On Monday and Tuesday, May 7 and 8, in 1956, singer Patti Page was in Hollywood recording a jazz-pop album arranged by Pete Rugolo with a crowd of the finest jazz studio musicians in town. Produced by Bob Shad for EmArcy, Mercury Records’ jazz subsidiary, Patti Page in the Land of Hi-Fi was likely recorded in the ground-floor studios at the newly built cylindrical Capitol Tower. Signed by Mercury in 1947, Page had 42 hits between 1948 and ’54. In 1955, the hits continued, and at the time she was host of TV’s Patti Page Show, with Oldsmobile as the sole sponsor. On the 12-inch album side, she was transitioning well into the new format.
For those young readers unfamiliar with hi-fi, it was short for “high fidelity,” a record-industry marketing term popular in the mid-1950s letting the mass market know that the new 12-inch pop album had better sound than anything they had experienced previously. EmArcy made five albums in its “Land of Hi-Fi” series from late 1955 into ’56, featuring Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Page, Georgie Auld and Cannonball Adderley.
Page was likely the initiator of her EmArcy session or jumped at the opportunity Shad extended. Weary of syrupy songs like Go On With the Wedding and Mama From the Train, Page viewed the jazzy date as a chance to sing with Rugolo’s unusual orchestral style and a cool-cat band with enormous punch. What kind of punch are we talking about?
On the May 7th session, the band comprised of Maynard Ferguson, Conrad Gozzo, Pete Candoli, Chico Alvarez, George Werth (tp); Frank Rosolino, Milt Bernhart, Kai Winding, John Halliburton, Bob Burgess (tb); John Graas, Vincent de Rosa (fhr); Clarence Karella (tu); Bud Shank, Harry Klee (fl,as); Bob Cooper, Georgie Auld (ts); Chuck Gentry (bar); Rocky Cole (p); Howard Roberts (g); Joe Mondragon (b); Larry Bunker (d); Bernie Mattison (perc); Jack Costanzo (bgo) and Pete Rugolo (arr,cond). See what I mean?
The Hollywood demands on top musicians in the age of the LP and television were so frenzied in early 1956 that just a day later on May 8, there were significant changes in the personnel: Don Palladino, Buddy Childers, Joe Triscari, Chico Alvarez, George Werth (tp); J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Si Zentner, John Halliburton (tb); John Graas, Vincent de Rosa (fhr); Clarence Karella (tu); Ronny Lang, Ethmer Roten (fl,as); Ted Nash, Gene Cipriano (ts); Chuck Gentry (bar); Rocky Cole (p); Al Hendrickson (g); Joe Mondragon (b); Alvin Stoller (d); Larry Bunker (perc); Jack Costanzo (bgo) and Pete Rugolo (arr, cond).
Rugolo, of course, was head of Mercury’s A&R back then, so there are incredible lineups on both sessions, with Rugolo corralling the best West Coast jazz readers and a bunch of crack movie-studio session guys, too. Page handles Rugolo’s sophisticated brass writing with ease and gives as good as she gets from the band’s restless Mack truck sections. Interestingly, Page knew she not only had to sing with swing here but also had to dominate the orchestra, riding on top and not winding up trampled underneath.
The careful listener will notice that each Rugolo arrangement is a challenging work of art, with all sorts of instruments coming and going and entering and exiting at odd places. Page, the seasoned pro, zig-zags through all of it without breaking into a sweat, leaving plenty of space for the orchestra to show off its stuff. She was as cool as they come.
Of note, photos from the session on the back of the album show Page in oversized black Lucille Ball-style glass frames so she could read the music. There are mini solos throughout the album, including superb blowing by Bud Shank on I’ve Got My Eyes on You and a few bars by J.J. Johnson on Taking a Chance on Love. Where Page double-clutches is at the end of songs, where the band rises up to breathe fire and she has to hold a note. She does so with incredible finesse. It’s a shame Page didn’t more band albums like this one. But back then, pop paid the bills. Patti Page died in 2013.
JazzWax tracks: Patti Page in the Land of Hi-Fi has been released many times over the years in the U.S. and Japan, but Fresh Sound offers the best value, since it combines Hi-Fi with Page’s The West Side, with West Coast jazz combos co-arranged by Rugolo and Bill Holman, Shorty Rogers and Marty Paich. You’ll find both albums together here. You also can listen to Hi-Fi for free at Spotify.
JazzWax clips: Here’s Nevertheless. Listen to the band’s power and complex instrumental road map on this one…
And here’s Out of Nowhere…