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Mark Blackburn

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

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Favorite 'live' performance of I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL

"Except perhaps in Spring. But I should never think of Spring. For that would surely break my heart in two."


I pull up in my driveway as the best live performance of a Jane Brown Thompson poem – set to music by Hoagy Carmichael – reaches its conclusion: Our favorite singer with a late-in-life performance of one of my favorite ballads. Frank in the mid-1970's – his voice assuming an endearing vulnerability that makes this performance all the more poignant. The song is listed as “words and music by Hoagy Carmichael." But just before its first public performance, Hoagy tried to track down the woman who wrote the poem – about the loss of her husband, years earlier. The story goes that Jane died the night before that first radio performance, not knowing that her words served as the genesis of a great song.


Sinatra's opening words of introduction allude to this:


“This song started as a poem and became a song by Hoagy Carmichael.” And conclude with a “here's to the band” as Frank declares, over warm applause: “Isn't that a nice song! And the [orchestra] should “stand up and take a bow” [and after they do] “Now get your money, and wash up!”


Haven't a clue where to look for this "live" recording, but I know some wise guys who might.


Until the real thing comes along, a different, much earlier (1970) live performance at London's Royal Festival Hall. My other favorite live performance (apart from Frank and the "Sextet in Paris" '62).



[from the Wikipedia entry]


"I Get Along Without You Very Well" is a popular song composed by Hoagy Carmichael in 1939, with lyrics based on a poem written by Jane Brown Thompson, and the main melodic theme on the Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op 66, by Frédéric Chopin.[1] Thompson's identity as the author of the poem was for many years unknown; she died the night before the song was introduced on radio by Dick Powell.[1]


The biggest-selling version was a 1939 recording by Red Norvo and his orchestra (vocal by Terry Allen).[2]


Carmichael and Jane Russell performed the song in the 1952 film noir The Las Vegas Story.[1]


Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Best Cole Porter melody you never heard


When I was 17 (it was a very good year) a teenage friend who was deeply in love with jazz, in general and Bill Evans in particular, played me one of Bill's songs from a 1962 album: My life-long love affair with the Jazz world's most influential pianist began, then and there. The song was Porter's EV'RYTHING I LOVE.


In the subsequent half century I never heard any other version of this, my favorite Cole Porter melody! (One reason I never think of it by name, when asked, "What's your favorite Porter ballad?" Yes, still the most beautiful melody by Porter I ever heard.


As for this rendition by my favorite jazz pianist: Wish I'd had the chance to tell Bill Evans that his "EV'RYTHING I LOVE" is "the most beautiful piano recording I have ever heard." Why? The chords!" Bill Evans 'invented' chords we'd never heard before -- and which sub-generations of pianists (including among today's greats, Alan Broadbent and Bill Charlap) have tried imperfectly, to replicate: Bill had the "largest fingers" of any pianist; it contributed to his 'reach' -- spreading those digits into two-handed, as-many-as-ten-note chords.


Listen to my favorite sequence, as the song nears its end: At

Bill tips his hat to Nashville's most famous piano player, Floyd Cramer. Floyd had a signature sound he invented -- sliding down, from black keys onto the immediately adjacent white notes, 'below and to the right.' At the end of this sequence come the Bill Evans' chords that will forever ring in my mind's ear. Musical heaven on earth!



Edited by Mark Blackburn

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LINDA RONSTADT's eloquent appraisal of "What's New?"

On her "Playing Favorites" show this day on Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio, Linda Ronstadt had an insightful, personal reflection about WHAT'S NEW? -- title track for the first of her three albums with Nelson Riddle (that sold six million copies).




“I remember when I first heard the “Sings for Only the Lonely” album and (wow!) – it hit me as a shining example of American pop exuberance!


“You could get it on any level: You could get it on, 'I've got two-cents-to-my-name and I'm kicking a can down the street' or it could be as literate as you want, you know – lyrics by Cole Porter and the Gershwins, or Rodgers & Hart – highly-literate lyrics, with the beautiful, beautiful marriage of very sophisticated music – very sophisticated chord changes! that the orchestra just LOVED because they had something they could really get their teeth-in, and the orchestra could really PLAY American Standards!”


“To me, the way Sinatra and Nelson Riddle sat down and planned this record (“Only the Lonely”) with the weight of those song-writers behind them! – the weight of all those great jazz players – that really created the form and defined it. And the weight of Sinatra's virtuoso, bel canto style singing! – SO natural, right 'off the breath,' right off-of speech: His singing style is right off-of speech – there's nothing artificial about it.


“And there's something about the way he tells that story – where you see somebody you used to know (What's New) and all of a sudden all those feelings come up, and you hope that person still likes you, and you hope that relationship can come back . . . all the moments of ecstasy, and the misery, and the sadness – the kind of incredible 'bloodletting,' you know that happens when a cherished hope is let to fall in the street.”


“And that whole drama is right there in that song, and in the instrumental in the middle -- there is that kind of moody . . . you know, where Nelson, instead of all the lushness of the memories of that relationship, there's a kind of brooding – remembering, just remembering for a while. And then . . . off it goes.


“I've just loved this record. It was a great inspiration to me.”



On her Facebook page, Linda shared that,


"It has been announced that Linda Ronstadt will be receiving the prestigious award for lifetime artistic achievement: the Kennedy Center Honors.


“The Kennedy Center Honors celebrates icons who, through their artistry, have left an indelible stamp on our collective cultural consciousness... Linda Ronstadt is the defining voice of a generation, spanning genres, languages, and continents."


- David M. Rubenstein, Kennedy Center Chairman


[40 second YouTube clip]



Edited by Mark Blackburn

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[h=2]My favorite dance video – yours too?[/h]

Of course you've seen it before: You are among the 8.8 million “viewers” who've enjoyed this brilliantly-edited “Rita Hayworth – Stayin' Alive” dance video. Under five minutes of disco joy -- that must have taken the editor hundreds of hours to achieve his perfectly-in-sync masterpiece. (Wonder who did it?)


Poignant thought as well, that all these brilliantly talented singers and dancers featured in this “most watched” video – set to the Bee Gee's most famous song – each and every one of them are gone – except as cherished “moments to remember.”


The featured performer died much too young after contracting Alzheimer's in 1980 (and raising public awareness about that depressing illness).


Yes, if you're feeling down, “Do something for somebody quick” and then watch this one more time.



[Wikipedia says]


Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino; October 17, 1918 – May 14, 1987) was an American actress and dancer. She achieved fame during the 1940s as one of the era's top stars, appearing in 61 films over 37 years. The press coined the term "The Love Goddess" to describe Hayworth after she had become the most glamorous screen idol of the 1940s. She was the top pin-up girl for GIs during World War II.[1]


Hayworth is perhaps best known for her performance in the 1946 film noir, Gilda, opposite Glenn Ford, in which she played the femme fatale in her first major dramatic role. Fred Astaire, with whom she made two films, called her his favorite dance partner. Her greatest success was in the Technicolor musical Cover Girl (1944), with Gene Kelly. She is listed as one of the top 25 female motion picture stars of all time in the American Film Institute's survey, AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars.


In 1980, Hayworth was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, which contributed to her death at age 68. The public disclosure and discussion of her illness drew attention to Alzheimer's, which was largely unknown by most people at the time, and helped to increase public and private funding for Alzheimer's research.

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[h=2]A forgotten favorite from 1967 . . .[/h] I turn the key in the ignition and a beautiful female voice is singing SPOOKY – a hit for “The Classics IV” in 1967 (a very good year, can we agree?). My Sirius radio unit is lying face down on the front seat so I try to guess, “Who IS this beautiful singer?”


It's Deana Martin! With a terrific orchestration that opens, like Peggy Lee's Fever with just a stand-up acoustic bass, joined (in unison) with the lowest notes on the piano. Brilliant!


For the cognoscenti, that's a 'Lambretta' Deana is riding -- the Ferrari of scooters. Made in Italy's northernmost city, Milan. But you knew that.


Deana Martin has a large and interesting Wikipedia entry; since the last time I looked, someone added a tag line that went straight to my heart. Deana is a pilot!


“Martin is a licensed pilot who was featured in a cover story for the magazine Twin Cessna Flyer and profiled in AOPA Pilot.[23] ”


[The sentence just before that one reminds Siriusly Sinatra listeners of one more reason we love her!]


“In 2005, Martin was hired by Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. In 2013, she joined Tina Sinatra for her Father's Day Special with Natalie Cole, Monica Mancini, and Daisy Tormé reminiscing about their famous fathers.[22] ”




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FRANK & THE DUKE -- Indian Summer

Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio just played INDIAN SUMMER – Frank and the Duke Ellington orchestra (arranged by Billy May). It features my all-time favorite instrumental solo (musical bridge) on ANY song ever recorded -- by sax giant Johnny Hodges.


The album “Francis A & Edward K” was recorded during two days in December 1967 (a very good year). Two months earlier I went by myself (no jazz fans among my friends) to see Duke Ellington 'in person' in my hometown of Ottawa – or rather just across the river in Hull Quebec where liquor laws were lax age 18 -- or less; (crudely-modified driver's licenses were seldom examined too closely.)


During a break, I approached the great man himself, as he walked across the Chaudier Hotel's small dance floor to get himself a drink. He smiled warmly when I said my parents saw him at Club Zanzibar in NYC on their “real honeymoon” just after WWII ended, the summer of '45.


Mr. Ellington said graciously: “You know, there's someone here you should meet!” and he summoned over one of his best musicians: “This is Johnny Hodges. Johnny this is . . . what's your name again?”


Yes, somewhere in the basement of our family home in Ottawa, is a b&w photo, torn purposefully, earlier that same day, from out of a jazz magazine -- with both their signatures!


Decades later I learned that after that performance they were off to record an album with Frank Sinatra.


An event that provided my favorite Sinatra-and-the-band anecdote. Frank was sparing in his public praise for other musicians. Which makes it all the more poignant that, when Frank, listening in the recording booth to the playback of Indian Summer, turned to a smiling Johnny Hodges and said: “My God, John that's beautiful!”


Thanks, Sirius radio for playing this one -- as you do once or twice a year.




[Wikipedia notes]


"Francis A. & Edward K." is an album by Frank Sinatra with Duke Ellington and his big band. The original intention was to record a mix of standards and originals, but only one original, Ellington's "I Like the Sunrise", was used.[1] The arrangements were written by Billy May.[2] All of the performances are at a slow tempo except [the last track] "Come Back to Me".


[And the song's Wiki entry reminds us this one was '20-years-in-the-making']


"Indian Summer" is a jazz standard originally written as a piano piece by the prolific composer Victor Herbert. Al Dubin later wrote the lyrics. Herbert composed the tune in 1919; Dubin wrote his lyrics for the song in 1939, and in the same year Tommy Dorsey's orchestra had a number one hit with it on the Billboard singles chart .[1]



Edited by Mark Blackburn

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It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place 'cept Sirius and me . . .


I check to see what is playing . . .


Canada's other greatest gift to jazz – Diana Krall – from her early “Love Scenes” album – and her rendition (my favorite) of ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL.


“ . . . half a love never appealed to me / if your love never could yield to me? Then I'd rather have nothing at all . . . ”


From an album released 22 years ago this month: debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Jazz charts and went Platinum immediately with a million copies sold – a la Peggy Lee and “Fever” – Diana opens with just a stand-up acoustic bass. She still wows me. You too?



Thanks, Jersey Lou Simon, programmer extraordinaire. “Come give me a back rub" says a sleepy voice over my shoulder. Night, night.

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[h=2]Brother, Can You Spare a Dime – Favorite version – yours too?[/h]

The late George Michael (who died three years ago on Christmas Day) recorded an album “Songs From The Last Century” that was one of my favorites: including, as it did, the best depression-era song of them all – a poignant, post- stock market crash gem about NYC where stock brokers literally jumped out the windows of buildings on Wall Street.


The brave ones joined the rest of the human race, on soup lines and 'riding the rails' on freight trains, in desperate hope of finding work “elsewhere.”


Thanks to Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio for playing – a moment ago – this exemplary example to lyricists of the “Show-me, don't Tell me” lyric (the best kind there are, right?)


Words composed by the same genius who gave us OVER THE RAINBOW – Yip Harburg. To a tune by Jay Gorney. More about him in a moment.


Bet they would have loved this big orchestral treatment by a fine singer who left us much too young. Thanks to Jersey Lou Simon for including this one. (First time I can recall hearing this on Sirius.)



His Wiki entry concludes with this note:


Film composer Jay Gorney is credited with bringing Shirley Temple to 20th Century-Fox (then known as Fox Films). It was while walking out the viewing of her last Frolics of Youth picture that Gorney saw her dancing in the movie theater lobby. Recognizing her from the screen, he arranged for her to have a tryout for the movie Stand Up and Cheer!, which he was working on as a songwriter. The role, which featured Temple singing Baby Take a Bow (which was co-written by Gorney) with James Dunn, turned out to be a breakthrough role for Temple. The song would become the title for Baby Take a Bow, the first film by Fox to feature Temple in a starring role.[4]


Gorney's second marriage was to public relations consultant Sondra Karyl (Kattlove). Their daughter, Karen Lynn Gorney, is an actress and dancer who was in the original cast of All My Children, and starred opposite John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Gorney has two sons, Dr. Rodney Gorney (with first wife Edelaine Roden) and Dan Gorney (with Sondra Karyl).


Gorney's 2005 biography, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? The Life of Composer Jay Gorney, was written by his widow Sondra.

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[h=2]His great mind and heart -- laid bare in letters[/h]

On a friend's thread at SINATRA FAMILY this day, I shared those thoughts (above) about the late George Michael – and his rendition of BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? – with its evocative “show-me-don't-tell-me” lyric – composed by 'Yip' (Over the Rainbow) Harburg – which opens with this concise summing-up of one man's life . . .


Once I built a railroad, made it run, made it race against time

Once I had a railroad, now it's gone. Brother, can you spare a dime?


My friend countered with her favorite version of that “Dirty-30s” gem – by Tom Jones -- then kindly shared a link – to an 'open letter to George Michael' that Sinatra wrote in 1990.


Frank's words (typed on the same typewriter, under the same letterhead used in a note of reply he kindly sent me three years after he typed this one) Frank's words of inspiration give me goosebumps. Why? For the same reason we were both affected by Rudyard Kipling's poem "IF." Frank quoted a favorite line (mine too) when he was at the peak of his powers with his new record label:


“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same . . . "




September 9, 1990


Dear Friends,


When I saw your calendar cover, about George Michael, “the reluctant pop star,” my first reaction was he should thank the good Lord every morning when he wakes up, to have all that he has. And that will make two of us thanking God every morning for what we have.


I don't understand a guy who lives “in hopes of reducing his celebrity status.” Here's a kid who “wanted to be a pop star since I was about seven years old.” And now that he's a smash performer and songwriter at 27, he wants to quit doing what tons of gifted song writers all over the world would shoot grandma for – just one crack at what he's complaining about.


Come on George. Loosen up. Swing man. Dust off those gossamer wings and fly yourself to the moon of your choice, and be grateful to carry the baggage we've all had to carry, since those lean nights of sleeping on buses and helping the driver unload the instruments.


And no more of that talk about the “tragedy of fame.” The tragedy of fame is when no one shows up, and you're singing to the cleaning lady in some empty joint that hasn't seen a paying customer since Saint Swithin's day. And you're nowhere near that; you're top dog at the top rung of a tall ladder called stardom, which in Latin means thanks-to-the-fans who were there when it was lonely.


Talent must not be wasted. Those who have it, and you obviously do . . . must hug it, embrace it, nurture it, share it, lest it be taken away from you, as fast as it was loaned to you.


Trust me. I've been there




Frank Sinatra

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[h=2]I think I'm going to make it all the way![/h]

Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio a moment ago played a clip of Carrie Underwood saying, in appreciation of our favorite singer:


“He's the kind of artist we don't realize how influenced by him we all are . . . how many songs we know by him -- till you start thumbing through them: His music transcends genres and stands the test of time.”


This as her introduction to a song I'd forgotten (not many of those around): “(I Think) I'm Going to Make it All the Way.” From an album that is NOT among the 70 that I own – aptly titled, SOME NICE THINGS I'VE MISSED.


Listen to this. I defy you not to smile while tapping your foot. Love that closing sentiment, pursuant to 'lost love' – such a long way from “What's New?”


It's working out real well now

You can go to hell now

Yes I think I'm gonna make it all the way!


Oh good – an approved version -- with zero comments, and seven thumbs up. Let's change that!



p.s. Don't you love this 'summer knows' photo of Frank? My new favorite picture of my favorite singer. Wonder when it was taken. By the pool? At a golf course? Frank's content!

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[h=2]CALABRIA FOTI -- The Folks Who Live on the Hill[/h]

She's married to a "Bobby" -- Bob McChesney; in my books, the greatest trombone virtuoso EVER (which is saying something!) Bob plays classical pieces intended for trumpet or cornet as fast as possible -- on a slide trombone! Merely impossible. Which is why my favorite living singer changed the original lyric (intended for a West End London show) from the very-English "Darby and Joan" to "Bobby and me." Peggy Lee led the way, changing it to "Baby and Joe." A moment ago, Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio played (just for me) Calabria Foti's version -- my second-favorite rendition: As I said in my Amazon review for her latest CD,


"Jeremy Lubbock – a particular hero of mine for decades -- one of the greatest, living arrangers, orchestrated Calabria's (to my ears 'unsurpassed') rendition of Kern & Hammerstein's THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL. Yes, suddenly Calabria's version is my all-time favorite (excluding of course, our mutual hero Peggy Lee's definitive recording: the one with the Nelson Riddle orchestra 'conducted by Frank Sinatra')."


No Calabria songs on YouTube, so let's settle for the best.


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[h=2]His letter to Nikka Costa upon the death of her Dad[/h]

I was erasing old files from a dozen years ago and was poised to click "delete" on this one -- a note I wrote after reading a chapter of one of the biographies Nancy Sinatra wrote about her Dad. So glad I paused to read it. As Mom would say, What a coincidence (NOT).


"30 years ago at the start of the year 1983, Frank Sinatra sent a letter of sympathy to the daughter of a friend (a future performer in her own right) Nikka Costa – commiserating about the death of her Dad, composer/arranger Don Costa."




Dear Nikka,


I've purposely waited these few days to give you time to dry your tears and start to live in a world without your father...that dear, decent and talented man.


Not that the tears will ever stop when you remember how you love him, but at least the storm of your crying is over. And thanks to our wise and loving God, while there always will be some tears, hopefully the rest will come only in scattered showers. Maybe time doesn't completely heal all wounds but at least it softens them. We can thank God for that too.


Your father was one of the finest and dearest men I ever knew I pray for him every day. Every hour of every day. He helped me more than you'll ever know. Without his talents, his friendship, and his genius, my life would have been a lot different. For the worse, I might add.


When my own mother died a few years ago I thought I'd never get over the sadness. I'm sure you think that way now after your father's death. So I want to tell you how I manage to keep on living. I live a little of every day for my mother. A quiet prayer now and then. A kind deed she would have been proud of. Happy memories of her whenever I close my eyes. All these help me. And they will help you, Nikka. I promise you that.


And don't forget how painful these days are for your mother. For your wonderful mother. She lost a good man too. You can help her. You can help her more than anyone in the world. And I know you will. And I know your father will smile on you for helping her. Sometimes think of it this way. We're all better people because we knew and loved Don. I'm a better man because of him. Let's remember that always. Both of us. And remember this also, Nikka dear, he's happy where he is now - in that beautiful land of eternity. Where he will live forever and ever in peace and where we will see him again when God calls us.


I love you Nikka.


Uncle Frank

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[h=2]"The Love Nest" – turns 99! (Thanks, Calabria!)[/h]

At this moment Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio is playing the singer I most love, Calabria Foti -- performing a medley of songs titled, "Backyard Medley," which includes three songs from my parents' generation (one from my grandparents' generation) that we seldom hear any more: The medley opener was co-written by Al Jolson – “Back in Your Own Backyard” -- which segues perfectly into Rube Bloom & Harry Ruby's “Give Me the Simple Life.” And finally a very special song (for me) as the 'closer':


“The Love Nest” – opening theme for the George Burns & Gracie Allen Show -- composed by Lou Hirsch who died in 1924, four years after lyricist Otto (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes) Harbach penned the words.


I LOVED that Burns & Allen theme song! I first heard it when I was 10 years old (1957) as the show neared the end of its eight year run. But to learn the song title, I had to wait half a century till the age of search engines.


No one I've heard has ever recorded “The Love Nest” – until (just for me) “my favorite living singer” included it. Calabria, a world class violinist, did the arrangement herself – for her “Prelude to a Kiss” CD.


None of Calabria's songs are at YouTube. But just to remind fellow baby boomers who loved that black & white small-screen-TV early television show, here's the first version listed at YouTube this day:


Their Wiki article opens . . .


The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, sometimes called The Burns and Allen Show, is a half-hour television series broadcast from 1950 to 1958 on CBS. It stars George Burns and Gracie Allen, one of the most enduring acts in entertainment history. Burns and Allen were headliners in vaudeville in the 1920s, and radio stars in the 1930s and 1940s. Their situation comedy TV series received Emmy Award nominations throughout its eight-year run.


Since last we checked, a kindred spirit has inserted a reference to the theme song: “Opening Theme – 'Love Nest' by Lou Hirsch” – but it fails to note, as Calabria Foti did in her liner notes, that Otto Harbach composed the lyric!


A song so obscure that a search this daybrings up the original – which will be 100 years old next year! Surely the oldest song video we'll ever see at Sinatra Family.


It includes a note acknowledging that it's “From the George M. Cohan musical, 'Mary', lyrics by Otto Harbach with music by Louis A. Hirsch. In Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby" it's the song played by Klipspringer just before he sings "Ain't We Got Fun".


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[h=2]The Best (Frank) Ever Had![/h]

“And ev'ry night I fall asleep on YOUR side of this great big double bed;

rememb'ring that the worst you ever gave me,

was the best I ever had.”


I'm pulling up in my driveway a moment ago and Sinatra is singing “The Best I Ever Had.” Is thi,s I wonder, another one from that album whose cover is my "new favorite photo of Frank" (SOME NICE THINGS I'VE MISSED).


I pictured Cole Porter listening to these words, and saying, "You know – that's not half-bad!" Yes, if this song originated in Country music, it sounds like something that could have been composed, words and music, by Tom T. Hall (the best that ever was).


Is it listed at Wikipedia? No. Is a version at YouTube. Yes!


And the arrangement! (wonder who?) The band just sizzles with fun. You can hear the smile in Frank's voice! I'd say he LOVED recording this one --- with top-flight jazz musicians. Bet they applauded (only string players tap their bows) at song's end. Yes, yet another 'something that I had missed' to coin an album title.



Comments (four) below the video include these, from kindred spirits:


Art Durbano 6 years ago

I had a wife they wrote this one for.


MusicShell 6 years ago

ME TOO! Thank you !!!!!

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[h=2]Favorite “goodbye” song (and best rendition)[/h]

I love Shirley Bassey – one of England's greatest gifts to popular music. A moment ago Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio played an early (1961) recording of my “new” favorite version of maybe the most poignant song Cole Porter ever wrote – EV'RY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE. Her most beautiful and reverent rendition is reminiscent (to my ears) of Dame Vera Lynn. Come to think of it, I believe it's “Dame Shirley.” And, to coin a phrase, there ain't nothin' like a dame.



Most recent note below the video from a kindred soul:



Milton Moore (1 year ago)


Dame Shirley Bassey did a magnificent job on this Cole Porter standard.

The arrangement and orchestration are non pariel.

Those violins were piped down straight from HEAVEN!

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[h=2]Why some “favorites” go straight to our hearts -- for a lifetime[/h]

The first week of January 1993, Frank Sinatra took perhaps ten minutes of his life to write me a note of thanks for a two page letter that opened . . .


December 17, 1992


Dear Mr. Sinatra:


This letter may never reach you, but it needs to be written, because of the way I'm feeling right now. About your music.


I'm a 'baby boomer,' 45 years old, from a musical family . . .


[Toward the end of the letter]


. . . the Christmas tape I prepared for my parents this year I labeled “Pure Gershwin – (Almost)”. It includes some of Dave Grusin's splendid “Gershwin Connection” tunes, followed by Robert Farnon's Porgy & Bess Suite, then Harry Connick Jr.'s treatment of “But Not For Me” (my parents aren't familiar with Connick) and then, 'the real thing' : Your Gershwin tunes from “The Capitol Years.”


They phoned last night (as my wife Irene, and two young sons Aaron and Ben decorated our tree, while we listened to your Christmas album). My folks were delighted with your music, and my 'historical' liner notes. They were pleased both with your 'classics' and in awe of the quality of the recording which renewed their love for your music. They especially loved your treatment of their 'theme' song, from their first days together, “Embraceable You.” Like me they say that if there's a better version of that, they'd love to hear it!




My Dad died November 15, 2006; Mom, four years earlier. A late-in-life stroke reduced him to six word sentences. For the four years after Mom's death he was unable even to LOOK at his living room Steinway. “It hurts to much,” he said (they were musical soul mates). But then, on my last visit to the family home in Ottawa, Dad sat down at the piano – just for me – and tried to play a song. He'd written over 400 songs, some of them hauntingly beautiful – my favorite melodies. Despite my prompting, he couldn't play any of his own songs. But then . . .


He played Embraceable You. All the way through. He played it a second time, haltingly (out of tempo) but without a mistake. Imagine! All that music inside his brain, and the only song that could emerge through his talented fingers was this one. Inspired, I'd like to think, by this 'best-ever' version. Our favorite singer would have enjoyed hearing this story (I'd like to think!)



In subsequent months, Dad slowly regained some repertoire: Until, on his final visit to Winnipeg, in a public setting, on an electronic grand piano in the lobby of an old folks' residence he played his favorite song – Mom's favorite, mine too: “All The Things You Are.” He played several variations, exquisite to my ears – of this, the most difficult of all songs to play (a riot of modulations that winds up back in the same key – a jazz player's delight). As he played (for my benefit, after fulfilling a request to “Play Red River Valley” (which he did, without a trace of condescension) Dad, as if to say, “This one's for you and Mom,” played 'my favorite version' of ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE. He must have made a mistake, but I didn't hear it.


On that visit – his last to my home – I took out the “Great Songs from Great Britain” CD, arranged by his friend (since WWII) Toronto-born Robert Farnon and played for Dad “Roses of Picardy” a between-the-Great-Wars song he'd mentioned in his “Guns of Normandy/Guns of Victory” history series of books (which sold 80,000 copies – a big number in Canada!). I told Dad that Sinatra was at the end of a world tour and was not in good voice. Dad wave his hand in a “No, No” gesture and said,

“Very good . . . VERY GOOD.”


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[h=2]STAY WITH ME -- Sinatra[/h]

I'm pulling up at church today, about to take the key out of the ignition, when, just for me, Jersey Lou Simon or his talented, designated hitter plays STAY WITH ME – my all-time favorite 'abide with me, Lord' type song which you never heard (unless you own the Sinatra '65 album. I don't). Written for the movie 'The Cardinal' (but not used in the soundtrack): Words by my favorite female lyricist, Carolyn (Witchcraft) Leigh. (I sang its praises I think earlier on this thread.) The real coincidence is, I'd just been thinking this very morning that our Canadian Catholic hymnal, since the 1980s, is loaded up with the best Protestant hymns (complete with the best footnotes: such as, from memory, its listing of “Stuart K. Hine” as author (words and music) of “How Great Thou Art” (a Gospel song which sounds old; I was six when Stu wrote it in in '53).


But my favorite hymn, played each year at our Remembrance Day (Nov. 11) ceremonies in Canada, hasn't made the hymnal: It has five brilliant stanzas, mated to a perfect melody; its first stanza just gets 'deeper' for me 'as I approach the prime of my life' – from memory imperfect:


Abide with me, fast falls the even'tide; the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide!

When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, 'help of the helpless'

Oh abide with me!


And then they go and play this song that Frank loved, but which no one else recorded. Perhaps because it wasn't used over the closing credits. RIP Carolyn Leigh.



I see, among the comments below the video, one from someone named Mark Blackburn (I know him!) which included this link:


Celebrated this night at SinatraFamily.com -- Forums -- Nancy for Frank SHOW #456

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[h=2]SHIRLEY HORN -- It's Not Easy Being . . .[/h]

Where else could you turn on your radio and hear the late, great Shirley Horn singing “Green” (it's not easy being). After Frank's definitive recording, the singer Frank called “the only true genius in the business” (the business of singing) recorded his lovely late-in-life rendition. But Shirley Horn included this exquisite recording for her Ray Charles tribute album “Lights out of Darkness” (on Gitanes label). Thanks, Jersey Lou for the album cover graphic. Another one I'd buy if I didn't have Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio. A brilliant jazz pianist, it's just Shirley alone with her Steinway on this one:


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[h=2]Sir George and the Velvet Fog[/h]

My compatriot, and favorite musicologist/social commentator, Mark Steyn selected as his latest 'Song of the Week' the one-and-only jazz standard composed by George Shearing – “Lullaby of Birdland.”


Mark spoke about how he learned this song on piano; we guitarists learned of its existence from 'Mr. Guitar' Chet Atkins, on a 1959 album that introduced future finger-style guitarists to six-string melody-in-counterpoint. Our first exposure to the guy who “sounded like two guitars” – and 10,000 pickers (including a young George Harrison) saw a red Gretsch electric – Chet's own design – for the first time. And fell in love! The album cover alone inspired millions of us to take up the guitar. Favorite track? This one!



Mark's essay this day is (as always) informed, informative and funny – sparkling with personal anecdotes only Mr. Steyn could share. Just last week, at 'Sinatra Family' online, we were sharing a favorite tune or two by the self-described 'musical soul mates' – Shearing & Torme. Concerning whom Mark writes:


“He had a special affinity for Mel Tormé. Shearing had a droll sense of humor (to an interviewer who asked him whether he'd been blind all his life, he replied, "Not yet"), and he and Tormé enjoyed musical jokes. The best involved Shearing starting up the famous da-da de-da-da vamp to "New York, New York", at which point Tormé comes in singing "(The bells are ringing) For Me And My Gal", and detours through "They Didn't Believe Me", "Mack The Knife", "Birth Of The Blues" and "How High The Moon", all to the accompaniment of the same insistent "New York, New York" vamp - until finally an exasperated Shearing yells, "Okay, Melmy, sing it already!" And so Tormé finally starts spreading the news and being a part of it, at which point the pianist drops the vamp and accompanies "New York, New York" by playing Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade".


Among the umpteen nuggets of info Mark included was this one -- straight to the heart:


“This week marks the centenary of Sir George, [who died at 91]. He was born in London, south of the river at Battersea, on August 13th 1919 - and was blind from that first gulp of air, the result, he believed, of a botched attempt at abortion . . . “


The closing words of this essay (link below) could only have been composed by Mark Steyn:


“After hearing Erroll Garner's [version of “Lullaby of Birdland”] he said, "I wonder why I didn't write it that way." Because he didn't need to. He wrote it his way, and let the world's musicians play it according to whatever caught their fancy. They're still finding new things to do with it even now - and maybe its composer is, too:


Lullaby Of Birdland

Whisper low

kiss me sweet

And we'll go

Flyin' high in Birdland

High in the sky up above...


Sir George Shearing, Battersea working-class lad and son of (as he liked to joke) a "coal porter" turned knight of the realm, flyin' high in Birdland, now and forever.


– Mark Steyn



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[h=2]Yo Daddy's rich, and yo mamma's good lookin'[/h]

It's summertime (in the world's coldest major city) and, not a day goes by, circa summer of '19, that I don't think of George Gershwin's most-recorded song of the same name.


12 or 20 years ago I sent friends a compilation CD that included "my favorite version"; it's still my favorite, all these years later. Yours too? Ella & Louis in an early 'genius loves company' moment.


Guess what "Puerto Libre" at YouTube just sent my way a moment ago. Why? -- in the 110 pages of this thread -- did it take this long to get around to this one?


As a kindred spirit at Sinatra Family noted recently, the song-writers' "Nobel Prize" is 'The Gershwin' and people who never heard names like Kern, Rodgers, Warren or Van Heusen, recognize that name; and this, his most recorded melody.


Never before, and never since, did it get a better treatment, you may agree?


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[h=2]SINATRA: I'm Not Afraid[/h]

“Are YOU afraid? I'm not afraid!”


The most beautifully orchestrated fast waltz Frank ever recorded. Siriusly Sinatra plays it once a year or so. The shuffle play miracle that is YouTube just sent it my way. As if to say, Remember this one? You love it and lack any memory of who wrote this gem, and which brilliant arranger did the sparkling orchestration – with a huge orchestra. It sounds like Riddle . . . but I know it's not. It opens as quietly as any Sinatra ballad ever recorded -- just harp and flute for the opening stanza: a slow 'parlour' waltz, that builds and builds, almost without you realizing what is happening.



Thanks to this YouTube upload, I look closely at the label: A Rod McKuen lyric updating an earlier tune by French composer Jacques Brel. “Produced by Sonny Burke” and “Arranged and Conducted by Lenny Hayton” (who is Mr. Hayton? How can I not have heard of him??) Just how big was this orchestra? It sounds almost “Concert Sinatra” huge. (Don't know the answers, but I think I know one-or-two, who do.)


Listen to the way our favorite singer artlessly raises the volume to match the words -- almost wistful, timid at the start --- but relentlessly, the orchestration reaches its series of crescendos, (around 2:43) 'The Voice' is unleashed, in full splendor – but completely in support of the lyric: A vivid reminder that Frank really LISTENED to the lyricists' words as they're written.


And we may be sure that Frank directed/prompted Mr. Hayton, in what surely must have been this little-known, arranger/conductor's 'shining hour.' Bet the fiddle players tapped their bows, while the rest of the orchestra applauded in the ensuing silence! Wish I'd been there, in that studio (wonder which one?) Really, how could a recording this wonderful be almost overlooked. If not for Jersey Lou Simon programmer extraordinaire for 'Siriusly Sinatra' we'd never get to hear it!


Wonder if the 45 record label really was this pretty deep turquoise? Circa 2019, you never know! To coin a song lyric? “What is for real, what is false? All of us seem to be caught in a waltz!”


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[h=2]Discordant harmony -- the jazz player's genius[/h] As if to say -- you love Nancy Wilson . . . ever hear her version? Hit the "back one hour" button and Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio is streaming on the computer, "Nancy Wilson" -- someone I've always loved -- and my 'new favorite' rendition of "In Other Words" (Fly Me to the Moon). Whoever orchestrated it, they borrowed several 'signature' Duke Ellington arrangements for horns. The great Billy May, says one of the wise men at Sinatra Family where we celebrated this one today.


Added a note to this superb version: (Thanks, "Nancy Wilson - Topic"):


"Discordant harmony -- the jazz player's genius : Listen to what happens at

-- Nancy appears to sing a half-tone flat ("please be TRUE . . .") But the vibes player (a jazz genius himself, whoever it was) underlines Nancy's conscious choice of what I call 'discordant harmony" by playing the exact same 'flat' -- which could be part of a chromatic display chord where just one note is off. (Oscar Peterson did it better than anyone else.) Yet another reminder that THESE are the good old days: The sonic purity of this version is surely as good as it gets, this side of heaven:



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