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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