PE0275. JUDY GARLAND - Swan Songs, First Flights - Live Performances, 1968-69, Copenhagen, London & Philadelphia. (Canada) 3-Hallow DHR 00101/03, with accompanying 20pp Booklet of notes & photos. Restorations by John H. Haley. Liner notes by Lawrence Schulman, Scott Brogan, John Meyer & John H. Haley. [The Copenhagen event, 25 March, 1969, is in extraordinarily great sound!] Final copies. - 061297994328
“’I am hardly the first to comment that Judy Garland’s voice was unique. I have heard a great many singing voices of all kinds over the years but I have never heard another remotely like it - none of her recordings could possibly be by anyone else’. That is John H. Haley, giving an extensive interview to ‘The Judy Garland Discography’. Haley, amongst other accomplishments, is an expert in audio restoration. To him fell the task of restoring dozens and dozens of Judy Garland’s earliest and last performances, for the 3-disc CD JUDY GARLAND: SWAN SONGS, FIRST FLIGHTS.
The result of this years-long meticulous endeavor is the realization that Garland’s latter-day voice, though considerably changed by time and trouble, had retained much more of its quality and control than legend has it.
Garland fans will especially appreciate the technically adjusted updates on Judy’s 1968 shows from Philadelphia, her last concert in Copenhagen and her final cabaret stint at London’s ‘Talk of the Town’ in 1969.
Mr. Haley’s entire interview, which deals with the particular qualities of Judy’s voice, over the decades, and the extreme effort that went into restoring badly damaged, badly recorded material is fascinating. A labor of love does not begin to describe this effort!”
- Liz Smith, New York Social Diary, 26 Jan., 2015
"These newly-discovered [Garland] tapes - in excellent sound quality – were recorded by Danish Radio in Copenhagen [25 March, 1969] in the Falkoner Centret - a concert hall with superlative acoustics seating 2000 listeners. The material found itself consigned to the archives - until now.”
- J. R. Peters
“The common perception of the last year of Judy Garland’s life is that she was a basket case, a blithering wreck and a mere shadow of her former self; even comparatively sympathetic portrayals depict her as, at best, triumphant in defeat. Yet Garland, like Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, still could reach down to the bottom of her soul and come up with something to dazzle and amaze the audiences that still flocked to see her. This is proved by JUDY GARLAND: SWAN SONGS, FIRST FLIGHTS, a new three-CD boxed set, on the Canada-based Hallow label, that is the first comprehensive and credible release of material from the final year of her life.
The package revolves around shows at three venues - a sports stadium (the John F. Kennedy) in Philadelphia, a supper club (Talk of the Town) in London, and a formal concert hall (the Falkoner) in Copenhagen-that were taped in the final 12 months of Garland’s life. In addition to those largely complete shows, there is a selection of snippets, rehearsals, interviews and generally fascinating odds and ends from the same period. The third disc contains 30 minutes of rarities (mostly soundtracks and test recordings) from the very start of her career.
The sound quality varies widely from source to source, but the material has been restored as much as possible using contemporary digital techniques. The glory of the Garland voice - and, yes, it could still be a glorious instrument even in her last months - has been brought out and the defects and distortions of the source material minimized. In the London recordings, a compilation from various nights in January 1969, the direct connection between Garland and the nightclub audience is palpable, especially in the way she banters with the crowd. The Philadelphia concert appears to have been recorded from the audience, but it is still well worth hearing; the audio of the Denmark concert, by contrast, is fully professional, thanks to the work of Danish radio engineers, and the woman singing is fully alive and vibrant. If Garland is not at her absolute peak in Copenhagen (as she was, say, at her legendary 1961 Carnegie Hall concert or her 1962-63 variety show), then she’s certainly close to it. One would never guess that this is an artist giving her final performance, one whose funeral would be less than three months hence.
One of the collateral benefits of the recordings is hearing Garland do songs she isn’t known for - including a joyful, rapturous performance of the 1968 pop hit ‘For Once in My Life’ in Philadelphia, her last show in the U.S. ‘I Belong to London’ is an Anglo anthem that she sings in that city. And she makes ‘I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning’ an instant Garland classic. It was written by piano-bar veteran John Meyer, who was also the man in her life at the time. Still, the most remarkable performances on the new set may be of her unimpeachable signature song, ‘Over the Rainbow’. In THE WIZARD OF OZ, as her opening number, the song not only foreshadows Dorothy’s journey into the land over the rainbow but symbolizes a young girl’s transition into adulthood; three decades later, in her 1968-69 concerts, ‘Rainbow’ has a quite different meaning for Garland - she saves it for the very end. To a certain extent, this is what pop stars are expected to do at all their concerts - send the crowd home humming the big hit. (When, in Copenhagen, she teases the crowd, ‘shall we hit the song?’, we know which one she means.) But she has also turned ‘Rainbow’ into a very personal end-of- life statement. The Copenhagen ‘Rainbow’ is amazingly personal, a chance for Garland to show that her ability for intimate reflection is, quite possibly, even more impressive than her much-touted ability to belt. Although the audio is substantially inferior, the Philadelphia ‘Rainbow’ is less about inner communication than about reaching an audience; the listeners are so bent on singing along with her that she becomes one with them in a kind of showbiz zen. She sounds about to burst into laughter at several points, and as the big finish approaches, she exclaims, ‘I think I’ve made it’, and encourages the house, ‘we can all do it, you know’.
Now ‘Rainbow’ is no longer about the experiences that she is looking forward to at 16, but the ones she has lived, relished and suffered through in the 30 years since. It is about the movies and the marriages, the kids and the comebacks, the fall and the rise and the transcendence. Dorothy has been to Oz and back and lived to tell the tale, and ‘Rainbow’ captures the highs and lows of the amazing Garland career, in much the same way that she does at the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ. ‘Some of it wasn’t very nice, but most of it was beautiful’.”
- Will Friedwald, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 17 Feb., 2015
“Garland’s stature in the pantheon of American song (and cinema, for that matter) is unquestionable, but even today, 45 years after her untimely death at the age of 47, there remains a fascination with the more lurid aspects of her private life. A thrilling new collection from [the] new Hallow label places the focus squarely where it should be, on Garland’s art. As a first-of- its-kind document of both her final months and her earliest days, the 3-disc limited edition SWAN SONGS, FIRST FLIGHTS, Her First and Last Recordings, presents three Garland concerts from 1968 and 1969 as well as selections recorded between 1929 and 1940. In total, the set includes nearly four hours of music. The vast majority of these recordings are new to CD, and the painstakingly restored sound gives new life to even the material that will be familiar to longtime collectors.
Though the First Flights of the title are doubtless significant, the three concert performances, or Swan Songs, are at the heart of this set. They present Garland in very different venues - a stadium, a nightclub and a concert hall. By this point in her career, she had a vast repertoire of music from which to choose. The quality of Garland’s performances here gives the lie to the belief that she was incapable of delivering at this stage in her life - and proof that there were still triumphs amidst the well-documented troubles of her final months - they’re captivating additions to Garland’s cherished live discography and fully capture her unparalleled gifts at communicating both sheer, unbridled optimism and devastating heartbreak in song.
The first disc premieres Garland’s final American concert on CD, from July 20, 1968 at Philadelphia’s now-demolished John F. Kennedy Stadium. The show finds her in strong voice and high spirits, and indeed, she was greeted with acclaim by the local press. The audience’s warmth and affection radiate from this disc, which features the orchestra under the direction of Gene Palumbo.
Garland’s life and art are inextricably intertwined; in the moments when the lyrics seem to most explicitly reflect her life, the effect can be chilling, but listening to these concerts is truly more joyous than discomfiting. Notwithstanding some notes in which emotion trumps technical perfection and a flubbed ‘That’s Entertainment’ (‘There always have been too many words to this [song]’, she quips mid-song), Garland nonetheless seems in total control. There’s palpable frisson to her belted ‘By Myself’, which lends the 20,000-capacity stadium an intimacy that only a master artist could conjure in so vast a space. This disc pairs the JFK Stadium concert with a number of bonus tracks also from 1968 including a medley performed with Count Basie from the same concert but left out of the proper sequence (likely due to its low fidelity), a couple of private rehearsal tracks with John Meyer on piano and selections from a New York City tribute to Harold Arlen, Vincent Youmans and Noel Coward. The Meyer tracks show that Garland’s instrument was far from tattered; she sings with elegance and delicacy. The great Jay Blackton conducts the Arlen tribute tracks including a loose, playful ‘Get Happy’, with a special treat in the form of Arlen accompanying Garland and orchestra on ‘Over the Rainbow’.
The second disc of SWAN SONGS, FIRST FLIGHTS premieres an expanded concert from Garland’s near-mythical residency at London’s ‘Talk of the Town’ from December 30, 1968 to February 1, 1969. Here, then, is a composite performance from those tapes, including some material new to CD, in the best sound possible. That the ‘Talk of the Town’ engagement was tumultuous is without question; Garland battled illness, lateness, and even hostile audiences. But there can be little doubt that the performer once again gave her all when able. Garland sounds ebullient and comfortably nostalgic revisiting her MGM days with the audience sing-along medley. Even when performing (and occasionally, struggling) with an unfamiliar orchestra led by the club’s resident musical director Burt Rhodes, Garland persevered with her gutsy, brash and searing stylings. Her vocal instrument here is audibly weaker than in Philadelphia, but her interactions with the audience - loose, quick-witted, and in the moment - are happy compensation. If she could make a stadium as intimate as a nightclub, she could make a nightclub feel as grand as a stadium with her to-the- rafters belt and vibrant enthusiasm.
Three performances from ITV’s ‘Sunday Night at the Palladium’ taped during the ‘Talk’ tenure round out Disc Two’s offerings. The new-to- CD home recordings are particularly fascinating. The freeform spoken word-with- piano lament ‘How Do You Feel’ (lyrics by Garland) and the raw reading of PORGY AND BESS’ ‘My Man’s Gone Now’ both offer insight into the artist’s fragile state of mind at the time.
The Copenhagen concert of March 25, 1969, featured on SWAN SONGS, FIRST FLIGHTS’ third and final disc, turned out to be Garland’s last ever. As remastered here from a high quality copy of a live broadcast tape provided by Danmarks Radio, it’s revelatory both in performance and sound. Following the Overture as conducted by Tony Osborne, Garland emerges refreshed, assured and spontaneous on her playful opening ‘Get Happy’. It’s an admonition that likely was impossible for those in attendance to refuse, as unmistakable vitality pulsates through this concert. There’s a bit more of an edge and a ferocity to ‘Just in Time’, but also a touching world-weariness to ‘The Man That Got Away’ and a childlike vulnerability to ‘Over the Rainbow’. The latter makes for a beautifully touching, altogether fitting finale to a rapturously-greeted performance which is now free of the broadcast’s voiceover narration which has been included on past unofficial releases.
The concert is followed by Hans Vangkilde’s interview with Garland for Danmarks Radio which was taped the next day, on March 26. She’s astute and down-to- earth during the interview, manifesting her great sense of humor, her apparent happiness with husband Mickey Deans, and the love of her fans [who] clearly sustained her. Deans accompanies her on piano for ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’, one of two tracks from a June 15, 1969 rehearsal at New York’s ‘Half Note Club’ - one week before her passing on June 22.
This collection concludes with eleven ‘first flights’, also superbly restored by Haley. These include selections from ‘short subjects’ dating as far back as 1929, with Garland’s voice purely youthful, and the 1935 Decca test acetate in which the precocious vocalist finally sounds like ‘Judy Garland’. Her mother, Ethel Gumm, plays piano on these performances of ‘Bill’ and a charming medley of ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop’, ‘The Object of My Affection’ and ‘Dinah’.
Credit is due to both producer Lawrence Schulman and engineer Haley for their herculean work in bringing the sound quality of these vintage recordings up to a high standard. While sonic deficiencies in the source material are inherent, the music as presented on SWAN SONGS, FIRST FLIGHTS finally can boast of corrected speed and pitch; noise removal, too, has been applied tastefully. Schulman and Haley’s excellent essays are joined by similarly illuminating pieces by The Judy Room’s founder, Scott Brogan, and John Meyer in the slipcased set’s 20-page booklet.
SWAN SONGS, FIRST FLIGHTS offers an abundance of reasons for Garland fans and collectors to ‘get happy’. If it’s all too bittersweet listening with the knowledge that the three concerts here were among the beloved artist’s final ones, the emphasis on this lovingly curated collection is on the sweet. One might even say it offers ‘four hours of POW!’…as only Judy Garland could.”
- Joe Marchese, THE SECOND DISC, 10 Feb., 2015