The Classic Performers of the Rat Pack Era

Nelson RiddleHad he not died way too young…

…(in 1985 at age 64), Nelson Riddle would be celebrating his 92nd birthday today.

There are many, fabulous arrangers and conductors strewn throughout the pages of the Great American Songbook … Marty Paich, Paul Weston, Billy May, André Previn — far too many to do justice to the trade here. Though they all brought beautiful music to life in their unique styles, there are few that can truly be tagged with the over used and oft misplaced tag of “iconic”.

Mr. Riddle can carry that moniker without reproach. For me, Nelson’s charts (especially his string charts) and style were fundamental to the music that underwrote the “vocal artist era” from the mid ’50’s through the early ’70’s. [Read more…]

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Frank SinatraNo one wore a fedora better…

…but more than just being a dapper dresser, Frank Sinatra really believed that clothes very much made the man.

He was even willing to fight over proper dress as Frank’s “encounter” with Harlan Ellison in a Hollywood pool hall was recounted by Gay Talese in his classic Esquire article.

Indeed there are many anecdotes related to Sinatra and his “dress for success” orientation … a new one popped out of the aether earlier this week.

This time it comes from one of the kingpins of mens fashion — Richard Press — who worked the family business (J. Press) “back in the day” and became Frank’s goto clothier … for awhile anyway.

Richard contributes to Ivy Style — a website that chronicles men’s fashions since the 1920’s. I’m not much of a fashion guy but some of Ivy Style pieces focused on the 50’s and 60’s are very cool and capture an interesting slice of mid-century America and the Rat Pack/”Mad Men” era.

Mr. Press’s article on his relationship with Mr. S (Golden Years: My Brief Bromance With Frank Sinatra) is a light hearted, quick, and fun read but it also leaves us with a bit more insight into Frank Sinatra the man.

It’s worth the click through … check it out (here).

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Shirley B  095Sorry for being MIA…

…the last couple of weeks. What started out as a well deserved rest between Christmas and New Year’s turned into an extended hiatus with a couple of major infrastructure breakdowns around VS Manor, and an unexpected contractor gig (a good thing, but still unexpected).

I continue to dig out of the morass but wanted to send brief birthday shouts out to a couple of my favorite performers that tripped over another year last week.

First up…

…the absolute best “Bond singer” (sorry Adele) — Shirley Bassey celebrated her 76th on Jan 8.

Shirley’s rendition of “Goldfinger” remains the best Bond song of all time (she also did the theme songs for Moonraker and Diamonds are Forever) but the brassy, classy lady from Wales delivered a solid array of chart numbers and near hits — the most notable for me being “History Repeating”, “As Long as He Needs Me” and “Big Spender”.

“Main Theme – Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey*

Frankie!

As you know from my review of Frankie Randall Sings and Swings, I adore Frankie R.

One of several outstanding vocal contemporaries of Frank Sinatra Frankie Randall(and a close friend of Mr. S) that seemed to get lost in the shuffle (another Frank … D’Rone this time being another); Frankie Randall may not have made it to the big stage Sinatra commanded, but Mr R was a popular and talented vocal artist in his own right and had a long and successful career in the music business. [Read more…]

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(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The New Year was off to such a great start…

…until last night.

First, my new exercise regime played the muscle spasms card to let me know that I need to take things slower … and then came the sad news of Patti Page’s passing on New Years day.

Patti and her rendition of “Old Cape Cod” have always been special to me, and it was just a few weeks back that we wished Patti a happy 85th birthday … (sigh).

For a great remembrance piece on Ms. Page, check out Emily Langer’s Washington Post article (here). Nicely done Emily.

Coming on the heels…

…of losing Andy Williams, Hal David, Etta James… geez, 2012 was a tough year for classic era vocal standards artists and writers.

We are certainly much the worse for their passing … but the club scene in heaven just keeps getting better. I’m in no particular hurry to see for myself quite yet, but just imagine the acts that are getting booked up there!?

Thank goodness we can continue to dip into the recordings of these wonderful artists and immerse ourselves in the great music of the era.

It’s not close to summer time…

…but I’ll be listening to “Old Cape Cod” this evening, and thinking of “lobster stew with an ocean view” … with a tear in my eye to be sure.

Godspeed Patti Page.

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© Louis Armstrong House

© Louis Armstrong House

Louis Armstrong loved Christmas…

Coming from profound poverty, Louis didn’t experience much Christmas spirit as a kid. His amazing talent raised him and his family out of the “battle zone” in New Orleans, and with that new view of the “Wonderful World” LA developed a great love for Christmas.

Louis’ popularity and massive success allowed him to share his love for the spirit of the holiday with the world over his life; he displayed a zest for sharing the Christmas spirit through out his long career.

Robin Young and the fine folks at the Here & Now studio of NPR rolled up a wonderful 18 minute Louis/Christmas biopic — “Louis Armstrong Recordings Evoke Jazz Great At Christmas” — that highlights the Louis Armstrong at Christmastime.

The show is driven by an interview thread with the archivist/curators of the Louis Armstrong House in Queens and includes music snippets, personal recording and some interesting personal anecdotes.

Louis’s view of success…

I won’t steal the thunder form the Here & Now piece, but the most LA insightful portion of the biopic for me was how Louis Armstrong — at the peak of his career — defined success:

Ricky Riccardi (Archivist, Louis Armstrong House) on Louis’ definition of success:

“I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories. In August of 1967 Louis did two weeks in Framingham, Massachusetts, and his good buddy Jack Bradley was there and Jack tells a story that they’re in Louis’ motel room, and this is not a suite. It’s a little rundown motel on the side of the road. And Louis tells Jack, “You know, Jack? I’ve really made it.” And Jack says, “Uh, what do you mean?” And Louis says, “Anytime I’m hungry, I could walk over to the refrigerator, get an egg, and make myself something to eat. I’ve really made it.” And Jack said he had tears in his eyes. And he told him, “You know, you should have filet mignon three times a day,” and Louis just brushed him off. That was the height of his success. By this point, he had “Hello Dolly”, 35 movies, TV every week, but the fact that he can make an egg sandwich anytime he wanted, that was it. He had really made it.”

Take 18 minutes out of your Christmas day to stop over to Here & Now and listen to “Christmas with Louis” …

And Merry Christmas!

 

 

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© Life Magazine (Time Inc.)

It’s Frank Sinatra’s Birthday…

…you will find many tribute pieces and celebration events this week commemorating Frank’s life and accomplishments.

Anecdotes covering many aspects of Frank’s life, associations and career will surface, but I think the best Sinatra tribute comes from the archives of Life Magazine … a wonderful a photo essay and excerpt from their April, 1965 article — “Life With Sinatra: Portrait of ‘The Voice’ in 1965“.

Twenty-six beautiful photos revealing the more private side of Frank Sinatra’s life, along with some very interesting take-away quotes from Mr. S about how he approached his craft and developed his unique vocal style. My favorite slice of Frank’s offering in the Life’s  “The Private World and Thoughts of Frank Sinatra”:

“I don’t read a note of music. I learn songs by having them played for me a couple of times while I read the lyrics. I can pick up the melody very quickly. I learn the lyrics by writing them out in longhand. When I get a new song, I look for continuity of melody that in itself will tell a musical story.” — Frank Sinatra 1965

It’s a great photo essay and short read on Frank … a perfect way to celebrate the life of “The Voice”, Frank Sinatra. Stop by Life Magazine’s site and give it a look (here again).

Celebrate with me…

Though Frank’s popularity rests with his swing’n numbers, torturous saloon ballads and love songs, some of his best stuff for my money — and maybe the best examples of Frank using his voice as an instrument — comes from his plying Broadway’s best.

Just listen to this rendition of “I Have Dreamed” (The King and I – Rodgers and Hammerstein) that Frank laid down with Nelson Riddle and his 96 piece orchestra on The Concert Sinatra LP (1961) (VS review here) and see if you don’t agree:

 “I Have Dreamed” – Frank Sinatra*

Take in one of the many live performance celebrations commemorating Frank’s birthday if you can. (BTW, I think Robert Davi added a late show to one of his Vibrato concert dates tonight or tomorrow). But if you can’t make the scene at one of the live events, spin your favorite Sinatra magic at home this evening and toast the amazing Francis Albert Sinatra with me.

Happy Birthday Mr. S!

[* Please remember that all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT intended as a substitute for properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and then please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED on this site; please contact me directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.] 

 

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December is a big month…

…for Rat Pack dates of import. Later this week Mr. Francis Sinatra’s birthday will be widely celebrated … and of course Christmas day is always somewhat bitter sweet for ‘pack fans as it marks the passing of Dean Martin.

But today is Sammy’s birthday, and he should garner some well deserved time in the spotlight on his special day.

I’ve previously highlighted that, in my opinion, Sammy was arguably the most talented member of the Rat Pack (here and here). He was masterful at many talents… singing, dancing, acting, comedy, imitations … and in fact to some degree his dexterity worked against his career success because he constantly strove to explore new performing styles and display his varied talents rather than focus.

The consummate Entertainer …

One result of Sammy’s diverse and exploratory approach was that he became an entertainer extraordinaire … there are few — maybe none — that have come before or since Sammy Davis Jr that could take the stage and hold a crowd hostage for hours like he could. SDjr was a one man variety show.

And for all the knocks about his lack of focus, Sammy took chances with his music and nearly always came up a winner. His vocal stylings were wonderfully pleasing and unique.

In fact, SDjr’s swinging version of “Jingle Bells” is still my favorite rendition of this holiday classic (this is indeed a great number but I can’t determine who arranged it … I’d love to find out if anyone out there knows).

Celebrate Sammy Davis Jr’s birthday with me today, and grab some holiday cheer as only “Sam the Man” can deliver it…

“Jingle Bells” – Sammy Davis Jr.*


[* Please remember that all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT intended as a substitute for properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and then please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED on this site; please contact me directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.] 

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To promote his Dec 6th holiday show…

…at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort (MI), Johnny Mathis sat for a phone interview with Roger Bryant of the Midland Daily News.

Roger’s great piece — “Johnny Mathis:’I love to sing'” (here) — is a quick, concise read but he pulls several interesting tidbits out of JM … offering views into Johnny’s life choices, philosophy and career.

New to me was how much Nat King Cole influenced Johnny — helping JM reign in his amazing vocal range and refine his singing style and approach to recording…

 Johnny Mathis on Nat Cole… “I fell in love with the way he sang a song,” Mathis said. “He made it look so easy – like he was just talking.”

Mathis said that, with his big vocal range in his early years (his training had included opera), “I was all over the place” in some early recordings.

Listening to Cole helped him to “learn how to control vocally what I was doing.”

“I learned a great deal about how to make a record from Nat King Cole.”

Mathis got to meet Cole before the older singer’s untimely death in 1965.

“He was very kind to me,” he said.

Head over to Mr. Bryant’s column…

…and take in the rest of his interesting interview with JM. And if you’re a Michigander, plan to make your way to the middle of the state on the 6th and catch one of the best vocal talents of our time performing “Winter Wonderland” and the many other holiday numbers Johnny’s known for!

(…tickets available at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort box office.)

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”* is one of my favorite Mathis holiday numbers…

[* Please remember that all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT intended as a substitute for properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and then please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED on this site; please contact me directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.] 

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