I finally bought this highly-praised 1957 vocal recording which has just come out on CD. Well worth the wait. More than lives up to its vaunted rep. His only outing in a modern jazz format (there was also a swing-style recording on which Don Nelson is mostly heard instrumentally).
Here is a portion of the liner notes:
Underlying the calm exterior of the music business there is a ceaseless rumble going on with respect to artistic appeal as opposed to commercial appeal. The essence of this controversy is often found within the artists themselves who seek to gratify a creative urge while appeasing the less stringent demands of the public. Finding a middle road between these two extremes has been the good fortune of very few singers, and becomes the object of Don Nelson’s first major recording.
The Nelson family, into which Don was born in Hackensack, N.J., was one with a musical destiny as the success of brother Ozzie indicates. Through this natural association, Don studied tenor saxophone during his formative years, working with high school dance units, and later with a Navy band in Sampson, N.Y. Following the war, Don enrolled as an English major at the University of Southern California, and though he nurtured his interest in music by playing occasional jobs, his academic training was slanted toward a career in radio and television writing which he pursues in partnership with Jay Sommers. As this new-found outlet began to blossom and take shape, his career in music was necessarily sidelined.
During all of these years, Don has been acutely interested in the evolution of vocal patterns and presentations. As a boy he sang for the amusement of his immediate family and tried his hand at the art during his Navy days. Disk jockey Jack Wagner of KHJ in Los Angeles encouraged the young man to explore his vocal interpretations, feeling that distinctive self-expression can always find its place in the field. Out of the mass of experience and sustained observations, Don began molding the fabric of a vocal recording.
In contrast to established procedures, he first selected the trio backing which he felt would best support the tunes and tempo he had in mind. For the vital piano slot he installed the inimitable Jimmy Rowles whose duality as accompanist and soloist has attracted nation-wide admiration. For the bass parts, Don called on the immense talents of Leroy Vinnegar whose booming drive has been the backbone of so many successful jazz units. His drummer, Stan Levey, is a pioneer in modern percussion and one of the most flexible men in the business.
The choice of tunes was exclusively Don’s prerogative, as was the variety of presentations. In addition to collaborating on the arrangements with Jimmy Rowles, Don injected his instrumental personality on several tracks, playing the seldom heard recorder. This ancient instrument, with its flute-like tones, has been the object of Don’s interest for several years, an outgrowth of his personal affinity for all the members of the reed family. With profound respect for the musicians who accompanied him, Don Nelson offers this interesting program:
Available at the fine Dusty Groove e-commerce site for, wellll, a song. Well worth it and then some.