She created the role of Marian the librarian in The Music Man in 1957. He led the cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Me and Juliet in 1953. They starred opposite one another in a celebrated 1957 television adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeoman of the Guard.
Now Barbara Cook is an iconic Tony Award-winning entertainer who celebrated her 85th birthday in October by performing at Carnegie Hall, and Bill Hayes, 87, has become one of the most popular leading men in the history of daytime TV in his role on Days of Our Lives.
These colleagues and former co-stars each have solo CD releases that spotlight some of the best-loved songs of the last few decades. Listeners who may not be familiar with many of these terrific tunes are sure to find in these two CDs a first-class education in what makes a “standard” (not to mention how to deliver one!).
Cook’s CD is titled Loverman, and for this release, she continues to broaden her horizons by stepping away from her musical theater roots. Instead she takes a walk on the jazzy side, with a little bit of rhythm and blues thrown in. From the first notes of the lively “Let’s Fall in Love” to the final tones of the classic “Makin’ Whoopee,” listeners are treated to a top-flight performance.
Cook sets out to explore the many aspects of love, from the shamelessly romantic, like Cole Porter’s classic “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love),” to the pensive (“If I Love Again” ), the joyful (“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”) and the downright whimsical, such as “I Don’t Want Love.” (The lyrics: “If love makes you give up ham and greens, chicken pot pie and lima beans – if love makes you give up all them things – I don’t want love!”).
In the title track, a cover of Billie Holiday’s “Loverman,” the emotion is swaddled in a sultry cadence. Her take on “It Had to Be You” is definitely one of this collection’s most memorable tracks – hip and happy, set to a bouncy bebop beat. She intermingles some songs by (relatively speaking) newer artists with her more time-tested repertoire, including Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” and Johnny Mathis’ “When Sunny Gets Blue.”
Cook innovatively mixes old and new, starting with a mesmerizing a cappella version of “The House of the Rising Sun,” for example, and seguing into “Bye Bye Blackbird” (“Where somebody waits for me, sugar’s sweet, so is he – bye bye blackbird.”)
Meanwhile, This Is Bill Hayes combines more upscale offerings that one might expect to hear at an exclusive nightspot back in the day with grittier fare that conjures up a 1950s after-hours dive.
Over time, Hayes’ voice has taken on an appealingly rich, deeper tonal quality, which gives his interpretations a greater intensity, especially in selections where the lyrics most benefit from it. Take, for instance, the touching “A Song for You,” featuring such introspective stanzas as “I love you in a place where there’s no space or time. I love you, for in my life, you are a friend of mine.”
Among the best moments in Hayes’ CD are his softer, more reflective numbers, like “Embrasse Moi Bien” (Hold Me Close). This song was included as an homage to the CD’s producer – and Hayes’ Days castmate – Robert Clary. Before turning his attentions to daytime drama, Clary made his name as the French P.O.W. Cpl. LeBeau on the sitcom Hogan’s Heroes. But before joining either show, he was much admired as a cabaret singer. In fact, Hayes reveals that Clary initially introduced him to this splendid melody, which had been something of a signature piece for Clary himself.
When belting out some of the CD’s more comical contributions, like Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” (from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Hayes is equally in enviable voice. The track titled “Opera” even offers up his own musical resume of sorts – material written for him by Harper MacKay. Moments like this make this CD sound like a taste of Hayes’ nightclub act in your own living room. Beginning with several snippets of a grand opera selection by Bizet, he then builds by way of a few bars of Gilbert and Sullivan before rounding out with a humorous list of soap opera titles (not overlooking his own of course!).
Hayes also wraps his vocal cords around some more contemporary works to great effect. A prime example is a sharp, vivacious (burlesque, even) go at James Taylor’s saucy, sexy “Steam Roller,” which has lyrics like “I’m a cement mixer, a churnin’ urn of burnin’ funk!”
His inclusion of Rodgers and Hart’s “I Need Some Cooling Off” grants another view of this same territory, only in rousing 1920s style.
Accompaniment for This Is Bill Hayes was provided by the John Rodby Trio. Rodby’s artistry at the piano expertly supports the vocals without calling attention away from either the singer or the songs. Other musicians involved were Harvey Newmark on Bass, Mark Stevens on drums and Randy Aldcroft on trombone.
Loverman features music director Ted Rosenthal (who, along with Cook, provided the arrangements) on piano, Jay Leonhart on bass, Warren Odze on percussion and Lawrence Feldman on woodwinds.
By keeping their backing instrumentation simple, both Cook and Hayes gave a pleasant intimacy to each recording.
Loverman is available on the DRG Records label (www.drgrecords.com), and This Is Bill Hayes can be ordered at www.billandsusanhayes.com.