Hoagy Carmichael has been honored with a steady stream of memorial compilations and tribute albums since the late '80s; Avid Entertainment's ten-CD box In Person 1925-1955 tops them all by augmenting the main body of his oeuvre with rare broadcasts and radio transcripts, privately produced and previously unissued recordings, as well as a fabulous coda CD packed with additional Carmichael tunes interpreted by a wide range of jazz and pop artists. This chronologically precise, intelligently conceived, and beautifully packaged audio portrait gallery traces Carmichael's progress as a recording artist from his first hot jazz sides with Hitch's Happy Harmonists to the Plays Ballads for Dancing album that came out in the mid-'50s; by then Hoagland Carmichael had become as indispensable to U.S. popular culture as the movie theaters, radios, and phonographs that conveyed his music and persona to the public. Richard M. Sudhalter's marvelously insightful and informative essay is peppered with dozens of historical photographs of Carmichael and his many friends. There are two appendices at the end of the booklet: an index of 95 Carmichael compositions heard on this set (usually in only one version, although there are six different interpretations of "Stardust") as well as a rousing roster of titles by other composers (winners in this category are "Cincinnati Dancing Pig" and "Flap Your Elbows, Spin Your Ears and Fly Away").
This could very well be the best Hoagy Carmichael retrospective ever brought before the public. Carmichael is heard during the '20s and early '30s leading his own ensembles and sitting in with bands led by Paul Whiteman, Jean Goldkette, Irving Mills, Eddie Lang, Frankie Trumbauer, Louis Armstrong, and Sunny Clapp; a precious handful of these sessions also involved Carmichael's good friend and primary influence, Bix Beiderbecke. Five sides cut in May and September 1930 constitute Beiderbecke's very last recordings. Carmichael is heard with the Dorsey Brothers and Red Norvo, as guest vocalist with the Casa Loma Orchestra, and on a film soundtrack with Jack Teagarden. His fabulous mid-'40s ARA and V-Disc recordings are followed by a series of vintage radio broadcasts: his own show Tonight at Hoagy's (sponsored by Numade Mayonnaise), The March of Dimes, The Bing Crosby Show, and various programs heard over the BBC. There are two discs devoted to Carmichael's many appearances as featured vocalist with various ensembles and singers during the late '40s and early '50s, including several harrowing duets with vaudeville hellion Cass Daley. Disc nine contains 17 seldom-heard private recordings, which were made between 1939 and 1951 using what were at that time common home acetate disc-cutters. Drawbacks? It would have been helpful had the producers posted the recording dates with the rest of the information on the back of each of the set's little "mini-albums," although whoever did the layout certainly had to contend with space restrictions; one of the discs carries 36 tracks. There is a great wealth of music and information compacted within this outstanding collection; it's a miracle that so much valuable culture could fit into a package the size of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.