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The Young Johnny Mathis
Wonderful! Wonderful! - His 47 finest - 1956-1962
various orchestras incl. Ray Conniff, Gil Evans, John Lewis, Percy Faith, Ray Ellis, Glenn Osser and Don Costa
rec. 1956 - 1962
RETROSPECTIVE RECORDS RTS 4214 [79:31 + 78:11]

Johnny Mathis (b. 1935) was a many-talented teenager, having from an early age entertained friends, schoolmates and others with his singing and dancing; his father had been a vaudeville artist. He also studied singing at a professional level, hoping to be an opera singer. Besides this he was a promising high jumper and aimed to qualify for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne in that capacity.
 
Taking part in a jam session in a San Francisco club, he was talent-spotted by one of the owners. Jazz producer George Avakian heard him and contacted Columbia Records and the opportunity to record an album in New York made him scrap the idea of the Olympics. Columbia engaged arrangers like Gil Evans, John Lewis and Manny Albam. In their respective studio orchestras there were jazz greats galore: trumpeters Bernie Glow, Jimmy Maxwell and Buck Clayton, trombonist J.J. Johnson, French hornist Gunther Schuller, clarinet players Tony Scott and Hal McKusick, saxophonist John LaPorta, pianist Hank Jones, guitarists Barry Galbraith and Herb Ellis, double-bass players Milt Hinton and Ray Brown and drummers Osie Johnson and Connie Kay, to mention just a few. The crème de la crème in other words.
 
Recorded in March and April 1956 with titles like Easy to Love (Porter) Prelude to a Kiss (Ellington) and It Might as well be Spring (Rodgers) (CD 1 tr. 4-6), he wasn’t exactly a best seller, but he became an established name in New York and appeared at nightclubs like Village Vanguard and the Blue Angel. That same autumn a visit to a recording studio, this time with Ray Conniff and his orchestra resulted in a single issued in spring 1957. This marked his breakthrough and reached the Top 20. Wonderful! Wonderful! (CD 1 tr. 1) was the first in a very long list of best-sellers. Within months he was suddenly the leading ballad singer, together with Pat Boone. He continued to issue singles but more and more concentrated on theme-oriented albums and a large portion of his repertoire involved standards. As can be seen from the track-list for this set it was the Great American Song Book that most occupied him: Berlin, Porter, Van Heusen, Arlen, Ellington, Rodgers, Young, Kern, Errol Garner. Later he added contemporary greats that are now part of that same songbook: My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Kismet (with music by Borodin) figure here. So does A Certain Smile (CD 2 tr. 1), the Oscar-nominated title song from a 1958 film featuring Mathis.
 
For many of his early hits it was the then enormously popular Percy Faith who was responsible for the accompaniments, alternately with Ray Ellis and Glenn Osser. In November 1958 he set down a concept album entitled Open Fire, Two Guitars, where he worked in a more intimate format with Al Caiola and Tony Mottola and bassist Frank Carroll. Three titles from this album, In the Still of the Night, When I Fall in Love and My Funny Valentine (CD 2 tr. 6-8) are some of the very best things on this compilation.
 
His somewhat smoky voice is attractive, reminiscent of Nat King Cole, and his six years of vocal coaching by Connie Cox can be traced in his breath control, his musical phrasing and also in the songs where he lets his voice expand beyond the crooning. Come to me (CD 1 tr. 24) is a good example.
 
The arrangements are variable; all professional but some of them are just too sugary. This is a matter of taste and but the effect becomes pronounced when listening through the whole album in one sitting. Others may feel differently but one thing is clear: this was one of the finest voices in the world of popular music 50+ years ago and many songs are still among the best ever written. The sound is very good, restored and re-mastered by Alan Bunting. Tony Middleton has provided very detailed discographical information.
 
Göran Forsling

Track listing
CD 1 [79:31]
1. Wonderful! Wonderful! [2:51]
2. When Sunny Gets Blue [2:42]
3. Autumn in Rome [3:58]
4. Easy to Love [2:30]
5. Prelude to a Kiss [4:28]
6. It Might as well be Spring [4:46]
7. It’s not for me to Say [3:04]
8. Chances Are [3:01]
9. The Twelfth of Never [2:28]
10. Wild is the Wind [2:26]
11. No Love but your Love [2:18]
12. All through the Night [2:58]
13. It Could Happen to You [3:48]
14. That Old Black Magic [2:54]
15. In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning [3:14]
16. Early Autumn [3:42]
17. You Stepped out of a Dream [2:44]
18. Warm [3:23]
19. My One and Only Love [3:37]
20. By Myself [4:08]
21. I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face [3:28]
22. What’ll I Do? [2:54]
23. There Goes my Heart [3:39]
24. Come to Me [3:02]
 
CD 2 [78:11]
1. A Certain Smile [2:46]
2. Let it Rain [2:38]
3. You’d be so Nice to Come home to [2:09]
4. Winter Wonderland [3:16]
5. You Are Beautiful [3:07]
6. In the Still of the Night [2:33]
7. When I Fall in Love [4:29]
8. My Funny Valentine [3:34]
9. Someone [2:56]
10. Misty [2:56]
11. Stranger in Paradise [4:01]
12. Moonlight Becomes You [4:02]
13. They Say it’s Wonderful [3:28]
14. That’s all [3:51]
15. Small World [3:17]
16. Tonight [3:11]
17. Maria [3:46]
18. And this is my Beloved [3:56]
19. Where Are You?
20. My Romance [3:09]
21. The Folks who Live on the Hill [3:51]
22. My Love for You [3:05]
23. Gina [2:44]

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