VA – George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1956/2013) [PrestoClassical FLAC 24bit/96kHz]

Various Artists – George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1956/2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 01:46:52 minutes | 1,14 GB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: PrestoClassical | Digital Booklet | © Bethlehem Records

George Gershwin’s folk opera got this jazz treatment for the very first time in 1956 starring Mel Tormé as Porgy and Frances Faye as Bess. Bethlehem Records put nearly their entire roster of vocalists and musicians in the studio to cut this all-star session. The singers are backed up by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Stan Levey Group, the Australian Jazz Quintet (with Herbie Mann on flute) and the Bethlehem Orchestra conducted by Russ Garcia.

The Bethlehem label didn’t make it out of the ’50s before folding, and one of the reasons why is the ambitious yet misguided George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, a three-LP box set that represents a complete recording of the Gershwin classic (with narration and sound effects). Bethlehem certainly had the talent to pull it off – appearing on the label, and this production, are Mel Tormé, Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, Johnny Hartman, Bob Dorough, Betty Roche, Frances Faye, and minor period stars including vocalist Frank Rosolino, bandleader Stan Levey, and arranger Russ Garcia. And long-playing versions of theatrical productions were huge in the mid-’50s (a few sold millions of copies). The most popular of these, however, were simply easy-to-digest highlights LPs that never attempted to present the complete production. This version is a gargantuan two hours long, difficult to sit through even if every performance was stellar (and, unfortunately, that’s far from the case). The recording makes a virtue of being hip, primarily through the narration of Al “Jazzbo” Collins, a radio DJ who may have been hip for the times but whose counterfeit excitement and perfect diction make the proceedings sound like a period newsreel. (“Watch out, Porgy, here comes that mean Sportin’ Life!”) Tormé, as the most popular vocalist on the label, was a shoe-in for the role of Porgy, despite Johnny Hartman’s clear superiority, and Frances Faye received the role of Bess despite Betty Roche’s ability to handle the role much better. Those mistakes are compounded by Russ Garcia’s period arrangements (the Ellington group makes only one appearance) and some decidedly subpar performances from Frank Rosolino early in the program. Still, it has to be admitted that a highlights compilation of this record would sparkle very brightly, driven by Mel Tormé’s swinging “I’ve Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” with a super-enthused backing chorus, George Kirby’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and Betty Roche’s reprise of “Summertime” during the second half.

01 – Act I: Introduction – Summertime (Porgy, Bess)
02 – Act I: Narration 1 (Porgy, Bess)
03 – Act I: Summertime (Clara)
04 – Act I: Narration 2 (Porgy, Bess)
05 – Act I: A woman is a sometime thing (Jake)
06 – Act I: Narration 3 (Porgy, Bess) – Here comes de honey man (Peter)
07 – Act I: Narration 4 (Porgy, Bess)
08 – Act I: Evenin’ ladies, hello boys (Porgy)
09 – Act I: Narration 5 (Porgy, Bess)
10 – Act I: No, no, brother, Porgy ain’t soft on no woman (Porgy)
11 – Act I: Narration 6 (Porgy, Bess) (Scene: Crap game and murder)
12 – Act I: Narration 7 (Porgy, Bess)
13 – Act I: Gone, gone, gone
14 – Act I: Overflow, overflow (Porgy)
15 – Act I: Narration 8 (Porgy, Bess)
16 – Act I: I can’t puzzle this thing out (Porgy)
17 – Act I: Narration 9 (Porgy, Bess)
18 – Act I: My man’s gone now (Serena)
19 – Act I: Narration 10 (Porgy, Bess)
20 – Act I: Oh, the train is at the station (Bess)
21 – Act I: Narration 11 (Porgy, Bess)
22 – Act I: Oh I’m agoin’ out to the Blackfish banks (Jake)
23 – Act I: Narration 12 (Porgy, Bess)
24 – Act I: Oh, I got plenty of nuttin’ (Quartet)
25 – Act I: Mornin’, Lawyer, lookin’ for somebody? (Sportin’ Life)
26 – Act II: Buzzard keep on flyin’ over (Porgy)
27 – Act II: Narration 13 (Porgy, Bess)
28 – Act II: Bess, you is my woman now (Bess)
29 – Act II: Oh, I can’t sit down (Bess, Porgy)
30 – Act II: Porgy, I hates to go (Bess)
31 – Act II: Oh, I got plenty o’ nuttin’ (Jake, Clara, Porgy, Serena) (reprise)
32 – Act II: It Ain’t Necessarily So
33 – Act II: Narration 14 (Porgy, Bess)
34 – Act II: It ain’t necessarily so (Sportin’ Life)
35 – Act II: Narration 15 (Porgy, Bess)
36 – Act II: What You Want Wid’ Bess (Crown)
37 – Act II: Narration 16 (Porgy, Bess)
38 – Act II: Oh, I’m agoin’ out to the Blackfish banks (Jake) (reprise)
39 – Act II: Narration 17 (Porgy, Bess)
40 – Act II: Oh, doctor Jesus (Porgy, Clara, Serena, Sporting Life)
41 – Act II: Here come de honey man – Oh dey’s so fresh an’ fine – I’m talkinn about devil’s crab (Strawberry Woman, Crab Man, Porgy)
42 – Act II: Narration 18 (Porgy, Bess)
43 – Act II: I Loves You, Porgy (Bess)
44 – Act II: Narration 19 (Porgy, Bess) (Scene: Storm)
45 – Act II: Summertime (Clara) (reprise)
46 – Act II: Narration 20 (Porgy, Bess)
47 – Act II: Oh, dere’s somebody knockin’ at de do’
48 – Act II: Narration 21 (Porgy, Bess)
49 – Act II: If God want to kill me (Crown)
50 – Act II: Narration 22 (Porgy, Bess)
51 – Act II: A red-headed woman make a choo-choo jump (Crown, Clara, Bess)
52 – Act I: Summertime: Act II: Narration 23 (Porgy, Bess)
53 – Act II: Oh, Doctor Jesus (Porgy, Clara, Serena, Sporting Life) (reprise)
54 – Act III: Narration 24 (Porgy, Bess)
55 – Act III: Clara, Clara, don’t you be downhearted (Serena, Bess, Sporting Life)
56 – Act III: Narration 25 (Porgy, Bess)
57 – Act III: Summertime (Bess, Porgy) (reprise)
58 – Act III: Narration 26 (Porgy, Bess)
59 – Act III: Oh, Lawd, what I goin’ do? (Porgy, Bess, Sporting Life)
60 – Act III: Narration 27 (Porgy, Bess)
61 – Act III: There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York (Sporting Life, Bess)
62 – Act III: Narration 28 (Porgy, Bess)
63 – Act III: Narration 29 (Porgy, Bess)
64 – Act III: How are you dis mornin’?
65 – Act III: Narration 30 (Porgy, Bess)
66 – Act III: Oh, Bess, oh, where is my Bess? (Porgy)
67 – Act III: Finale: Oh Lawd, I’m on my way (Porgy)

Produced by Red Clyde. Engineered by Frank Abbey. Chief Engineer: Val Valentin.
Transfer Engineers: Alex Nappi, Dana Pedersen. Remastering: John Sigmon.

Mel Tormé as Porgy
Frances Faye as Bess
Betty Roche as Clara
George Kirby as Sportin’ Life
Johnny Hartman as Crown
Sallie Blairas Serena
Frank Rosolino as Jake
Strawberry Woman Loulie Jean Norman
Joe Derise as Honey Man
Bob Dorough as Crab Man

The Bethlehem Orchestra, Conducted by Russell Garcia
Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra
Australian Jazz Quintet – Pat Moran Quartet
Stan Levey Group.