Written by Grant Jackson from NPR
Whether in a concert, a recording session, a movie role or a television appearance, Rosemary Clooney brought warmth, versatility and a jazz-grounded sensibility to every note she sang. And she sang just about every type of music there is, starting out with her sister Betty as part of an all-purpose vocal duo on WLW in Cincinnati. From the 1970s until her death in 2002, Clooney sang jazz almost exclusively, embracing standards by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and others, as well as music by current writers like Dave Frishberg. On this Piano Jazz session, Clooney brings her smooth vocals to a set of standards from America’s great songwriters: George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Billy Strayhorn, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and more.
The session opens with “Our Love Is Here to Stay” by George and Ira Gershwin, as host Marian McPartland provides accompaniment. The clarity and honesty Clooney brings to the tune comes from a lifetime of experience, documented in her two bestselling autobiographies. In a life shattered by divorce, depression and addiction, Clooney managed to rebuild her career, and her catalog on the Concord Records label established her legacy as a jazz artist and a great interpreter of American song.
“I just think you’re better than ever,” McPartland says.
“That was very much fun,” Clooney says, adding, “Wanna go on the road?”
McPartland follows with a tender solo take on “My Silent Love,” after which Clooney says, “I wish Betty could hear that. She would be very happy with that rendition.” Clooney then sings a sparkling rendition of the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer tune “My Shining Hour” with her swinging phrasing and trademark diction.
Clooney and McPartland both share a deep admiration for the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. McPartland performs a solo version of Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” at Clooney’s request. The song is not widely performed by singers. In fact, Frank Sinatra abandoned the tune in the middle of a recording session. Clooney follows with a tune by another celebrated composer and lyricist: Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In.”
“What an unlikely tune for you to do,” McPartland says.
“Do you know who Cole Porter wrote that tune for? Roy Rogers,” Clooney says, laughing. “Isn’t that amazing?”
The session closes with a take on the bittersweet “September Song.” Clooney’s vocal delivery of the line, “These few precious days I’ll spend with you” is both chillingly poignant and reflective. McPartland thanks Clooney for the tune: “Oh, what a song. Thank you for doing that.”
“It’s a joy doing it for you, really,” Clooney says.
Originally recorded Oct. 14, 1991. Originally broadcast in January 1992.