BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “Air Mail Special”


I promised those of you who read my Monday post that there was one more song with the word “air” in the title, and here it is.

“Air Mail Special,” also known as “Airmail Special,” was written by clarinetist and Big Band leader Benny Goodman, guitarist Charlie Christian, and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Mundy in 1941. Here it is as played by Charlie Christian and (I believe) the Benny Goodman Sextet. This isn’t part of the battle, so as much as you’d like to, please don’t vote for it.

It’s a jazz standard and has been covered by a number of artists, ranging from soloists to big bands, including the two versions I’ve chosen for this battle. Here are the contenders.

CONTESTANT #1: Caterina Valente Caterina is an Italian singer whose scat capabilities rival those of Ella Fitzgerald. Here she is live, with Horst Jankowski (“A Walk In The Black Forest”) as her musical director.

Contestant #2: Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band One of the most versatile bands around was the Tonight Show Band, also known as the NBC Orchestra, during the time Johnny Carson was the host and Doc Severinsen was the musical director. Occasionally, Johnny would turn the spotlight on them, and they would put on a real show. They recorded at least two albums of some of the best Big Band music around.

Now, it’s time to vote: whose version of “Air Mail Special” did you prefer, Caterina Valente’s or the Tonight Show Band’s? Listen to both, decide whose you like better, and cast your balot by leaving a comment below with your choice and anything else you want to say about it. Then, how about visiting the blogs below and seeing if they’re doing a Battle of the Bands today as well?

Jingle Jangle Jungle

Mike’s Ramblings

Curious as a Cathy

Tossing It Out


J. A. Scott



Angels Bark

Cherdo on the Flipside


* Stephen has the current list of participants on his site

I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday, March 21, so get your vote to me by then.

The lines are now open. Best of luck to Caterina and Doc and the band!

17 thoughts on “BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “Air Mail Special”

  1. I’m late to hear all the songs but I listened to your tonight:) I nev liked s at and I found it very frenzied and annoying. I had to go to YouTube to find the Doc Severinsen version(hope it was the right one) and it made me long for those days when they were on the Tonight Show….Doc gets my vote for the classy way they did this song.


  2. Hey, John!

    Stephen asked me to pop over to tell you he’s having problems posting comments on your site. He also had problems with mine, too. Anywho, check your spam folder. You’ll probably find a couple lurking in it from him because that’s where I found his on my site. I changed my settings for no restrictions on links in comments hoping this will fix the problem, so we’ll have to see.


    1. Wonder why it got thrown in the spam bucket? Stephen’s commented here before, and I’ve never had a problem. Akismet must be having a bad day. Anyway, thanks for letting me know.


  3. JOHN ~
    I’ll begin by saying I always dug THE DOC SEVERINSON ORCHESTRA. I think a lot of people may have mistakenly dismissed them just because they were on a TV talk show (loved Johnny Carson, too!) but them cats wuz for real! They played with some high-energy power.

    As for scatting, me no likey. No likey by Ella, no likey by Mel. I think a law should have been passed stating that only Satchmo and (for brief moments) Tom Waits were allowed to scat. (Believe it or not, Waits did it very briefly in some songs and surprisingly I liked it.)

    Therefore, my vote in this Battle goes without saying.

    ~ D-FensDogG
    Check out my new blog @
    (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews…


  4. Valente’s version makes you think, “Gee, they worked really hard, but it needs just a little more work.” But Severinson nails it. The horns are brilliant, and the screech note at the end reminds me of Maynard Ferguson or Chase in their prime.

    I must admit a bias – I played in and arranged for rock bands with horns all through college in the 1970s. We did a lot of tunes by Chicago, but one of my best memories was watching the trombone player’s slide blitz in and out in Steely Dan’s “Bodhisattva”. I gave the horns the rapid-fire synth solo, since I only had a Rhodes 73 stage piano and a Farfisa organ at the time.

    I was always trying to get that Farfisa to sound like a Hammond B3. Playing through a Leslie got it close, but no cigar.


    1. I was with you the day you bought the Farfisa. I even remember the one you had before, that you were constantly adjusting. Is the Farfisa still around?


      1. Nope – gave it to Salvation Army maybe 20 years ago. I had a Sequential Prophet V and a Yamaha DX-7 after 1982 (still have those), so I wasn’t using it onstage anymore. Kept it way longer after that than I should have, but I guess it’s like guitarists collecting guitars.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this song before.

    Cat’s scat kind of annoyed me though the instrumentation was excellent. But in the final analysis I’ve got to go with the slick big arrangement of Doc’s band. Miss the old Tonight Show music.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


  6. John, yet another “Air” song I don’t know and I don’t believe I stumbled upon it when I was looking for ideas for Monday’s post. Anywho, contender #1 didn’t resonate well with my ears. I didn’t like the mix of the female vocals match up with the instrumentals at the beginning, so I automatically went to Doc Severinsen which I loved! We always liked hearing this band perform on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Give my vote to Doc!


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