Listening to Andy Williams Sing

Andy Williams, to put it plainly, knew how to sing. Singers have forgotten today.

I heard him make a mistake, opening an “attack” with a glottal stop, but I’m sure he wouldn’t, except by accident. The line started “All”, and he opened it that way, with a stop.

But he didn’t take breaths during phrases, unless there’s a punctuation mark. Today I hear breaths taken mid-word!

He didn’t demonstrate how carelessly he could miss notes, gliding closer after hitting them wrong. Avoiding that takes work and concentration, and he did whatever it took, as a matter of course. So did they all, in that era.

He had very good breath control, a lost art. And he always sang “from the diaphragm”, of course, not letting his belly hang out like a fat slob who can’t stand properly. Luciano had great breath control.

He inhaled quickly, easily, throat-openly, and silently, as any decent singer should, not trying to emote anything by sucking in air noisily, or sloppily doing it at the very last instant, as if having lost control of himself, or lazily, without opening up.

He was neither breathy nor forced, which is right, and he didn’t bother ornamenting stuff to “make it his”.

That’s what really rubs me the wrong way today!

Now a choir of young boys is singing as if it mattered, not to show off how incompetent (hence what? young? cutish?) they can be at that age!

Donny Osmond, in an interview, is now demonstrating how he caroled as a kid. He did it in an off-hand way, but didn’t miss the right notes!  Why?  He’s good, and knows it. That’s how I demonstrate melodies mid-speech.  Not singing wrong notes for the sake of appearing to be in a casual mood.

How rare an experience this is, to view a program celebrating the age when people sang well!

“One-take Bobby” Osmond was like me and my father. We liked to get it right once, without rehearsing. I loved rehearsing, and so did Dad, I’m sure, but we’d both rather not need it. Give us the music, let us onstage, and let ‘er rip!

Only once in my life did I ever resent that attitude. It was during the recording of my solo, “Set Down Servant” (the capitalization and punctuation of song titles is a sort of non-art!), when I flubbed a consonant. Mr Donald Bryant, our choral music director, and Decca Records, absurdly over-pricing its studio time, wouldn’t permit doing it over! Sure, it was my fault, but didn’t the Columbus Boychoir even care to spend another three minutes getting it right?  No?!

Where were the attitudes of the days of Herbert Huffman, the previous and founding music director of 1940-55 or thereabouts, whom Mr Bryant praised most highly, having been his right-hand man for years?

The “Boychoir” had made movies, distributed press releases and publicity photos, got into the paper any way possible, taken “goodwill cultural ambassador” tours abroad on behest of the State Department, put on all sorts of publicity events, gotten written up all over the place, showed off the school, the bus, the uniforms, both “concert” and casual, invited celebrities to join them everywhere, struggled to land gigs in great venues, performed under the batons of all the great conductors, with famous philharmonic orchestras, showed up regularly in Hollywood, on Broadway, at Carnegie Hall, with other, even more famous, choirs, including all the decent boys’ choirs, declining to show up the poorer ones.

Oops! I just heard Andy Williams, who’s been singing a lot, make a boo-boo, hitting a note instantaneously a bit flat, correcting it immediately, but noticeably to me. And on “peccatoribus”, he was a bit overly casual, if you ask me. Oh, and something else there, a noisy breath and a hesitation, darn it! But he tried; he must’ve been a bit over-worked at that dreadful moment in TV history. How nasty of them to replay it for us, unless they didn’t have a better showing of Ave Maria for us.

And on “They know that” (“Santa’s on his way”), he let me down a bit. He certainly lacked Nat King Cole’s verve, alacrity, and care. But he was one of the best of the best.

It’s a little disappointing (to me) that he made no effort to stylize the songs a bit, sounding just the same on every one. I wouldn’t sing “Set Down Servant” at all like “Largo al Factotum” (which calls for a Caruso or nowadays, Luciano imitation, as perfectionistically as possible) or “O Holy Night!”, which calls for something very competent, etherial, soaring, and carefully enunciated as possible, and not only impresses, but must be impressive, and always is, if it’s done right, like the chorus of “Shepherds we have heard on high”, the title of which escapes me. Different songs call upon different skills, and ought to do so, and the occasion must be risen to! That arising matters.

I was impressed briefly with Josh what-his-name when I thought he might go somewhere, but he hasn’t. Groban. It’s a very disappointing age, I tell ya.

No great tenor, no great soprano, except Elizabeth Caballero, in my humble opinion, nobody worth listening to, except maybe for a laugh, but even there, I’m at a loss for any name.

I’d just as soon hear John McLaughlin (on now) try to carry a tune.

Where’s Pete Seeger and Mark Russell when we need them? Where’s Woody Guthrie’s son, Arlo? All of them know what I mean.  They try. I find Joan Baez and Judi Collins disappointing, but it’s because they can’t sing well, not that they don’t care. Jolson, Price, Cole, Mathis, Day, Ronstadt, Madonna, M Jackson, Jellyroll, Satchmo, Calloway, Ford, Osmonds, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Procol Harem, King Crimson, Mitch Miller (there were so many great singers whose names I never noticed, never memorized, or forget), (who was that “champagne” guy, not to mention Lombardo, whose team were all good? Welk!) all were quite, quite impressive. Kelly, Astaire, and Bennett never were! Even Sinatra once, occasionally. All decent singers have crept into woodwork, including the opera singers and Broadway people, all but a few. Tommy Tune I like. And a few others, who don’t sound too blatant and hammy. Nobody I know of now on Broadway, unless it’s my niece Liz Larsen (whose photo says that, but whose autograph appears to have an o in the last name!) and perhaps her hubby Sal, whom I haven’t heard yet! I’m even disappointed in my elder sister. She comes across too show busy and over-the-top for me, which, unfortunately, is just as she pleases. She’d rather impress the madding crowd than me. 😦

One thing I must confess — no, celebrate. Modern dance, perhaps all dance, is getting better and better all the time. And rap has taken a turn for the better. So too, has country, which I never liked much.

I fear infatuation with a celebrity. I shun it, and I know it’s not fair, but I don’t want to declare my appreciation of somebody who might disappoint me. Right now, it’s Elizabeth Caballero, whom I’ve heard only once. (I don’t consider recordings, just appearances in person.)

Just the very true art of singing well is lost, though probably only temporarily. A future great will arise. But I’ve been waiting a long, long time.

You know whom I miss most? Eartha Kitt and Rita Rivera! And Hershel Bernardi, quondam Tevye. And Yale Marshall and Mary Evelyn Bruce, once my friends. I only met Eartha once, but oh, what a thrilling privilege, when she joined Liz Larsen in performance and me outside the stage door.

Many amateurs have impressed me, but few pros on Broadway. Not any more.


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