NEW YORK — Tony Bennett never forgot the first time he performed with Dave Brubeck more than half a century ago.
But the tape of that memorable collaboration between two American jazz masters lay forgotten in a record label’s vaults until its discovery by an archivist just weeks after Brubeck’s death in December.
Now it has been released as “Bennett/Brubeck: The White House Sessions, Live 1962.”
President John F. Kennedy’s White House made this jazz summit possible when it booked Brubeck and Bennett to perform at a concert on Aug. 28, 1962, for college-age summer interns. The crowd was so big that the concert had to be moved from the Rose Garden to an open-air theater at the base of the Washington Monument.
After Brubeck and Bennett each performed with their bands, the pianist came back on stage with his drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright to accompany the singer on four encore numbers: “We haven’t rehearsed this, so lots of luck, folks,” Bennett joked with the audience.
“It was very spontaneous — a real jam session, where you really don’t plan what you’re going to sing or how you’re going to play it,” said Bennett, who had never previously performed with his Columbia Records labelmate. “I just gave Dave the key and the song, and we just went for it. The audience went crazy, and you can hear the reaction on the record.”
Columbia Records had sent its mobile recording unit to tape the concert. But only one song, their version of “That Old Black Magic,” surfaced years later on several compilation albums. The nearly one-hour tape had been mislabeled as “American Jazz Concert” with no reference to the two jazz legends and ended up lost in a section of the massive Sony Music Entertainment archives mostly devoted to classical music recordings.
Matt Kelly, director of the archives, was doing routine research last year into Columbia recording sessions done 50 years ago when he pieced together the paper trail that would lead to the tape’s discovery. He cross-referenced incomplete logbook entries for an Aug. 28, 1962, live recording in Washington, which didn’t list the performers’ names, and separate listings for Bennett and Brubeck sessions that same day.
After Brubeck’s death at age 91 on Dec. 5, Bennett’s camp prodded Sony to see if a tape of the Washington concert existed and it was quickly located.
“I was shocked they even had it,” Bennett said in a telephone interview.
John Jackson, Sony Legacy’s vice president of A&R and Content, was surprised to find the tape in pristine condition and decided it had to be released.
“Both Tony and Dave are absolutely at the top of their game,” Jackson said. “It’s the only time they were recorded performing together and to have them on tape together was just too good to be true.”
Brubeck’s classic quartet, with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, begins the set by playing the odd-metered “Take Five” at a faster tempo than on their groundbreaking 1959 album “Time Out.” The rest of the set includes Brubeck compositions inspired by the rhythms of countries where he had performed: “Nomad” (Afghanistan), “Thank You (Dziekuje)” (Poland) and “Castilian Blues” (Spain).
The smooth-voiced Bennett, accompanied by pianist Ralph Sharon’s trio, sings Broadway tunes such as “Just In Time” and “Small World” in his set, which closes with a song that had begun climbing the pop singles chart a few weeks earlier, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”
Their joint performance offers a rare chance to hear Brubeck perform Great American Songbook standards with a top-flight jazz singer and Bennett unleash his jazz chops often kept in check on his more pop-oriented Columbia recordings.
They begin their impromptu performance with a brisk “Lullaby of Broadway” in which Bennett unexpectedly changes the lyrics to “Come along and listen to the lullaby of ... Dave Brubeck” and the pianist quickly jumps into his solo.
On “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town),” Brubeck’s solo gets somewhat funky. Bennett starts off singing “There Will Never Be Another You” as a slow ballad, but suddenly shifts to a fast tempo displaying some daring jazz phrasing, accompanied by Brubeck’s rapid-fire bop lines.
“It was a matter of listening to one another and we turned each other on,” Bennett said. “It’s always a joy to perform with people that you’ve admired your whole life.”