Angel Eyes (m. Matt Dennis, w. Earl Brent)
Although one of the most covered jazz standards now, “Angel Eyes” had some bad breaks when it was first recorded. Dennis credited Ella Fitzgerald with popularizing the song. He recalled “I wrote it in 1947 and had a hell of a time getting it going, even with monumental starts. First, Herb Jeffries did it, but the (record) company folded. Then Nat Cole did it and I was in seventh heaven, but it got lost because it was on the flip side of a hit called ‘Return to Paradise.’ Finally, Ella (Fitzgerald) recorded it for (producer) Norman Granz. She’s done it four times since. I’m thrilled because she’s always included it in her shows.” Fitzgerald first recorded the song in 1952 with Sy Oliver and his Orchestra and often described it as one of her favorite songs; another favorite of hers was “Something to Live For.” A New York Times article speculated, “Because both songs are sad, they hint at feelings that Fitzgerald kept mostly to herself, since she infused everything she performed with a sense of joy and almost heavenly confidence.” Dennis himself was another early performer of “Angel Eyes”; he recorded it for the soundtrack of the 1953 film Jennifer, a creepy gothic thriller starring Ida Lupino and Howard Duff.
“Angel Eyes” was the only hit produced by the songwriting team of Dennis and Earl Brent. Dennis, along with his chief collaborator, lyricist Thomas Adair, wrote several other jazz standards, including “Let’s Get Away From It All,” “Everything Happens to Me,” Violets for Your Furs,” and “The Night We Called It a Day.”
After Frank Sinatra had become a solo performer, he recorded “Angel Eyes” on [sic] his legendary 1958 album Frank Sinatra Sings For Only the Lonely. His rendition has been called the definitive version of the song, and today the song is most closely associated with him. He excelled at singing drinking songs and claimed, “Being a saloon singer, that’s my racket.” His treatment of “Angel Eyes” displayed the master in peak form. Instead of beginning “Angel Eyes” at the chorus, as do most singers, he began at the release, “So drink up all you people”, which proved to be very effective and moving. In 1971 Sinatra announced his retirement at age 55, and began his series of farewell concerts. He closed these concerts with “Angel Eyes”, exiting the stage after singing the last line, “Excuse me while I disappear.”
Ella Fitzgerald — recorded on 26 June 1952; matrix 83008, issued, as the B-side of “Nowhere Guy,” on the single Decca 28707
2807 (corrected on 16 February 2016); also included on the 1955 compilation album Lullabies of Birdland, Decca 8149 (Mono) — Ella had previously recorded the song live at Birdland on 7 June 1952, with Hank Jones (p), Sandy Block (b), Jimmy Crawford (d).
personnel for the session:
Ella Fitzgerald (vc), Ray Charles Quintet (bd), Taft Jordan, James Nottingham, Bernie Privin (tp), Mort Bullman, Al Grey (tb), Sid Cooper, Milt Yaner (as), Dick Jacobs, Sam Taylor (ts), Dave Mcrae (bs), Hank Jones (p), Everett Barksdale (g), Sandy Block (b), Jimmy Crawford (d), Sy Oliver (cnd, arr)
Chris Connor — from the 1956 album He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, Atlantic SD 1240 (Stereo), Atlantic 1240 (Mono)
— recorded on 24 July 1957, with guitar accompaniment by Barney Kessel; issued on the 1993 3-CD compilation First Lady of Song
Ella Fitzgerald — live in Amsterdam, 1957
Ella Fitzgerald & Lou Levy Trio — Live performance, missing the beginning, from The Frank Sinatra Show (television), 1958
Frank Sinatra – recorded on 29 May 1958 with orchestra arranged by Nelson Riddle; released on Only the Lonely
Matt Dennis – from his 1958 album Plays and Sings Matt Dennis
Chet Baker — Chet Baker with Fifty Italian Strings, recorded Milan, Italy, 28 September 1959 — Chet Baker (tp) Mario Pezzotta (tb) Glauco Masetti (as) Gianni Basso (ts) Fausto Papetti (bars) Giulio Libano (p, cel) Franco Cerri (b) Gene Voctory (d) Len Mercer (arr, cond) unidentified strings
Ahmad Jamal Trio — recorded in June, 1961, during a live performance at Ahmad Jamal’s Alhambra, Chicago; issued on the album All of You, Argo Records LPS-691 (Stereo), Argo Records LP-691 (Mono)
Ahmad Jamal – piano
Israel Crosby – bass
Vernel Fournier – drums
Dave Brubeck Quartet — recorded 2 July 1962, released in 1965 on the album Angel Eyes, Columbia CL 2348 (Mono), Columbia CL 9148 (Stereo) — Dave Brubeck (piano), Paul Desmond (alto sax), Gene Wright (bass), Joe Morello (drums)
Nancy Wilson — from her 1967 album Welcome to My Love
Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis 4 – Montreux Jazz Festival, 15 July 1977 — Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (ts), Oscar Peterson (p), Ray Brown (b), Jimmie Smith (d).
The Four Freshmen — recorded live at the Suncoast Hotel, Las Vegas, 2007(?) — Brian Eichenberger, Curtis Calderon, Vince Johnson, and Bob Ferreira.
Nicole Lvoff — Soho Restaurant and Music Club, Santa Barbara, CA — c.2009
- Nicole Lvoff: vocals
- Woody DeMarco: piano
- Hank Allen: bass
- Rex Harte: drums
- Jon Crosse: saxophone