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Mark Blackburn

GREAT MELODY, GREAT LYRIC, GREAT RENDITION

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Posted (edited)

Still my favorite Nelson Riddle arrangement you may never have heard

Siriusly Sinatra just played I COULDN'T CARE LESS – a Cahn/Van Heusen song most everyone never heard-of – unless they mail-ordered a “Longines” black vinyl LP that was its only early source; until the 3-CD Capitol Years box set. Listening to it now. Channel 71 includes on its playlist at least once a year. Just for me, I'd like to think! Just in case: Thanks, Jersey Lou Simon, programmer-extraordinaire.
[From an Amazon review, dated December 12, 2002 titled “Almost His Very Best Collection – THE CAPITOL YEARS”]

This 3-CD collection has some unique virtues that have not been commented on: 'Only available here' for example, is the previously commercially unreleased Cahn/Van Heusen masterpiece "I Couldn't Care Less" featuring what this reviewer considers Nelson Riddle's single most beautiful ballad arrangement. Sinatra works his subtle magic with one of Sammy Cahn's very best lyrics ("Balmy breezes are blowing, each star in the night is glowing, but I couldn't care less") while orchestra conjures up sounds of a summer night, with Riddle's strings ratcheting up through almost two octaves of semi-tones in the first eight bars of the instrumental bridge (release). Simply heavenly! And to think Sinatra and the musicians did this in one take.

By comparison the highly-touted version of "I've Got You Under My Skin" included here (I know it's sacrilege to say this, but it's not as good as the one on the 2-CD Reprise collection) this version took 22 takes before the singer was pleased! The generally-factual liner notes still include a fair number of errors---including a really glaring one I pointed out to Sinatra in my letter: The very first cut on Disc One by one of his favorite song-writers ("I've Got the World on a String") fails to correctly identify the composer, Harold Arlen.

I single out "I Couldn't Care Less" because no other reviewer at Amazon.com (or even those who wrote the liner notes) commented on its special virtues. This 'one-take wonder' was briefly available, 30 years ago on a premium, mail-order-only album (Longines, 1973) but again, this is the only place you'll ever hear it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZknxS8kSNY

The first offering at YouTube posted ten years ago with this most comprehensive note:
"I Couldn't Care Less" written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, was recorded by Frank Sinatra on October 15, 1958 but was not included in an album until the release of the 1978 Capitol / EMI LP, The Rare Sinatra. It was later included in the 3 CD set "The Capitol Years" The personnel on the track include Nelson Riddle (con, a), Gus Bivona, Dale Issenhuth, Jules Jacob, Abe Most, Wilbur Schwartz (r), Frank Beach, Conrad Gozzo (t), Francis Howard, Murray McEachern, Dale McNickle (tb), John Cave, Vincent De Rosa, Richard Perissi (frh), George Roberts (bt), Al Viola (g), Joe Comfort (b), Bill Miller (p), Kathryn Julye (hrp), Bill Richmond (d), Larry Bunker (per), Victor Arno, Victor Bay, Alex Beller, Jacques Gasselin, Carl Lamagna, Dan Lube, Ricky Marino, Lou Raderman, Paul Shure, Felix Slatkin, Marshall Sosson, Gerald Vinci (vn), Joseph Di Fiore, Alvin Dinkin, Stan Harris, Paul Robyn (vl), James Arkatov, Elizabeth Greenschpoon, Edgar Lustgarten, Eleanor Slatkin (vc).
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Posted (edited)

POETRY MAN -- my favorite version (since the original)

Ever wake up singing a song from your distant past – one you haven't heard anywhere in ages? Doing that very thing today with a song popularized by Phoebe Snow. From the Fall of '74 – same month my wife and I were married in Bermuda, and Phoebe's POETRY MAN got lots of airplay on our “ZBM” radio station. Ms Snow self-accompanied (beautifully) on acoustic steel-string guitar – with a pretty 'hook' to her simple arrangement. Queen Latifah's version of Poetry Man borrowed that same memorable riff.

Just dug out that Queen Latifah album, titled “Trav'lin' Light” (a lesser-known but lovely Johnny Mercer song). Sure enough: Track 1 (“Start your show strong,” as the great ones always do.)

Is it at YouTube? Yes! Imagining the younger ones among us hearing this song for the very first time. What would they think.

I'd forgotten the provocative words of the penultimate stanza:

So once again
It's time to say, "So long,"
And so recall the lull of life.
You're going home now
Home's that place somewhere you go each day
To see your wife.

----

"Produced" by heavyweights: the late Tommy LiPuma, who assigned the arranging to Jerry Hey and called in the 'dean' of recording engineers, Al Schmitt.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8jNwzY6RPI
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Still my favorite up-tempo song by Sinatra

 I'd just been thinking of advice to young people. Pursuant to things musical, I would say: Write to your heroes before they are gone: I wrote to Sinatra at Christmas 1992. [I had closed my letter to him with these words:]

"On a personal note: my absolute favorite song of yours, for reasons I can't really explain, is 'I Thought About You.' Maybe it's the deceptively simple, elegant tune by that genius who began life as Chester Babcock (Van Heusen). Or the brilliant lyric by the century's greatest lyricist (Mercer). Or the gem of an arrangement by my favorite American arranger (Riddle) with all those train sounds, that have you swinging down the track. Oh hell, let's face it---it's the singer! The song wouldn't be what it is without you. Merry Christmas 1992!"

Within two weeks I received a reply, on gold-embossed 'FS' stationery, with a beautiful, bright blue, fountain pen signature:

January 1993

Dear Mark,

Thank you very much for your letter of December 17. I am flattered by your kind words and greatly appreciate your interest in my music . . . It was so nice of you to take the time to write!

Here's wishing you and your family a very healthy and happy New Year! Keep listening!

All the best,
(signed)
Frank Sinatra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPsgdRlv0CM

["Still crazy" (for this song) "after all these years." You too?]

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Posted (edited)

“The Chairman's Hour” is playing IF IT'S THE LAST THING I DO

I hear that instantly identifiable sound of a Nelson Riddle arrangement and think, No – actually THAT is my favorite opening orchestral flourish of any he wrote. So distinctive! No one else but Nelson could have written those notes and had that choice of 'voicings' (which instruments would be best). And the vocal! Sinatra at the very peak of his powers, the full throated power -- held in reserve (like just touching the gas pedal in a powerful car) for these culminating words:

. . . I'll take your hand, and though I won't say a word . . .
you'll understand!
I'll build a dream – just for two . . .
and then, I'll make it come true . . .
if it's the very last thing . . .
I do.

Sinatra Family friend Charles Pignone has his own show “The Chairman's Hour” on channel 71. I have never tuned in (always it seems, 'by accident') that I wasn't compelled to hear it all.
It sounds like the Hollywood String Quartet album (Riddle supplemented with other key instruments including a tinkling celeste to tweak this one to perfection.) 
First offering at YouTube this night includes this informed note:

"If It's The Last Thing I Do" written by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin and arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle was recorded by Frank Sinatra on March 8, 1956 for his Capitol LP, Close To You; however it had to be omitted due to the album being too long. It was included on the 1978 Capitol / EMI LP, The Rare Sinatra. When Close To You was released on CD in 2002, the song was restored to its rightful place on the album.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RhiXMQ3m3I

Most recent comment below the video speaks for all of us!

Michael Light
3 years ago
It's an outstanding album. However, how they could leave this recording off is an unbelieveable mystery.
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Posted (edited)

Vera Lynn died today. She was 103.  I'd just been thinking of my favorite of her WWII ballads, with the refrain “There'll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover – tomorrow, just you wait and see!”

My Mom and Dad had a special fondness for this song -- especially the bridge (release) – capturing in so few eloquent words the hopes of a nation in it's “darkest hour” circa 1941.

“The shepherd will tend his sheep, the valley will bloom again; and Jimmy will go to sleep, in his own little room again.”

Everyone's favorite version at YouTube (1.1 million “views”) is this one. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqtaoz4QFX8


safe_image.php?d=AQBQVRiJ9n4pMfaJ&w=540&h=282&url=https%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2FHqtaoz4QFX8%2Fhqdefault.jpg&cfs=1&upscale=1&fallback=news_d_placeholder_publisher&_nc_hash=AQD43Sqs8TJj_x6L

Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Posted (edited)

JAMES TAYLOR - Ol' Man River

Recently shared with Nancy at Sinatra Family (Forum) some thoughts about her Dad's 'retire-the-trophy' rendition of OL' MAN RIVER – how Frank holds the longest note of his career (18 seconds) “artlessly: you might not even be aware of his achievement: with an in-breath on the words “ …. in jail” through to the phrase, “I gets weary.” The rest of us would be off-mic, gasping for air. Yet for Sinatra it's almost seamless. [Recorded at the peak of his powers in 1963 with the largest symphony orchestra (73-piece) on the vast MGM sound stage. Originally recorded on 35 mm tape, recently re-mastered for sonic details never heard before (see below).

Just went back to “my other favorite version” of Ol' Man River by James Taylor: Like all great works of art, this one sounds more impressive each time, as you spot details you didn't catch before!

It's a song of great 'range' – from the lowest note James' rich baritone has ever recorded -- through to the song's upper-register climax. James uniquely repeats the final “old man river” three times. It sounds so 'organically' appropriate to the melody you'd almost think it written that way by the composer!

Oh yes, and James whistles the closing coda – a reminder of his world-class skills in that department: (See his version of Richard Rodgers' MY ROMANCE for which James whistles, like a jazz soloist, the entire musical bridge.
 


Most recent comment below the video from a kindred soul:

The Nonsense Buffer
3 months ago
No one hits low notes like that anymore. The Best OMR since Sinatra ��...
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Pursuant to which . . . just sent James Taylor this note via Facebook, where I am a "Top Fan" (this day at least): 

 Just had a reverie of you, invited to perform a song on stage at the next Grammy awards: You are seated next to an old RCA ribbon mic. You know the very one: the most familiar size and shape in the history of broadcasting. Still the best mic for bass notes. And when the engineers say, 'But we have a Neumann for you!' (Sinatra's mic of choice) please insist on the "RCA ribbon mic" (which you'll have to provide yourself) and get your own sound engineer to maximize the sound of your rich baritone, for just those lowest notes. For the sound bars on expensive TVs. Please, let them know in advance, just in case an award is coming that night for you and/or your brilliant 'two-guitar' arranger John Pizzarelli. How I want to see you two together on stage at that most prestigious show. No one will see it coming; most everyone in the audience and at home will want to Google for this brilliant song "we never heard before." Forgive the presumption, for it's only a dream. (Sounds like a song title. Or at least one written in England circa 1936.)  

 

 

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 ELLA and "Georgia" and RCA ribbon mics

Just above, I'd fantasized about "my favorite living song-writer" performing his new (2020) version of OL' MAN RIVER -- at the Grammys -- and "with an RCA ribbon mic" because "the bass is better." Lo and behold . . .

At this moment, Siriusly Sinatra is streaming video on the computer and there is Ella and an RCA ribbon mic – best photo you could hope for!  As if to say, 'Oh, you mean one of THESE?' (The classic, dome-top design beloved by broadcasters in the 50s.) Ella, in a lovely coral-colored dress, on the LP album cover for “Ella Swings Gently With Nelson.”

Is this terrific Nelson Riddle -arranged version of “Georgia On My Mind” at YouTube? Yes! And with official-looking version too (posted two summers ago). Thanks, 'Jersey Lou' Simon for keeping tabs on what we have to say each day at Sinatra Family Forum.
 

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JACK SHELDON - Over the Rainbow

Siriusly Sinatra is playing the late trumpet great Jack Sheldon's version of OVER THE RAINBOW – the one he recorded 'alone together' with his favorite jazz pianist, Ross Tompkins for a "Harold Arlen Centennial Celebration" album.

Harold Arlen, who left us back in 1986, was one of Sinatra's favorite song writers for tunes like One For My Baby and Come Rain Or Come Shine. His songs he wrote with Yip Harburg for The Wizard of Oz -- especially OVER THE RAINBOW brought him his greatest fame: "Over the Rainbow" was voted the 20th century's No. 1 song by BOTH the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Arlen, a life-long jazz fan didn't live to hear Jack Sheldon's late-in-life reverent rendition of OVER THE RAINBOW.

Jack Sheldon made it to age 88, before leaving us six months ago -- December 27, 2019. For my money he is the best: a 'Trumpeter's Trumpet player' -- influential on those young lions including Chris Botti, who admired and were influenced by his work. Sheldon's virtuosity is artless -- he makes the most difficult things sound easy to play -- effortlessly easy, with a virtuosity that creates the most uplifting, celestial solos – tasteful and rich in content. Most importantly (to my ears) Jack Sheldon's syncopated silences -- knowing that what we leave out of a solo can sometimes be (almost) as important as what we leave in.
 
 

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Posted (edited)

And in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen, he likes to keep his fire engine clean

The winter of 1967 my Dad was in London England to try to get a play produced. In our hometown of Ottawa, his comedy “A Button Missing” starring Rich Little, broke “50 years of box office records” and with friends as 'backers' putting up 20 or 25 thousand dollars (an immense sum in those days) Dad was off to London's West End. He quickly succeeded in lining up “The Third Man” on TV, Michael Rennie to play the lead role of “Drinkwater” an inventor trying to patent an artificial woman. But then Dad also had to find a director too. He did: I forget the name but he'd directed a comedy about the love life of flight attendants “Boeing, Boeing” and told Dad A Button Missing was “much funnier” and would be a hit. But days turned into weeks and Dad had to return home empty-handed. A measure of his integrity: he found ways to return ALL his backers' money.

I remember this because he brought me back one gift from London: The Beatles' latest hit – PENNY LANE. The 45-rpm “Parlophone” (no big hole in the middle – an attractive, factory-made insert instead). The only-in-England version featured a seven-note closing flourish by the cornet player. You never got to hear that in North America. Just checked for the latest “remastered” version at YouTube and sure enough, it's the “American/Canadian” version, whose final seven seconds consists of 'feedback' – a single note from guitar or synth (or both). Pretty, but not nearly as nice.
 


“Why is no one talking about the trumpet solo?” asks a comment below the video. The un-sung English virtuoso is singled out in Penny Lane's Wiki entry. He left us nine years ago, age 85. He now has a Wiki entry of his own.

David Mason (2 April 1926 – 29 April 2011[1][2]) was an English orchestral, solo and session trumpet player. He played the flugelhorn for the premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams's ninth symphony and the piccolo trumpet solo on the Beatles' song "Penny Lane".[2][3][4]

Main article: Penny Lane

On 17 January 1967 at Abbey Road Studios Mason recorded the piccolo trumpet solo which is a prominent part of the Beatles' song "Penny Lane".[6] The solo, inspired by Mason's performance of Bach's 2nd Brandenburg Concerto with the English Chamber Orchestra,[7] is in a mock-Baroque style for which the piccolo trumpet is particularly suited, having a clean and clear sound which penetrates well through thicker midrange textures.[8]

Mason recorded the solo using a piccolo trumpet in A (this uses a slightly longer leadpipe than the piccolo trumpet in B-flat, which itself is an octave higher than a standard B-flat trumpet).[9] Although such piccolo trumpet solos became almost commonplace in some types of pop, this was seen as innovative at the time and was among the first such uses: George Martin later wrote, "The result was unique, something which had never been done in rock music before".[10]Mason also contributed to several other Beatles songs, including "A Day in the Life", "Magical Mystery Tour", "All You Need Is Love" and "It's All Too Much".[3]

Death[edit]
Mason died of leukaemia in April 2011, at the age of 85.
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Posted (edited)

WHAT'S NEW - Sinatra 'live' in his 70s - my favorite version

For decades a Los Angeles -based recording engineer Wally Heider was the 'king of remotes' – the man best able to produce concert recordings of such high quality, you'd swear were taped in the perfect silence of a studio: at least until applause announces otherwise at song's end.

Just that same sort of amazing quality -- a best-ever concert performance by Sinatra – from the late 80's. (Wonder if it's someone Mr. Heider trained, or at least influenced?) Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio just played this later-in-life concert recording of WHAT'S NEW?
The video with the “Sinatra 80” graphic at YouTube informs: “What's New – Live At Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas, October 24, 1987.”

Yet another example of the 'gravitas' an older and wiser man – Sinatra in his 70s -- could bring to bear on an old favorite he had 'owned' since first recording it 30 years earlier, with the Nelson Riddle orchestra.

Surely the best lyric of its kind -- about meeting in the street 'the gal that got away'-- trying hard not to reveal even a trace of how you still feel about her. Watching her walk away and thinking: “You couldn't know (I haven't changed) I still love you so.”
 
 
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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KRISTIN CHENOWETH - A House is Not a Home

Channel 71 is playing my new favorite version, by Kristin Chenoweth, of an old Burt Bacharach/Hal David song -- long overdue for a brilliant new interpretation. Kristin's vocal is a breath of fresh air, as is the arrangement. Her true colors as a Broadway star are shining through in this recording from a decade ago.

I remember in 1964 the song didn't make it high in the charts -- at that moment in time when Beatle-mania and 'The British invasion' were in full swing.

According to Wikipedia:

"A House Is Not a Home" is a 1964 ballad recorded by American singer Dionne Warwick, and written by the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the 1964 film of the same name, starring Shelley Winters and Robert Taylor. The song was a modest hit in the United States for Warwick, peaking at #71 on the pop singles chart as the B-side of the top 40 single, "You'll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)". [and, as often happens] Warwick's version of "A House Is Not a Home" fared better in Canada, where it was a top 40 hit, peaking at #37.

Despite its modest initial success, the song went on to achieve greater renown through frequent recordings by other artists, including a hit version in 1981 by Luther Vandross.

"A House Is Not a Home" was one of several Bacharach/David hits added to the score of the 2010 Broadway revival of Promises, Promises (a Bacharach/David musical from 1968). It was performed by Kristin Chenoweth and later recorded again for her album "The Art of Elegance".

The song was performed twice in "Home", the sixteenth episode of the television series Glee, once by Chris Colfer and Cory Monteith, and once by Matthew Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth as part of a medley with "One Less Bell to Answer".

[Four decades earlier a more iconic artist named Barbra was first to record that same 'two-song medley']

Barbra Streisand recorded a medley of the song with "One Less Bell to Answer" (the 5th Dimension hit) for her 1971 album Barbra Joan Streisand.
 
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Posted (edited)

After Frank's -- my favorite version of I'LL BE SEEING YOU

I'm listening to Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio playing my "new favorite version" of maybe the most poignant song ever written -- I'LL BE SEEING YOU. And thinking, not for the first time, “I know this singer!” Before checking the screen for channel 71 on the computer, I'm thinking . . .

I love the vocal timbre! (It's a back-handed compliment to say that, at first hearing, it's an older woman's character voice – or that of a prepubescent boy?)

The phrasing is superb! The vocal athleticism, which sounds deceptively easy to replicate. So fresh an interpretation, including a moment or two of silence.

The musicianship is world-class! From the opening orchestral flourish -- that sounds like my family's Canadian-born arranger hero Bob Farnon -- to the understated, yet brilliant trumpet solo. (Who's that virtuoso, I wonder?)

It's our favorite big screen 'wise guy' – a huge Sinatra fan, who does it his way (nothing like Frank). Good thing too. Thanks to Channel 71's programmer-extraordinaire  'Jersey Lou' Simon for introducing us to “Joe Pesci, jazz singer.”
 
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Jessica Molaskey - HAPPY HABIT

My favorite guitarist/jazz singer John Pizzarelli lost BOTH his Mom and Dad this year. Imagine! His mother “passed one week to the day” after his Dad died, both in their 90s.

Mr. Pizzarelli (who is incidentally, married to Jessica Molaskey – my favorite jazz singer you may not have heard-of) shared with Facebook friends this delightful memory of his musical Mom, “a big Sinatra fan.” [He writes]

"She was the best Mommy and held together the fort of 4 headstrong kids and a man with a passion for the guitar that was unending.
She attended the little league games, drove us all to lessons, attended concerts, recitals and prepared meals that we still talk about.
She raised us to be polite, to dress well and could not have been more supportive of our desires.

She loved music. I remember a van ride across Florida with a Music of Your Life station playing and she named every singer. She loved Dick Haymes’s record of The More I See You. She had two autographed pictures from Frank Sinatra and even got to kiss him once!

She was a Jersey Girl before the term was fashionable. She loved her hometown of Waldwick and sometimes after meals at The Cathay restaurant on Franklin Turnpike, she would drive around and show us where she grew up.

She loved her parents and sister and brother. She was one of a kind, elegant, gorgeous and fun."

-- John Pizzarelli

---

John married a great, if lesser-known, jazz singer Jessica Molaskey. A sample of her work you may enjoy. HAPPY HABIT. Surrounded by guitarists she loves, how could she not be "happy all day"?

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“Then YOU come on, and get boring.”
"Well . . . that's known as a change of pace!”

The things you miss – used to see 'live' only in NYC: from Broadway to cabaret at its very best. This, for instance. One of my favorite songwriters, and a great jazz pianist Dave Frishberg with Jessica Molaskey at the “Oak Room of The Algonquin” – a sort of 'round-table just for two' (as my favorite musical friend in New York might say.)

Listen to this. I defy you not to smile – and laugh – at a song so musically literate, yet accessible to ordinary souls who “don't know pizzicato from pizza”!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwuVkz1NqCc

 

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Posted (edited)

DIANA KRALL - "Under My Skin"

Sent my way by YouTube this night, it took me fully ten seconds to spot the arranger. Indulge me please in a bit of background on this favorite recording.

The 'dean' of living orchestrators 94-year-old Johnny Mandel is still busy, arranging for great singers. Last year, for “my favorite living singer” Calabria Foti, he arranged a song her late father Richard Fote composed (words & music) for her Mom. Calabria's Dad died a year ago this week -- thankfully, not before he got to hear Johnny Mandel's orchestral conception of Richard's lovely ballad, “I Had to Fall in Love With You” (Track 2 on Calabria's 2019 album, Prelude to a Kiss).

Coincidentally or not, I'd just been thinking about my favorite Diana Krall album (“When I Look in Your Eyes”) arranged/co-produced) by Mr. Mandel for Canada's 'other greatest gift to jazz' (released exactly 21 years ago this month, June 1999).

YouTube's not-so-random 'shuffle-play' just sent along the album's longest track -- “I've Got You Under My Skin.” For Sinatra fans, this one tops the list of favorites. Diana Krall would be the first to tell you that Frank & Nelson Riddle's arrangement could never be surpassed.

So. How to do it in a way that's “new”? With chord patterns that sound “fresh” to our ears -- 'other-wordly' voicings in the orchestra: THIS is how! My other all-time favorite rendition of this great Cole Porter song. The listener is disarmed to hear just solo notes on 'vibes' and then a lush unfolding of an arrangement only Johnny ('Ring-a-Ding, Ding') Mandel could have composed. One million Americans promptly tuned it into the 'No. 1 jazz album' (CD) and in Canada (with 10 per cent of the U.S. population) it sold a record 300,000 copies.  
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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 CALABRIA FOTI - We the People

I'm Canadian, but an American at heart and my favorite living singer shared something new that went straight to the heart -- saying that, given current events, she “couldn't wait to July 4 to share.”

Spoiler alert: This song was composed by The Bergmans, Marilyn and Alan (who, before they were married, composed the Sinatra hit “Nice 'n' Easy”) The melody? It's from a jazz giant we first heard-of when he played the closing theme (“Remembering You”) over the closing credits of ALL IN THE FAMILY. That was Roger Kellaway – playing 'stride style' piano as a home-movie-type camera pans across a New York neighborhood. Oh and if you think the photos should be award-winning? They are. We might not have heard of him, but surely have seen his best work, many times:

“Photographer, Author, Public Speaker. These are just a few words that describe Joseph Sohm, who started as an American History Teacher and whose passion for America's past, present and future, granted him the opportunity to conceive "Visions of America," an ongoing multi-media project that aims to capture the spirit of America.

“Ever looked through a National Geographic, Time or Newsweek magazine? Remember your Harper Collins, McGraw Hill, Macmillan and Prentice-Hall textbooks in school? I'm sure you've at least watched Discovery, History Channel, NBC’s “Today Show” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” a time or two? These are just a few places you can find his work.

“One of the many things keeping him busy these days is the current presidential election."

 

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Posted (edited)

KENNY RANKIN – What Matters Most

Google for the song title “What Matters Most” and immediately after Barbra Streisand's album of that name is Kenny Rankin – whose version is playing right now on Channel 71. Words I know and love by everyone's favorite husband & wife songwriting team 'The Bergmans' – Marilyn and Alan – whose ode to Love 'gone but not forgotten' ends with the refrain,
“What matters most, is that we loved at all.”

Kenny Rankin had the voice most admired by contemporary giants on saxophone – who heard 'sax' in his voice – the timbre and range, and even his improvisational style.

Is it at YouTube? Yes -- just the one version, uploaded eight years ago, and nearing one million “views.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQ_hTcdPHgc

KENNETH JOSEPH RANKIN (February 10, 1940 – June 7, 2009) was an American singer and songwriter from the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City . . .

He was a guitarist on the album Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan.[3] He appeared on The Tonight Show more than twenty times.[3] Host Johnny Carson wrote the liner notes to Rankin's 1967 debut album Mind Dusters, which included the single "Peaceful." Rankin recorded the song again for his album Like a Seed (1972), and Helen Reddy sang a cover version of it that reached No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart . . .

When he worked with Alan Broadbent, Mike Wofford, and Bill Watrous, his music got closer to jazz. His songs were performed by Mel Tormé and Carmen McRae, while Stan Getz said of him that he was "a horn with a heartbeat".
P.S. The lovely melody is from my favorite living composer/arranger/ jazz pianist DAVE GRUSIN whose Wiki entry begins with these few, auspicious words: "Robert David Grusin (born June 26, 1934) is an American composer, arranger, producer, and pianist. He has composed many scores for feature films and television, and has won numerous awards for his soundtrack and record work, including an Academy Award and ten Grammy Awards . . . "
 
 
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Favorite live solo version of "A Nightingale Sang . . . "

Carol Welsman (Canada's “other greatest” jazz vocalist and virtuoso pianist) just sent us fans a new video rendition of A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE. Carol, alone at her Yamaha grand piano in her California living room. You know me. (“Who wrote that song?”) I had to include some 'back story' in my appreciation:

Composed by two Jewish song-writers in London, lyricist Eric Maschwitz and melodist Manning Sherwin in 1939; the year England (and Canada) declared war on Hitler's Germany for invading Poland. My musical Dad shared the poignant thought that, if the invasion of England had succeeded, "those two gentlemen,” (of West End London theatre fame) “wouldn't have lived much longer.”

Carol's beautifully 'orchestral' arrangement, would have been appreciated by a friend of my Dad's – Canadian-born arranger Robert Farnon (the 'King of Strings' as Quincy Jones dubbed him) who arranged Sinatra's version of the song, for the 'Great Songs from Great Britain' album (London, June, '62). Same age as my Dad (both born in 1917) Mr. Farnon died one year earlier, in 2005. [Whereas]

My other favorite orchestration of “Nightingale Sang” was by Ralph Carmichael (still with us in his 90's) whose arrangement for Nat King Cole was equally as lovely (you may agree). Both of them featured flutes impersonating the twilight song of the Nightingale. And both arrangers chose the same key.

As Wiki notes, “It is typically sung in the key of D-flat major by male vocalists such as Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.”
Carol makes it sound even more perfect – in F-major.

https://www.facebook.com/carolwelsma...5858004173576/

A final note: The song was published in 1940, and performed that same year by English band leader/composer Ray (The Very Thought of You) Noble, and by Vera Lynn (who left us this week, age 103).
 
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Posted (edited)

Point Counter Point

My musical hero Carol Welsman just responded to the above, saying, MARK BLACKBURN: Thank you for sharing this Mark. I feel so very honored to be mentioned in such stellar company as those you have mentioned above.

"Speaking of Robert Farnon, vibraphonist Peter Appleyard invited me to sing Robert Farnon’s arrangement for orchestra of “The Very Thought of You” (in a Frank Sinatra’s key) at a tribute for Robert (in the audience) years ago. Meeting him was one of life’s great pleasures."

[Just replied, with joy:]

"Oh my! Can't top that! As they say in Rome (I think) "Grazie Mille!" for sharing. How my heart sings, imagining Robert Farnon "in the audience" that night when Canada's 'King of Vibes,' Peter Appleyard "invited [you] to sing Robert Farnon's arrangement for orchestra of [Ray Noble's finest song] 'The Very Thought of You'."

As you know, Sinatra did it 'a capella' for just those opening words of Mr. Farnon's arrangement (June '62). [Just had to add]

My wife and I spent the 70's in Bermuda ("Mark Blackburn ZBM News") and we saw Mr. Appleyard in concert there. Guess who accompanied him on piano? One of your heroes and mine: Hank Jones! Best concert of its kind, my wife and I agreed.

After he had utterly charmed us, I remember saying to my Irene that Peter Appleyard 'radiated goodness' along with virtuosity. Just one of those nights (one of those fabulous flights) when the artist has an audience in the palm of their hand. You know what that's like, Carol.  (Oh yes, and having Hank Jones at the piano didn't hurt one little bit.)
 
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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THE HI-LO'S - A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

“Manhattan Transfer” won their most recent Grammy for the vocal arrangement of A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE. Their friend, Hi Lo's founder Gene Puerling, had modified his own arrangement – this one, playing right this minute on Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio. [Turns into a 12 min. medley with Tenderly / But Beautiful / Of Thee I Sing.]
What a way to start the day! Thanks to their programmer,  'Jersey Lou' Simon. Yes, “modified” – tweaked just a little – 'cause really, how could any group improve on this?

From Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia

The Hi-Lo's were a vocal quartet formed in 1953, who achieved their greatest fame in the late 1950s and 1960s. The group's name is a reference to their extreme vocal and physical ranges (Bob Strasen and Bob Morse were tall, Gene Puerling and Clark Burroughs were short) . . .

The Hi-Lo's and especially their innovative use of vocal harmony, were an influence on the groups and musicians Take 6,[3] The King's Singers, The Manhattan Transfer, Chanticleer, The Free Design, Herbie Hancock,[4] and Brian Wilson.[5]

In 1966, Puerling and Shelton along with Bonnie Herman and Len Dressler, formed another vocal group, The Singers Unlimited.[1] This group gave a wide range for Puerling's arrangements, for the four singers multi-tracked as many as 16 voices. For that reason The Singers Unlimited were exclusively a recording group.

Bob Strasen died February 28, 1994, and Bob Morse on April 27, 2001. Afterward, Puerling, Shelton and Burroughs still appeared very occasionally as the Hi-Lo's in and around Southern California. Shelton is an accomplished reed player and has played in Clare Fischer's bands. Clark Burroughs is semi-retired and can sometimes be heard on film soundtracks.

On March 25, 2008, Gene Puerling died just before his 79th birthday.
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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BARBARA COOK - I just love her so!

Don't you love it when you can actually 'hear' the smile in a favorite singer's voice? At this moment it's Barbara Cook doing just that, with HALLELUJAH, I LOVE HIM SO: my “other favorite version” after Peggy's (and of course the original, by the composer (w&m) himself, Ray Charles).

Yes, the 'sonic' smile when Barbara reaches the words,

Ev'ry mornin' when the sun comes up, he brings me coffee – in my favorite cup!
That's how I know . . . yes, I KNOW --
Hallelujah, I just love him so!

I recognize the sound of Barbara's musical director – with such an 'a propos' name! “Lee Musiker” -- still my favorite of Tony Bennett's (many) great piano accompanists. It it at YouTube. Yes. Zero comments, and not one 'thumbs up.' (Let's change that together, shall we?)

Barbara, the original 'Marian the Librarian” in Broadway's THE MUSIC MAN left us three summers ago. Lest we forget . . . a few of the reasons why we just love her so!

Barbara Cook (October 25, 1927 – August 8, 2017) was an American actress and singer who first came to prominence in the 1950s as the lead in the original Broadway musicals Plain and Fancy (1955), Candide (1956) and The Music Man (1957) among others, winning a Tony Award for the last. She continued performing mostly in theatre until the mid-1970s, when she began a second career as a cabaret and concert singer. She also made numerous recordings.

During her years as Broadway’s leading ingénue, Cook was lauded for her excellent lyric soprano voice. She was particularly admired for her vocal agility, wide range, warm sound, and emotive interpretations. As she aged her voice took on a darker quality, even in her head voice, that was less prominent in her youth.[1] At the time of her death, Cook was widely recognized as one of the "premier interpreters" of musical theatre songs and standards, in particular the songs of composer Stephen Sondheim. Her subtle and sensitive interpretations of American popular song continued to earn high praise even into her eighties.[2] She was named an honoree at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors.

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Reflection on the passing of a great composer/arranger

My wife keeps track of everything in our Winnipeg Free Press newspaper. "Did you read," I asked, anything about the death of a man named Johnny Mandel?" "No."

I've been thinking a lot about the 'dean' of living arrangers -- knowing he was nearing his 95th birthday, when I posted this six days ago -- from a Facebook note I left with my "favorite living singer" Calabria Foti a note I'd just shared with Diana Krall:

Shared at midnight last, with "Canada's other greatest gift to jazz" and spoke of your mutual arranger-hero Johnny Mandel: DIANA's version of "Got You Under My Skin." Sent my way by YouTube this night, it took me fully ten seconds to spot the arranger! (Indulge me please in a bit of background on this "favorite recording" by Ms Krall.)

----

The 'dean' of living orchestrators 94-year-old Johnny Mandel is still busy, arranging for great singers. Last year, for “my favorite living singer” Calabria Foti, he arranged a song her late father Richard Fote composed (words & music) for her Mom. Calabria's Dad died a year ago this week -- thankfully, not before he got to hear Johnny Mandel's orchestral conception of Richard's lovely ballad, “I Had to Fall in Love With You” (Track 2 on Calabria's 2019 album, Prelude to a Kiss).

Coincidentally or not, I'd just been thinking about my favorite Diana Krall album (“When I Look in Your Eyes”) arranged/co-produced) by Mr. Mandel for Canada's 'other greatest gift to jazz' (released exactly 21 years ago this month, June 1999).

YouTube's not-so-random 'shuffle-play' just sent along the album's longest track -- “I've Got You Under My Skin.” For Sinatra fans, this one tops the list of favorites. Diana Krall would be the first to tell you that Frank & Nelson Riddle's arrangement could never be surpassed.

So. How to do it in a way that's “new”? With chord patterns that sound “fresh” to our ears -- 'other-wordly' voicings in the orchestra: THIS is how! My other all-time favorite rendition of this great Cole Porter song. The listener is disarmed to hear just solo notes on 'vibes' and then a lush unfolding of an arrangement only Johnny ('Ring-a-Ding, Ding') Mandel could have composed.

One million Americans promptly tuned it into the 'No. 1 jazz album' (CD) and in Canada (with 10 per cent of the U.S. population) it sold a record 300,000 copies.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHVi...vBoOB4ceH3ZhRo

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Feeling such joy -- and gratitude -- at seeing this gem for the first time tonight

The Making of Silent Night

Produced by
Charles Pignone

Executive Produced by
Robert Finkelstein
Jimmy Edwards

Directed by
Julian Stone

Edited by
Brett Schlaman

Camera
George Gumbrecht

Special Thanks To
Nancy, Frank & Tina Sinatra
and all those involved
in this special endeavor.

2004 Bristol Productions

Feeling such gratitude to one of the Wise Men at Sinatra Family online --  "Andrew T"  -- for providing the link to a feature I didn't know existed! Just as a personal aside, Andrew: remember the help you and 'Bob in Boston' provided, re “Chet Atkins in Hollywood” – my favorite of Chet's recordings with the cream of Hollywood musicians; arranged and conducted by Robert Farnon's brilliant younger brother Dennis. The percussionist on that 1958 recording was LARRY BUNKER, who worked with jazz piano giant Bill Evans; so too in this small orchestra, arranged by Johnny Mandel, conducted by Frank Sinatra Jr. An informed note is posted at the YouTube link you've provided to this gem -- the best such musical video that I have ever seen.


William Terry Hunefeld (2 years ago)

A third previously unreleased track included on the album was an acoustic recording of "Silent Night" recorded by Sinatra in 1991 with his son Frank Sinatra, Jr. at the piano, for a children's charity benefit. It was Sinatra's last recorded Christmas carol.[1][2][3]

The then-75-year-old Sinatra had not made any recordings for three years, and the track was not released at the time. For the original 2004 album release, the backing for the vocal was rearranged by former Sinatra collaborator Johnny Mandel using a group of former Sinatra backing musicians including pianist Bill Miller, guitarists Al Viola and Ron Anthony, bassists Chuck Berghofer and Jim Hughart and percussionist Larry Bunker, conducted by Sinatra Jr.[1]

Of the recording, Sinatra Jr. said "The whole crew was there ... So except for the absence of Frank Sinatra, it was a typical Sinatra recording date. We all expected he'd come walking in at any moment."[3]

According to Sinatra Jr., it took two years for producer Charles Pignone to persuade Warner Bros. to finance the recording: "This is not the kind of music that people at record companies have interest in ... They will spend millions, millions, to develop some inconsequential rock or rap group, but when Charles approached with a budget of some $30,000 to make a brand new Frank Sinatra song, there was great reluctance."[3]

Sinatra's daughter Nancy said of the track: "It was an emotional day, because he was doing it for the children. It is so sweet and tender that it is just heart-wrenching."[1][3]
 
Edited by Mark Blackburn

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Just left a note for my favorite living finger-style guitarist, Brazilian-born American WALTER RODRIGUES JR.  titled "If guitars were played in heaven!" It's a hymn, popularized by the group TAKE 6. [I wrote]  A Les Paul Custom never sounded so good as a jazz instrument.  From your "Musician's Institute" days in L.A. right? Tell me your fellow students were impressed with you!  I see it's been fully a decade since "The Erod1944" (below) first commented on "that stretch at 1:05. You make it look effortless. Reminded of the song James Taylor wrote for Chet Atkins: 'Me and My Guitar' -- with the refrain, "if he can't get to heaven? maybe I don't want to go!" Thanks for being you, Walter. For my money you are the best, and those great compatriots of yours, no longer with us, would have loved your playing. I'm thinking of finger-style giants Laurindo Almeida and Luiz Bonfa.

 p.s. Oh my! This arrangement is transcribed from Ralph Carmichael, my favorite arranger for Nat Cole (he orchestrated Nat's masterpiece Christmas album). Mr. Carmichael is still with us in his 90s, still arranging for gospel groups, His only rival, the great Johnny ("Shadow of Your Smile") Mandel left us three days ago, age 94).  

 

 

Edited by Mark Blackburn

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