The Astaire Story
Fred Astaire | Stars of Jazz at the Philharmonic
Tap Wonderland's collection includes this 1976 re-issue of The Astaire Story, released by the DRG Record Group. Everything about The Astaire Story makes it a classic for record collectors, jazz lovers, students of commercial art and vintage graphics, music history buffs, and of course, tap dancers. The album was originally released on the Mercury Label in 1953, as a limited edition, with very special packaging, color and b&w drawings by the now legendary David Stone Martin and a "limited edition" designation card, numbered and signed by Fred Astaire himself. The limited edition release contained only 1,384 copies.
Also featured on the recording are the "Stars of Jazz at the Philharmonic". JATP, as it was called, was the title of a series of concerts and subsequent live recordings produced by Norman Granz beginning in 1944. Mr. Granz produced JATP concerts in the US until 1957 and in Europe and Japan for another ten years after that. JATP included an amazing list of the very best of "post war" swing and bop musicians who turned up on various recordings as one group of all-stars or another. On The Astaire Story, Astaire is backed by a wonderful list of luminaries including Oscar Peterson (piano & celeste), Barney Kessel (guitar), Charlie Shavers (trumpet), Flip Phillips (tenor sax), Ray Brown (bass) and Alvin Stoller (drums).
The Astaire Story is a terrific recording, a true classic, with a formality and serious approach that might be unfamiliar to many in today's culture. Essentially a jazz recording with vocals, Fred Astaire sings many of his movie hits in what must surely have been a fresh and distinctive atmosphere to the listeners of the day. Astaire remains a crooner, but the swinging change of pace on many of the most familiar Astaire standards allows him to dig deeper into the lyrics, alter his original phrasing and do his improvisational thing. The passing of 55 years, along with Fred Astaire and most of the musicians performing here, may lead contemporary listeners to hear only the nostalgia, but I hear the context of history already past and what was future then in the careers of great jazz musicians.
For tap dancers, this record is also a classic. First on several tracks Astaire stops singing and starts dancing. If you're looking for a recording of tap dancer turned jazz instrument, well, this is what you want. Second the reissue record, contains a large format booklet with more than a dozen fine photographs of Astaire, shot during the session — dancing, playing the piano, thinking, posing and even changing shoes. The original limited edition contained a spectacular spiral bound book with even more photographs. Third, there are two short commentaries by Astaire about the session and the idea of him recording with the JATP stars. I suppose they are carefully written, but they are really very low-key and seem quite genuine and self-depricating. Last, Fred Astaire also speaks on the recording to offer a few more comments here and there about this tune or that. Wonderful.
To top things off, the production includes 6 pen and ink drawings by David Stone Martin along with great color cover art and fine session photographs by Gjon Mili and Paul Nodler. I am hoping the copyright holders will not mind if we include one or two on this page.
There have been at least four versions of this recording released over the last 55 years: the original limited edition, a less fancy standard release by Mercury in 1953, the DRG reissue pictured here and a CD, released by Verve, which will sound great but will never be the real thing to a true record collector. Find the right copy for your collection and enjoy!
— David Anderson