Harold Mabern – Mr. Lucky: A Tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. – High Note HCD 7237, 54:20 ****:
(Harold Mabern, piano; Eric Alexander, tenor sax; John Webber, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums)
Although Sammy Davis, Jr. once held the moniker of the “world’s greatest living entertainer,” as he was equally adept as a singer, dancer, impersonator, and actor, too many people just remember Sammy as a someone who tried to hold on too long, and a supporter of Richard Nixon (certainly not the coolest cat around).. He became known to a later generation as The Candy Man, and the weak link of the Rat Pack, playing second fiddle to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
Well, Sammy in his prime was a force to be reckoned with in the 1950s and ’60s. He had many major hits, including “What Kind of Fool Am I?” as well as “Too Close for Comfort.” He scored a Tony nomination for Golden Boy. His dancing skills were topnotch, especially tap dancing, and he had a gift for impersonations.
A tribute album to Sammy has been long overdue, so it was rather surprising for jazz pianist Harold Mabern to be the one to honor Sammy. Harold echoes the praise for Mr. Davis, calling him the “greatest all around performer ever.” Mabern decided to record an all-instrumental tribute picking both the bigger hits in Sammy’s career, as well as some lesser known songs in the Davis book. An original composition of Mabern’s, “Soft Shoe Trainin’ With Sammy” completes the song selection, and is a tribute to Davis’ dancing prowess. Accompanying Mabern is the brilliant tenor saxist Eric Alexander, and his fellow One for All band mates: John Webber on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums.
What is most appealing about Mr. Lucky is the sprightly and cheerful arrangements, an absolute testament to Davis’ onstage demeanor throughout his night club act and television performances. You will notice this “spring in your step” mood the most on Sammy’s hits, “The People Tree,” “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” and “Something’s Gotta Give.”
Alexander eats up his solos on Mr. Lucky, as he has such a velvety tone on the ballads and upbeat tempo tunes. Farnsworth provides a steady beat and Webber is as dependable as a fine Swiss watch. And of course, Mabern’s sparkling tone and swing feel is just right to honor Sammy Davis, Jr.
Mr. Lucky might be enough impetus to search out some DVD releases of Sammy in his prime. Sammy had the whole package then. You’ve got to wonder who could tackle playing the five foot five inch giant in a bio film? Sammy’s multi-faceted skills may be the reason why it has taken so long
TrackList: The People Tree, As Long As She Needs Me, Soft Shoe Trainin’ with Sammy, Hey There, I’ve Gotta Be Me, Mr. Lucky, What Kind of Fool Am I?, Night Song, Something’s Gotta Give
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