As a jazz singer—but I don't know if that makes it better or worse
Having grown up in the 50's, Doris Day's movies were a perennial favourite. She came to epitomize the clean, crewcut 50's like no one else could. By the late 60's, she was a symbol of something else... the America that many of us were turning our backs to, as our hair grew longer and rock heroes captured the limelight. We didn't really think about Doris much.
Until 1972, when my relationship with Doris deepened, surprisingly and immeasurably.
By then, I had migrated from Boston to Vancouver, and living communally became a thing. Groups of longhairs and budding feminists shared houses throughout the city. Our group of 5 merry hipsters wanted to rent a "character house" - something from the 30's, with a fireplace, carved wooden bannisters, a drawing room separated from a living room, funky furniture bought at thrift shops.
No such luck. As the moving day loomed, following an extensive search, we were desperate. Alas, we settled for a brand new house, one which was the antithesis of funkiness. Linoleum floors everywhere. Plastic lighting fixtures. No fireplace. Disappointment reigned. $150 per month!
Then, in (if I may say so) I had a stroke of genius. Many of the hippie dwellings took on names like "Cathouse" and "Purple Haze". We called ours, The Doris Day Commune, at my insistence. It suited the house perfectly.
When you entered, there was a colour 8x10 headshot of Doris, smiling as always, hanging in a prominent spot. As time went by, the name took, and that's how others referred to us. We wore the name proudly. When one of our stalwart communards attended an encounter group, he began encountering the rest of us intensely. He encountered us when we were eating, brushing our teeth, smoking a joint and so on. When it became too intense for my girlfriend, and she told him "I don't want to tell you how I really feel about you", prompting him to throw a saltshaker against the wall, leaving a big hole.
Soon, that was covered with a large, colourfully hand-lettered poster with the famous Oscar Levant quote: "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin," as Ted has recounted in this appreciation of Doris.
The Doris Day Commune lasted a few years, the encountering settled down and eventually, we went our separate ways.
Many years later, I acquired all of Doris' big band recordings, and yes, I came to appreciate how she delivered a tune.
So... me and Doris, we go back a long way!
Always thought Doris Day was a great song interpreter. She and Rosemary Clooney both had that devotion to the lyric more than to their own sound, though they both had lovely voices. Too many singers these days are obviously more focused on how they sound, their vocal acrobatics etc, than what the lyric is actually trying to communicate. Doris Day was at the top of the list at communication. I've always thought the best Songbook singers were the best vocal actors, so your article cites that relationship perfectly. Thanks!
I teach and coach young jazz/pop/R&B singers., and I'm always referring them to Ella, Sarah, Billie, and dozens of strong contemporary singers of standards. But I've discovered that when I want them to hear the song the way it was actually written, the original melody, with clear swinging phrasing and great interpretation of the lyrics - I send them to Doris Day (plus Jo Stafford and some others.....) I have a whole new level of respect for her.
Doris Day: great pitch, great phrasing, impeccable delivery and diction, purity of tone, in the pocket--what's not to like!
The Doris Day / Andre Previn “Duet” album is fabulous. Thanks for helping keep that album alive in the jazz memory. Seriously underrated.
Bravo and amen, Ted! I've thought for decades that she's massively underrated, and not just by jazz aficianodos. She's right up there with Frank and Ella when it comes to articulating the lyrics, and her musicianship is spot-on. Listening to her just makes me feel better, for a dozen different reasons. It's like what everybody used to say about Fred Astaire: you see what he does, and you think it's easy, but nobody in show biz ever worked harder at making it look easy than Fred did. I cheered at every word from you today.
I'm a huge lover of Doris Day as a vocalist - she's so direct and honest, and she's never trying to be someone else. Her singing is completely without affect or pretense. It just sounds great and feels real. "Close Your Eyes" on the record with Andre Previn is a standout.
While DD is great, don't overlook Dinah Shore.
While Dinah's records run from pap to startling - St. Louis Blues on Bouquet Of Blues, her TV show was consistently remarkable. premiered 9 September 1974 and continued through to 4 September 1981.
She matched any of her guests - and with stellar orchestrations - from Hoyt Alton and Lucho Gatica to Ella Fitzgerald & Mahailia Jackson.
Nellie MacKay’s album “Normal As Blueberry Pie-A Tribe To Doris Day” (2009) is a must for any fan of either of them. First rate stuff.
I share your love for Doris Day as a singer and want to recommend also her recordings with the Page Cavanaugh Trio, since repackaged rather cheesily on Spotify. https://open.spotify.com/album/0xYW8vNYMbuRaZCWrvXLv4?si=V7pd2pvpT8qthUyBk4-OaA. (Not everything on them is great, including her clueless take on " 'Swonderful"--she literally sings "It's wonderful!" as if the point of the song weren't right there in the title.) I posted a bit about how much this record meant to me: https://trainmyear.blogspot.com/2013/02/lets-find-cozy-spot.html. I also wrote about her rendition of the great Previn original "Control Yourself," which I can't believe no young singer has taken up; even Nellie McKay in her so-so Day tribute album didn't touch it. (I could hear Holly Cole doing it.) https://trainmyear.blogspot.com/2020/05/the-private-canon-control-yourself.html Anyway thanks for keep the Day flame burning!
I love Doris Day AND Dean Martin, and I love that you're giving artists like this the recognition they deserve. When I took a history of jazz class in college, the professor (who was otherwise a lovely person), dismissed everything prior to the bop era as "corny dance music." For a dyed-in-the-wool swing aficionado like me, those were discouraging words. Nonetheless, I continued to listen to, and enjoy, such "corny" but brilliant artists as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Dino, and, yes, Ms. Day.
I’ve got a theory about midwestern jazz artists. Like say, Pat Metheny, Jim Hall, Charlie Haden, Rosemary Clooney & many more. Laid back, slightly behind the beat...& a slight country tinge!
Relevant fun fact:
After she retired she retired she had a long and quiet life in Carmel-by-the-Sea, where she is fondly remembered. A few years ago there was a life-size statue of her made for a weekend festival:
There's a petition to have this clay sculpture cast in bronze:
As a horn player, I always found Doris Day’s recordings of any standard a solid choice to learn the melody
One of my all-time favorite movies is "Glass Bottom Boat." Doris Day, Rod Taylor, Dom Deluise, Paul Lynn ... Brilliant performance and way over the top for a 1966 rom-com. Thanks for the sentimental journey.
Thanks! This serves as a reminder that it's time to rediscover her enchanting vocals.