ARSC Journal Review of “Judy Garland – The Historic Carnegie Hall Concert Remastered” CD Release
This review first appeared in the ARSC Journal (of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections), 2013;44(1):159-162, and is reprinted with the permission of the author, James Fisher, and the publisher of the ARSC Journal. For information about ARSC, see www.ARSC-audio.org.
Endless fascination with Judy Garland’s life and career, both the world’s and my own, and the ever-growing appreciation of her extraordinary vocal prowess have led to heightened interest in her recorded legacy in recent years.
All of Garland’s known studio recordings are currently available in the compact disc format, with outtakes and alternate takes, and previously “lost” recordings appearing with frequency as part of new releases. JSP Records has led the way in preserving Garland’s vocal achievement in the past few years under the guidance of Lawrence Schulman, a Garland scholar and sound archivist extraordinaire. In preserving Garland’s recorded legacy, JSP and Schulman have not limited themselves to her studio recordings but have delved deeply into rare soundtrack, radio, studio, and live concert recordings. Thanks to their efforts, confirmed “Garlandites” have burgeoning libraries of Garland recordings. These include the earliest known vocals in Warner Bros./Vitaphone “talkie” short subjects from 1929-1930 with seven-year-old Garland as the youngest member of the Gumm Sisters, as well as “lost” and now found recordings, such as two of her three unreleased 1935 Decca Records tracks – one remains lost – that recently appeared on JSP and Schulman’s four-disc Judy Garland: Lost Tracks 1929-1959. Beyond these early recordings, Garland’s work in commercial recording studios, on movie sound stages, on radio and television, and in concert spread across her too-short life up to her last European appearances in London and Scandinavia in the weeks preceding her June 1969 death.
Of all Garland recordings, the most acclaimed and best-known is unquestionably that derived from her Carnegie Hall concert on April 23, 1961, released by Capitol Records as a two-LP set called Judy at Carnegie Hall that same year. As the title of this newest release of that recording makes clear, Garland’s performance that night has attained historic dimensions in the realm of popular music, as the set’s annotator, Scott Brogan, notes. The original release of Judy at Carnegie Hall rocketed to the top of the charts and stayed there for 94 weeks (13 weeks at number one) and won five Grammy Awards, including the first Album of the Year for a live recording and the first for a female artist. It has been constantly available in every commercial audio format, and it is widely considered perhaps the greatest live recording in the realm of popular music. In Garland lore, Judy at Carnegie Hall is the Holy Grail – the pinnacle of her late career vocalizing, and proof, presuming such proof should be needed, that she was a masterful entertainer and singer, easily the equal of any performing artist of the Twentieth Century.
As previously noted, Judy at Carnegie Hall has been re-released non-stop since its first appearance over fifty years ago. First released on compact disc in 1989, in stereo, it has since undergone some transformations, including a 2000 “gold” version released by DCC Compact Classics in which every second of the concert’s master tapes housed in its vaults was presented, without editing, from start to finish. The DCC set was followed in 2001 by another Capitol Records release, this too complete and with some reverb added compared to the DCC mastering. These two releases reaped no new songs since all of Garland’s vocals that night were included on the original album, but it added some stage waits and Garland quips and stories between numbers, including a hilarious account of a visit to a Parisian hairdresser during a European tour, as well as her touching introduction of songwriter Harold Arlen, a perfect gesture given that her program featured many Arlen compositions (he was only one of a number of celebrities present in the star-studded audience). Garlandites welcomed the DCC set as well as the Capitol, which was released just prior to the fortieth anniversary of the concert. But despite the aforementioned minor additional pleasures, some listeners (including this one) have missed both the original mono sound and the added intensity resulting from the original version’s relatively minor audio edits, which increased the momentum of Garland’s performance.
Most of us in the “baby boom” generation (and after) were introduced to Garland in childhood viewings The Wizard of Oz (1939) during its annual holiday television showings, in my case during the 1950s and early 1960s. Little did we imagine that Dorothy Gale of Kansas grew up to be one of the singular entertainers of the Twentieth Century, and we ultimately discovered a wholly different Garland. Though her film work slowed after 1950 to a few notable appearances (most particularly A Star Is Born in 1954), in those days before home video we could only see her in old films on TV, her appearances on TV variety and talk shows, most effectively in a few specials and on The Judy Garland Show, her 1963-64 television series. Otherwise, in those days, experiencing Garland could only happen in person and through recordings. I was fortunate enough to see Garland on stage twice in June 1968 at the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey – and the experience was unforgettable. The best of her concert and television recordings go some distance in capturing the experience I had of seeing her live because, it must be stressed, there was always a special vitality in her vocalizing before a live audience that was not present in even the best of her commercial or film soundtrack recordings.
For us “boomers,” Judy at Carnegie Hall was released during our adolescence – and that extraordinary mono album is the way we like to remember it and her. My parents owned the album and I played it until it was worn-out and replaced – more than once. As technology changed with stereo LP versions and stereo compact discs offerings of Judy at Carnegie Hall, I moved with the times but continued to miss the unique vitality of the original mono release. As such, Judy Garland: The Historic Carnegie Hall Concert Remastered, preserved by London-based JSP Records on two-CDs as a restoration of the original LP album, which has now hit public domain outside the U.S, and presented in glorious mono, impressively restores the original experience and very happy memories.
Garland’s Herculean performance at Carnegie Hall became the stuff of legend and, remarkably, the recorded evidence only supports and enhances that legend. The concert has been written about profusely, and the qualities of her voice, which undeniably had changed since her cinematic heyday, have been widely debated by critics and scholars. However, any imperfections in her voice or in technical areas, which it must be noted are inherently imperfect for that period, are moot. The overall result in Judy at Carnegie Hall is, by any standard, impressive on all counts, and this JSP restoration proves it. Garland was at her latter-day best and the original recording quality is remarkable – and is best heard in mono.
When compared to Garland’s 1958 single-LP Capitol Records release, Garland at the Grove, her first commercially-released concert recording, the improvement in sound recording in on-site circumstances is obvious. The aforementioned Cocoanut Grove recording captured Garland on the last performance of a two-week run when her voice was tired, and it must be stressed that this recording was made at a low ebb when she was seriously overweight and in ill health. Within a year, her health failed completely and she was urged to retire. Instead, in 1960, a rested and renewed Garland embarked on a grueling concert schedule throughout Europe before a forty-plus city tour of one-night stands climaxing in the Carnegie Hall appearance. Clearly, this was Garland at her peak.
Garland sang a total of 25 songs that night, including encores and not counting separate songs featured in medley form, such as her famous threesome medley of “You Made Me Love You,” “For Me and My Gal,” and “The Trolley Song,” reminding listeners of her early musical films. The program presents Garland in every conceivable mood; and this fact is, perhaps, a clue to her extraordinary impact on an audience. She shifts moods from exuberance to the depths of despair in a nano-second; each song becomes something like a mini-comedy or one-act drama exploring the various faces of love, loss, absurdity of existence, and other human emotions. At once bombastic (“Come Rain or Come Shine”), comic (“San Francisco,” “When You’re Smiling”), introspective (“Alone Together”), nostalgic (“After You’ve Gone”), and profoundly autobiographical (“The Man That Got Away,” “Over the Rainbow”), Garland rewards listeners with a survey of American popular music of the early and mid-Twentieth Century, and it presents a compendium of her own career highs. Garland’s orchestra, under the direction of her longtime conductor, Mort Lindsey, is in especially fine fettle from the start of the famous Garland overture to the final playoff, and of course Garland is consistently at her unmatchable best throughout.
The varied program includes sections in which Garland performs a mini-concert of jazzy selections with a small combo stepping out of the larger orchestra, adding yet another mood to the overall program. When these selections conclude, Garland is three-quarters of the way through her substantial program, but she is undaunted and delivers a series of powerhouse performances, including boldly dramatic interpretations of a series of songs most associated with her. “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” for example, a song she first recorded via a radio appearance in 1935 as, heartbreakingly, her beloved father lay dying in a hospital, clearly meant a great deal to her and was consistently present in her concert programs over the years. Other highlights include the haunting “Alone Together,” deeply felt renditions of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “The Man That Got Away,” the shatteringly dramatic passion of “Stormy Weather,” the near-hysteria of “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and in the touchingly nostalgic medley of “You Made Me Love You,” “For Me and My Gal” (complete with the usual audience sing-a-long), and “The Trolley Song.” These highlights can only be topped by the program’s closing numbers and encores (or, as we “boomers” remember it, Side Four of the LP set!). The Jolsonseque “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody,” which ends the actual program, and “Swanee,” among the encores, are particular highlights celebrating Garland’s vaudeville roots, but more due to her powerhouse delivery of both. “Swanee,” in particular, which bookended the famous “Born in a Trunk” sequence of A Star is Born, is especially memorable as she delivers the next to last long note for a long, thrilling moment, sending her audience into a near-cathartic frenzy. This is Garland at her most daring; in the last minutes of an exhausting program, she delivers a knockout punch and continues to jab with further encores, “After You’ve Gone” and “Chicago.” The inevitable “Over the Rainbow,” the first encore, is the song most closely associated with her and without which no Garland concert was complete; here, as always, she delivers it touchingly to a rapt audience.
Any true Garlandite will want the DCC “gold” version or the Capitol follow-up of the complete concert as it happened, and as a companion, this fine restoration of the first-released slightly edited LP version. The relatively minor edits and rearrangements made for the original release and honored here provide an even more exciting listening experience than the DCC or Capitol versions. For those of us raised on the Judy at Carnegie Hall LP, it is digital heaven, and we can only envy those hearing this concert for the first time via this outstanding JSP Records release. The remastering for this JSP release is expert, and the overall audio experience here is excellent, especially in eliminating the muddiness evident on the first compact disc release in 1989, which was stereo. JSP’s packaging eschews the original Judy at Carnegie Hall poster cover art and instead features a reproduction of an actual ticket to the concert, which is repeated on the cover of the two jewel boxes containing the discs, which are also adorned with photos of Garland. All in all, JSP Records has provided another gem for audiophiles and Garlandites alike (“boomers” or otherwise) – and one can only look forward to its next Garland project.
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
More information about Judy Garland’s recordings can be found at
The Judy Garland Online Discography