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.
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.
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.
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