ANDREW DISHES ABOUT HIS CAREER IN HI-TECH AND HIS LIFELONG LOVE OF MUSIC

Lakeway resident Andrew Heller, 70, has sung his whole life, but never recorded an album until a decade ago, when is wife Mary Ann, pushed him into the recording studio. Now, Heller’s nine albums featuring jazz, country and inspirational music are played across the globe and earned him recognition on national music charts and in music news publications. But Heller’s particular musical passions, and the focus of his two newest albums, are the “American Songbook” and Frank Sinatra.

“Sinatra is the person who made the ‘American Songbook’ what it is by introducing, basically, jazz interpretation to the ‘American Songbook,’ ” Heller said at his home on Jan. 26, rapping on his coffee table to demonstrate how Sinatra moved his sung notes around the beat. “He’s always going to phrase around it to make the story. And he told the story as a jazz singer.”

His most recent album, “Sinatra My Way,” and his as-of-yet unnamed album to come out in the spring both feature Sinatra’s music and are inspired by his style but, Heller emphasized, are not imitations of Sinatra.

“I wanted to do one on the anniversary of Sinatra’s 100th birthday, which was a tribute to him,” Heller said. “I looked at all of the other things that were being done, and they were all imitations of him. That’s not the way he would have done a tribute … he would have put his spin on their stuff. So I decided to do Sinatra my way, which is where the title came from. People like it enough – we’re still getting reviews from around the world, England, Germany, Belgium and France in the last two weeks.”

Heller, 70, has sung since he was a child and was classically trained as an opera singer, learning from influential individuals such as Leonard Bernstein and performing at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Heller said he discovered jazz gave him more freedom as a singer, and while attending college in Columbia performed at four-star restaurants for meals and drinks.

But Heller is a computers guy – in fact, Heller earned the prestigious title of IBM Fellow when he was just 27 years old, has helped start and mentor dozens of tech companies and owns more than a dozen software patents. He’s got a decently-sized store of tales involving working and goofing off with the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. During four decades of his career, Heller said he never worked less than 100 hours a week, and only sang on his wife’s birthday or for charity events. But his passion always remained.

“The musical arts and singing and technology and engineering have always gone together,” Heller said. “They’ve been known to go together for a very, very long time. It’s the same part of the brain.”

It wasn’t until one fateful Christmas more than a decade ago when his wife Mary Ann told him she’d been saving money for years to get Heller to record an album.

“I wanted a recording to send to friends and relatives so if he died at least we would have a copy of his voice,” Mary Ann Heller said, “because he wouldn’t sing.”

Now, Mary Ann runs DiamonDisc Records, who recorded most of Heller’s albums. Mary Ann and her husband have also donated large sums to multiple hospitals as well as to education and the arts, and Mary Ann’s charitable efforts have earned her the high title of Dame of Malta, an order which reports straight to the Pope.

Andrew Heller has performed before audiences big and small in Austin, Nashville and all over the country, and is set to be featured on the “Today Show” “Harry Connick Jr.” and the “Steve Harvey Show” on Feb. 14 to promote his latest album. He said that in the future he hopes to perform more live shows. The charity work he does with his wife and his performances for audiences young and old are all for one purpose, after all.

“Make people happy,” Heller said. “I watch the audience, and I’ll move the phrasing and the way I’m presenting around what I’m seeing from their reaction. And no two audiences are alike.”

Heller’s album coming out in the spring will be dedicated to their son Steven, 28, who died unexpectedly on Jan. 27

Andrew Heller on Frank Sinatra’s version of Night and Day

When he recorded Night and Day with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, Sinatra finally got what he wanted on the 22nd take. Everyone was exhausted and the trumpet player was threatening to walk out. Nelson Riddle wrote the big band build up and that makes a very big difference in the experience. When part of what you are getting is singing and the story and the great fill behind the voice it does something transformative mentally.  I don’t know if it is about causing endorphins to flow but it sounds like the pounding of a heart.  It draws you in.

Night and Day became the most popular song of all of the Cole Porter songs.  Night and Day is the top earner in the Cole Porter catalog.  Fred Astaire sang the song in Porter’s Broadway hit, The Gay Divorce and later in the film version and it became one of his signature pieces topping the charts for more than 10 weeks.  However, there were more copies of the Sinatra version sold than all of the other versions combined.  Over 100 people including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, the Temptations, Doris Day and U2 have recorded the song and it continues to be recorded generation after generation.  It would be interesting to compare the pre-Riddle and post-Riddle arrangements.

Sinatra was working with Nelson Riddle and he wanted to present the song in a totally different way than it had ever been presented before. He was married to Ava Gardner at the time and the way he presented the song reflected their very passionate and tempestuous relationship. Night and Day is a passionate love song but of course most of the songs Sinatra did were love songs.  He told the story differently and he wanted to music to support the story.  Porter combined major and minor chords and it began with one note over and over – 35 times.  If you listen to the older recordings they never hammered that opening home until Sinatra and Riddle’s version.  He made it about the words and made the music support the words – not the other way around. Earlier the words were incidental to the music.  Sinatra was a storyteller and a jazz musician at heart.  He never viewed music as rigid.  He gave it life. Sinatra did two things to make this recording revolutionary.  In his mind he decided how he wanted to tell the story and how he wanted to present it and then he worked with Riddle to come together with the music that would support the story.


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Andrew Heller on Sinatra, My Way

Sinatra Recorded Over 1800 Songs.  How Did You Choose The Songs For Sinatra My Way?

Very Carefully.  I Brought In The General Manager Of The Label, My Producer, Ray Barnette; My Wife, Mary Ann, One Of Our Promoters And Myself And We Each Listed Our Top 20 Songs. We Ended Up With 90 Songs From 6 Different People And Then Cut It Down To A List Of 20. That Is When The Hard Part Came In.  In The First Go Round We Recorded 14 Songs Of Which 10 Made It To The Album And Four Made It To The Second Album. We Ended With A Total Of 21 Songs And They Are All Recorded.  We Just Finished Recording The Second Album And It Will Come Out In The Spring Of 2017. Because Of Sound Quality This Recording May Come Out In Vinyl And Digital Only. I Have Found That If You Want Really Good Sound Buy The Top End Vinyl.

These Are The Songs You Chose For The First Album.  Tell Us A Little About Each Song, How You Interpret It And What It Means To You.

Night And Day: It Is Just A Blast.  It Is Such A Great Big Band Sound.

Summer Wind: A Fun, Lighthearted Love Song.

They Can’t Take That Away From Me: As You Sing This Song It Becomes A Part Of You.  I Am Thinking About Mary Ann When I Sing That Song.  We Have Had 50 Years Together And I Don’t Usually Think About The Same Experiences Twice In A Row, But I Always Think Of Her. Sometimes About The First Time I Met Her.  Other Times About The Places We Have Been And The Wonderful Things We Have Done Together.

It Was A Very Good Year: It’s An Ervin Drake Song.  It Is A Song About Looking Back At Life And Remembering The Pleasures And The Romances.  But It Really Wasn’t About The Girl.  The Story Is About A Style And A Time Of Life Told In The Songs Through The Romances. Sinatra Won A Grammy In 1966 For This Recording - Best Male Vocal Performance.

My Kind Of Town.  I Always Picture Scenes From The Movie Robin And The Seven Hoods When I Sing This Song. It Is Such A Different Type Of Song.  You Have To Get Into The Spirit Of Being A Hoodlum.  You Have To Think ‘I Can Do What I Please.’  You Have To Get Into The Mind Of The Character Who Is Singing The Song.  He Had Just Been Acquitted Of Murder – One Of The Only Crimes He Hadn’t Committed. The Song Is A Funny Song About A Crook That Has Just Gotten Away With Something And He Is Very Happy.

The Wee Small Hours.  It Is A Lullaby.  A Good Night Song.  It Is A Ballad That Is A Way Of Saying, ‘I Regret That I Screwed Up’.  He Is Too Proud To Call The Girl And He Is Waiting For Her To Call Him. It You Can Relate From Personal Experience. Everyone Has Some Time They Wish They Hadn’t Handled A Relationship In A Certain Way And Would Have Liked To Have Done It Differently.  It Becomes A Very Easy Song To Personalize.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin. It’s A Wake-Up Call And A Positive Message Song About Love.  You Have To Dance To It. You Can’t Just Sit And Listen To It.

Witchcraft.  Witchcraft Is One Of My Favorite Songs.  It Is A Classic. You Can Picture A Quiet Setting And Being With Someone You Really Care About.  The Words Allow You To Get Pictures In Your Mind About Things You Have Done With People And Places You Have Been.

The Way You Look Tonight.  This Is An Easy One For Me.  I Just Pull Out A Memory Of A Time And Place Where I Can See Mary Ann Glowing.  Most Of The Time When I Do This Song, I See Her With Her Raven Hair.  When I Sing It I Am Almost Always Picturing Her In A Beautiful Gown At A Great Dinner With Me And A Great Bottle Of Champagne And Caviar Sitting In The Moonlight Or Starlight.

My Way.  Two Different Things Go Through My Mind. First, Is The Story Of Sinatra’s Life As I Think A Lot About The Things That He Did.  The Song Was Written For Sinatra Even Though He Was Not The First To Record It. Secondly, I Also Go Back To My Own Life And Know That I Have Been Very Lucky.  I Have Had A Lot Of Reasonable Success In A Lot Of Things.  I Have Never, Ever Had To Continue Doing Something I Did Not Want To Do.  I Have Been Able To Live My Life My Way.  And That Is A Blessing.

Andrew Heller on Christmas Wonder

What prompted you to make the Christmas Wonder CD?

I love Christmas songs and I always sang Christmas songs.  For years I had done shows for other people.  I wanted to do a CD that was different than anything you could get so we put together a large orchestral recording.  There are 94 instrumental tracks on the Cd and it was recorded with the Austin Symphony Orchestra.  There was a not a studio in Austin big enough to record with everyone so we would record 8-10 members at a time and put them together.  I was a guest soloist for the Austin Symphony Orchestra for the Christmas Sing-Along.  I love the music.  It fits into my reason for singing – it is uplifting.  It makes you feel better. It makes the audience feel hopeful and full of Christmas spirit.  I was born in the northeast so I really relate to all of the snow songs and winter wonderland aspect of some of the songs. 

 Do any special Christmas memories play in to the songs you chose for the Christmas Wonder CD?

I just love Christmas music.  The songs make me feel good. I chose the songs that I liked and I put them together in an order that I felt comfortable with. I work very hard on the sequence.  It is as important as the music itself. I wanted something that could be a sing-along CD.  When you go out to sing carols, how do you feel?  You feel good right?  It doesn’t matter how long you sing.  The music just makes you happy.  That is what this CD is all about. You listen to the songs and they evoke personal memories for each individual and family.

Please share your memories and thoughts about the songs on Christmas Wonder.

Winter Wonderland.  A song about fun in the snow.  It is what you do during the winter when you are a kid – make a snow man and walk in wonder. For me Winter Wonderland is a song about joking around with friends and making snow angels. Those memories always stick with you. This song is about fun and a feeling of happiness.

White Christmas.  You are thinking about the night before Christmas and the snow coming down, drinking some hot beverages and being around a fire. It is probably the most beautiful song about Christmas from a musical point of view that I have ever heard.  If it is done right it rings in your hear when you hear it.  The music has such a strong emotional attraction.  The words are beautiful.  What a joy to sing with a full orchestra.  It is probably my favorite Christmas song.

Sleigh Ride. A happy, upbeat winter song. When I was in my teens my family would go out to Aspen and we would take sleigh rides.  If you have ever been on a sleigh ride at night under a blanket with the bells ringing it is something you never forget.

Do You Hear What I Hear? That is a song that plays to your heart about remembering the reason for Christmas.  It is a song that ties together the message of Christ and his birth and the inclusion of everyone from the lowly shepherds to the kings and how they relate to the King of Man.

Oh Holy Night. I happen to love the chorus. It brings me almost to tears every time I sing it.  It is a song you feel.  The words fit the music but you have to sing it with emotion. When you declare “fall on your knees” it vibrates throughout your body in an almost holy way.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. That is a song that reminds me of going at night down Fifth Avenue in New York and going into F.A.O. Schwarz as a kid with my parents.  It’s about all of the wonderful windows and the sounds of Christmas – the bells ringing for the Salvation Army, the vendors selling chestnuts on the street, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral all decorated for Christmas.  It was so exciting for me to get to go to New York or Chicago around the holidays.  I loved it all.

Silver Bells.  More about a feeling than it is about a particular image.  It is a feeling of Christmas – of warmth and people being together.  In the big cities people are more open and the speak and say Merry Christmas.  Silver Bells evokes those feelings.

The Christmas Song. This is not a song I ever thought deeply about – it was more of a fun song about people.

I’ll be Home for Christmas/Home for the Holidays Medley.  I put these songs on the CD hoping that people would be listening to it with their families and thinking of their families during the holidays as so many people do.  It is that time of year to be with and think of the ones you love.  Intentionally there to tell the story about getting together as a family and that is why I grouped them that way. This is the time to be together and share something very special.


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Andrew Heller on the Relevance and Interpretive Genius of Frank Sinatra

This week marks the 101st birthday of the legendary crooner, Frank Sinatra who remains as popular as he was throughout his career. Andrew Heller has studied Sinatra, his signature style and interpretation. Heller is an expert on why Sinatra and the songs of the American Songbook are as relevant today as the first time Sinatra approached the mike and mesmerized audiences in his memorable performances.

How Sinatra forever changed the Great American Songbook.

 Sinatra -What a character.  One of the things Sinatra did that changed the American songbook forever was he opened it up to almost a jazz-like interpretation. He took the songs that had been great songs in the 20’s and 30’s and made them his.   Very few of the songs Sinatra made famous were original to him. Almost all of them were covers. And he was not the first to record them, but he did them in such a different way working with great arrangers Billy May and Nelson Riddle and their great band productions. More importantly, Sinatra brought this whole feeling of freedom that jazz can bring in the interpretation of the story.  That changed the whole way American songbook has been presented.  It changed it forever.  Sinatra made the American songbook the thing that stays in your head…where the words are what you remember as you hear the story. 

Sinatra’s Signature Style.

He sang each song differently every time and his interpretations are based on two things - how he felt and his life experiences. Sinatra would phrase things based on how he was feeling at the time or how he sensed the audience was feeling.  Often times he would also change words.  Some people say it was because when he got older he forgot the words I don’t think so. I think it was very intentional on his part.  A lot of the little changes were intentional. He liked to change things up. He sang a lot of Ervin Drake songs and Ervin would tell stories about how when Sinatra would invite him to come see him perform when he was in New York. Sinatra would immediately go to a Drake song and start messing with the words as much as he could.  He did that to every composer just to drive them crazy and he was brilliant at it.  Sinatra delivered something that was very important as you study what he brought to the music. I don’t try to impersonate him, but I study him and sing it my way.  That is why the CD is named Sinatra My Way.  I learned a lot about how you can really tell the story and really bring your life experience to the story in such a way that people believe you. As a singer you can make them feel the story. That is what Sinatra did. The other reason I love to sing the songs Sinatra sang is that most of his songs are uplifting.   Sinatra recorded over 1800 songs and very few were downers. 

Nelson Riddle and Sinatra.

In the late 40’s he did a lot of films.  He was a crook in Robin and the Seven Hoods and did a lot of musicals. In the late 40’s his singing career started to take a downturn but in 1952 Sinatra changed labels and met Nelson Riddle.  His career took off again.  Nelson Riddle had a big part to play and so did Billy May in his turnaround.  Both Billy May and Nelson Riddle had a level of communication that helped them put arrangements down that were natural for Sinatra – almost second nature for him.   They were totally Sympatico - almost unbelievable. You don’t see anybody doing that with music today – the intricacy.  We were recording some of Riddle’s arrangements with his son, Chris Riddle and Chris would tell the orchestra stories about the particular tune before we recorded it.  Sometimes he would remark on little things his father had done to hide extra things to make the song different.  Sinatra and Nelson Riddle were always on the same page. The same page musically that is.  Sinatra and Nelson Riddle and Billy May had love- hate relationships.  Musically they were always on the same page but personally they got way on the outs. 

Riddle wouldn’t talk to Sinatra for several years.  One morning the phone rings and its early in California, but Riddle answers it.  “Nelson this is Frank.  I got a call from the people at the Reagan inaugural committee and they asked us to do what we did for JFK back in ’60 and I told them I wouldn’t do it without you so let’s get together and by the way I have three projects I want to talk to you about.”  What could Riddle say?  Riddle said, “Ok Frank great idea.”  Sinatra was excited until her realized the time difference as he was in Washington D.C. at the time.  He said, “Oh Nelson, look at the time. Did I wake you?”  Nelson had a terribly dry sense of humor and said, “No, Frank I had to get up to answer the phone.”

When they recorded together, Sinatra usually got the song on one or two passes but with Night and Day it took 22 takes before he got what he wanted.  They started at one in the morning. The trumpet player was going to walk out. But Riddle hung in there and finally Sinatra got what he wanted.  People think Sinatra just walked into the studio and sang off the top of his head.  He didn’t. Sinatra was extremely well rehearsed and he would go home and sit in front of a piano and work on a song for months before he recorded it.  He always knew what he wanted to do with the song.

After Nelson and Frank got back together they did a bunch of remakes and memory albums in the ‘80s before Nelson died in ’86.

Sinatra’s continuing popularity and legacy.

Why does Sinatra remain so popular and how does he continue to be relevant?  For two reasons.  When he sings the songs of the American songbook the stories are still universal and the music is great.  The stories are memorable and the music is beautiful.  Sinatra sang them with a big sound – great arrangements and a sound you can’t find today.  He delivers the story and it stays in your head.  The music itself makes you walk away humming. They are all just so rhythmic.  The lyrics always rhyme, are always upbeat and always tell a memorable story.  When you have that combination it makes for lasting and relevant music


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The Song In My Heart

SUMMER WIND

Summer Wind was originally released in Germany as "Der Sommerwind" and written by Heinz Meier and German language lyrics by Hans Bradtke in 1965. When Johnny Mercer heard this haunting love song by Danish singer Grethe Ingmann who had also recorded the song in her native language as "Sommervind", he rewrote it in English staying true to the original metaphor of the European sirocco winds signaling the end of summer.  The song was first recorded in America by Wayne Newton and later by Bobby Vinton and Perry Come but it wasn’t until 1966 when Frank Sinatra made it his own that the song reached number one on the charts. It was initially included in his album, Strangers in the Night, which would be the last recording Sinatra made with the composer Nelson Riddle and his orchestra. Fifty years later Andrew Heller brought the song to life on his CD, Sinatra My Way, recorded with Christopher Riddle, the son of the late composer and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

Andrew Heller reflects on Summer Wind and why it is one of the songs of his heart.

Why did you decide to include Summer Wind on Sinatra, My Way?

It was one of Sinatra’s signature songs. He almost always sang it when he appeared in concert. It is a beautiful song and a simple song. The lyrics stick in your head and the music stays with you as well. Also the lyrics tell a story and are uplifting. I am passionate about singing songs that make people smile and lift them up.  When I sing I tell a story and hope that it brings wonderful memories to the audience as they hear the familiar words.

What do you like most about Summer Wind?

I like this song because it is easy to get into the listener’s head and it is easy to get into the story of the song. When I sing I imagine the man whose love has returned to him and him trying to win her back.  I become part of the song.   I like telling a story musically. I like the romance of this song.

Talk to me about your style in this recording.

 When I decided to do this recording I wanted to make it a tribute but not an impersonation.  I wanted to take the songs and make them mine.  Do it my way to use a phrase that Frank liked.

What did you admire most about Sinatra’s style?

He was the best storytelling vocalist there was. He never sang a song the same way twice.  It was about how he felt and what he was trying to say to the audience every time he performed. He might change a word or change his phrasing – just slightly but he never sang a song the same way twice.  He knew how to draw the audience in to the lyrics with his phrasing and his voice.  I admire great vocalists who are also great storytellers.  Some of the best who come to mind in addition to Sinatra are Elvis, Marty Robbins, Pavarottiand Willie Nelson.

Why did you decide to record with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra?

Nelson Riddle was a brilliant arranger.  They do not make composers like him anymore – there is no call for the big bands and orchestras but Riddle as an arranger was very clever at making the music talk.  His arrangements really contributed to the story and we were fortunate to obtain the original arrangements from his son Christopher.  He worked very closely with us on this recording. Christopher pointed out that his father always had a hidden melody in his arrangements.  Once you know to listen for it, it really stands out.

It’s been 50 years since Sinatra first recorded Summer Wind.  Why do you think it has stood the test of time?

The lyrics never get old.  The story is a human one and people can relate to it.  These songs of the Great American Songbook are like Shakespeare.  The feelings and emotions are universal and stand the test of time.  The songs are not only about love but about the way we live our lives and the things we hold dear and believe in.  That’s why I enjoy singing them and that’s why people enjoy hearing them again and again.

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Why Andrew Heller Can’t Live Without The Music of Gershwin, Porter, Rogers and Hart, Lerner and Lowe and Berlin

REFLECTIONS ON THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK SHARED WITH ALAN GRAY OF NEWSBLAZE

There are many loves in Andrew Heller’s life but no siren song is more attractive to him than the lyrics, melodies and arrangements of the musical offerings of the Great American Songbook. 

A renowned technology expert Heller could not resist the songs of his heart that were pulling him toward a second career as a vocalist.  Drawing audiences into the story of the song, Heller masterfully interprets these classics in his signature style on each recording.  His latest offering, Sinatra My Way, is a tribute not only to Sinatra but is also a nod to Heller’s own powerful and moving interpretation and style. 

Recently Andrew joined Alan Gray, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Newsblaze to reflect on his passion for the Great American Songbook.

Alan Gray: Thank you for talking about the Great American Songbook today. Your big smile says you must really love it.

Andrew Heller: OK, I admit it. I love the beautiful music, the memorable lyrics, the great arrangements and the amazing vocal interpretations of the songs from the Great American Songbook.

AG: You’re probably tired of this question: Why do you love the songs and music so much?

AH: I never tire of that question, the songs or the music. As a classically trained tenor, I have always enjoyed both the beauty and intricacy of classical music and the beauty and simplicity of the message of the songs from the Great American Songbook. The Songbook contains the music and lyrics of the best and most remembered songs of the 20th century. These are the songs that stay in your head and the words haunt you for days or weeks. My love for these songs was enhanced by two very important elements.

First the music itself tends to be written with an upbeat sound and rhythm that stays in your head and gets hummed over and over. The lyrics tend to be witty, upbeat, have a lyrical sense of classical rhyme, are easily remembered and the story behind the song conveyed to audiences of any age.

The second important thing to me is that almost all of the songs are uplifting with a positive message or just great fun lyrics. My goal as an entertainer is to make my audience leave my shows feeling better than they did when they entered – they want to be entertained and joyful about life and living. To tell them stories that they can relate to and enjoy not be lectured to or told how bad the world is.

AG: That’s a powerful thought and so much needed these days.

AH: It is especially important in these times to expose our children and their children to the beautiful music, arrangements, instrumentals, vocals and the upbeat messages about life and love. Unfortunately today, they are mostly exposed to rap and hate songs and have not been exposed to the remarkable and beautiful human musical accomplishments (and great literature, art, history) that could serve as a model for their future endeavors.

AG: You’re a great interpreter of music and song.

AH: Thank you. The great thing about most of the songs of the Great American Songbook is that they open themselves up to great interpretive freedom. For the singer – a lot of the songs were intended to be treated as swing or jazz, they are much easier to adjust the phrasing, tempo, harmonization with the music and sing in a highly personalized manner that can be adjusted to the mood of a specific audience or the life experiences of the performer. These are the songs that for a singer are worthy of rediscovery throughout our lives we can make them uniquely ours and deliver a story to our audiences that is constantly being painted by our own personal history and feelings, by our own life experiences.

AG: You’re in great company there.

AH: Yes. In the Great American Songbook are songs that have been presented and recorded by the most well-known artists from Mario Lanza and Frank Sinatra to Michael Buble, from Luciano Pavarotti to Paul McCartney and Sting with arrangements that vary from simple single instrument arrangements to big band, full orchestra arrangements by the like of Nelson Riddle, Billy May, etc. Everyone including the kids today knows the music of Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Ervin Drake, George Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, Lerner and Lowe, Bernstein, Rogers and Hammerstein, Cole porter, Hoagie Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Jimmy Shirl to name just a few of those whose works are included in the Great American Songbook.

AG: It’s been around for a long time, so there’s a wide range of material.

AH: I’m thankful for that. The Great American Songbook has been with us now for many generations and will continue to be a mainstay for entertainers and audiences for many more generations to come. While not many new works get added each year, it would be wrong to view the Great American Songbook as close ended – it will continue to add works albeit at a much slower pace than in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

AG: There are many great singers in the Songbook. Why do you like Sinatra so much?

AH: Among the greatest performers is Frank (the Chairman of the Board) Sinatra. Most of the songs that he made famous were covers done by others before him but the big band arrangements and the unique style that he brought to the songs was spellbinding. I have admired the voice, delivery and the improvisational skills of Frank Sinatra from my earliest memories as a child and now, as a grown up performer, wanted to pay tribute to his great music, lyrics and the arrangements that he performed.

AG: I heard there’s a special reason you’re doing this now.

AH: My wife, friends and I decided to do this on the celebration year of his 100th birthday. We decided to do an authentic musical tribute to the Chairman of the Board, the big band, great musicians, the original big band arrangements, but not done as an impersonation but rather as a tribute.

AG: Was that difficult?

AH: Finding the original arrangements required months of research and working with Nelson Riddle’s son Christopher Riddle who had played in his father’s orchestra from the age of 12 years old (trombone and tuba). With Chris’s help, we were able to locate a number of the original arrangements his father had created for Sinatra as well as find a number of musicians who had played in his father’s (Nelson Riddle) orchestra.

Through a lot of research we were able to find other original arrangements for Sinatra by Billy May and others – by original I mean the tempo, music, arrangements, parts all presented as they were on the first time Sinatra recorded the song on an album or a film.

I’m not an impersonator and made no attempt to impersonate Sinatra, instead this was my tribute (done “My Way”) to him and his memory; done with his choice of words and my style – the type of tribute that he might have done for a friend of his with their music.

AG: I’ve seen photos – this was a big production.

AH: We assembled over 30 different instrumentalists in one room (the Tracking Room in Nashville – one of the few studios in the country large enough to accommodate such a large group) many of whom played with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra at some time in their careers. We had Chris Riddle join us, verifying any changes that were required in some of the brass parts. This was done to accommodate the transition back to the tenor key of some of the songs that were originally recorded in the late 50s and 60s when Sinatra had transitioned from a tenor in the 1940s to a baritone by the mid-1950s.

AG: How did it all go together?

AH: Chris helped with the conducting duties (mostly accomplished by the great John Mills) while informing all of us about particular Sinatra/Riddle stories associated with each song or special little melodies hidden within the arrangements that his father had created. This was a magical recording week and at the end the instrumentalists actually came up to me, Chris, John, and my wife Mary Ann and thanked us for the opportunity to perform on this album.

When you listen to these songs, enjoy the songs, the singing, the music, then listen again to the beauty of the music, the arrangements that were made for Sinatra and are now part of the Great American Songbook.

AG: And you’re working on a second album?

AH: Yes. We recently reunited the group in Nashville including Christopher Riddle at the Tracking Room studio to do a second album of original Sinatra arrangements performed “my way” that will be available by early to mid-2017.

AG: Great. Thank you for the interview and the photos, and for putting together such a great project.

AH: It is a great project, and we really love doing it, a 100th birthday gift for Frank Sinatra.


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