Last August, Steven Spielberg was asked to confirm rumors that he was planning to direct a new film adaptation of the Broadway musical West Side Story. The legendary filmmaker confessed, “Well, you know something, West Side Story is one of my favorite Broadway musicals and one of the greatest pieces of musical literature, my goodness, one of the greatest scores and some of the greatest lyrics ever written for a musical, so just let me put it this way: it’s on my mind.” The musical by librettist Arthur Laurents, composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim which opened at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957 has left audiences spellbound for nearly sixty years now whether on stage (the Laurents-directed revival of 2009 and its subsequent tours), screen (the original 1961 film version) or on record. Naturally, the rhythmic, pulse-pounding Bernstein/Sondheim score proved irresistible to recording artists, and many of those artists most taken with the score were jazz musicians. Cherry Red’s él label has recently collected two discs’ worth of jazz and other creative interpretations of the musical on the new set West Side Story: Jazz Impressions – Unique Perspectives.
Laurents’ book for West Side Story remains a benchmark in musical theatre, a model of economy and impact in its retelling of Romeo and Juliet in the up-to-the-minute world of juvenile delinquency. Columbia’s 1957 Original Broadway Cast Recording (OS 2001/OL 5230), with Larry Kert as Tony and Carol Lawrence as Maria, preserved the introduction of now-standards like “Somewhere,” “Maria,” “Tonight,” “America” and “Something’s Coming.” It wasn’t long before West Side Story “covers” were recorded by pop singers like Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis. The record-breaking soundtrack to the 1961 film version (54 weeks at No. 1!) solidified the musical’s place in the pantheon. Much later, the score’s influence would be felt in the rock world, as well, with The Nice, Yes, and Alice Cooper all taking their turns.
It’s not difficult to see why the intricacies of Bernstein’s melodies would have proven attractive to the top jazz musicians of the day. Though songs like “Cool” and “Maria” appear numerous times on these two discs, the recordings couldn’t be more different from one another in the hands of these diverse, skilled interpreters and instrumentalists. And so the first disc of this new 2-CD compendium features five selections from pianist Andre Previn’s 1959 album of West Side Story, featuring Shelly Manne (drums) and Red Mitchell (bass). Five more tracks hail from vibraphonist Cal Tjader’s 1961 interpretation arranged by Clare Fischer which relies less upon improvisation: “We felt that some of the tunes…had definite possibilities for improvisation by soloists. We also felt, however, that the more lyrical and melodic songs…should be treated delicately and simply as possible, but with some freedom of harmonic expression,” he wrote. (Shelly Manne and Red Mitchell also played on Tjader’s record.) The famous Dave Brubeck Quartet dedicated four songs on one side of Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein (1961) to West Side; all four of those tracks appear here. (The LP’s first side featured Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic on compositions by Dave’s brother Howard Brubeck.) This disc is rounded out by four songs from the 1961 Grammy-winning smash (Stan) Kenton’s West Side Story and vocalist Annie Ross’ 1957 treatment of “I Feel Pretty” with Gerry Mulligan on baritone saxophone.
The breadth of performers and musicians who put their stamp on the West Side Story songs is made even more apparent on Disc Two. It features tracks by more pianists (Marian McFarland, Oscar Peterson, even “easy listening” duo Ferrante and Teicher), Spanish vocalists Salvador Escamilla and Luis Mariano, Danish opera singer Ellen Winther, and saxophonist Manny Albam. The entirety of Albam’s 1957 big-band West Side is included. Last but not least, the compilers have dug up four rarities from Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal, the duo that co-orchestrated West Side Story with Leonard Bernstein. As The Ramin-Kostal Orchestra, they recorded their own EP of the musical, too. From RCA Victor’s release The Sound of West Side Story comes all four of its tracks - “Cool,” “Cool (Fugue),” “Maria” and “Mambo.”
This diverse and exciting celebration of the classic Broadway musical – and possible source material of a future Steven Spielberg film - is made possible via current U.K. public domain laws. It’s attractively housed in a slipcase, with each disc in an individual paper sleeve. The 16-page booklet is copiously illustrated with photographs and album images, and includes an essay about the history of the musical as well as excerpts from the recordings’ original liner notes. You can order West Side Story: Jazz Impressions – Unique Perspectives at the links below!
Various Artists, West Side Story: Jazz Impressions – Unique Perspectives (él ACMEMD283CD, 2015) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- Something’s Coming – Andre Previn Trio
- Tonight – Andre Previn Trio
- Cool – Andre Previn Trio
- Maria – Andre Previn Trio
- America – Andre Previn Trio
- Prologue/Jet Song – Cal Tjader
- Something’s Coming – Cal Tjader
- Tonight – Cal Tjader
- America – Cal Tjader
- Cool – Cal Tjader
- Maria – The Dave Brubeck Quartet
- I Feel Pretty – The Dave Brubeck Quartet
- Somewhere – The Dave Brubeck Quartet
- Tonight – The Dave Brubeck Quartet
- Prologue – Stan Kenton
- America – Stan Kenton
- Cool – Stan Kenton
- Gee, Officer Krupke – Stan Kenton
- I Feel Pretty – Annie Ross and Gerry Mulligan
CD 2 (Tracks 14-21 by Manny Albam and His Jazz Greats)
- Cool – Marian McPartland
- Maria – Luis Mariano
- Cool – The Ramin-Kostal Orchestra
- Cool Fugue – The Ramin-Kostal Orchestra
- Maria – The Ramin-Kostal Orchestra
- Mambo – The Ramin-Kostal Orchestra
- Something’s Coming – Oscar Peterson Trio
- Somewhere – Oscar Peterson Trio
- Jet Song – Oscar Peterson Trio
- I Feel Pretty – Ellen Winther
- I Feel Pretty – Ferrante and Teicher
- Maria – Salvador Escamilla
- Algun Lloc (Somewhere) – Salvador Escamilla
- Prologue and Jet Song
- Something’s Coming
- I Feel Pretty
- Finale Medley (America/Cool/Jet Song/Something’s Coming/One Hand, One Heart/Somewhere/Cool/I Feel Pretty)
CD 1, Tracks 1-5 from Contemporary S 7572, 1960
CD 1, Tracks 6-10 from Fantasy 3310, 1960
CD 1, Tracks 11-14 from Columbia CS 8257, 1960
CD 1, Tracks 15-18 from Capitol ST 1609, 1961
CD 1, Track 19 from Kimberly 11018, 1963
CD 2, Track 1 from Time S 2013, 1960
CD 2, Track 2 TBD
CD 2, Tracks 3-6 from RCA Victor EPA 4184, 1958
CD 2, Tracks 7-9 from Verve V-8454, 1962
CD 2, Track 10 from NPA XM-61994, 1962
CD 2, Track 11 from United Artists UAS 6166, 1961
CD 2, Tracks 12-13 from Ediphone CMN 13, 1963
CD 2, Tracks 14-21 from Vocalion VL 3678, 1957
I bought this about a month ago, and, overall, I am very impressed. However, my copy of disc 1 is very very quiet, and must be played at a MUCH higher volume setting to any other discs in my large collection (more than twice as high). Even playing it at a high enough volume to hear it, the sound is muddy and indistinct.
The second disc sounds much clearer, and can be listened to comfortably at a more normal volume setting.
Have any other buyers experienced the same, particularly more recent buyers. Or was it possibly a production fault in the first copies only?
I'm wondering what song from West Side Story was covered by Yes. Does anyone know?
Joe Marchese says
You can find Yes' "Something's Coming" on the 2003 expanded edition of 1969's self-titled album.
kirk scott says
something's coming , i think it's on one of the first 3 or 4 Yes albums
As far as a re-make of the 1961 film "West Side Story" goes, I'm one of the nay-sayers when it comes to this. Imho, the film "West Side Story" is a classic that's so in a special class by itself that it should be left as is. Has anybody ever heard the expression "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"? That applies here, perfectly, if one gets the drift. A remake of this great classic would simply cut the heart and soul right out of it, and be nothing less than a fiasco for all kinds of reasons.