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A jazz composer and arranger best known for his work with Frank Sinatra, Billy May's scoring and songwriting talents run the gamut of canned emotion--from sly, self-deprecating humor to sloppy sentimentality to bold braggadocio. But given the proper circumstance, his compositions can swing with wild abandon. The soundtrack to Johnny Cool (1963) provides a delightful case in point. A film of (for its time) ridiculous and gratuitous violence, Johnny Cool called for a similarly unhinged score. May rose to the occasion, delivering some of the most rollicking music of his career. It's obvious that the composer saw freedom in contradiction, as the big band pieces on this collection alternate from disposable, dishwater jazz to kinetic, almost rock-like swing tunes. But it's the appearance of another rat packer--Sammy Davis Jr.--that really vaults this soundtrack over the top. Davis's exquisitely cheesy phrasing on the hilarious "Bee Boom" and his hollow lament on the film's title track are the stuff of ironic legend. --Matt Hanks
Fabled in jazz circles for his composing and arranging duties with such singing stars as Frank Sinatra, Nat 'King' Cole and Peggy Lee, Billy May wrote very few full-length film scores. May's furiously swinging music for the 1963 gangster film Johnny Cool exemplifies his storied genius, and features legendary Rat Pack alumni Sammy Davis, Jr. on two vocal tracks, "The Ballad Of Johnny Cool" and the slyly humorous "Bee Bom."
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