Della [Expanded]

by: Della Reese

Della Reese was never a hardcore jazz singer. Her specialty was traditional pre-rock pop, and unlike jazz-oriented singers -- Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Carmen McRae, among many others -- she was not improvisation-minded. Therefore, her work must be judged by pop standards instead of jazz standards. Anyone who isn't a myopic jazz snob realizes that pop standards aren't necessarily low standards; in fact, traditional pop singers like Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Tony Bennett, and the seminal Bing Crosby have had very high standards. And similarly, Reese brings high pop standards to Della. Recorded in 1959, this excellent album finds Reese backed by an orchestra that Neal Hefti arranged and conducted. Hefti's presence doesn't automatically make Della a jazz session, but he provides tasteful arrangements for a pop singer who has jazz, blues, and gospel influences. In 1959, Reese was very much in her prime, and she is quite soulful on performances of "Blue Skies," "Thou Swell," and other standards. The singer also tackles "The Lady Is a Tramp," one of the many gems that Sinatra defined. Reese, to her credit, doesn't even try to emulate Sinatra's version; instead, she provides a playful interpretation that is rewarding in its own right. Back in the early '60s, Della was originally a 12-song LP. But in 2002, RCA added 12 bonus tracks and reissued it as a 24-track CD. Those bonus tracks are previously unreleased demos; Reese's only accompaniment is George Butler's piano, and she is trying the material out in preparation for her encounter with Hefti. Although not essential, the demos are interesting if you're a hardcore collector. The big band material with Hefti, however, is what makes Della worth obtaining even if you have only a casual interest in her singing. ~ Alex Henderson

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