This CD was a long time coming. 15 years ago Richard Lanham, a veteran of the entertainment world, made the definitive album of his life, recording a dozen of his favorite songs in lively and heartfelt versions. But because of the rapid changes in the music business, this valuable set was lost in the shuffle. Finally in 2013 it is being released, and happily it sounds as fresh as it did when it was originally performed.
Although this is his first album of jazz and popular standards as a leader, Richard Lanham has had a long and colorful career. Born in Long Island, New York, Richard came from a very musical family in which one brother played drums and the other was a trumpeter. “There were a lot of records in the house and I would always hear Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Joe Williams, Thelonious Monk and the other greats. Here is how I started in show business. My mother sent me regularly to Sunday school and would give me a quarter. The school was across the street from a diner so I went there instead. I would wait until people came to the diner, put a nickel in the jukebox, and start singing and dancing. By the time I left for home, I had a pocket full of change!”
Three of Richard’s brothers and two of their friends formed a Doo-Wop group called the Tempo Tones. When they got ready to record, the record producer wanted a young singer for one of the songs, and Richard was recommended. He made his recording debut with the Tempo Tunes when he was 12, recorded around eight songs, and was part of the group for a few years, gaining a lot of important experience. After that period, he worked as a background singer in the New York area, at 16 sang at weekends while accompanied by the Miles Davis rhythm section of the time (pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb), and became a member of the Inkspots. Richard toured Canada and Europe with the Boateneers, spent three years living and performing in Europe, and back in the U.S. recorded for the Josie label and sang with the Drifters for two years. After performing at a countless number of club dates, casuals and weddings, he became a member of the Cadillacs and decided that what he really wanted to do most was sing jazz and standards. This CD was the result.
”I knew what songs I wanted to record and the type of arrangements I wanted to have,” remembers Richard. “I hired Jerry Weldon, a fine tenor-saxophonist, to write the arrangements for me and he did a great job. Some of the musicians on the album were from the NY Hard Bop Quintet (trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, pianist Keith Saunders and bassist Bim Strasberg) with whom I often sang, and we were lucky to also get guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Strasser.”
The CD starts off with a rousing version of “Thou Swell.” Richard Lanham’s singing is infectious, joyous and swinging in the extreme, both inspiring and being inspired by the band. Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” is taken slower than usual, featuring the singer at his most romantic and soulful; Peter Bernstein’s guitar has a nice spot. “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” is performed with plenty of spirit and sass, related to but different from Ray Charles’ famous version.
Richard Lanham the crooner is on display on “Star Dust,” one of several songs on the album that he originally learned from Nat King Cole’s version. “I love everything that he did.” Joe Magnarelli’s trumpet fits right into the performance’s mood. The catchy “Calypso Medley” is inspired by Richard listening to Harry Belafonte a lot when he was growing up. “I added some funny dialogue to it, taking listeners on a trip to the Caribbean. Danny Sadownick’s congas add a lot to this song as does Dan Block on flute.” Next is a happy version of one of Richard’s trademark songs, Duke Ellington’s ”I’m Beginning To See The Light.” Cole Porter’s “Äll Of You” gives the singer a chance to swing with the rhythm section; Keith Saunders takes a fine piano chorus. Dan Block’s flute interacts closely with Richard on a delightful rendition of “Ämor.”
While “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” was a big hit for Nat King Cole, Richard Lanham’s version has his own highly individual phrasing along with an inventive Jerry Weldon arrangement. Ünforgettable” is a direct tribute to Nat Cole, featuring Richard’s expressive and romantic singing. The lesser-known “Ïsn’t It A Pity” has hints of the Shirley Horn recording that Richard loves and shows his mastery at interpreting ballads. This memorable program concludes with a warm version of “Ï Wish You Love.
Throughout all of the dozen songs, Richard Lanham is heard in prime form while clearly having plenty of fun. “I’ve had a great time in my career. I love entertaining. Whenever the lights are on, I’m ready. In the future I’d love to travel more, singing the great songs that I love. I really hope that people get to hear this CD and that they will be entertained.” There is no doubt that listeners will find Thou Swell to be quite musical and very entertaining.
Scott Yanow, author of ten books including The Jazz Singers, Swing, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76