Cats make jazz and love jazz. In the case of loving jazz, so do mice. Well, at least one mouse in particular.
Next month, a Walt Disney Records imprint, Disney Pearl Series, will release Disney Jazz Volume 1: Everybody Wants to Be a Cat. It’s a 13-track collection of popular songs from the soundtracks of Disney films.
OK, maybe the analogy to Mickey Mouse was a stretch. But there is nothing mickey mouse about the participants, who include a wide range of today’s jazz stars. By jazz, I’m referring to mainstream jazz. There are no instrumental posters in this mix.
The emergence of this project should not be a surprise, given Walt Disney’s fondness for jazz, and the fondness that jazz musicians over the years have had for songs from his films. Need we mention more than Miles Davis’s classic take on “Some Day My Prince Will Come" from 1937's animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or pianist Dave Brubeck, who recorded an album’s worth of album of Disney music on Dave Digs Disney in 1957. Louis Armstrong and Gil Goldstein also recorded Disney projects.
Jason Olaine produced this new collection, asking participating musicians to pick through some 600 songs and record one of those Disney tunes – from classic films to newer animated hits like Toy Story and The Lion King.
Brubeck was one of the first artists to sign on, recording two tracks, "Some Day My Prince Will Come" and "Alice in Wonderland," the latter done with trio plus singer Roberta Gambarini.
The CD title track, derives from "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat," from The Aristocats. It’s also the opening track, performed by trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s quintet. Other performers on this project include singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding, saxophonist, Joshua Redman, trumpeter Mark Rapp, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Gilad Hekselman, the piano trio The Bad Plus, violinist Regina Carter, and singers Dianne Reeves and Nikki Yanofsky.
Talk about multi jazz generations. Brubeck turned 90 last month, and Canadian Yanofsky is still a teenager.
Here’s a rundown of the range of tracks. Redman selected "You've Got a Friend in Me," written by Randy Newman for Toy Story. Yanofsky opted for "It's a Small World." Rosenwinkel recorded "Free the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)" and Spalding recorded “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” both from Mary Poppins. Rodriguez re-arranged and recorded "The Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book, with his mentor, Quincy Jones, producing. The Bad Plus selected “Gaston” and Hekselman choses “Belle,” both from Beauty and the Beast. Reeves sang “He’s a Tramp” from Lady and the Tramp, while Rapp opted to perform “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. Carter selected “Find Yourself” from Disney Pixar’s Cars.
In the CD’s liner notes, jazz journalist Ashley Kahn credited the top-drawer prowess of the performers pulled together for this project. "It's exceedingly rare that one finds this range of talent on one jazz album,” Kahn wrote. “If one desired an accurate measure of today's scene in all its flavors and formats, here it is on one disc."
With 600 songs in Olaine’s available library (actually 587 now), it’s not a stretch to think more volumes are coming in the months and years ahead. The Vol. 1 in the CD title is not just a matter of making a wish on a star. Not by any means.