What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve is a Frank (‘Baby’s It's Cold Outside’, ‘On a Slow Boat to China’) Loesser song. The lyrics, a “jackpot question in advance”, missing you, who are you with speculation, self doubting, self pitying, hopeful song with a happy ending, surfaced in 1947 sung by Margaret Whiting who sold a helluva lot of records in her day and her version is really pretty fetching, gently swinging, I suppose if you like Peggy Lee you will warm to this. The Frank de Vol band you could, should you be in that kind of mood, dance to.
At the end of the 1940s the close harmony Orioles are much better even bearing the cheesy ‘Auld Lang Syne’ intro in mind. It lopes along and the quality of the lead singer croon has a real gospelly soulfulness which was completely absent on the Whiting version above. Even the out of tune piano lends it a certain atmosphere and charm.
Fast forward to the early-1960s and probably the best version you will ever hear, Ella Fitzgerald gives it an all-the-time-in-the-world nonchalance and skates along, the orchestra practically in awe behind her in a superb arrangement. Ella manages to imbue it with happiness and sadness at the same time something no one on any of these versions achieves.
The late Nancy Wilson tackled the song in a release three years on from Ella’s and hers has a twinkling beginning and then very forceful strings behind her from this modern vantage point Dionne Warwick-resembling voice. Very, very classy it must be said. There is such a vivaciousness here you will not find anywhere else which is remarkable.
Johnny Mathis is not known as a jazz singer but he was clearly influenced by Nat King Cole and his voice is a marvel. But to be fair while his version has its charms the production shrouds his vocal in all sorts of sonic gunk, more the ghostest than the mostest as a result.
Yes the 1980s were largely a terrible time for music. And that is where we have landed for soul singer Gladys Knight’s version of the song. Her version seems an uphill task until the backing singers rescue the song to make it passable and they ooze ease to spur Knight on although no one spares the treacle.
Harry Connick’s 1990s version underlines once again what an influence he was on Jamie Cullum. The tempo is perfectly stately and the piano player comps beautifully with both sax player and strings doing their best to crowd in.
Smooth jazz hell of course it is our duty to report from the mega-selling Boney James.
Into the noughties Barbra Streisand is not a jazz singer although the much later Love is the Answer is a jazz album and she proves that she can be one if she wants to because it proved to be one of the finest jazz vocals albums you will ever hear. A top show singer however who can sing jazz well is always worth hearing. A wonderful strings intro sets this up and Streisand’s vocal, a breathless hush as ever, is showy perfection and worth your time.
I’d rate Clare Teal as the UK's greatest classic jazz vocalist alive and active today especially when a big band is to hand and this by contrast intimate setting stands up with the very best, jing jing-a linging along. SG