Sunday, May 31, 2015

#58: Sinatra plus Mandel equals excitement

Another reason to get your hands on Sinatra's first Reprise album, Ring-a-Ding-Ding! is "You And The Night And The Music," written in 1934 by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz:

Johnny Mandel's arrangement is terrific, and Frank, playing around with timing and emphasis, delivers a steamy, jazzy performance. His slightly delayed entry into the second chorus is very satisfying. Frank Sinatra, Jr., in the liner notes, comments:
The jazz feel is most present in the bridge of the song. The second time he reaches the line, "Take...away...the...stars...," Sinatra's great sense of time and swing proves that he was as much a jazz player as any of the greats in the orchestra.
There's no pause between "the" and "stars" but otherwise Frank, Jr., who was a teenager at the time and attended the recording sessions, is (of course) absolutely right about his father's ability to swing jazzily.

Will Friedwald dissects the rest:
At the end of the second chorus, he makes the melody more dramatic and brilliantly drives home the writers' original intention on the phrase "if we could live for the moment" by singing "if" and "live" on notes a fourth higher than the first time around. (Sinatra! The Song Is You, p 377)
If only we had one or two more albums arranged by Mr. Mandel! But I'm so grateful for the one we do have. 

Continue the Sinatra celebration with Mark Steyn, Bob Belvedere, and Ms. EBL.

Friday, May 29, 2015

#59: One of the great romantic ballads

It's Irving Berlin's 1931 classic, "How Deep Is The Ocean?" gorgeously rendered by Sinatra and Riddle for their 1960 album, Nice 'n' Easy:

There was a time when I might have dismissed this as corny and boring. Silly me. Sinatra delivers a rivetingly romantic performance, blending one line into the next over and over with mesmerizing effect. For once, I'm not wishing for a swinging version.

Riddle crafted a schmaltz-free arrangement, making brilliant use of George Roberts' bass trombone. Charles Granata writes:
On the touching ballad "How Deep Is the Ocean?" the bass trombonist plays as though he were a second vocalist. "I listened to Frank for so long, that I really did want to play my instrument the way he sang," Roberts says. "One of the most important things to me was, and still is to this day, to make the bass trombone important; in a sense, being a vocalist on the horn. I want to have the same kind of charisma that Frank has -- what a style that is! That's classy stuff. . . . (Sessions with Sinatra, p 88)
Roberts recalled feeling "petrified" when called on by Riddle to play "the little jazz piece" in the middle of "Makin' Whoopee," but we'll save that for later.

"How Deep Is The Ocean?" is the fourth Irving Berlin song and fourth track from Nice 'n' Easy to appear on my list, so far.

For more Sinatra, check in frequently with Mark Steyn, Bob Belvedere, and Ms. EBL

Monday, May 25, 2015

#60: Grab your coat . . .

. . . and get your hat
Leave your worries on the doorstep 
Just direct your feet 
To the Sunny Side Of The Street:

Don't you feel better now? That two and a half minutes of free therapy comes to you from Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh, Billy May, and Frank Sinatra. The song was written in 1930 and recorded in 1961 for the rollicking Come Swing With Me.

I know I'm always singing the praises of Nelson Riddle but Billy May was a genius as well. This is the tenth May arrangement to make my list, and there's more to come.

Yes, Franks substitutes "snatch" for "get," but that's all right with me. He takes even greater liberties with the last line -- "all those chicks round my feet" -- but I have to admit I enjoy that, too. It would be interesting to know what Dorothy Fields thought of it.

Mark Steyn has written a lot about the great Miss Fields and I'm hoping he'll include this number in his Sinatra 100 list. If he does I'll come back and update with a link and some excerpts.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#61: Sinatra bewitched*

. . . but, strictly speaking, not bothered or bewildered -- that's another song. Today's feature is "Old Devil Moon," with music by Burton Lane (born Morris Hyman Kushner) and lyrics by Yip Harburg (born Isidore Hochberg) of The Wizard of Oz fame.

Sinatra has a whole album devoted to moon songs but this sultry, swirly, swooshy swinger, not included on that disc, outshines them all:

Nelson Riddle -- just wow.

That's my fifth selection, so far, from Songs for Swingin' Lovers.

*Update: Oh my. I just found Frank's 1963 version of this song, arranged again by Nelson Riddle (I think) for Sinatra's Reprise Repertory Theatre collection, and it's pretty great:

There's something about the mature, pushing-fifty Sinatra that sounds so good.

Monday, May 18, 2015

#62: Sinatra and Riddle do that voodoo that they do so well

Get ready for one and a half minutes of adrenalin-releasing awesomeness:

This song, written by Cole Porter in 1929, does somethin' to me. I love the way Sinatra sings "mystifies me": jazzy, elegant, and Frankly-romantic, all at once. The revved-up Riddle arrangement is like being the victim of a hit-and-run, but in a good way.

Will Friedwald writes about Swingin' Session!!!, Sinatra's last Capitol album with Nelson Riddle:
Riddle had all the arrangements ready to go, but, as he later recalled, when Sinatra arrived at the date the singer surprised him by announcing that he wanted to do all the tunes at tempos twice as fast as he had previously planned. . . . So it's damn the torpedos, full speed ahead.
And it worked. Frank and Nelson and the band justified all three exclamation marks. This is the first of four faves from SSS, one of which makes my top twenty.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

#63: " In the chill, chill, chill, chill, still . . . of the night"

Here's the first of many Ring-a-Ding-Ding! tracks to make our list. It's the only Sinatra album arranged by Johnny Mandel and that is a crying shame.

It's definitely not the song you probably know by The Five Satins, but rather one written by Cole Porter in 1937 when young Frankie was just coming of age. It may not be CP's greatest work but with the fabulous arrangement and Sinatra's inestimable skills and charms, it's a killer.

Stay tuned for another Cole Porter song coming up next.

***Update: Mark Steyn calls Mr. Mandel's arrangement "magnificent" (scroll down) -- that it is. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

#64: Frank flies the coop with Q and Co

That old guy in the glasses and comfy V-neck sweater sure can swing it:

. . . as can Quincy Jones, Lionel Hampton, George Benson, the rest of the dream team gathered for LA Is My Lady, which Mark Steyn calls "the jazziest Sinatra album since his work with Count Basie in the Sixties." How wonderful that we have video of the recording session. In fact, there's an hour-long film about the making of the album which includes footage of every track.

This is the latest recording on my list (1984, with Frank pushing seventy) and the earliest song, written in 1918 by Turner Layton and Henry Creamer. Mark Steyn featured it as #4 of his Sinatra Century. I already wrote a little about it here and posted a couple of favorite versions by other artists.

Everything Mark writes about the song and the recording is quotable, so I'll just highlight a bit and suggest you go back and read the rest. About the arranger, Frank Foster:
. . . Sinatra found himself in the studio with a bunch of charts by seasoned arrangers who were nevertheless not his "house arrangers" and wrote from a little ways outside the Sinatra style – Frank Foster, Sam Nestico, Torrie Zito... The result are charts with a jazzy looseness, certainly when compared with the polish of Riddle, but that suit the singer's sexagenarian chops. Saxophonist Frank Foster's arrangement of "Mack The Knife" would stay in Sinatra's act right until the end, but his take on "After You've Gone" is just as impressive. "There were no other charts in the whole production that were quite like that," Foster told the musicologist Will Friedwald. "I was just trying to put a heavy personal Frank Foster touch on it. I try not to borrow from anybody else. I just went down into my own arsenal of licks and said, 'I'm just going to make this a bad ************!' I liked the challenge of writing the uptempo arrangement."
And about the Frankified lyrics, writes Mark:
I especially like Foster's rewrite of the tag. Instead of…

After You've Gone
After You've Gone away

…Sinatra sings:

After you've split
After you've flown the coop!

Which is very sly on Foster's part – because it's written in perfect Sinatra argot and surely came from nights on the stand listening to Frank's spoken introduction to "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)": "This simply tells the story of a guy whose chick split. She flew the coop…"

The difference this time is that when Sinatra sings those words they kick into a killer instrumental that really does fly the coop.
 Indeed it does.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

#65: Begging for a break

Here's a beauty written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (the first of three by that duo to be featured here) and arranged by Nelson Riddle for 1955's In the Wee Small Hours album:

That's the third of five Wee Small Hours tracks to make my list.

Something about the arrangement takes the edge off the desperate sadness of the song. It's comforting somehow. Nelson Riddle was a genius. And Frank was pretty good, too.

Bonus: Along the lines of "Ill Wind" (but oh so different), here's a stunning TV performance of #29 of Mark Steyn's Sinatra 100 list: "Everything Happens To Me":

1957. It was a very good year. Sinatra in his forties, so fabulous.

Monday, May 4, 2015

#66: Sinatra opens a vein

. . . and lets it bleed:

"I'm A Fool To Want You" was written by Jack Wolf, Joel Herron, and Frank Sinatra. Above is the Alex Stordahl version from 1951. Frank recorded it again in 1957 with Gordon Jenkins but I prefer this one, with, to quote Mark Steyn, its "brooding film noir intro."

The song is #23 on Mark's Sinatra Century hit parade, so if you've missed it, go back and read it now. That this masterpiece was the B-side to "Mama Will Bark" is just incredible.