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Posts tagged ‘Frank Sinatra’

Sinatra for sale

An American Classic (Frank Sinatra)

Norman Rockwell’s “An American Classic (Portrait of Frank Sinatra)” is among the headline items in a series of sales in New York next month, at which Sotheby’s will auction off the possessions of Sinatra and his fourth wife, Barbara Marx, who died last year. Commissioned by Frank in 1973, the painting hung on the wall of Barbara’s Los Angeles apartment after his death and has an estimate of $80-120,000. Rockwell, who created so many memorable magazine covers for the Saturday Evening Post, was in his 80th year when he painted a work that, for all its superficial suburban blandness, catches an interesting light in the eye and turn of the mouth.

Other objects for sale, besides a great quantity of the last Mrs Sinatra’s jewellery, include some of Frank’s own modernist abstract paintings; a leather-bound final script of From Here to Eternity, in which Sinatra used the part of Private Angelo Maggio to turn his career around; a pair of AKG microphones that he carried on the road; a monogrammed orange jacket that he wore on his private jet; a personalised yarmulke; and letters from every US president from Truman to Clinton.

There is also a poster from his two-week run at the London Palladium in July 1950, his first dates outside America, in which he shared the bill with Max Wall, the Skyrockets Orchestra, the Tiller Girls, Krista & Kristel, Pierre Bel (“continental juggler”), and Wilson, Keppel & Betty. The Daily Graphic talked to him in the aftermath of the opening night, from which he was lucky to escape with his clothes on. “Two tall redheaded girls nearly got my tie,” he told the paper. “One was actually pulling it off my neck. I pulled back.” Ava Gardner, with whom he was in the middle of a torrid affair, was in the audience as he opened with “Bewitched”, “Embraceable You” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily”, during which the pandemonium in the stalls began.

* You can find details of the auction here: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2018/lady-blue-eyes-property-barbara-frank-sinatra-n09963.html?locale=en

In the land of Sinatra and Dylan

In the early days of The Blue Moment, I published a poem called “The Cool School”. Roy Kelly, the poet in question, wrote this new one in San Francisco last summer, several months before the announcement that, on February 2, Bob Dylan will release an album of songs associated with Frank Sinatra, called Shadows in the Night, previewed on bobdylan.com by a version of “Full Moon and Empty Arms”.

 

AT THE END OF AMERICA

By Roy Kelly

 

At the end of America looking west

and thinking east, surrounded by

the sadness of leaving, thinking of voices

under the vastness of the endless sky

 

that rolls back across days and nights,

successions of darkness and light, so strange

and so ordinary, all the hours and miles to home.

And here fallen cloud like a gorgeous mountain range

 

rearing and roiling on top of this one, its lower

reaches of plump softness already flowing

white and thin, dispersed and sparse down

gullies and ravines as we contemplate going,

 

brooding and musing on a world already gone,

and this one, always coming to pass,

the radio voices always alive in the whenever moment

of listening, even if high school class

 

was where they entered your heart and soul.

And now someone with silver hair

looks back from every reflective surface,

leaving you wondering how he arrived there.

 

Looking west and east, imagining those voices

that began with actual people and are now a myth

that conjures a country and time, the emotional history

of every age their records grew up with:

 

Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra, soundings from a cloud

that covers the waterfront of this and last century,

every past and every future in polar voices

that blow in the wind that comes to fly with me

 

at the end of America, looking forward

and back, remembering love’s strange rights and wrongs,

insignificant and wonderful under a continental sky,

and the blessed ordinary magic of songs.

Bob Crewe 1930-2014

Bob CreweBob Crewe, who died last week aged 83, was one of the architects of 1960s pop music. Here’s my Guardian obituary. It’s interesting that of all the records he made, among his favourites was one that, from the outside, must have looked highly unpromising: the Four Seasons’ 1966 version of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”.

Written in 1936 for the musical Born to Dance, the song received its definitive reading 20 years later, when Frank Sinatra included it on Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!, a hugely successful album. Sinatra had been featuring it in concert for a decade, but the recorded version benefited from Nelson Riddle’s finger-snapping arrangement, which builds up to Milt Bernhart’s wild trombone solo. It catches Sinatra at the very zenith of his ring-a-ding-dingness.

So it was brave of Bob Gaudio, a member of the Four Seasons and Crewe’s songwriting and production partner, to suggest that they risk a charge of sacrilege by giving it a whirl. The key to the triumphant success of their version might have been the decision to assign the job of arranging it not to one of their regular collaborators, such as the great Charlie Calello, but to the comparatively unfamiliar Artie Schroeck, who had been given his first breaks in the business by Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton and whose background was in big-band music.

Was it Gaudio, Crewe or Schroeck who made the crucial decision to switch the basic rhythm from a swinging 4/4 to straight eights, thus transforming the song from semi-jazz to pure pop? My guess would be Gaudio. But it’s the arranger who finds a way to integrate the tempo changes, the pauses and the rubato passages, to blend the strings and the tubular bells, to marshal the dynamic shifts, to make a sudden switch to the minor key, and to emphasise the drum fills — probably played by Buddy Salzmann — in a way that evokes the group’s earlier hits. And whoever came up with the repeated “Never win… never win…” in the backing vocals was a man who knew how to craft a hook.

It was a huge hit, of course. No wonder Bob Crewe was so proud of it. Here it is.

* The photograph above, which appears in the booklet accompanying the Four Seasons/Frankie Valli box set Jersey Beat, released on the Rhino label in 2007, was taken during the session at which “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was recorded in 1966. Left to right: Joe Long, Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Artie Schroeck and Tommy DeVito.

 

 

The Rainy Day Medley

Medleys used to have a bad name. I could forgive Duke Ellington the habit because he had so much music to get into any given concert (and because he was Duke Ellington), while Dionne Warwick’s 20-song Bacharach/David selection was an exhilarating marathon, particularly when she had a proper orchestra behind her. But not many medleys manage to assemble their component parts in a way that creates a greater meaning.

Here’s one that does. It’s Frank Sinatra, with the help of Nelson Riddle, plaiting together a trio of classic saloon ballads — “Last Night When We Were Young” (music: Harold Arlen/words: Yip Harburg), “Violets For Your Furs” (music: Matt Dennis/words: Tom Adair) and “Here’s That Rainy Day” (music: Jimmy Van Heusen/words: Johnny Burke) — into something that describes the full emotional arc of a love affair. It couldn’t have worked better if the three composers and their lyricists had got their heads together for that express purpose.

I first heard it three or four years ago on the Sinatra: New York  box set, taken from a 1974 concert at Carnegie Hall. This filmed performance seems to have been made the year before, presumably in a television studio. It’s not quite as wonderful in terms of singing and orchestral blend as the version on the CD (although this one benefits from not having a corny spoken introduction), but it’s a precious reminder  of what he could do with songs as sophisticated and timeless as these.

The long “Good-Bye”

Good-ByeAccording to Martha Tilton, a featured singer with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the late 1930s, Gordon Jenkins wrote “Good-Bye” — which became Goodman’s sign-off theme — after the death of his first wife in childbirth. No wonder Alec Wilder, in his magisterial survey American Popular Song, called it “as sad a song as I know”. It is also, Wilder noted, a thing of remarkable beauty. So beautiful, in fact, that I’ve taken to collecting versions of it, and there are many, since it is a song that appeals strongly to jazz musicians of a certain sensibility, not least for providing the illusion of being through-composed, rather than repeating its individual sections in the AABA manner of conventional standards.

Goodman recorded it for the Victor label in 1935; the label describes it as a Fox Trot, in this case a distinctly gentle and smoochy one (and here it is). Since there is no vocal refrain, nothing except its minor key alerts the listener to the heartbreak inherent in Jenkins’ composition. It’s just the thing for a nice slowish dance to finish a romantic evening at the Glen Island Casino or the Balboa Ballroom, the sort of places that incubated the Swing Era.

But I first heard it, as with many other great American popular songs, in a version recorded by Frank Sinatra, in this case on an LP called Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, recorded in Hollywood in 1958. Arranged by Nelson Riddle, the album is the singer’s torch-song masterpiece, and “Good-Bye” is its most exalted moment. Riddle slows the song down almost to a standstill, applying his most sensitive orchestral touch, employing juxtapositions and combinations of cor anglais, cello, bassoon, various kinds of clarinet, tightly muted trumpets, French horns and muted strings as well as great sweeping ensemble flourishes to inspire his singer. Sinatra responds with a performance of concentrated sobriety that puts to perfect use the lessons in bel canto phrasing that he learnt from listening to the trombone playing of Tommy Dorsey and the violin of Jascha Heifetz. All those underwater lengths he swam in order to master his breath-control find their reward here. And, of course, we get the lyric, an essay in elegant despair, fully comprehended by the arranger: as Sinatra sings “So you take the high road, and I’ll take the low / It’s time that we parted, it’s much better so” for the second time, Riddle’s bassoons parp out a jaunty little even eighth-note pattern that underlines the sense of physical parting, the tone of the chosen instrument somehow leaving us in no doubt that the jauntiness is assumed and false. The melody carrying those particular lines, by the way, is as  finely shaped as any I can think of, especially in terms of the relationship of each individual note to its chord — the sort of thing that seldom bothers the little heads of today’s songwriters.

So much, as far as I’m concerned, for vocal versions of “Good-Bye” (I use the hyphen and the second capital letter because that’s how it appeared on the label of Goodman’s original recording, although it’s mostly now rendered as “Goodbye”). After Sinatra, whose version is a certainty for my desert-island selection, I have no interest in listening to those by Ella Fitzergerald or Diane Krall, the latter recorded a couple of years ago with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. What Sinatra and Riddle did was definitive. Which nevertheless leaves the way open for instrumental treatments.

It’s a song whose modulations clearly appeal to pianists. Among the most interesting versions known to me are those by McCoy Tyner (on Reaching Fourth, his 1962 trio album with Henry Grimes and Roy Haynes), Paul Bley (with Jay Anderson and Adam Nussbaum on If We May, 1994), Keith Jarrett (on his duo album with Haden, Jasmine, recorded in 2007), Bobo Stenson (from the 2005 album Goodbye, with Anders Jormin and Paul Motian), and Bill Carrothers (on the Dave King Trio’s I’ll Be Ringing You, recorded last year, which I wrote about on this blog a couple of months ago). Tyner’s is in some ways the most unusual — he brings to his reading what the English pianist Alex Hawkins, in an email to me the other day, described as “beautifully luminous post-Tatum harmony”. Bley starts off at an even slower pace than Riddle and Sinatra, then takes the risk of doubling the tempo and introducing familiar blues phrases into his variations, and brings it off. Jarrett is Jarrett, in an intimate conversation with an old friend. Stenson is the pick of the bunch, for my money: wonderfully eloquent, lucid and absolutely cliche-free, highly attentive to the song’s ambiance as well as its structure. Carrothers and his partners come up with the most intriguing group-improvisation approach.

The brilliant French tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen loved the song so much that he recorded it at almost every opportunity. I have three of his versions: with a quintet on La Note Bleue (1987), in a duo with the pianist Alain Jean-Marie on Dream Time (1991) and on Double Action in another quintet with the guitarist Jimmy Gourlay (1999). They’re all good but the first has a special luminosity.

Another saxophonist who got something out of Jenkins’ tune was Cannonball Adderley, who recorded it in 1961 on an album called Know What I Mean? with Bill Evans, two years after they had been members of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue sextet. Not the most obvious of partners, they manage to find the common ground between the altoist’s ebullience and the pianist’s cerebrality. Actually, Evans is the more ebullient of the two here, laying strings of single-note lines at double and triple tempo over the imperturbable MJQ rhythm team of Percy Heath and Connie Kay. The closing chorus is especially lovely.

The interpretations that would have shocked Jenkins most profoundly are probably the two recorded by Jimmy Giuffre’s trio in 1961, the first on the LP Thesis and the second at a concert in Bremen, at a time when the clarinettist was making his own highly original investigation of free and free-ish improvisation in close partnership with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow. The application of their evolving principles to a standard ballad makes for a stimulating experience on both occasions, with Swallow on particularly fine form on the double bass, making one regret for the umpteenth time his decision to abandon the acoustic instrument. Quite probably Giuffre, being a clarinet-player, had first heard the tune in Goodman’s version. He and Bley returned to it in 1975, on an album called Quiet Song, this time with the guitarist Bill Connors rounding out the trio and Bley making slightly strange noises on an electronic keyboard.

Following more directly in Goodman’s footsteps, there have also been further versions by larger ensembles. Chet Baker recorded it successfully in 1953 as part of a septet session arranged by Jack Montrose: the alto, tenor and baritone saxes of Herb Geller, Montrose himself and Bob Gordon provide an attractive chorale behind Baker, who enunciates the melody with evident respect before producing a pleasant and completely appropriate solo (the track is currently to be found on the CD titled Grey December). Maynard Ferguson, a trumpeter at the other end of the scale in terms of technique and taste, recorded Don Sebesky’s arrangement on his album Maynard ’61, at which time the Canadian-born bandleader was approaching the height of his fame. If it’s not particularly subtle, then it’s by no means grotesque, thanks not least to a gorgeous tenor solo from the always underrated Joe Farrell. Much better is the version recorded on an album called Live in Japan ’96 by Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, arranged by Willem Breuker and with a stirring solo by another often overlooked tenorist, Gerd Dudek.

To finish with, a recording suffused with as much sadness as Martha Tilton’s account of the song’s origin: the one made by the great Chicago tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons, the son of the celebrated boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons, in March 1974. This was the final tune recorded on the last day of sessions held over three consecutive days for Prestige Records in New York, meaning it was the last piece of music the big-toned tenorist ever recorded (shortly afterwards his cancer was diagnosed and he died four months later, aged 49). Although he had no way of knowing it, this really was his goodbye, and he fills the track’s four and a half minutes with a brusque tenderness that brings another shade of emotion to a song which tends to draw the best out of those who approach it in the proper spirit.