In the decade between the end of World War II and the advent of rock 'n' roll, Tony Bennett emerged as one of the premier pop singers of his generation - the heir apparent to figures like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and other iconic balladeers whose versatile and engaging vocal styles had already translated to huge successes in the 1930s and 1940s.
Despite his popularity in the postwar era, though, Bennett had grown restless by the 1970s. The time had come for him to explore something new, preferably on his own terms, and in an environment of his own making. After more than 15 years on Columbia and a short stint at MGM Records, Bennett struck out on his own and launched Improv Records, a label that lasted only a couple years but generated several fine recordings during the mid-1970s.
Concord Records gathers 16 tracks from his brief period on Improv into a single collection, Tony Bennett: The Best of the Improv Recordings. The compilation, is culled from the four-CD boxed set, Tony Bennett: The Complete Improv Recordings.
"These tracks capture the moment in Tony Bennett's career when he had complete artistic freedom," says Nick Phillips, Vice President of Catalog and Jazz A&R at Concord Music Group. "As the head of his own label, he was the person who was calling all the shots and running the show. He was free to record what he wanted to record - music that was really important to him and resonated with him . . . I think the results are nothing short of stellar."
Will Friedwald, who wrote the liner notes for the collection, admits that Improv was short-lived and not a commercial success, releasing about ten albums before shutting its doors after only two years. However, the period was an artistic high mark in Bennett's overall career.
"Tony Bennett's own recordings for his label would fall roughly into three categories," says Friedwald. "Orchestral sessions with his regular musical director at the time, Torrie Zito; quartet sessions with the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet; and most famously, duet sessions with pianist Bill Evans." Each of these categories is well represented in this collection.
Despite the label's less than stellar commercial performance during its short existence, says Friedwald, "the Improv sessions would result in some of the most amazing music of Bennett's career."