ON THE RECORD: Lost and Rare Judy Garland, Plus Jane Krakowski's "The Laziest Gal in Town"

News   ON THE RECORD: Lost and Rare Judy Garland, Plus Jane Krakowski's "The Laziest Gal in Town"
 
We listen to a fascinating anthology of rare and never-released items under the title "Judy Garland: Lost Tracks," plus Jane Krakowski's nightclub act, "The Laziest Gal in Town."

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JUDY GARLAND: Lost Tracks 1929-1959 [JSP Records JSP965]
Show me a major star/celebrity/icon with a 40-year career in six media — vaudeville, film, radio, recording, concert, television — and there is bound to be a whole lot of miscellania spread around amongst archives and collectors. Especially if said career spans the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, when advancing technologies resulted in altogether new fields. Who better to illustrate this than Judy Garland? As demonstrated by the altogether remarkable four-CD set, "Judy Garland: Lost Tracks 1929-1959."

"Rare and never-released recordings from private collections," they boast, heralding "100 tracks, 55 never previously released." Sounds astounding, yes? Many of these items have surfaced elsewhere, from time to time; almost all come from public performances, so audiences heard them at least once — and, luckily for posterity, someone bothered to record them in one manner or other and preserve them. Not being a Garland expert myself, it's hard to know exactly what's out there and what has been previously issued on CD; if they say 55 were never previously released, I'll go with that. (In some cases, it seems that partial versions of the tracks have indeed previously appeared.)

The first CD is mostly drawn from early radio performances (1935-1939). These include introductions, some of them breathless; in the earliest, M-G-M star Wallace Beery — already an Oscar winner, with his own radio show, the "Shell Chateau Hour" — introduces her by saying "this is really so doggone good that I can hardly believe it myself." Nothing like creating high expectations, huh? "We have a girl here whom I think is going to be the sensation of pictures." He brought her back for a second appearance, a month later, M-G-M having signed her to a seven-year contract in the interim. "She probably won't be famous, oh, maybe for a couple of years," says Beery. While the studio no doubt arranged scripted promo spots for all their contract players, Beery's enthusiasm seems authentic — and apt.

The second CD, "Young Judy on the Radio," is just that. Appearances made between 1940 and early 1944 (just prior to Garland's 22nd birthday), which is to say the period between "The Wizard of Oz" and "Meet Me in St. Louis." These tracks include duets with Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The third CD is titled, simply, "The Radio Years" (although most of the first two CDs come from radio as well). This picks up in mid-1944 and extends to 1953, when Garland appeared on the "Lux Radio Theatre" in a truncated version of Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's Lady in the Dark. Included here are "This Is New" and "My Ship," and I don't suppose anyone ever begged for Garland to essay the role. This disc includes duets with Crosby, Sinatra, and Fred Astaire. The final CD, "On Stage & The Gumm Sisters," consists mostly of live performances captured on tape. Some of these I suppose were pirated, but without said pirates these tracks would not exist. And some of them are choice, starting with a 1940 performance of "Over the Rainbow" with composer Harold Arlen at the piano. This disc ends with three recordings from soundtracks of early shorts made by The Gumm Sisters, of which Frances — soon to become Judy — was the youngest. The first of them, from something called "The Big Revue" (1929), was filmed the day after Judy turned seven. These three tracks are not exactly high fidelity, but Judy's voice can be picked out.

The set has been produced by John Stedman and compiled by Lawrence Schulman, with liner notes by Schulman and Scott Brogan. The whole thing, from the U.K. label JSP, is fascinating. Most fascinating of all, and presumably the most important items included, are two test recordings Garland made in March 1935 at Decca. The tests by the 12-year-old did not result in a contract, alas; Decca's copies long ago disappeared — why keep tests of pre-teen singers whom you do not sign? — but they apparently sent Judy's mother home with copies (on lacquer discs). Forty-five years later, these were found amongst trash on the street outside Judy's house, which was being renovated at the time. A collector managed to come along before the dumpster truck did, and saw fit to liberate these two discs (although they didn't know what they had). That was in 1960; it's hard to believe that the collector, and her heir, sat with them for almost 50 years until somebody figured out that these were the long-disappeared Decca tests. That's what we're told in the liner notes.

If the story seems unlikely, one thing is for certain: these discs are astounding. The 12-year-old Judy Garland singing "Bill," from Show Boat? Well yes, this is something you want to hear. The second item is a medley, incorporating "On the Good Ship Lollipop" (from the 12-year-old), "The Object of My Affection" (from the budding chanteuse), and "Dinah" (from the clown). Not just some quaint old records, these; this is Judy Garland at the start, and remarkable in the pure sense of the word.

JANE KRAKOWSKI: The Laziest Gal in Town [DRG CD-91519]
"The Laziest Gal in Town," at Feinstein's at Loew's Regency last October, was not Jane Krakowski; she was out there workin' her way through a high-octane act (entitled — for the record, but not for the CD — Jane Krakowski Has Sold Out... Tickets Available). She opened with Cole Porter's tune about that lazy gal, which lends its title to the CD. Krakowski knows how to sing and dance and entertain, as those who've seen her in the original Grand Hotel or the 2003 revival of Nine (for which she won a Tony) or the 2005 West End revival of Guys and Dolls (for which she won an Olivier) can avow. The "30 Rock" star can also charm an audience, which she did handily on this occasion.

The CD reflects the act, recorded live at Feinstein's. Eleven musical numbers were presented, two of them being two-song medleys; the rest of the CD consists of patter. Krakowski presented a fairly successful mix of the old and the new, the tame and the racy. "Laziest Gal" is very fine, as is her second number ("A Little Brains, A Little Talent," which she sang at City Center's 2009 summertime revival of Damn Yankees). Then came a perfect example of mixing old and new; Krakowski had Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman — those droll boys — update Rodgers & Hart's "Zip," from Pal Joey. "Tweet," it's called, and it's a comic marvel.

More of the same old/new is attempted with Jule Styne and Leo Robin's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and not to the advantage of song or singer. Transformed with a rap section by Chad Beguelin, this one has the opposite effect of "Tweet." Krakowski scores with Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf's "My Handy Man," that suggestive old hit of Ethel Waters' (which is enhanced, and how, by the playing of Jay Leonhart on the bass). But "An Englishman Needs Time," from Eartha Kitt, just goes on and on and on and on with little payoff.

Krakowski makes "The Laziest Gal in Town" great fun, with musical director/arranger Michael Kosarin and his band adding to the merriment. And "Tweet" is a gem.

(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.) *

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