Spotlight on ……
Few can match the lifelong extraordinary talent of Buddy Greco. His peers have called him a singer's singer and a musician's musician. As a child radio personality and gifted pianist he was a performing veteran by the age of 18 when in he recorded his first. He has been internationally recognized year after year as one of the top Jazz pianists and vocalists of our time. He has appeared on every major television show and venue in the United States and throughout the world. He has sold more than one million records. He is well known for releasing songs from every genre, from jazz to country to pop music. He has performed on stage, on film and on television.
Buddy Greco has been around since the early 40s when he started playing dives in his native Philadelphia in a band with a young Stan Getz. Born Armando Greco on 14 August 1926, Buddy Greco began singing and playing the piano at the age of four. The son of a music critic who had his own radio show on station WPEN, Buddy himself appeared on WPEN at the age of five, initially making his mark as a singer and actor. Later on, like his two brothers, he studied to become a pianist, practising and playing at the Philadelphia Settlement House, a 10-block complex of recreational and hobby facilities, where so many of the city’s youthful musicians congregated. Greco led his own trio during 1944-49, and recorded a major hit version of Carmen Lombardo’s ‘Oh Look At Her Ain’t She Pretty’.
The record sold a million copies and earned the youngster a cool $33.00 in royalties but it was enough to interest Benny Goodman when he spotted the young lad while was playing at Philadelphia's Club 13. The bandleader was impressed by Greco's talents and offered him a job as a pianist, singer and arranger with the Goodman orchestra. The young singer immediately accepted and for the next two year travelled the world with one of the most popular big bands of the '30s, including an appearance with Goodman’s sextet at the London Palladium in 1949. He embarked on several tours with the band and his vocals gracing such Goodman sides as ‘It Isn’t Fair’, ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me’, ‘The Land of Oo-Bla-Dee’ and ‘Brother Bill’.
By 1951 Greco had become a solo act once more, gaining a regular spot on the Broadway Open House television show and providing Coral Records with a hit single in ‘I Ran All The Way Home’. He also won many lucrative nightclub engagements, one of which provided the bestselling album Buddy Greco At Mister Kelly’s, a superb document of his appearances at the Chicago club in 1955. Greco’s biggest hit was still to come, a non-stop, grab-at-the-lyrics version of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, cut for Epic Records in 1960. This track sold over a million copies worldwide and gave the singer his first UK chart entry.
During the late 60s and 70s Greco became increasingly associated with the British show business scene, playing dates at London’s Talk Of The Town, appearing on the Royal Command Performance and recording an instrumental album with the London Symphony Orchestra.
After headlining on the Vegas strip for more than a decade, the 60s saw him based at the famous Sands Hotel, where he shot to stardom as an original member of The Rat Pack.
Rival, Friend and inspiration - Ol' Blue Eyes was all three of these things, says Greco.
He said: "First of all, he was one of my dearest friends and second of all, he was an incredible inspiration, not just to me but to a lot of the young singers, like myself, who were coming in at the time." "Frank made it possible for us to make a good living."
"Buddy can make anything swing - nobody comes close in that department." - Frank Sinatra
"Buddy Greco's world is a very, very swinging world." - Sammy Davis Jnr
If you haven't heard Buddy's classic '50s and '60s albums, you've missed out. He may do standards, but he does them with an almost punk-rock edge. He doesn't just sing songs; he attacks them, jacking up the tempos and working himself and his band into a controlled frenzy. His phrasing is pure attitude and he messes with lyrics, inserting lines like "I crave affection, baby, but not when I drive" into "The Lady Is A Tramp." In short, once a song has been Buddy-ized, you'll never hear it the same way again.
In Las Vegas' swingin' heyday, Buddy Greco's pizzazz got him recording deals, regular radio and television appearances and gigs everywhere from the Sands Hotel to the London Palladium, where he was on the bill with an up-and-coming act called the Beatles. His records never sold in Sinatra-type numbers, but the best of them hold up today -- I Like It Swinging and Let's Love, his two LPs from 1961, are among the finest pop vocal albums ever waxed, and are still criminally unavailable on CD.
During the 1960s Greco seriously began a career in television and film and by 1967 was a regular performer on the television series Away We Go. This nationwide show gave the singer enormous exposure. He followed this series with a part in the 1969 film, The Girl Who Knew Too Much.
When the British Invasion spoiled the tux-clad crooners' party, Buddy rolled with the punches, covering Lennon-McCartney and Herman's Hermits along with Ellington and Cy Coleman. He even did a jazzy, oddly appealing album of Hank Williams covers. Frank Sinatra, a longtime friend and admirer, got Buddy a deal with Reprise Records, where he cut a few Dean Martin-esque pop albums.
Like most of his peers, Buddy lost his way in the '70s and '80s, growing his hair long and recording misguided covers of Elton John and Marvin Gaye songs (he said of the era, "I think it was a case of mass insanity"). But as the millennium neared its end, he found his way back to jazz and standards, and he hadn't lost a beat.
Abandoned by Vegas -- which is no longer hospitable to anyone born after about 1960, let alone people who were performing on the Strip back then -- Buddy's found a new home in Palm Springs, CA, where he achieved one of his long-time desires and opened his own nightclub. Not only does he run the place, but he performs there several nights a week with his wife, Lezlie Anders, who looks and sounds a hell of a lot like Peggy Lee.
And that's not all. His latest album, Back To Basics, is the most cookin' thing he's done in 40 years. All this at an age when he's supposed to be sitting back in the Old Crooners Home and reminiscing about hanging out with the Rat Pack.
One of the most -- if not the most -- notorious Hollywood deaths was that of Marilyn Monroe. On August 5, 1962, her psychiatrist called the LAPD and reported that the actress was found dead in her Brentwood home. Her death was listed as "probable suicide" from "acute barbiturate poisoning," but over the years her death has been entangled in conspiracy theories. It might have been the Kennedys, since she had affairs with both political boys. It might have been the mafia or even the CIA.
Much like the death of Natalie Wood, Monroe's final moments have been a curiosity-filled mystery. Buddy Greco met the actress on her last weekend alive, and recently recounted the experience for the first time to Peter Evans and The Daily Mail. It's a fascinating read detailing the ambiguity still surrounding Miss Monroe, Greco's recollections, and even his own memories of being on the scene the day she was discovered: " I can still recall the haunting sound of the antique wind chimes -- a gift to her from the poet Carl Sandburg -- that hung beside her pool, on which floated a child's plastic yellow duck. It was a melancholy sight."
Greco explained to Evans how Monroe visited Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe ("a notorious mafia haunt") five days before she died, spending time with Greco, former lover Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and more. Monroe was devastated that she was dumped by Robert Kennedy, and spent one night at the Lodge, getting drunk, infuriating Sinatra, and having to be carried out.
The piece does tease the possibility that Sinatra had her killed and that this visit was the last straw, and Greco is speaking out as part of his publicity for a new tour, but it's still a fascinating read, one that will perk up those questions and conspiracy-laden thoughts once again.
Even after more than four decades of performing, Greco still remains one of the most widely known singers of his time. In the early 90s he toured with "The Salute to the Benny Goodman Band." The ensemble performed 72 shows, each garnering a standing ovation. He performed for two years at The Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas and in 1996 ended two world tours at Café Royale in London.
Buddy has been honoured by his hometown and was inducted into the Philadelphia Music Alliance's 'Walk Of Fame and has entries in both the Encyclopedia of Great Musicians and the Encyclopedia of Great Jazz Singers and Musicians. His musical abilities live on in his more than 60 albums and more than 100 hit singles. He writes and records scores for both television and film.
One of the rising stars in independent film, director Joshua Dragotta, recently released The Buddy Greco Sessions, an introspective music documentary about the latest collaboration between the legendary lounge musician Buddy Greco and his wife Leslie along with lounge masters The Martini Kings in North Hollywood at Entourage Studios.
The Buddy Greco Sessions revolve around the creation of the new album Girl Talk, filled with great lyrics, strong instrumental accompaniment, and that vibe The Martini Kings and Buddy Greco have done well to cultivate. Dragotta uses his assets in this piece to the fullest, taking the viewer behind the curtain thanks to great access to the subject matter. His intuitive eye explores the admiration The Martini Kings have for the legendary Buddy Greco (all from Philly, Tri-State Area), but also the creative process that was utilized in the collaboration. The spontaneity of the process drove the project, creating a "just playing" attitude in the studio and the results created an album that will appeal to the fans of The Martini Kings, Buddy Greco, and the retro smooth sound of lounge music.
This well-travelled and appreciated performer claims to have played every major club in the world on at least two occasions, and was still touring round some of them again in the late 80s. In the early 90s he re-established himself in Britain with some well-received cabaret appearances at London’s Café Royal.
To date, Buddy's particular favourite album is the one he made with the London Symphony Orchestra, which he arranged, conducted and played piano. 'Mac Arthur Park' dedicated to Buddy by its composer, Jimmy Webb is Buddy's favourite composition and it is his symphonic instrumental, which closes each of his shows.
Sixty years after he worked for Benny Goodman at the London Palladium and forty years after a Royal Command Performance with The Beatles for the Queen of England, he is still in great demand. He recently concluded a tour that took him to 72 cities performing 72 unforgettable shows, which drew standing ovations to capacity crowds.
His latest project is one where he collaborates with his beautiful wife of 15 years, vocalist Lezlie Anders, in the stage show ‘FEVER! The Music of Miss Peggy Lee', which has met with critical acclaim, and opened in London's West End in the spring of 2010. He ha since toured the USA to sell out audiences.
The show had been in the making for a few years but it is also about connections that started many years ago. After all, both Buddy Greco and Peggy Lee got their initial boost in their careers by performing with Benny Goodman. This show is very close to both Greco’s and Anders’ hearts. Buddy was a dear friend of Peggy Lee for a long time, which was his motivation for doing the show
Peggy Lee, originally Norma Egstrom from South Dakota, passed away in 2002. She was known for her sultry, alluring vocals, which she adopted after successfully getting an audience’s attention in the days when she was just starting her singing career exploration. She was attempting to sing over a loud din in a club in Palm Springs. Then as soon as she lowered her singing voice, the whole room hushed and her style was born. Further along the way but not much, she was singing at the Buttery in Chicago. Benny Goodman was looking for a replacement singer when he happened into the club where Peggy was singing and she was hired essentially on the spot. She started her Goodman Tour with no rehearsals. Lee didn’t think of herself as a jazz singer but jazz musicians of the time, like Louis Armstrong, said she was because she knew how to swing. And knowing well how to swing, Greco and Anders carry her music into the present. From the first drum roll and sustained piano chords of the overture at the beginning of the show, to the melodic strands of "I’ll Be Seeing You" accompanying the bows at the end, listeners are transported, with the musical talents of Buddy Greco and Lezlie Anders as guides, to a time when Peggy Lee was swinging on her star. But make no mistake, the show does not just hearken to times past. Greco and Anders bring an ever so lively presence to the stage, with personable dialogue between the two, moving commentary about Lee, songs backed by the Benny Goodman Tribute Band, and an unforgettable light show, in the true Peggy Lee tradition. Lee herself admitted she "tried to approach singing as theatre, complete with lighting, staging and acting." And that’s what you get now, with the “Fever” show. Agent Bill Rezey describes it as, "a large show with a lot of production that doesn’t require much outside intervention. This show comes in, self-contained. Its sort of an all in one, all-inclusive show with a large orchestra, dancers, headliner Buddy Greco and the music of Peggy Lee."
Lezlie Anders brands each song with her own unique qualities, adding a fresh effervescence to the delivery of the lyrics. Listeners can feel the Peggy Lee easy swing driven as always with a suspended cadence, but with an Anders lilt and timbre. Of the twenty-six numbers, most are songs that had been written and/or sung by Peggy Lee, interspersed with Buddy Greco singing her songs or one of his hits like “The Lady Is A Tramp.” The flow from one song to another is a pleasant transition by way of Greco’s dynamic arrangements and the couple’s playful quips. For example, Greco talks about Peggy as one of the greats, but Lezlie sees her as the greatest female singer for what she contributed to music. Then some banter ensues to prove the point: What woman wrote the number of songs that she did? The "firsts" that contribute to making Peggy Lee the best were: first female singer-songwriter; first to isolate vocals in an isolation booth of a recording studio; used the first "board fade out" on “Manana” in 1948, diminishing the volume on the recording equipment to end the song. A great lyricist; an actress who wrote songs for movies. In all, she wrote about seven hundred songs. And so the audience is anecdotally educated too on the life of a great lady.
The songs in the show actually run in chronological order, starting with ‘Why Don’t You Do Right?” which Miss Lee first recorded with Benny Goodman in 1941. During the show the close associations Peggy Lee enjoyed with other artists are revisited in voice-overs by the likes of Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante and Cary Grant. They describe the Peggy they knew, her talents, her style, in their own words. These tributes segue into a song that explicates their account. “Her regal presence is pure eloquence and charm," may have been the words of Frank Sinatra for Peggy Lee but Ms. Anders carries it off as well, with her own class, suave delivery of lyrics and stately stature as a performer.
The words of Benny Goodman are about Buddy Greco, who he introduces as ‘the tough kid from Philly’ just as he did in 1951 when he hired him. Then Goodman says in the voice-over, he fired Buddy 22 times. "I used to drive him crazy," says Greco. An instance goes something like Goodman telling Greco to play like Teddy Wilson, Greco asks, “why don’t you fire me and hire Wilson?” Goodman does, then hires him back and gives him a $25 raise!
At one time singer Lezlie Anders might have been attending a corporate event with fellow bankers, investors and brokers. In fact, she could be a poster child for women in Corporate America. She carved out a niche starting as the first woman loan officer hired by a major savings and loan in LA in 1978. Having gotten a real estate license, she also wrote up second deeds of trust and when a first trustee writer was needed there she was with the experience needed. She financed acquisitions and with a partner bought up airline and trucking businesses when they had spread themselves too thin. Her kids grew up to conversations around the dinner table about business. When they were grown, she quit and moved to Oregon where her mother lived, got a degree in music and formed her own big band, “The Roseland Orchestra.” Today the former divestiture specialist has returned to her roots as a musician. Distanced from her early rock and roll days, she has returned to the stage in style, which is where she first dazzled Buddy.
In fact, it was in 1992 when Lezlie was opening shows for Bob Newhart, Don Rickles and Greco. Buddy’s show, a two-week gig in Las Vegas, was the start of a courtship turned marriage and partnership turned music tours and shows that branch all over the world. Together, Greco and Anders caress each song in the “Fever Tribute” with reverence for Lee’s style. Buddy’s arrangements and Anders renditions compliment the star’s exciting life in rousing songs like “Manana,” “I’m A Woman” and “I’m Gonna Go Fishin'.” Then akin to Miss Lee’s reflections in her book of poems, Softly, With Feelings, there is a soothing reversal to “Mr. Wonderful” and “The Folks Who Live On The Hill.” Highlighting the show is the sultry signature song, “Fever,” for which Peggy Lee wrote special lyrics. For this number, Anders enters the stage in a cloud of fog, wearing a bright red gown accented with flames.
Other equally haunting melodies are intertwined throughout the show, such as “Is That All There Is?” giving a peek into Lee’s childhood memories, and “Golden Earrings.” Upbeat selections round out the show,” It Was Just One Of Those Things,” the resigned “Alright, OK, You Win” which is first sung by Greco then Anders, and the delightful “He’s a Tramp,” which Miss Lee wrote for the animated film, “Lady And The Tramp.” There are times in the performance when Danny Thomas’s words about Peggy Lee ring true of Ms. Anders: her stage presence is so sweet, there’s no cockiness about her. But she’s sure. That calm assurance comes through in Ander’s voice too.
In an interview with Anders from her and Buddy’s home outside of Las Vegas, Anders points out another connection worth mentioning in the current context. The show was first produced and recorded at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. Now when a corporation buys this venue, they become patrons of the University of Las Vegas’ music department because 3% of profit goes to their Performing Arts Department, giving back just as the teacher Cavalierie gave to Greco and several other kids in that settlement house in Philadelphia.
Las Vegas Review: “Every single number is beautifully rendered – fine musicians, exquisite attention to detail, just the right amounts of sincerity and humour and the stellar performance of Lezlie Anders are the components that make this show one that grabs you on the first note and doesn’t let go until the curtain falls – and then you wonder why there isn’t any more.”
Entertainment Today, Las Vegas: “If you are ever in a city where Fever is being performed by Lezlie Anders and Buddy Greco, do yourself a favour. Get a ticket and watch two musical magicians transform your thoughts back to a time when Miss Peggy Lee graced the stages of the world.”
Las Vegas Review Journal: “Ms. Anders holds her own – and then some! They make magic on stage together”
Buddy is a showman from the golden age of classic entertainers; his swinging style is hardly matched on any stage today. A truly talented jazz pianist as well as a honey voiced crooner, Greco has been singing the hits and gaining the admiration of audiences and peers for decades and long may it continue.
Tony Sachs - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tony-sachs/the-lounge-lizard-king-ha_b_119030.html
Monika Bartyzel – Cinematical