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A great melody first, then lyrics,(only) THEN 'vocals'

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  • A great melody first, then lyrics,(only) THEN 'vocals'

    Just reading the thread "Are Vocals the most important part of a song?" reminded this oldtimer (nearly 63) of the age-old question: Which is ultimately more important, in making a song a 'classic' that sticks in our memory.

    If your memory, like mine, includes The Great American Songbook -- standards written by the likes of truly gifted composers of melody, like Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and (my favorite) Richard Rodgers . . . then your answer to that timeless riddle may still be . . . as Stackabones would say, "YesNoMaybeso."

    We just finished celebrating (in November) the 100th anniversary of the birth of Johnny Mercer -- arguably the greatest (non-theatrical) LYRICIST . . . though he wrote a few classic melodies to go with his words -- most notably DREAM (when you're feeling blue) and ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE (don't mess with 'Mr. In-Between').

    I transcribed a radio interview that Johnny did, a few years before his untimely death following surgery for a brain tumor. May I share it here?

    INTERVIEWER (as applause dies down) "Ladies and gentlemen, this section of our program is absolutely unrehearsed: the deal, between Johnny and me, is this: he would not know ANY of the questions I am about to ask; so these are coming at him absolutely cold!

    "Johnny, you must know that you are the model and inspiration for a generation of younger lyricists, many of whom are in the audience tonight. Some questions I'm going to ask on their behalf: What qualities do you look for in a collaborator?


  • Mark Blackburn
    HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN – Andre Previn at his solo best
    An hour ago Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio played my favorite rendition by Frank Sinatra of my favorite song by Irving Berlin (“every line a question” that has fascinated other lyric writers). For almost 50 years I can never hear the tune without hearing (every note and phrase) of Andre Previn's solo piano recording at RCA studios in Hollywood. (More about the 1967 recording in a moment.)

    First, a quick listen. Does this speak to you too? Andre's solo HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN

    I like to joke that there is “nothing you can't find on line” (through Google, or Wikipedia or YouTube) in terms of cherished media memories you figured were gone forever – or at least never there when you checked. Suddenly they appear, as if by magic, thanks to some kindred spirit. Like the person – I'm guessing a man about my age – who shares my love for this, my all-time favorite, solo piano album.

    ANDRE PREVIN – ALONE was available only as a record album (monaural). I have two copies, one “borrowed” 45 years ago from the record library at the Bermuda radio/TV station where I was employed throughout the 1970s; another pristine copy I purchased back in the 1990's when enterprising friends would miraculously turn LP's into CD's. (“For only 20 dollars!”)

    A month ago, on this thread (or at Andre Previn “other celebrities”) I recalled, from memory, the genesis of – ANDRE PREVIN – ALL ALONE. Tonight, for the first time, a minute ago, I located a couple of tracks from the album at YouTube. “I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good” [and] “More Than You Know.” Want to share with you now, and find out if these recordings speak to your musical mind and heart like they do to mine.

    [And then quote below from my “favorite liner notes” – by English-born jazz writer Leonard Feather who left us 25 years ago – “Died 22 September 1994 (aged 80) at home in Encino, California.”]

    I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good – evocative of Duke Ellington who wrote it, yet pure Andre Previn – the pianist arranger, as only he could play this.


    “Recorded in RCA Victor's Music Center of the World, Hollywood 1967.” In his liner notes Leonard Feather quotes Andre Previn on the idea for this album. "I threw in an additional suggestion (to the RCA producers). Why don't I have the sheet music of maybe a hundred great standards lying on the piano. I'll make one take of a tune, and if it doesn't seem to work, I'll simply move right along to another number. It'll be the first take or nothing.”

    “So that was how they did it,” wrote Mr. Feather. “If a performance got even minimally off the track, up came the next tune. A fair idea of Previn's command of the keyboard and of his spontaneous creation can be deduced from the statistics of the session: In just three hours he had completed perfect takes on twenty songs. The twelve best of these are presented here.” – Leonard Feather 1967

    Wiki has a very brief entry for ANDRE PREVIN – ALONE

    “The initial Billboard magazine review from May 1967 included the album as a 'Pop Special Merit' pick and wrote that "Previn plays the romantic standards simply and effectively. He doesn't showboat but stays pretty much with the melodies as they were written".[3]

    Wiki has a complete listing of the songs (every one of which remains my “favorite solo piano version” 50 years on).

    Track listing[edit]
    1. "More Than You Know" (Edward Eliscu, Billy Rose, Vincent Youmans) – 2:10
    2. "I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)" (Duke Ellington, Paul Francis Webster) – 2:20
    3. "Everything Happens to Me" (Matt Dennis, Tom Adair) – 2:37
    4. "You Are Too Beautiful" (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart) – 3:42
    5. "How Deep Is the Ocean?" (Irving Berlin) – 3:14
    6. "Angel Eyes" (Dennis, Earl Brent) – 2:57
    7. "When Sunny Gets Blue" (Marvin Fisher, Jack Segal) – 2:42
    8. "As Time Goes By" (Herman Hupfeld) – 2:33
    9. "Remember Me?" (Harry Warren, Al Dubin) – 3:37
    10. "Yesterdays" (Jerome Kern, Otto Harbach) – 3:34
    11. "Dancing on the Ceiling" (Rodgers, Hart) – 2:52
    12. "Here's That Rainy Day" (Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Burke)
    Last edited by Mark Blackburn; 03-21-2019, 09:02 PM.

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  • Mark Blackburn
    Steve Tyrell -- best ever version of BELLA NOTTE

    It's been 13 years since I wrote an Amazon review for my favorite of Steve Tyrell's albums and in case this link doesn't work . . .

    [The relevant words about my favorite track from my favorite animated Disney classic, "Lady & The Tramp"]

    The 14 tracks include a "bonus music video" of "Bella Notte." For fifty years (until this night) I'd wondered who had composed the words and music to "Bella Notte" -- my favorite song from that most wonderful scene (I believe) in all of the Disney canon - Remember the one? Tramp is nudging the last remaining "meat-a-ball" over to Lady, as the two `lovers' are serenaded by mandolin and accordion, and restaurant owner "Tony" croons in bel canto . . .

    "This is the night / It's a beautiful night / And we call it `bella notte' / Look at the skies, they have stars in their eyes / On this lovely bella notte"

    The camera pans upward to a view of the moon partly obscured by washing, strung out to dry above the narrow street on dozens of clothes lines - a poignant reminder of the day-to-day `reality' that follows inevitably in the wake of human romance.

    When we first saw that scene as youngsters (in my case, 50 years ago at the movies) it didn't make me laugh and cry all at once, as it does now. And who can forget the moment when Tramp and Lady - attempting to concentrate even a little upon Tony's singing, begin to suck upon the same strand of spaghetti, that pulls them to an inadvertent kiss! You loved that scene too - didn't you? Well . . . so it seems did Steve Tyrell - a man after our own hearts!

    And if you're a kindred spirit `on a night such as this' . . . then get ready to delight in a most perfect selection of "Disney Standards."

    In his liner notes the singer writes, "This album is dedicated to the memory of my late wife Steph and to moms and children of all ages . . . I was amazed by how much importance these songs had for my daughters Tina and Lauryn. They would scream out with joy and excitement: `Oh Dad! Mom and I watched that scene a hundred times!' And my wife would tell them how she and HER Mom loved these songs just as much . . . and how they would share them together when she was young."

    The singer notes that, after having spent the last decade devoting most of his musical energy to the Great American Songbook, (he has co-produced Rod Stewart's latest tribute to that golden era of songwriting) he "jumped at the chance to record this album of Disney songs. Just as the timeless songs of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Rodgers and Hart and the other great composers of the 30s, 40s and 50s have touched the hearts of generation after generation, so have these fantastic Disney classics."

    Highlights? Well every track is a delight - and every arrangement is different! Tyrell has surrounded himself with some of the best of today's very best orchestrators - Alan Broadbent, Paul Buckmaster, Bob Mann, Gene Amato and Kenny Ascher.

    There are delightful duets - "You've Got a Friend in Me" (with Dr. John), "When You Wish Upon a Star" (featuring a Chris Botti trumpet solo), and the more recent Phil Collins composition "You'll Be in My Heart" (featuring L.A. radio host and saxophonist Dave Koz).

    But my favorites are the two written by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke in 1952 for "Lady and the Tramp," especially the swingingest version of "He's a Tramp" since Peggy's original in the movie.

    Closing my eyes again and feeling my heart melt on this lovely "Bella Notte" this version recorded as a medium-tempo dance tune - performed here with a romantic bed of mandolins from arranger-guitarist Bob Mann -- who provides, on this song, the most beautiful guitar solo since one he performed with Nelson Riddle's orchestra on Linda Ronstadt's classic version of "You Go to My Head" (my nomination as the best guitar solo `bridge' ever played on ANY song in the history of popular music).


    How Peggy Lee would love to have heard Steve Tyrell caress her best musical composition - arguably the best of these "Disney Standards."

    "So take the love of your loved one / You'll need it about this time / To keep from falling like a star when you make that dizzy climb / For THIS is the night and the heavens are right / On this lovely bella notte."

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  • Mark Blackburn
    STEVE TYRELL -- That's all

    Sirius is playing my new favorite version of THAT'S ALL (an early hit for Nat Cole). Listen to the string arrangement! The opening orchestral flourish is so fresh and new!

    Not for the first time Mr. Tyrell, a friend of the Sinatra Family, is surprising me with a "new favorite" take on an old favorite. The Wiki entry (below) includes a quote from Frank's good friend, Alec (I'll Be Around) Wilder.

    "That's All" is a 1952 song written by Alan Brandt with music by Bob Haymes. It has been covered by many jazz and blues artists. The first recording, by Nat King Cole in 1953, achieved some popularity but was not among that year's top 20 songs. It was Bobby Darin’s version in his 1959 album That's All that introduced the song to a wider audience.[1]

    The song is part of the Great American Songbook, and Alec Wilder included it in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950, even though it was composed two years after that period. Wilder gave two reasons for making this exception: (1) “it is one of the last free-flowing, native, and natural melodies in the grand pop style”; (2) “it went through no initial hit phase but became an immediate standard”.[1]

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  • Mark Blackburn
    Frank & Favorite Piano Player -- SEND IN THE CLOWNS
    " . . . whether it's the man or woman who left, is unimportant: It's a break up . . . "

    Up early. Had to check to see what's playing on Sirius (streaming on my computer).. Best ever recording of SEND IN THE CLOWNS -- Frank, alone together with his career-long pianist, Bill Miller -- the best imaginable piano accompanist (Sinatra said so).

    Funny, we 'baby boomers' in our 20's were introduced to this song by 'folk singer' Judy Collins. Her version at YouTube has 3.1 million views. This, my favorite, has a respectable 1.1 million.

    (Back to bed)
    Last edited by Mark Blackburn; 03-21-2019, 04:03 AM.

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  • Mark Blackburn
    LOST IN THE STARS -- Tony's early take

    Listening to Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio and wondering, “Who's that guitarist?” -- on an early Tony Bennett recording. Early 50's I'm guessing.

    For the first minute and thirty seconds, it's Tony alone together with terrific accompanist armed with an un-amplified archtop jazz guitar (no pick-up -- just played into a studio mic). Anyway, the song is my new “other favorite version” of LOST IN THE STARS. A smaller band with some strings show up toward the end of the recording – very much smaller than the 70 piece orchestra employed by my favorite singer on my favorite of his albums, “The Concert Sinatra” ('63) recording of this great old (1949) song by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill.

    I'm a guitarist, and I know that one of my early jazz guitar heroes, Chuck Wayne (74 when he left us in 1997) was Tony Bennett's very first musical director, circa 1954. Within four years, pianist Ralph Sharon took over – and steered Tony straight into his life-long love: jazz recordings. [According to Wiki]

    The result was the 1957 album The Beat of My Heart. It used well-known jazz musicians such as Herbie Mann and Nat Adderley, with a strong emphasis on percussion from the likes of Art Blakey, Jo Jones, Latin star Candido Camero, and Chico Hamilton. The album was both popular and critically praised.[10][45] Bennett followed this by working with the Count Basie Orchestra, becoming the first male pop vocalist to sing with Basie's band . . .

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  • Mark Blackburn
    FOR ALL WE KNOW – Barbara Cook (“National Treasure”)

    Siriusly Sinatra just played a late-in-life recording by my favorite Broadway singer – Barbara Cook (Marian the Librarian in the original MUSIC MAN Broadway show). Almost right up until her death, 18 months ago, Barbara was still singing beautifully for friends. The song Sirius just played FOR ALL WE KNOW was the show closer (track 15) on her last great album of a decade ago – with Tony Bennett's current piano accompanist Lee Musiker as Barbara's musical director. Coming in at under two minutes, this is suddenly my all-time favorite version of this great song by Sam M. Lewis (words) with melody by J. Fred (Santa Claus is Coming to Town) Coots.

    Is the track at YouTube, I hope? Yes! [No “helpful” votes and not one “comment.” Well, let's change that right now.]

    [One of the Amazon reviews speaks for sub-generations of Barbara Cook fans]

    "What's all this about Barbara Cook? Why is it that when you mention her name to seemingly well adjusted adult men and women they become all dewy-eyed and mushy-brained. Just exactly what is going on here?

    Damned if I know, but count me in as one of those dewy-eyed and mushy-brained adults.

    "What is it? Is her voice really all that exceptional? Is her ability to convey a lyric really all that special? Is her physical presence, even on a recording, all that galvanizing? Well, frankly, yes.

    "But that doesn't even begin to tell the story. It seems to me that Barbara Cook is the distillation of everything good music has to offer. She is a unique talent among unique talents. While her performance of a song, whether it be one we have heard a thousand times, or one we are hearing for the first time, may not be the only way it can be performed, we can always rest assured that Miss Cook will offer it to us in as perfected a state as she is capable of. I doubt she has ever wrapped that silver instrument she possesses around some song merely because she needs another three minutes on an album or in a concert. She obviously has way too much love and respect for music to waste her time, and ours, like that.

    "And something else perhaps even more important, for those of us who have followed her throughout the years and decades: She never got bad. Oh sure, her voice has changed with the years. No surprise there. The surprise, if there is one, is that it has not changed in any way but for the better. As the voice has become ever so slightly less strong, as those famous top notes have become perhaps just the slightest bit more careful, it is all still a beautiful package, respectfully offered, lovingly accepted.

    "And the words. Those beautiful words. Those words Miss Cook obviously finds as beautiful and important as those beautiful notes.

    "Barbara Cook has embraced the passage of time with love rather than fear. It is as though she is telling us she has waited all her life to get to today. She has defined the art of popular singing in a way that gives us at least the glimmer of hope that in these crazy times of distrust, disillusionment and disdain, there are still those imponderables that allow us mere mortal humans to rise up.

    "Thank you Miss Cook. Job well done!"

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  • Mark Blackburn
    TONY & guitarist Gray Sargent THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT

    Okay, I have no one but myself to blame for not getting any work done ("Where'd you go?" asks my Irene). After watching my Dad's favorite singer's version of my parents' 'theme song' -- the next offering at YouTube this day was this: As if to say, Yes, Frank and Tony Mottola alone together on stage (Send in the Clowns) was great. So is this, no?

    p.s. love Mr. Sargent's musical allusion to HOW ARE THINGS IN GLOCCA MORA on the closing notes of his gorgeous guitar arrangement.

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  • Mark Blackburn
    Yesterday I heard the Rain (Gene Lees' best lyric?)

    Look here, I gotta get some work done. (Irene says so.) Stop playing the most beautiful versions of songs like the one playing now -- YESTERDAY I HEARD THE RAIN. I reviewed that Tony Bennett album (DUETS II) at Amazon but I'd forgotten this wonderful duet rendition of maybe my favorite song co-written by the late Gene Lees.

    It was the title track on an earlier Tony Bennett album: "Yesterday I Heard the Rain (Esta Tarde Vi Llover)" (Gene Lees, Armando Manzanero). For DUETS II this version playing on Sirius was with Alejandro Sanz -- a winner of 17 Latin Grammy awards.

    Now really. I gotta go. Take a break and play some not-so-great music, Jersey Lou.

    "Comment" below the video for those of us wondering which trumpet giant got to solo on this one.

    Idarmi (3 years ago)
    "Beautiful trumpet playing by Arturo Sandoval. Wonderful accompaniment."

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  • Mark Blackburn
    Just for me, my favorite living singer IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT

    As I type this Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio is playing -- from her recent all Cole Porter album -- Calabria Foti and my favorite track on her album (as well as my all-time favorite song by Cole) IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT. It's not at YouTube. None of her songs are yet. A crime.

    So why not the all time best up-tempo version of the song? Calabria would like that!

    p.s. A comment below the video speaks for millions of us kindred spirits!

    ddkoda (2 years ago)
    No one had such an intuitive sense of where to take a melody and convey the intent of the lyricist as did Mr. Sinatra. It really was a God given gift on his part and it would seem that most song writers agreed with his interpretation.

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  • Mark Blackburn
    Margaret Whiting -- THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT (My Dad's favorite version)

    There would have been a night in 1936, the year my Mom and Dad first met in high school, when -- together or alone -- they would have gone to the movies to see the new Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers musical SWING TIME --- and been introduced to their 'theme song' – THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT. It won the Best Original Song Oscar for Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern. Concerning which Dorothy Fields said: "The first time Jerry played that melody for me I went out and started to cry. The release absolutely killed me. I couldn't stop, it was so beautiful."

    In the movie, Astaire sang "The Way You Look Tonight" to Ginger Rogers while she was washing her hair in an adjacent room.[1] His recording reached the top of the charts in 1936.

    Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio just played my Dad's favorite female singer's take on this one. I swear Dad, they do that just for us!

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  • Mark Blackburn
    "On this date in 1969 – A MAN ALONE"

    “Today in Frank Sinatra History” – today cites my favorite Rod McKuen song -- and favorite Don Costa arrangement. Nancy is quoted:

    MARCH 19-20, 25, 1969: Dad's recording of A Man Alone was a symbiotic partnership between singer and songwriter. Arranged by Don Costa, with lyrics written by poet Rod McKuen, the album is a good example of what happens when the writer knows his singer. McKuen: "I would like to point out that your dad was given the latitude for some acting on this album - he is a fine actor." FS: "Real singing is acting. I sang well because I felt the lyrics here, here, and here [pointing to head, heart, and gut.] Whatever the man was trying to say in the song - I'd been there and back. I knew what it was all about."

    Rod McKuen left us four years ago, age 81. Still my favorite of his songs. The orchestration by Don Costa is simply sublime.

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  • Mark Blackburn
    HEY THERE -- Brook's way!
    Yesterday we celebrated my favorite Doris Day film musical -- "The Pajama Game" -- in which Bonnie Raitt's Daddy introduced the song HEY THERE. It was a No. 1 million selling hit for George Clooney's Auntie -- after Frank turned it down. My favorite anecdote about that great song (you won't find it at Wiki):

    When he finally met the song's composer (who left us age 90 in 2012) our favorite singer said,

    "Are you Richard Adler? I'm Frank Sinatra the schmuck who turned down HEY THERE. Why? "I thought it was just a riff tune!" -- Frank didn't know the song's marvelous melody (didn't read the music? Hadn't caught the Broadway show?)

    The version just played by Sirius by Brook Benton is beautiful.
    Last edited by Mark Blackburn; 03-19-2019, 08:50 AM.

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  • Mark Blackburn
    And now for something completely different -- from my new favorite arranger

    On the previous page we celebrated Nan Schwartz – her Grammy-winning arrangement for Natalie Cole of HERE'S THAT RAINY DAY. It was a highlight on Natalie's final album of standards before she left us three years ago. Concerning which – Nan's celestial arrangements – Natalie wrote,

    “She just 'killed' me . . . Her arrangements are absolutely divine. She gives these songs such a visual sense, they come alive, and really pull you in!”

    Pull me in is what happened when I listened earlier this hour to an excerpt at YouTube from Nan's most recent album of orchestral music. Its cover is depicted midway through the video. I just purchased a copy from Amazon, based on this snippet. I have never heard music like this before, simultaneously traditional – evocative of favorite impressionist composers like Ravel – but with utterly fresh and new aspects that Nan brings to the art & craft of musical arranging. Part of the art is selecting the 'voicings' – which instruments should play each part (Is this better 'sung' by strings, or flutes? Or . . . ?)

    The soloists include pianist Lee Musiker – Tony Bennett's current accompanist/musical director. To coin a phrase, Genius loves company. Yes, my new favorite other-worldly listening experience. See how this affects you! (Note the opening notes on strings and harp are borrowed from her Grammy winning arrangement of “Rainy Day”)

    Stay tuned: 'live' video in recording studio. Oh my, this is beautiful.

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  • Mark Blackburn
    "It's so nice to have some Q-Tips 'round the house . . . "

    “ . . . you can do so much with Q-Tips – for your baby!”

    Recalling in my mind's eye the early TV black & white commercial (we would have watched it on our 14 inch screen RCA set) – the TV spot that introduced my generation to SO NICE TO HAVE A MAN AROUND THE HOUSE. We needed our parents to tell us where that melody was from.

    Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio is playing my all-time favorite version by Toni Tennille. The lyrics are are made oh-so-sexy by Toni's delivery. Is it at YouTube? Nope. So few of Toni's songs are there. But I can settle for my all-time favorite singer's version from 1959. Favorite line?

    A house is just a house without a man -- he's the necessary evil in your plan . . .

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