Two albums from the Decca years, Cheek to Cheek and A Handful of Stars, digitally re-mastered and combined to make one album of 22 well-known melodies arranged by Johnny Douglas. For some he successfully blends the combination of a dance orchestra with lush strings and in the others he creates a soft romantic style.
Before signing up with Decca, Johnny Douglas spent many years playing the piano and orchestrating for a number of top-line British orchestras and thereby gained a wealth of experience in the world of recording and broadcasting. He orchestrated and directed the musical accompaniment for such famous artists as Joan Regan, David Whitfield, Dickie Valentine, Lita Rosa, Lys Assia, Al Martino Suzi Miller and the Johnston Brothers. He showed a strong flair for melody and richness of sound in his backings. It was often said in musical circles that Johnny’s kind of music should have its own presentation as well as being a showcase for vocal renderings, and in this Decca was in complete agreement. Johnny himself long felt the need for filling a gap in modern music styles and so directed his attention to the sphere between the orthodox dance orchestra, consisting of brass, saxes and rhythm, and the more serious light orchestra which became so popular.
As this album demonstrates the result is most pleasing to the ears; the brass, rhythm and strings are handled with such tact and skill, creating a sound that is richly melodic, lush but not sickly, and rhythmic without any offensive blare. It begins with melodies from the famous musical films of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and ends with Cole Porter, a delightful finish that will have you still dancing as it fades into the middle distance. This is the smoothest music you will have heard for a long time, and a triumph of the art of Johnny Douglas.
This is virtually a 2 on 1, containing as it does all the tracks from Johnny's 1955 album CHEEK TO CHEEK, featuring classics from the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rodgers musical plus 10 of the tracks from A HANDFUL OF STARS (1957), omitting LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE and HOW HIGH THE MOON, presumably for practical reasons, as the CD plays for 73'44". The music is in the form of a continuous suite, although individual tracks can be accessed as normal.
A sheer delight from beginning to end, this CD is a perfect example of the high quality of British orchestras in the 50s and the arranging skills of Johnny Douglas. It's all here, the lush string section, the burnished, mellow brass, and virtuoso solos from the pick of British musicians.
Gerry Stonestreet - In Tune - International
This album has been digitally re-mastered from two LPs originally recorded in 1955 and 1957. The orchestra consists of strings, harp, tenor sax (probably Keith Bird, also playing clarinet and bass clarinet), rhythm, etc. and four tenor trombones – Jock Bain, Ric Kennedy, Jack Irving and Jack Thirwell – and what a section they are.
I had the pleasure of working for composer/arranger Johnny Douglas for over forty years. His music was always so good, and this CD is no exception. The songs are beautiful, the arrangements superb, and the playing is quite sensational. That the recordings were done before the luxury of edits, overdubs, etc. (that we all take for granted these days) says a lot for these musicians.
Johnny Douglas himself plays the accordion solos on some of the tracks. How he managed to conduct and strap on the accordion beats me. The trombone solos, and there’s a lot of them, were played by Jock Bain.
You won’t be disappointed with this CD. Johnny Douglas has given us music that’s a joy to listen to over and over again.
Bill Geldard – The Trombonist