It’s one thing to profess a love for Frank Sinatra. Most people have heard the name and they basically get what you mean when you say you listen to Sinatra. Same goes for Tony Bennett, particularly in light of how visible he has become since he began his third (or fourth?) victory lap releasing duets records with high-profile artists. But I have always loved finding the thing that no one is talking about or no one has heard of. Whether it’s a book, a movie or a TV show, I’ve always liked touting something that I feel is more mine instead of belonging to the masses. Take a singer like Jack Jones, for example.
I will never as long as I live forget my early days of discovering and exploring the singers of the Great American Songbook. I’ll always remember when I was seeking out new old things to listen to stumbling on Nick Clooney on WNEW in New York. Driving to work very early one morning, I was able to tune in through the static and I heard Nick play “Lady” by Jack Jones. I don’t think it was a name I had ever heard. It was the sound of this tune that intrigued me; richer, grander than the Sinatra of the 1950’s I had been listening to. “Lady” was released in 1967 so, indeed, the pop vocal music of that time was sounding different from that of earlier eras. Not long after this, I began collecting records in earnest and one of the very first I found was one by Jack. So, it had begun and Jack Jones became one of the few people I regularly referred to as “my man”.
Looking into Jack Jones yielded dividends right from the get-go. John Allan Jones was the son of singer and actor Allan Jones. Jack was born in Hollywood of show business stock on the very night his father was recording “The Donkey Serenade”, his only notable release and in fact one that became the third biggest-selling single in RCA Victor’s history1. Allan Jones you can add to the long list of people I have come across who hail from Pennsylvania. The son of Welsh coal miners, Allan was born in Old Forge and raised in Scranton. In 1936, Allan married actress Irene Hervey of Venice, California. Hervey – once engaged to Robert Taylor – was a mid-level performer who can be seen in the likes of The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), East Side of Heaven (with Crosby, 1939), Destry Rides Again (1939), some films noir in the late 1940’s and later in Cactus Flower (1969) and Clint’s Play Misty for Me (1971).
What thrilled me so about Jack being Allan’s son was that I had always loved Allan Jones in one of my favourite films, One Night in the Tropics (1940). Abbot and Costello’s first movie is a delightful story and one of the sub genres I adore; films wherein the principals travel to a tropical locale. This gem stars an actor I love, Robert Cummings and gorgeous Nancy Kelly and Abbott and Costello do some radio shtick including “Who’s On First?”. Fans of classic film likely know Allan Jones from the two films he made with the Marx Brothers, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. Allan would make films only until 1945 but he returned to appear in A Swingin’ Summer (1965).
Despite the stardom of his parents, Jack attended public school at University High in West Los Angeles. The school’s impressive list of notable alumni includes Desi Arnaz, Jr., Jeff Bridges, James Brolin, David Cassidy, Sandra Dee, Annette Funicello, Judy Garland, Bruce Johnston, Sue Lyon, Elizabeth Taylor and Dean Torrence. Jack was an accomplished athlete at the school but soon concentrated on the arts. He was particularly lead to pursue his father’s profession when two fellow students invited their father to sing in the school’s auditorium. Nancy and Frank Sinatra, Jr. had the Chairman entertain the student body and Jack soon knew where his future lay.
His break came when he appeared with father Allan at the Thunderbird Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. After having recorded several demos, Jack was signed by Capitol Records. Though my favourite record label – with A&M – I’ve been interested in the past to note that a handful of singers couldn’t find their way there and achieved fame only after leaving Capitol for other companies. Sammy Davis and Lou Rawls are two and Jack a third. He released the LP This Love of Mine – with a preposterous cover – in 1959 and it contained Jack’s first song to gain notice, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big”, written by Steve Allen.
Jack eventually came to the attention of Pete King who worked for Kapp Records. Jack Kapp began Decca Records in 1934 and oversaw the initial iconic recordings of Bing Crosby. Bing trusted Jack so that he said “I just did what he told me”. When Jack died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1949 at age 47, his brother, Dave Kapp, took over the label. Dave though eventually started his own record company, Kapp Records. Pete King signed Jack to the label and took him into the studio. In August of 1961, Jack recorded tracks for his first album for Kapp, one of which was the gentle ballad “Lollipops and Roses”. Tony Velona was a songwriter with perhaps only a couple of tunes in him but they were delightful. He had written “Domani”, recorded by Julius LaRosa in 1955 and then “Lollipops and Roses”. He later wrote the lyrics to the song “Music to Watch Girls By”. Kapp released “Lollipops” on the album of the same name, one that was released in Canada with the title This Was My Love, named for a gorgeous song later recorded by Frank Sinatra. Jack was still working his day job at a gas station when he happened to hear his own voice singing out of the radio in the car who’s window he was washing.
“Lollipops and Roses” remains perhaps the song most identified with Jack Jones. It was released in 1961 as his first single for Kapp and attracted much notice despite the fact that it was a big, lush ballad released at a time when the pop charts were filled with “Tossin’ and Turnin'” and “Take Good Care of My Baby” and the likes of Connie Francis and Chubby Checker. And here from the outset we see what set Jack Jones apart; he was focused on straight pop singing in the rock era. “Lollipops and Roses” reached only #66 on the Pop charts but it peaked at #6 on the new Adult Contemporary chart; indeed, this chart was created to track the success of songs like this one and singers like Jack. Jack put his name in the history books early when, on the night of May 29, 1962 at the 4th Annual Grammy Awards, “Lollipops and Roses” won the award for Best Solo Vocal Performance, Male, besting among others the absolutely gorgeous “Portrait of My Love” by Steve Lawrence.
“Jones returns to the roots of the great baritone tradition…He is part of the same continuum as Sinatra, Eckstine, Haymes and Cole; there are passing similarities between his sound and what they sounded like at the start of their careers…”– Will Friedwald2
The following year saw the release of the film Wives and Lovers starring Janet Leigh that is one of the films of this era that became better known for a song that came from it. Jack recorded the Bacharach/David song and released it as a single, seeing it reach #14 on the Pop charts – it remains his highest-charting single on that listing – and the Top 10 AC. It became the title track of Jack’s next Kapp LP and won him his second Grammy, this time for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Within three years, Jack Jones had won multiple Grammy Awards and was regularly charting singles. He was also carrying on issuing fine albums, a practice that would serve him well as the LP format reached its maturity.
Between 1964 and 1966, Jack Jones released eight LPs as he cemented his position at the vanguard of artists who were carrying on the tradition of straight singing. Jack may have been younger than the likes of Tony Bennett, Jerry Vale and Al Martino but he joined their ranks and helped carry the torch. His matinee idol looks certainly helped him stand out, though, and he could be seen regularly on television variety shows. The late Sixties is a fascinating time for this sort of songcraft and the releases at this time provide an intriguing sub genre, one that I think really stands out in the history of pop music and one I tried to disseminate in my articles on Adult Contemporary music (see here).
Jack’s Christmas album of ’64 is one I enjoy. Marty Manning’s sprightly arrangement of “Mistletoe and Holly” provides a fine alternative to Sinatra’s standard. There’s a wonderful mood on the record and Jack provides the lesser-known “Lullaby for Christmas Eve” and a couple of nice medleys of carols. She Loves Me is a stand-out in his library. For this program, Jack was teamed with Jack Elliott who provides the record with its backgrounds. Elliott had done some work as director of music for television shows but nothing significant that would explain how he came up with such sparkling, effervescent charts for these 12 songs. Employing breezy, bossa-esque arrangements for even a sad song like “I Get Along Without You Very Well” makes the whole record shine bright. And Jack’s voice matches the light-hearted mood perfectly.
And then there is a record near and dear to me. I found Jack’s The Impossible Dream at a garage sale (it was a local town’s community sale, the Wing Ding) in my early days of collecting this music. The elegiac title track I care for not one iota but the album is loaded with typically great performances by Jones. The stand-out is Jack’s version of “Strangers in the NIght”, a song Jones actually recorded a mere three days before Frank Sinatra did. Frank’s producers, feeling they had a hit on their hands and wanting to beat Jones to the punch, hustled acetates of the finished song to disc jockeys around the country and Sinatra’s version hit the air first3. Frank’s record became a smash, hitting #1 on multiple charts and winning three Grammys. More than that, it became perhaps the song most identified with Frank Sinatra. Problem is, “Strangers in the Night” is perhaps Frank’s least revered hit song among Sinatra people and was despised by the Chairman himself. To add to all this, Jack Jones’ version is wonderful, infinitely better than Frank’s. Pete King’s arrangement is gentle and engaging and Jack of course shines.
Some of Jack’s last work for Kapp Records resulted in his masterpiece. I have already devoted a post to 1967’s Lady album. It is the pinnacle of style, grace and class in this idiom in an era dominated by rock and songs of protest. Be sure to read up on it here.
“Jones isn’t just a voice…but the creator of his own genre, his own repertoire, his own palette of orchestral backdrops.”2
An interesting thing about the Jack Jones approach to recording through his years with Kapp Records is the plethora of different arrangers he used. I fall into the trap sometimes of applying the Sinatra Template to every singer. Because Francis was the first singer in this genre I really studied, any differences in a singer’s application stood out to me and proved a challenge to comprehend. Shaking this nonsense off though has allowed me to fully appreciate any and all approaches to jazz vocal singing.
I’m used to a singer having a constant – at least for one record – right hand. Perhaps its a testament to Jack’s supreme talent that it mattered not one bit who wrote the chart or conducted the orchestra, Jack Jones was Jack Jones and he applied his special touch to every body’s – anybody’s – work. After starting with Billy May and Pete King, Jack worked with many arrangers. 1963’s Wives and Lovers record features no less than four arrangers, all names that stand out for me; King, Glenn Osser (one of my all-time favourite records, Bob Goulet’s Two of Us), Marty Paich (prolific; Mel Tormé, Sammy Davis) and Ralph Carmichael (Nat Cole’s Christmas record and others). Jack’s Kapp albums typically feature the work of three or four different arrangers/conductors. It’s worth noting that Jones recorded 1965’s nice There’s Love and There’s Love and There’s Love album with Nelson Riddle who joins the aforementioned and Don Costa and Shorty Rogers among Jones’ arrangers, proving Jones has worked with the best in the business.
Through the Sixties, Jack was the type of singer for which the Adult Contemporary chart was created and he had much more success on this listing than on the Pop charts. “Lollipops and Roses” was released almost at the same time the AC chart came into prominence and the tune reached #6. Later, Jack’s cover of the George Jones country song “The Race is On” became his first #1 on the Easy Listening chart and Jack would top the listing twice more, with “The Impossible Dream” in ’66 and the sublime “Lady” the following year. Into the Seventies, Jack maintained visibility in the AC world and his singles regularly turned up there. All told, Jack Jones enjoyed 13 Top 10 AC hits, the same number as Johnny Mathis and Engelbert Humperdinck.
Jack moved to RCA Records in 1967 and would gradually transition from Vegas smooth to long-haired middle-of-the-road. Jones would adopt the “hits of the day” format favoured by the likes of Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis, though Jones was not quite as obvious about it. He threw in amongst albums of the work of David Gates, records full of Michel Legrand and Charles Aznavour compositions.
By the late 1970’s, Jones was getting adventurous and fully exploring where a singer of his ilk could go in terms of song selection and backgrounds. 1975’s What I Did For Love features Jack himself pairing with others to create the rhythm arrangements while the orchestra conducting – true to form – is done by many others though they are the same men Jack had been using for a dozen years. Jack co-produced the record and it features an impressive list of session musicians, legends in their own right; Michael Melvoin (I gush about him here), Don Randi, Max Bennett, Al Casey, Ron Hicklin and Jackie Ward with the addition of actress Susan George, whom Jack was dating at the time. Here, Jack presents “After the Lovin'” before Engelbert Humperdinck scored a comeback hit with it. Jack loved it and wanted to promote it as a single but his producer did not agree. That tune and the title track benefit from Jack’s rich, mature but still somehow breezy voice. I respect a record like this; whether it hits or misses, it shows engagement and ambition.
1977’s The Full Life is also interesting. Jack has that great mop of salt-and-pepper hair on the cover of this record he made with Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. Bruce and Jack produced the album that contains Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows” and Bruce’s own gem “Disney Girls”. What have I said about Jack Jones and arrangers? The Full Life features charts by five men! Guest musicians include Steve Douglas, Gary Mallaber, Johnston on Fender Rhodes and – wait for it – James Burton and Ron Tutt, Elvis sidemen both!
Then in 1977, Jack recorded the song for which he may today be best known; unfortunately. The Love Boat (1977-1986) was a popular television series that employed Fantasy Island‘s technique and featured various guest stars from week to week portraying passengers sharing laughs and falling in love on a luxury liner. The theme song was written by Charles Fox, who also composed the music for the songs “Killing Me Softly With HIs Song” and “I Got a Name” and who scored many films including Barbarella (1968), Women in Chains (1972) and Strange Brew (1983). The lyrics are by Paul Williams, composer of one of my all-time favourite songs, “Someday Man”. Jack recorded the theme for the show and it was heard over the opening credits for all but the last season (Dionne Warwick). Jones released the tune as a single in 1979 and it was a modest hit. Unfortunately, the theme – like the show – hasn’t aged well and is indicative of the era in which it was recorded. The song is perhaps looked back on today smirkingly but it should not detract from Jack’s legacy. In fact, Jack has claimed the song in recent years and it is indeed an iconic high point of his recording career.
And here’s an interesting sidebar. Amongst all the music, Jack – inexplicably – found time to star in a British slasher flick. Apparently, Pete Walker is an English film director noted for his horror films. Somehow, in 1978, Walker had Jack star in The Comeback, the story of a successful American singer who adjourns to a Surrey manor house to record the album he hopes will return him to the spotlight. There, he is menaced by a mask-wearing, ax-wielding psychopath. Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. Take a look here.
As Jack Jones approached his 50th birthday in the 1980’s, he continued to perform live and to release records of quality material. Case in point is I Am A Singer from 1984. Recorded with a small group, Jack produced the record and introduced new songs written for him while also throwing in “Here’s That Rainy Day” and Billy Joel’s recent “Leave a Tender Moment Alone”, a very canny choice for Jack’s talent.
Jack was clever again in 1997 with New Jack Swing, another record that mixed hip, jazzy treatments of “Every Breath You Take” and “She’s Leaving Home” with big band work-outs on “All Or Nothing At All” and “Stranger in Paradise”. Incidentally, Jack recording songs like “After the Lovin'”, “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” shows that – like he did 20 and 30 years earlier – he was still looking for the current popular songs, the quality material that was being written at the time. And approaching his 60s, Jack Jones still had a robust and bold voice capable of putting over such songs.
In recent years, Jack has done it like a man of his pedigree should do it. First of all, he should be lauded for letting his hair go white; it looks spectacular. Then, like Herb Alpert, Jack simply produces and releases his own records on what I believe to be his own label, Cavalry Productions. And he records what he wants; records devoted to Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, some Songbook recordings and re-recordings of some of his own hits. His most recent release is Every Other Day I Have the Blues, a record Jack produced for Cavalry with Tom Scott and one that features Jeff Hamilton, John Clayton and Keb’ Mo’. It’s available here. Jack Jones is still doing it.
For me, Jack is a beloved “record guy”. When I began collecting records found on warm spring mornings at garage sales or in the musty confines of thrift stores, finding a Jack Jones record I didn’t yet own was a delight. And it just seemed right; not only is Jack the type of guy you should own on vinyl but his album releases from the 1960’s are excellent. Add to this his Hollywood pedigree and his connection to the desert; Jack went to junior high in Palm Springs and for the last 20 years he has lived in Indian Wells. And that seems right, too. Classy Jack and his sixth wife, Eleonora, living in semi-retired luxury, local celebrities, Jack singing with the pianist when they go for dinner.
But more than all this is a 60-year career marked by class and the highest of quality. From his earliest award-winning work to his mastery of the idiom as the last active purveyor of the Great American Songbook, Jack Jones has managed to stand apart from other singers. He continues to have a special touch.
"You just do the songs the way you feel them; you lay them out and you arrange them, and then your interpretation comes from honesty." (Jack Jones)
Ten from Jones
- Angel Eyes
- Lollipops and Roses
- Wives and Lovers
- She Loves Me
- I Can’t Believe I’m Losing You
- I Will Wait for You
- Strangers in the Night
- If You Go Away
- Every Breath You Take
- Anderson, Nancy. Yesterday’s Stars: Allan Jones My Be Starring in His Son’s Movie. The Mercury, Pottstown, PA. June 18, 1977.
- Friedwald, Will. Jack Jones: Greatest Hits liner notes. MCA Records, Inc. 1995.
- Friedwald, Will. Sinatra! The Song is You: A Singer’s Art. Scribner. 1995.