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SINATRA CONDUCTS

NOTE: It's not all that rare for singers to want to stretch out into other fields; Frank himself expressed himself through song, acting, and painting; and other artists have occasionally stretched themselves behind the scenes as well, but it's rare for a singer to want to lead the band, as it were - but Frank seemed to have a compulsion at odd times to step behind the podium and wave a baton.  While several pundits have claimed that Sinatra did little more than wave the stick in time and keep things light, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and these albums, while not recommended as first purchases, they reveal a side of Sinatra that's just as credible as any other avenue he explored.


Frank Sinatra Conducts The Music Of Alec Wilder
Columbia M-637 [78-RPM LP];

Columbia ML 4271 [LP];
Sony Music Special Products A 4271 [CD];
Released 1946; CD Released October 6, 1995

 

Conducted by Frank Sinatra with Woodwind Octet - The Columbia String Orchestra and Harpsichord
1  Air for Oboe  Wilder  3:35
2  Air for Bassoon  Wilder  4:34
3  Air for Flute  Wilder  4:33
4  Air for English Horn  Wilder  3:57
5  Slow Dance  Wilder  4:06
6  Theme and Variations  Wilder  4:11

The Alec Wilder Octet
7  Such a Tender Night  Wilder  3:05
8  She'll Be Seven in May  Wilder  2:59
9  It's Silk, Feel It!  Wilder  2:31
10  Seldon the Sun  Wilder  3:16
11  Her Old Man Was Suspicious  Wilder  2:24
12  His First Long Pants  Wilder  2:37
13  Pieces of Eight  Wilder  2:26

REVIEW:  For those who thought that Frank didn't start his conducting career until the 1950s, get ready for a shock.  This extremely rare CD shows that Frank began his side job as stick-waver in late 1945 with these wonderfully defined, delicate pieces composed by Alec Wilder, whose semi-classical pieces Frank had heard backstage at the Paramount Theater.  For some reason, this experience led him to a desire to conduct some of Wilder's music; nevermind that he had never conducted before, or even knew how to read full-score music.  The first six sides, which comprised the original December, 1945 recording sessions, were originally released on 12-inch 78 rpm records.  These mono recordings have been cleaned up using the CEDAR sound processing software, and they sound clean and full.  These short works are  wonderfully nuanced mood pieces, often chamber works featuring a solo wind instrument, as in the opening "Air for Oboe" which features none other than future antagonist Mitch Miller as the soloist!  The pastoral vein continues with "Air for Bassoon", which occasionally heats up in surprisingly whimsical accelerandos.  And while the Columbia String Orchestra may just be humoring their inexperienced conductor, it all sounds so lyrical and beguiling, it's hard to believe that the skinny kid from Hoboken is the one keeping time.  The "Air for Flute" is brighter and busier, sounding much like a trilling bird flitting from tree to tree, and features the New York Philharmonic flute soloist Julie Baker; the "Air for English Horn" is a rich, dark nightmarish composition, with subtle dischords coloring the strings, and again featuring Mitch Miller as the soloist.  "Slow Dance" is another light mood piece, alternating between flute and clarinet leads, and has a "Nice and Easy" swing to it that distinguishes it from previous pieces.  The final Sinatra-conducted piece, "Theme and Variations" has a strongly dilineated theme which breaks into medieval-like flute fanfares and harpsichord inserts before breaking into a happily daffy swing-time.  The rest of the CD is filled out with seven earlier recordings of Wilder's compositions by the Alec Wilder Octet, and have zingy titles like "It's Silk, Feel It!" and "Her Old Man Was Suspicious".  I'm happy to have found this rarity, since it introduced me to Wilder's fine, fresh talents, worth seeking out for those who like Sinatra's next conducting LP, Tone Poems Of Color.


 

Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color
Capitol Records W-735 [LP];

Capitol 33738 [CD];
 
Released 1956, CD Released January 8, 2002


 
1. White (Young) - 4:14
2. Green (Jenkins) - 4:05
3. Purple (May) - 4:21
4. Yellow (Alexander) - 2:38
5. Gray (Wilder) - 4:29
6. Gold (Riddle) - 3:36
7. Orange (Riddle) - 4:57
8. Black (Young) - 3:58
9. Silver (Bernstein) - 4:38
10. Blue (Wilder) - 4:38
11. Brown (Alexander) - 4:01
12. Red (Previn) - 3:57

REVIEW:  A curious album to which Sinatra lends only his conducting talents to, assembling a sixty-piece orchestra and commissioning arrangements from twelve different composers.  Using the impressionistic poetry of Norman Sickel (who was a writer for Sinatra's radio shows) as a guide, Sinatra created an album devoted to the art of music as pastoral device, with each selection intended to represent not just colors, but the poems that their inspirations are drawn from.  So "Green" for example, chooses a lush, romantic setting for itself as imagined by Gordon Jenkin; Riddle's atypical "Gold" is a spiraling atonal cresendo that's meant to depict Apollo rising into the air. Victor Young's "White" revels in it's winter wonderland aura; and Andre Previn's "Red" daring in it's clashing harmonics and hot ambience. Victor Young's "Black" is also a standout for it's deep, delicious melody line, while Alec Wilder's "Gray" and "Blue" more sedate and attentive in their compositional style. Overall as an album it's attractive listening, very much of the times, but none the worse for it. More than lounge music, yet less than classical, Sinatra continues to surprise with his eclecticism and taste. Not the first album investigators should pick up, but an interesting album in its own right.


 

Peggy Lee: The Man I Love
Capitol T-864 [LP];
Super Bit Jazz Classics 9467 [CD];
EMI International 55389 [CD Reissue, paired with "If You Go"];
Released 1957

 
1. The Man I Love [Gershwin, Gershwin] 3:45
2. Please Be Kind [Cahn, Chaplin] 4:14
3. Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe [Arlen, Harburg] 4:05
4. (Just One Way to Say) I Love You [Berlin] 2:53
5. That's All [Brandt, Haymes] 2:55
6. Something Wonderful [Hammerstein, Rodgers] 3:15
7. He's My Guy [DePaul, Raye] 4:13
8. Then I'll Be Tired of You [Harburg, Harburg, Schwartz] 2:28
9. My Heart Stood Still [Hart, Rodgers] 2:45
10. If I Should Lose You [Rainger, Robin] 2:23
11. There Is No Greater Love [Jones, Symes] 3:38
12. The Folks Who Live on the Hill [Hammerstein, Kern] 3:37

Arranged by Nelson Riddle

REVIEW: 
Peggy Lee, another of the incredible cadre of artists which Capitol Records had at their disposal during the 1950s, benefits from the Sinatra touch, but also, for the first (and only) time in his career, Frank gets to conduct charts penned by his own arranger, Nelson Riddle!  Leaving her jazz vocals on the back burner, Peggy Lee takes a page from Frank's playbook and sticks with songs ripped right from the Great American Songbook, with delicious results.  It's no mistake that Lee chose a model for the cover shot of the album which looks uncannily like Frank Sinatra nuzzling up close; the pairing of these two hot artists is sheer fireworks, with Lee's breathy, instantly recognizable vocals beautifully supported by Nelson's golden charts and Frank's amazingly sensitive direction.  It all sounds so sensuous, so pleasurable, that it's a shame that a second session for these artists was arranged, it's an ideal mix (and I would've loved to hear Sinatra lead Peggy in some hot swing numbers).  But I'll take this album, and call it gravy; Miss Lee is pitch-perfect on songs like "The Man I Love," and "Please Be Kind" (which eschews Sinatra's rough-edged reading for velvety softness); then steams things up for the smoke-filled-room bleakness of "Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe".  Peggy seems to channel some of the sultryness of Mae West in her reading of Irving Berlin's "(Just One Way To Say) I Love You", before catching some of Doris Day's vulnerability in a delicate reading of "That's All."  The album takes a slight dip on the next number - Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Something Wonderful" taken from The King and I is hampered by an unsympathetic arrangement, and strings that draw far too much attention to themselves in their high shrillness.  Lee explores her lower register to very good effect in DePaul's "He's My Guy," and then turns in a dreamy reading on "Then I'll Be Tired Of You."  Sinatra handles the dramatic tension found in Rodgers & Hart's "My Heart Stood Still," and the melancholy, slightly schizophrenic "If I Should Lose You."  All in all, this is an album to be treasured, whether you're a fan of Lee's or not - it's worth checking out for the depth of feeling contained in nearly every song.


 

Dean Martin: Sleep Warm
Capitol ST-1150 [LP]; 
Capitol 37500 [CD]; 
Collector's Choice CCM 602-2/EMI Special Products 09463-43483-2-4 [CD Reissue];

Released March 2, 1959


 
1. Sleep Warm [Bergman, Bergman, Spence] 
2. Hit the Road to Dreamland [Arlen, Mercer]
3. Dream [Mercer]
4. Cuddle up a Little Closer [Harbach, Hoschna]
5. Sleepy Time Gal [Alden, Egan, Lorenzo, Whiting]
6. Goodnight Sweetheart [Campbell, Connelly, Noble]
7. All I Do Is Dream of You [Brown, Freed]
8. Let's Put Out the Lights (And Go to Sleep) [Hupfield]
9. Dream a Little Dream of Me [Andre, Kahn, Schwandt]
10. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away) [Barris, Koehler, Moll]
11. Goodnight My Love [Gordon, Revel]
12. Brahms' Lullaby [Traditional]

Arranged by Pete King
Recorded October 13-15, 1958

REVIEW:  Sleep Warm has long been reputed to be one of Dean Martin's best albums, and not a little of the credit needs to go to Frank Sinatra, who not only conducted this lush, romantic blockbuster, but directly influenced Dean Martin with his own success with thematic albums while at Capitol Records.  Frank was having such popular acclaim with his remarkable series of alternate ballad/swing platters that Dean had no hesitation in applying the same formula to his own discs.  And although a key ingredient of Sinatra's success was missing on Sleep Warm, - namely, arranger Nelson Riddle - Pete King contributes alternately dreamy, lightly swinging tracks that never trouble the waters, allowing Dean to retain some of his swoozy charm, while beguiling late-night listeners with such sleepy-time ballads as "Dream a Little Dream of Me," "Goodnight My Love," "Dream," the immortal "Brahms Lullaby" and the wonderful title track.  And when the album gently swings, as on "Hit the Road to Dreamland" and "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams," the rhythms never get too hot, but remain bubbling under the boiling point, as if this were the warm up sessions for Frank's own Nice 'n' Easy album.  Whatever role Frank plays behind the scenes is unnoticable, but the orchestra sounds completely at ease; playing so lyrically and with the remarkable sense of line that is the imprint of Sinatra's singing.  Dean's singing, also of note, is some of the most understated and sensitive of his career, with beautifully phrased lines, and nary a slur or vocal tic present, which would later devolve into a kind of self-parody which marred many of his later efforts.  But this album is simply lovely, and since it has the misfortune to fade in and out of print, I'd recommend grabbing it while it's around.


 

Frank Sinatra Conducts Music From Pictures And Plays
Reprise R9/FS-6045 [LP Only];
Released July, 1962


 
1. All The Way
2. An Affair to Remember
3. Laura
4. Tammy
5. Moon River
6. Exodus
7. Little Girl Blue
8. Maria
9. Something Wonderful
10. I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face
11. The Girl That I Marry
12. If Ever I Would Leave You

Arranged by Harry Sukman

REVIEW:  I've wondered for a long time why this album has been left off of Reprise's CD reissue program, since nearly everything else has been released, but after hearing it, I think I can see why there hasn't been much of a hue and cry for this to see the digital light of day.  Although Sinatra's name is prominent on the cover, one listen will tell you that Frank is merely window dressing here; the real force in the arrangements and performance on Music from Pictures and Plays is arranger/pianist Harry Sukman.  One clue is the track list: on Sinatra's previous orchestral outings, he's taken pains to present little-known composers, or newly-composed works - pretty daring stuff for a rookie baton-swinger.  But here, it's all modern standards, the oldest being "Little Girl Blue" from Rodgers & Hart's 1935 effort Jumbo, and the most recent song being 1961's "If Ever I Would Leave You" from Lerner & Loewe's Camelot.  Each song here is a safe choice, which would be easier to accept from Frank if the arrangements were daring, or revelatory, but arranger Sukman douses everything with heavy, gloppy strings, often punctuated with his Liberace-like piano flourishes (showing up on several tracks: "An Affair To Remember," "Laura," "Exodus," and "Something Wonderful"), or, even more distracting, the presence of an ill-conceived saxaphone lead (found on the very lounge-y "Moon River" and West Side Story's "Maria").  There are a few nice moments: "Tammy" begins with ominous double basses flowing into the lyrical melody, and then jumping into a surprising, and busy baroque riff, with Sukman's harpsichord playing prominent; and "Little Girl Blue" has a lovely "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" opening sequence, and nice mood changes throughout which bear Sinatra's conducting imprint.  And "The Girl That I Marry" contains light, pastoral strings swirling around the waltzing melody. And "Exodus" has a fine horn/brass intro and benefits from the bold themes of the composer.  But there are a number of clunkers as well, including a soporific arrangement of "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" which has flutes and strings alternating on the melodic line; and "If Ever I Would Leave You" which has a horrid muted trumpet gulping out the lead while fighting a florid, heavily sentimental arrangment; and "Moon River" is the dullest thing here, with nothing new or revelatory brought to the mix.  Finally, I've always held that the more a recording trumpets its technology, the worse it must be, and this album, blaring the fact that it was recorded, not on audio tape, but 35 millimeter film, proves the point - Music from Pictures and Plays is only average, and squanders its conductor's best gifts.  With this behind him, it would be twenty years before Frank would pick up a baton again.


 

Sylvia Syms: Syms By Sinatra
Reprise 23724 [LP Only];
Released 1982


 
1. Hooray For Love (Harold Arlen/Leo Robin) 
2. All My Tomorrows (Sammy Cahn/James Van Heusen)
3. By Myself (Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz) +
4. You Go To My Head (J. Fred Coots/Haven Gillespie) +
5. Close Enough For Love (Johnny Mandel/Paul Williams)
6. Them There Eyes (Maceo Pinkard/William Tracy/Doris Tauber)
7. Someone To Light Up My Life (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Gene Lees/Vinicuius de Moraes)
8. I Thought About You (Johnny Mercer/James Van Heusen) +
9. You Must Believe In Spring (Alan and Marilyn Bergman/Michael Legrand/Jacques Louis R.M. Derny)
10. Old Devil Moon (E.Y. Harburg/Burton Lane)

Arranged by Don Costa except:
+ arranged by Vincet Falcone, Jr.
Produced by Frank Sinatra and Don Costa

REVIEW:  I'd not heard of Syvia Syms before, although from all appearances she was a successful and long-time cabaret singer who recorded a number of jazz-styled albums through the 50s and 60s, including a tribute album to Frank entitled That Man: Love Songs to Frank Sinatra in 1961 on the Kapp label.  This album, recorded when she was 64 years old, was the first I'd heard her, and despite the fine arrangments and tempos given her, Syms sounds past her prime here, with shortness of breath, a heavy vibrato, and a way of chewing the vowels and closing to final consonants which I found distracting.  The album begins with a piano-only intro leading into "Hooray for Love" which Syms sings in short, punchy bursts, with a great deal of humor.  "All My Tomorrows" benefits from Syms' world-weary alto voice, which sounds rubbed and burnished by care, which is perfect for the sentiments expressed on this melancholy track.  Arranger Vincent Falcone Jr. does a very nice job of turning a sentiment on it's head by jazzing up the seminal sad song "By Myself" - turning the message into a thumbing of your nose at fate.  Falcone also arranges the next number, "You Go To My Head" where he atypically writes in trumpets to lead off this otherwise muted classic.  Johnny Mandel's "Close Enough For Love" is a fantastic arrangement, with this perfectly-crafted saloon number receiving a haunting arrangement by Costa, and a mournful reading by Syms - a perfect match of mood and style.  "Them There Eyes" gets a neat bass/piano intro, but again, Syms's unusual habit of spreading and flattening her vowels is grating to the ears; her voice is occasionally shrill while the orchestra builds to a brassy chorus.  Syms one nod to composer Antonio Carlos Jobim is very unlike Sinatra's quiet interpretations, with dramatic strings abruptly shifting to solo guitar accompianment and building to a large climax.  Johnny Mercer's "I Thought About You" has a nice, easy tempo with a sympathetic saxaphone obligatto, but the next number, the contemporary piece "You Must Believe In Spring" is hampered by clumsy lyrics which ham-handedly dish out overly-trite seasonal lyrics in this song of hope.  The final track, "Old Devil Moon" is given a bright, bouncy arrangement by Don Costa, but Syms voice here sounds particularly tired and old.  In short, this is a slickly produced, competent recording by an artist who is in the twilight of her career.  Too bad Syms couldn't convince Sinatra to join her on a duet or two, it probably would have ensured that this platter remained in print - but as it is, you can only find it in your used vinyl bins.



Charles Turner: What's New
Chas Records
CTR 1001 [LP]; 
CTC 1001 [CASS];

Big Band Archive [CD];
Released 1983


Currently out of print. Check for availability: Charles Turner - What's New
1. The More I See You
2. Laura+
3. Sweet And Lovely
4. Don't Worry 'Bout Me++
5. Love Is Here To Stay
6. The Very Thought Of You
7. Moonlight In Vermont
8. Stella By Starlight
9. What's New
10. Time After Time

Arranged by Billy May except:
+Don Costa
++Nelson Riddle
Note: This album was recorded in two sessions, on January 3 and February 23, 1983.

REVIEW:  Sinatra's last turn at conducting is this fantastic album; a warm and winning collaboration with some of his long-time friends and associates.  Charles Turner, a member of Sinatra's band during his concerts of the 70s and 80s, is given a turn to step into the fore, and Sinatra leads a full swing orchestra in some of the best charts I've heard, and songs ripped right out of the Great American Songbook.  Billy May, who, in my opinion, is the best arranger for brass ever, is given the reigns here, and he delivers in spades.   The album can best be described as Nice 'N' Easy for Brass, with everything taken at an easy tempo, with just a few breakouts into hot swing.  The album begins with a light swing arrangment of "The More I See You," and Turner's bright trumpet lead beams above the cushion of woodwinds and brass underscoring.  Next comes Don Costa's arrangment of "Laura" which, true to it's dramatic origins, begins with languid woodwinds and whispering snare, then builds to a tempestuous, brass-dominated end.  Billy May then writes a complex, yet subtle arrangement of "Sweet and Lovely", letting Turner's trumpet dominate, and building to a hot, tightly-controlled swing session.  Next, Nelson Riddle constructs a lovely, diverse arrangement for "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" allowing different instruments to percolate to the fore, and always giving Turner's solo room to breathe.  On "Love Is Here To Stay", Billy May's wonderful, rolling arrangment perfectly compliments this classic melody, with an alternately punchy, tender chart.  A nice rocking chair tempo dominates "The Very Thought Of You" highlighting the tight, sympathetic band.  "Moonlight In Vermont" has ethereal piano lines winding in and out of the orchestra, and cool woodwinds cushioning the lead, while "Stella By Starlight" uses a bouncy backing chart and stacatto flourishes to surprising effect.  The title track, "What's New" begins with a nice 'midnight' arrangement, serene and perfect, again building to an electrifying crescendo.  The album closes with Turner doing some fine noodling with the melody line of "Time After Time" which is a fitting closer to an excellent album.  This is one of the most elusive Sinatra-related albums to find, it's only "official" release being on Turner's own Chas Records label based out of Las Vegas - it did receive a limited bootleg CD release on the Big Band Archive label, but otherwise has vanished from sight.  Fans need to write to their favorite reissue labels encouraging them to find this lost gem and re-release it - it's worthy of discovery.


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