valente? She sings “How Deep Is the Ocean?” Again, maximum speed; again that poor, unheralded bassist comes through. But it’s Valente’s moment in the spotlight and she shines with a hint of scat and her impressive range when she ends by leaping an octave to a high B-flat.
What’s Chubby Checker doing in this jazz-flavored setting? He’s trying a different “twist” by singing a serious ballad, “Georgia On My Mind,” compensating for his inability to sustain long tones by wrapping himself in deep echoes. Contrast comes from Louis Armstrong’s 1963 combo that featured the sassy Jewel Brown singing “All of Me,” showing her instinctive musical sense of humor. Only problem with the track: Satchmo is obscured: the only members of the front line who project cleanly are trombonist Trummy Young and clarinetist Joe Darensbourg. Patti Page, more successful at chatting with ringsiders than swinging, finally renders a ho-hum version of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” in 3/4, 4/4, and back to 3/4. None of them works. Julie London and Bobby Troup, backed by guitar alone, perform the first of three Troup originals, “Like It or Not.” Great material. The highlight of the album comes from Sammy Davis, Jr., who was one of jazzdom’s hippest jazz stylists. His offering: “The Lady Is a Tramp,” with some added lines. Back to Bobby Troup for a listless solo reading of “Route 66.” Another highlight: the Mills Brothers, with a relaxed, swinging “Basin Street Blues,” accompanied, of course, by their own, built-in horns. London and Troup return for “Daddy,” which, based on audience reaction, must have been a visual blast. Musically, it’s good, thanks to Julie. Bobby just couldn’t match her energy that March night in ’64.
The final two tracks are great swingers. Harry James and band play “2 O’Clock Jump,” with altoist Joe Riggs taking an exciting solo and drummer Buddy Rich dominating a reprise of the chart at twice the speed. Satchmo tries to encourage a sing-along for the closer, a spirited “When the Saints Go Marching In,” then reveals his lovable personality at the end when he has all his colleagues bow.