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Jack Lemmon and Jazz No Odd Couple, Album Proves

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

“Sounds like fun.”

That was Oscar-winning actor (“Save the Tiger,” “Mister Roberts”) Jack Lemmon’s reaction when Grammy-winning producer Ralph Jungheim (Ruth Brown, Joe Williams) asked him if he would like to make an album playing piano and singing.

The results, which are definitely A-OK, can be heard on newly released “Jack Lemmon: Piano & Vocals” (LaserLight), in which the noted thespian, who made a couple of albums for Epic and Capitol “about 25 years ago,” plays and sings great standards such as “Embraceable You” and “Like Someone in Love,” and a few originals, accompanied by reed artist/arranger Tommy Newsom’s TV Jazz Stars. (Newsom is associate conductor of “The Tonight Show” orchestra.)

“Hearing from Ralph was a coincidence, in that I had been thinking of doing an album,” said Lemmon, who is about to start filming HBO’s “Getting There,” directed by Jay Sandrich and also starring Talia Shire and Jonathan Silverman.

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Music is his secret love, though Lemmon, who appeared Wednesday on “The Tonight Show” playing a tune from the album, said he’s never taken himself seriously as a great musician. “For me, writing songs or playing is a great outlet,” he said. “It’s kind of like singing in the shower in a way. I like to fool around, play with other people.”

But getting into the studio with Newsom, trumpeters Conte Candoli and Snooky Young, drummer Ed Shaughnessy and others was a real challenge. “Being there with pros, live, and not being able to read music, it was scary,” he said. “Plus (on my previous dates), the band would do its track and then I could do mine. This one, we were all live and that put on added pressure.”

According to Jungheim--who is producing a new project with singer Brown, to follow up their 1989 Grammy winner “Blues on Broadway” (Fantasy)--Lemmon handled himself with aplomb. “This was no Milli Vanilli,” Jungheim said. “We only made two edits. Otherwise, whatever Jack played or sang ended up on the record. And we did it in three three-hour sessions. He was great to work with, very cooperative.”

Lemmon, who cites Art Tatum, Mel Powell and Oscar Peterson as personal favorites, found that what sounded like fun was fun. “The session was great, Tommy was great, and I’d be glad to do it again, if anybody’s crazy enough to want to,” he said in his patentable laugh. “The fun of it is to have something that’s there, like a hunk of film, and hopefully you can be proud of it.”

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Rim Shots: A benefit is being held Tuesday, 8 p.m. to midnight, to defray medical expenses for trumpeter John Swan, who recently suffered two strokes. The event, held at the Castaway’s in Burbank, will feature the Rising Winds, of which Swan was a member, the Maiden Voyage big band, reedman Ray Pizzi and the Tony Terran jazz group. Donation: $10. Information: (818) 848-6691 . . . Kenny Garrett, the saxophonist whose “African Marketplace” (Atlantic) has been on the Billboard jazz charts for many weeks, has canceled his scheduled April 16-21 engagement at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. Instead, Garrett will go on tour with his longtime employer, trumpeter Miles Davis. “When Miles called him, Kenny canceled all his dates,” said Didier Deutsch, consultant for jazz publicity at Atlantic. "(Kenny) gets so much from Miles that he stays with him. Right now, his own career comes second.” Replacing Garrett will be pianist Marcus Roberts, playing solo on April 15-17, and singer Sheila Jordan, backed by the Alan Broadbent trio, April 18-21. Information: (213) 466-2210. . . . “A Celebration of Jazz--1991,” an 18x27 1/2-inch flip-over jazz calendar spotlighting innovative reedman Eric Dolphy, features graphics, photographs, commentary and lists of musicians’ birthdays. Information: (203) 327-7111.

In the Bins: “Latino, Latino” (Rhythm Safari) is a sampler featuring L.A.-based Latin and salsa bands, among them Bobby Matos and Heritage Ensemble, Bongo Logic, Francisco Aguabella and Orquesta Siva. . . . Among eight new CDs from the Japan-based DIW line, which is getting widespread U.S. distribution, are trumpeter Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy’s “My Way”; “Segments,” with pianist Geri Allen, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, and “PDB,” spotlighting bassist Jaco Pastorius, guitarist Hiram Bullock and drummer Kenwood Dennard. . . . Vibraphonist Gary Burton, baritonist Gerry Mulligan and bassist Ron Carter are among the folks on “Jim Hall and Friends” (Musicmasters), which captured the ace guitarist “live " in New York’s Town Hall in a program of originals and standards. . . . Texas tenorman James Clay is in good company--pianist Cedar Walton, bassist David Williams and drummer Billy Higgins--on his Antilles debut, “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” culling items from the jazz (“I Mean You,” “Trane’s Blues”) and standard (“Body and Soul,” “My Foolish Heart”) repertoires. . . . Higgins joins piano giant Hank Jones on bassist Ray Drummond’s “The Essence” (DMP). The men blow solidly on items like Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” and Ellington’s “What Am I Here For?” . . . “West 42nd Street” (Candid) finds alto saxophonist Gary Bartz fronting a fivesome--John Hicks, piano, Claudio Roditi, trumpet, et al.--in lengthy excursions through a variety of straight-ahead stuff. The date was recorded “live” at the new Birdland club in Manhattan.


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