November 25, 2015

Song of the Day #1278

Song of the Day: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, music by David Mann, lyrics by Bob Hilliard, is the title track from a 1955 album regarded by many to be the greatest of Sinatra's career. Ths song is also featured on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra." Sinatra delivers the song in that personally reflective manner, which bathes the lyrics with his own yearnings and lovelorn loneliness. It speaks to any of us who has ever fallen in love and felt the sting of its loss. Listen to this classic on YouTube.

November 24, 2015

Song of the Day #1277

Song of the Day: From This Moment On, words and music by Cole Porter, was written in 1951 for the composer's musical, "Out of This World," but it was dropped, only to be included later in the 1953 MGM film of the musical, "Kiss Me Kate." The song was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1957, with a mid-tempo swinging arrangement by Nelson Riddle, for the album, "A Swingin' Affair!." It can also be found on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra." As today's lead essay explains, with this entry, we begin a 19-song tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes, culminating on December 12, 2015, the 100th anniversary of the day of his birth. Check this song out on YouTube.

The Frank Sinatra Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon

A "Song of the Day" Sinatra Tribute Begins "From This Moment On"

Today, Tuesday, November 24, 2015, I begin a tribute to Francis Albert Sinatra, which will culminate on Saturday, December 12, 2015, the day on which we will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth. Yes, he was The Voice for seven decades of the twentieth-century, from the mid-1930s to the early 1990s. But his enormous artistic gifts have been preserved forever in film, vocal recordings, and concert performances, allowing future generations a glimpse of the ever-lasting impact he made on American culture, art, and music.

When Sinatra first entered the scene, he was this scrawny kid from humble Hoboken, New Jersey in search of a stage. But this was a proud Italian American, whose father emigrated from Sicily and whose mother came from Genoa. As a first-generation American son of immigrant parents, he was open to the musically diverse American palette. At first, he absorbed much from the crooner school of Bing Crosby, and, like Bing, he was deeply influenced by one of the most distinctly American musical idioms: Jazz. Sinatra's schooling in jazz came from a diverse array of artists, starting with sizzling hot trumpeter Harry James with whom he first sang. James would routinely throw him an improvised musical curveball, which Sinatra would learn to field vocally, so-to-speak. He submerged himself in the New York club scene, and learned much watching the live performances of English-born cabaret singer, Mabel Mercer and, especially, of Billie Holiday. But it was his tenure in the Big Band of trombonist Tommy Dorsey that taught him more about singing than any vocal teacher could possibly offer him. He always said that he learned more about breath control by watching Dorsey's trombone solos, played with such seamlessness that one could barely detect the jazzman's breathing. Before too long, his talent brought him front and center on the stage, as he captured the excitement of the bobby-soxer generation. The kids simply went wild. But he did not become The Voice, Ol' Blue Eyes, or the Chairman of the Board overnight. He didn't simply collect Grammy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, and Oscar statuettes; in the early years, he battled his self-destructive tendencies, and it would take years for him to truly find himself, reinvent himself, giving new meaning to the Koehler lyric, "I've got the world on a string, sittin' on a rainbow, got the string around my finger. What a world! What a life!" What a life, indeed.

Eventually, it was Sinatra's self-reinvention that earned him Golden Globe and Oscar Awards for his film work, Grammy Awards for his singing, including the Grammy Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement and Legend Awards. In fact, he received recognition for Lifetime Achievement from so many of the industry's associations, that a brief summary doesn't do him justice. The accolades came from such institutions as the Screen Actors Guild; the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame; the Kennedy Center; the American Music Award of Merit; the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Moreover, he was a two-time winner of the critics' Downbeat poll for Male Singer of the Year, while the Downbeat readers named him Male Singer of the Year for sixteen years and Personality of the Year for six years.

A Deplorable Excess of Personality?

In the 1993 film version of "Jurassic Park," John Hammond, the creator of the park, played by Richard Attenborough, characterizes Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) as a person who suffers from a "deplorable excess of personality." Some might have said the same about Sinatra, whose excesses often undercut his early successes. So before we go on singing the praises of this Patron Saint of Song, it's best that we put some issues to rest, for they are not unimportant. I know that there are many people out there who find it impossible to separate the art from the artist. In some respects, it would be horrifically ahistorical and acontextal; grasping the artist's cultural or personal context might go a long way toward understanding and appreciating his accomplishments. But it is also true that many great artists throughout history have created magnificent works of art that either gave expression to the demons within, or provided a cathartic means by which to exorcize them. The point here is that it would be a mistake to dismiss the greatness of art because the artist suffers from character flaws. One thing that Sinatra accomplished, however, is that he emerged from these early years a better singer and a superior artist. As he says it in one of his signature tunes: "The record shows, I took the blows and did it My Way." By acknowledging his excesses and failures, Sinatra, in his vocals, became ever more expressive of a raw honesty, which came through whether he was singing of lost love, or of the joyous possibilities of life.

But the maturity of his art could not have emerged without his very public ups and downs. His critics viewed him as a thug, made all the worse because he was an Italian American with all the bigotry that this fact of ethnicity implied, especially in an era that gave us both the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Gangsta rappers have nothing on Ol' Blue Eyes. We've seen and heard it all: from his mug shot, to his tumultuous affair with and marriage to Ava Gardner and his subsequent attempts at suicide; and, later, his rowdy days and nights in Las Vegas with the Rat Pack, which fueled rumors of rampant womanizing and alleged Mafia ties.

And then there were emergent political problems he had to face. Having been declared 4F for service in the military, he and actor Orson Welles campaigned fiercely for FDR. His ability to entertain on the home front, and to film such extravaganzas as the 1945 musical comedy, "Anchors Away" (in which he worked like a "prizefighter" behind the scenes to keep up with the gifted choreographer, dancer, singer, and actor Gene Kelly), made him a bona fide star, and uplifted many spirits in a world consumed by war. But his liberal FDR-friendly politics, his embrace of a 'progressive' New Deal agenda, and his public stances against racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry at the end of World War II (as expressed in the 1945 short film "The House I Live In," which won an Honorary Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Good Will), provided fodder for his tabloid critics. Many branded him a "red," a "leftist," and an out-and-out commie, to which Sinatra is reported to have replied: "Bullshit." There is a touch of irony in all of this red-baiting: despite being a virtual cheerleader of "High Hopes" [YouTube link], the very song Sinatra adapted for the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign, the singer was marginalized by JFK, given his connections to mobster Sam Giancana and others. Sinatra's political journey went from supervising JFK's inaugural party to supervising the presidential gala of Republican Ronald Reagan, for whom he had become a vocal supporter, and from whom he received the "Medal of Freedom."

In the years after filming "The House I Live In," the McCarthy era press became increasingly suspicious and hostile toward anyone suspected of left-wing views. This was the era of the Cold War, which turned increasingly hot in places like Korea. He was advised by actor Humphrey Bogart to ignore the tabloids, because he could never win any battles against a hostile press. Sinatra being Sinatra, of course, ignored Bogie's sound advice. On April 8, 1947, he went to see Peggy Lee's opening night at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip; behind him, he overheard the voice of his chief newspaper nemesis, the columnist, Lee Mortimer, who questioned Sinatra's patriotism in print, and who, on this night, referred to Sinatra as a "dago" and "guinea bastard." This was overheard by an overheated Sinatra, who recalls: "I tapped him on the shoulder, and I hit him so fucking hard I broke the whole front of his face, and he banged his head." Mortimer said he was going to destroy Sinatra, but ultimately, the issue was settled with Sinatra paying damages. He never forgot Mortimer, though; any time their paths crossed, Sinatra would spit at him. (These priceless stories are from the terrific HBO two-part documentary, "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All," from which I've drawn quite a bit for this essay.)

There is no doubt that this period in Sinatra's life took its toll; his excesses, his losses, his alcohol abuse, led him to a catastrophic collapse in his recording and acting career. His record company axed his contract and few film offers came his way. Even before the Ava Gardner-related suicide attempts in the early 1950s, Modern Television and Radio magazine was asking plainly in December 1948: "Is Sinatra Finished?"

If Sinatra's career had simply ended right then and there, we would barely be talking about the centenary of his birth. For indeed, the melodrama of his life dredges up the old debate about whether one can appreciate art apart from the artist, who might very well be a suicidal (or homicidal) maniac. Before discussing how Sinatra turned his life around, it's important to talk about this issue, for it has been raised so many times before with regard to other artists and their art.

For example, let's just say for a moment that every last accusation against Michael Jackson were true (with regard to the sexual abuse of minors, something for which he was acquitted in the only case to make it to trial). For me, it would not in any way, shape, or form, diminish my love and admiration of Jackson's talents as a musician, composer, and dancer. Jackson provided me with the soundtrack of my youth, and I cannot for a moment imagine a world without the songs I danced to, or laughed to, or cried to. I cannot for a single moment imagine a world where I'd never had the opportunity to see and hear him live, on stage, in a series of utterly brilliant concert performances. He was the quintessential "song-and-dance" man of my generation who touched the lives of millions of fans worldwide, which explains how deeply shattered we were by his own tragic death in 2009. So, whether he was a drug addict or a pedophile or a nutjob of the first order would have made no difference with regard to this fan's love of his art; and so it is with everyone from jazz guitar legend Joe Pass (who emerged from Synanon), or rock legends Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or even to those classical philosophers, composers, musicians, painters, scultptors, writers, artists, etc., of whose flaws many of us are perenially unaware. Rest assured, if there was a tabloid press during the days of Classical Greece or Ancient Rome or the Renaissance, I can't imagine the stories that would have come to light about some of our philosophical and artistic heroes! It probably would have made the Robert Graves work, I, Claudius, look tame by comparison.

Loving a work of the creative imagination does not provide an apologia for the alleged or real sins or political views of its creator. In any event, our aesthetic responses are not generally guided by conscious reflection or articulated moral judgments about those who create. They are emotional responses that often emerge from the deepest and most complex corners of our soul. And here's the irony: a tortured artist (and there are plenty of them throughout history) might create a work of sublime beauty that speaks to those aspects of his own soul, crying out for objectification. And as responders, we may openly embrace that creation. Or perhaps, that same artist's tortured soul and life experiences might fully inhabit a work of art in its depiction of unimaginable sadness. But whatever our response, it is not necessarily a psychological confession concerning the depravity of our sense of life. It might simply speak to our own life experiences of loss, regret, and unfathomable grief. And we respond accordingly.

It is no accident that Sinatra was a consummate story-teller, for the way he delivered a lyric of heartbreak elicited responses from his fans, who, as part of the human family, had suffered through feelings of similar grief, loss, and regret. In "Angel Eyes" [YouTube link], there's that image of Frank sitting by himself in a bar, contemplating lost love. He tells us, conversationally, painfully, "Try to think that love's not around, but it's uncomfortably near. My old heart ain't gaining no ground, because my angel eyes ain't here." The listener feels every syllable of loss with his impeccable diction in the delivery of the lyric. He's an actor telling a story, yes; but he's connecting that story to the real losses he has experienced in his own life. The grief is palpable. It's as if he had adopted the technique of "method acting" to the very art of song. It helps one to understand just why he was referred to as "the poet laureate of loneliness."

A Life Worth Living: The Sinatra Revolution

One thing is clear about Frank Sinatra, perhaps best expressed in one of my all-time favorite recordings of his; when he hit bottom, he was determined to turn it around. "That's Life" [YouTube link, and here too], after all, "as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream. But I don't let it, let it get me down, 'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around." He sings with defiance: "I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race. . . . I can't deny it; I thought of quitting, baby, put my heart just ain't gonna buy it. And if I didn't think it was worth one single try, I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly."

But the vehicle for his comeback was neither a bird nor a song; it was a film. And a legendary Fedora (or shall we call it a Cavanaugh?).

It was with his reading of the 1951 James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity, that he became convinced that he would be perfect for the role of Private Angelo Maggio, for the upcoming 1953 film adaptation. He secured the role (most likely with the help of Ava Gardner, not Don Vito Corleone), and subsequently won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Film wasn't the only medium to conquer; Sinatra, after all, was a consummate stylist. He was no longer the scrawny looking kid from Hoboken; now, with a cocked Fedora atop his head, he seemed to define the very essence of cool, of attitude, of self-assuredness. And he influenced a whole generation of men on the sexiness of hats. My own Dad wore one of those hats till the day he died. Nevertheless, despite the Fedora, film was the central vehicle driving the Sinatra revolution to the next phase of his creativity.

Over the years, his very presence on the screen commanded your attention. He could move you to dance (in the 1955 film of "Guys and Dolls"), to laugh (in the 1960 heist film starring all of his Rat Pack cohorts, "Ocean's Eleven"), to cry (playing a heroin addict, with chilling film noir scenes of detox, in the 1955 film, "The Man with the Golden Arm"), to take notice, when his character depicted intense realism (in the 1962 film, "The Manchurian Candidate," and the 1968 film, "The Detective") and, finally, to suffer profound grief just when you thought you were on the precipice of glory (the 1965 World War II POW film, "Von Ryan's Express").

I actually saw "Von Ryan's Express" in 1965 when it first came out, at the age of 5 years old. The memory of it is so vivid, so engrained in my psyche because it was a night of trauma for me. The family took the drive out to Long Island to see the film at the Sunrise Drive-In Theater in Valley Stream, New York. Being at a Drive-In was a big thrill back then, and at the age of five, it was an overwhelming experience for me. I mean, you could go and get popcorn, and never miss any part of the movie. The thing about drive-ins though, is that they are built so that cars can be perched at an upward tilt, on mini-gravel hills. Well, when I went with my sister to get the requisite popcorn, I was running up one of those mini-gravel hills (which appeared closer to the size of Mount Everest to me). Somehow, I got tangled in my sneaker-laces, and went flying downside when I reached the apex of Everest. Naturally, like every other 5-year old boy, I ripped open my right knee for the umpteenth time of my youth. I had previously ripped it open getting caught in the metal of a fence, while I climbed it. And then there was the Becky Incident. Becky was the dog of my best friend's family, and she gave birth to my first dog: Timmy. In any event, I so wanted to walk Becky the Beagle, so, as a precaution, my best friend's mom tied Becky's leash to my wrist so that she would not run away, while I walked her. The stage was set for catastrophe. When the dog saw my friend up the block, she got very excited, and proceeded to run full-speed ahead along the sidewalk of Highlawn Avenue. The leash was still attached to my wrist. In hindsight, I figured this is what it must have felt like to be Messala, in "Ben-Hur," holding on to the reins, but being dragged to my death by horses galloping with a fallen chariot.

The gash scars from the Drive-In movie, and other sporting events, are still quite visible, even now, at the age of 55. But being a 5-year old at the Drive-In, I couldn't fight back the tears, from the pain, and from witnessing the blood pouring out of my wound. Mom and sister cleaned me up, and we returned to the car, to watch the epic climax of Sinatra's war film. He played the role of Colonel Joseph Ryan, leading a POW escape to Switzerland, across Nazi-occupied Italy. And [SPOILER ALERT!], in the final scenes, as the prisoner train is just about to cross into Switzerland, Ryan is running frantically behind that last train car, trying desperately to escape the Waffen-SS troops in pursuit. He is shot by machine gun rounds. Tragically, he falls dead.

Well, this was just too much for my traumatic night. I got hysterical crying, and it took lots of assurances from my mother and sister that Frankie was still alive; it was only a movie. Come to think of it, the last Drive-In theater experience I had also featured a tragedy; it was in April 1998, virtually one month to the day before Ol' Blue Eyes passed away. We were vacationing in Tucson, Arizona, and went to the De Anza Drive-In, where, fortunately, I did not rip open my knee, but I do admit to crying again, as I watched the last heartbreaking moments of the sinking "Titanic" on a huge 70mm screen!

The Essence of Sinatra's Vocal Revolution

Having conquered the film world and the style world, there was nothing left to conquer but that which Sinatra was born to be: The Voice. To say he was musically triumphant in the 1950s and 1960s would be an understatement. He retains the distinction of being among the very first artists to bring into the market the idea of "the concept album." Sinatra would go on to sell more than 150 million albums throughout his prolific recording career. Among the classic "concept albums," one finds such gems as "Songs for Young Lovers," "In the Wee Small Hours," "Come Fly with Me," "Nice 'n Easy," and "September of My Years. But we can't forget some of those magnificent live concert recordings such as "Sinatra at the Sands" (with Count Basie), and those utterly remarkable sessions with artists who transcended global boundaries and eras, men such as Duke Ellington and Antonio Carlos Jobim (check out this brilliant clip with Jobim and Sinatra, from the third installment of his TV specials, "A Man and His Music").

Not all of Sinatra's work with Jobim was first released when it was recorded; Sinatra was a perfectionist, and some of it just didn't feel right. The "Complete Reprise Recordings" of their work together wasn't issued until 2010. The liner notes are absolutely priceless, as they tell the story of the meeting of two giants from different parts of the world, who had vastly different personalities: Sinatra, a veritable "fearless" Lion in the studio or on the stage; Jobim, the quiet, reserved genius of Brazilian music, and one of the creators of that lyrical fusion of samba and jazz known as the bossa nova. The writer of the notes, Stan "Underwood" Cornyn, who just passed away in May 2015, tells us a story that by its very nature teaches us something about the universality of music. One thing that the two artists worked on, over and over again, was to find just the right balance between the louder instruments and percussive sounds and the quiet, tender melodies that required near silence. Cornyn writes:

Seemed like the whole idea was to out-hush each other. Decibels treated like daggers. The arranger tiptoeing about, eliminating some percussion here, ticks there, ridding every song of click, bings, bips, all things sharp. Doing it with the fervor matched only by Her Majesty's Silkworms. But when someone asks if the piano part (played by Sinatra's personal accompanist Bill Miller) didn't come off just a little jarring, Sinatra counters with, "Him percussive? He's got fingers made out of jello." Henceforth, Miller plays jello-keys. And Sinatra makes a joke about all this. "I haven't sung so soft since I had the laryngitis." But while singing soft, making no joke about it. Singing so soft, if he sang any softer he'd have to be lying on his back.

The resulting sessions are, in my view, among the most sublime music ever created by two masters of their craft.

In this essay, we have learned that few entertainers could top the tabloid adventures of Francis Albert Sinatra. However, even fewer performers could barely touch Sinatra's accomplishments as an exquisite interpreter of the Great American Songbook. He could deliver a ballad with graceful diction, and break your heart. He could swagger his way through the swinging orchestrations of some of the best arrangers and conductors in the business, from Nelson Riddle to Billy May to Quincy Jones, incorporating the American jazz idiom with a fluidity that enabled him to sing above and behind the beat. He may not have been a scat-singer, but his whole conception has led even some of the greatest jazz instrumentalists of the era to characterize him as a bona fide jazz vocalist; many of these same jazz artists had learned much from him, from his phrasing, his pacing, and his interpretive, improvised ways with both the lyric and the melody.

Citing Variety, CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow characterized Sinatra's re-emergence from the ashes as one of the greatest comebacks in entertainment history. Sinatra went from the generation of the bobby-soxers to a cultural phenomenon. He and his Rat Pack, with guys like Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, single-handedly turned around the struggling casino town of Las Vegas, making it a tourist attraction that offered some of the greatest musical and comedic entertainers in the business (one of those comedians, Don Rickles, had a ball roasting Sinatra, Davis, and even Ronald Reagan; and check out Sinatra and Rickles on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show"). In these unparalleled live performances, Sinatra rarely delivered songs exactly like his classic studio recordings. He sang the hits that the crowd worshipped and adored, but he often played with both the lyrics and the audience. The Rat Pack went on to star in films together in the early 1960s, including box office hits, such as "Ocean's 11" (1960) and "Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). Sinatra was emerging as the "King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, A Number One," as the lyric tells us in "New York, New York." In short, he had become a genuine cultural icon.

Today, however, we live in an age where the overuse of the word "icon" has had an effect no different than the flooding of any market; its overuse makes everything iconic, and therefore, nothing. You know you've reached a stage of cultural bankruptcy when, in today's culture, Sinatra is still recognized as one of America's icons, but that he'd share that iconic status with Kim Kardashian. Not. Unlike the Kardashians who are "famous for being famous," as Barbara Walters once put it, Sinatra is an icon precisely because he was a person who was revered or idolized for his accomplishments. He is an artist whose influence spreads into genres as diverse as jazz (he was selected in a 1956 poll of jazz musicians, with affirmative votes from Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson, Billy Taylor, and Carmen McRae, among others, as "the greatest-ever male vocalist") and rap; it is felt in the work of contemporary popular artists as diverse as Alicia Keys, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, John Mayer, Josh Grobin, Gavin DeGraw, and Ne-Yo. It stretches from the jazz stylings of Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Buble, to the cabaret of Ron Hawking and Michael Feinstein ("The Sinatra Project") [YouTube link], and the rap of Jay Z (who is a master of rapping above and behind the beat). In some respects, however, Sinatra's influence isn't felt enough, and this is to the detriment of the musical world in which we live. As jazz vocalist Cassandara Wilson put it: "I wish Frank Sinatra influenced more singers today. He comes from a time when it [was] about the phrasing of a piece, the emotional content of a piece. He descended from Billie Holiday and singers who placed more emphasis on the lyrical content of the song."

Here at "Notablog," on the list called "My Favorite Songs," I have always revered and idolized Sinatra. One would think that after featuring audio clips and full-length YouTube renditions by Sinatra on over 60 songs in my ever-growing list, that we would have exhausted our supply. By some estimates, however, the Chairman of the Board (a name given to him by New York's WNEW-AM radio personality, the beloved William B. Williams) recorded over 1,200 tracks, but this includes various recordings of the same song delivered with different arrangements. Clearly, the guy spent a lot of time in the studio, when he wasn't going on global concert tours or filming another hit movie.

Given the number of Sinatra performances highlighted in "My Favorite Songs," he is, perhaps, the artist cited more than any other on my list. So, before listening to the next 19 days of songs that I will post over the coming weeks, I invite folks to check out the ones already listed: "All of Me," "All or Nothing at All," "All the Things You Are," "Angel Eyes," "Autumn in New York," "The Best is Yet to Come," "Brooklyn Bridge," "Call Me," "Call Me Irresponsible," "Change Partners," "Cheek to Cheek," "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)," "Come Fly with Me," "Days of Wine and Roses," "Don't Take Your Love From Me," "Everything Happens To Me," "Falling in Love with Love," "The First Noel," "Fly Me To the Moon," "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)," "How About You?," "How Insensitive," "I Concentrate on You," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "If You Go Away," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "I'll Never Smile Again," "I'm a Fool to Want You," "I Should Care," "It Was a Very Good Year," "I've Got a Crush On You," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Just Friends," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing," "Luck Be a Lady," "Me and My Shadow," "Meditation," "Moonlight in Vermont," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "My Buddy," "My Kind of Town," "My One and Only Love," "My Shining Hour," "My Way," "The Nearness of You," "New York, New York," "One for My Baby," "Pennies from Heaven," "Pocketful of Miracles," "Poor Butterfly," "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)," "Someone to Light Up My Life," "The Song is You," "Spring is Here," "Summer Me, Winter Me," "Swinging on a Star," "That Old Black Magic," "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," "Too Marvelous For Words," "Triste," "The Way You Look Tonight," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Wives and Lovers," "Yesterdays," "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," "You'll Never Know," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "You Make Me Feel So Young," and "You're Gonna Hear From Me."

Some of these songs are so closely tied to their definitive Sinatra recordings, that it is hard to listen to them coming from the voices of other singers, no matter how wonderful other renditions might be. I mean, can anyone of us honestly think of such songs as "The Best is Yet to Come," "Come Fly with Me," "Fly Me to the Moon," and "It Was a Very Good Year," without thinking of Sinatra? Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning actor who knew one or two things about 3- and 4-hour epics, once said that every single song that Sinatra ever sang was the equivalent of a 4-minute movie, so good was he at telling a story. Sinatra sang the standards, but his own renditions of so many of these standards became the standard by which to measure other renditions. For other artists who sang these songs, the best route to success was to completely change the interpretation and arrangement. For example, I can't think of anybody but Michael Jackson performing "Billie Jean," and yet several other successful renditions have been recorded only because the interpretation of the song was dramatically altered. Chris Cornell's version, in my view, is the most successful because it is dramatically different from the original. Check it all out here.

Clearly, I have always celebrated the talents of Sinatra, the self-confessed "saloon singer," who became the epitome of cool, the essence of musical class, and, as Bono once suggested, perhaps the only Italian Francis (with apologies to the Italian man from Assisi and the humble Argentinian Pope of Italian immigrants) to provide genuine proof that God is a Catholic ([YouTube link; I'm paraphrasing Bono's introduction of Sinatra at the 1994 Grammy Awards, where The Voice was recognized as a Grammy "Living Legend").

Nearly all of the selections that will be featured in this tribute can be found on "Ultimate Sinatra," a 4-CD Centennial Edition of 101 recordings, drawn from every label under which Sinatra recorded, including Columbia Records, Capitol Records, and his own Reprise label.

I was asked by a few people if I could possibly select a Top Ten List of Sinatra Favorites, and I find it virtually impossible to rank, but I'll try a knee-jerk Top Ten, literally off-the-top of my head, in alphabetical order, rather than a ranking: "The Best is Yet to Come," "Come Fly with Me," "Fly Me to the Moon," "I Concentrate on You," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It Was a Very Good Year," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "One for My Baby," "New York, New York" (heard at the end of every home game played by my New York Yankees), and "That's Life." But if I think about this for any more than five minutes, I'll give you a whole other list of Top Ten... so let's keep it at that!

Today's "Song of the Day" is "From This Moment On" (on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra"). Indeed, from this moment on, prepare to be entertained through December 12th. We will feature a song each day (with one tip of the Fedora in the middle of our tribute to two other artists with links to Sinatra). As I have noted, not one of these songs has ever appeared on the illustrious list assembled above, which, in itself, is a testament to the breadth and the depth of this man's magnificent artistic legacy.

November 21, 2015

Song of the Day #1276

Song of the Day: Drink You Away, words and music by Timothy Mosley, Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon, James Fauntleroy, and Justin Timberlake, is featured on Justin's fourth solo album, "The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2." I loved it when I first heard it on the album, and in concert, but I truly went wild for it when I heard it performed on, of all things, the Country Music Association Awards broadcast from Nashville, Tennessee, on 4 November 2015. Not a typical country music fan, I still marvel at the fact that so much of what is genuinely American music, owes its origins to the blues. In this instance, Justin's Memphis-blues-influenced approach is in a perfect mashup with Chris Stapleton's bluegrass country to give us a terrific performance. Check it out on YouTube, and also, their take on "Tennessee Whiskey." And don't forget Justin's original album version [YouTube link]. Tomorrow night, there's another awards show, the American Music Awards, which might give us a few other moments to remember.

November 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1275

Song of the Day: Paris Was Made for Lovers, with music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Hal Shaper, is the title track from the 1972 British comedy-drama film, known alternatively as "A Time for Loving." My favorite version of this song was a live Legrand performance from an early 1970s Monsanto special (see link below). Of course, today, there is every reason in the world to remember one lyric from Legrand's song: "Paris Was Made for Lovers... Why Else Would Paris Even Be There?" I've never been to Paris, but my heart has visited its residents since Friday the 13th of November, and it aches because they, who have known the horrific wars of the twentieth-century, conquered by the Nazis, liberated by the Allies, have now been introduced to a war of the twenty-first century, one that I know only too well because it showed its ugly face in my city, my home, on September 11, 2001. We can debate the reasons for this bloodshed from here to eternity, but there is simply no doubt about the utter savagery of those who have the self-righteous audacity to claim that they kill in the name of their God. These premodern jihadists have brought back all the premodern means of murder; they've sawed off heads and crucified "heretics." But they use modern technology to assist them in their coordination of terror. We've heard of the "Stolen Concept Fallacy," where one requires the truth of that which one is simultaneously trying to disprove; maybe we can call this one the "Stolen Technology Fallacy," where one requires all the technological gifts of a civilized society, including social media and satellite technology, while in the process of trying to destroy the very civilization that has made such gifts possible. If I lived in Paris, I'd want to deny such murderers the capacity to use anything that wasn't invented prior to the seventh century. And I'd introduce them to one more premodern innovation as a reward for their brutality: The Guillotine. Paris Was Made for Lovers, Not Haters. Listen to the godly Legrand sing of the love of his city [.mp3 link]. And may God bless the people of Paris as they mourn the lives that have been taken from them.

October 21, 2015

Can a Diehard Yankees Fan Root for the Mets? You Betcha!

Yesterday, I was listening to ESPN Radio, to Yankees sports broadcaster Michael Kay, whom I respect, going on and on that a "diehard Yankee fan" can't possibly root for the New York Mets in the postseason. He's gone so far as to say that Mets fans should "choke on their own bile!"

Now let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am a diehard Yankees fan. My apartment might as well be a veritable Cooperstown of Yankee memorabilia. When the Yankees face the Mets in Interleague play, I root for the Yankees. When, in 2000, the Yankees faced off against the Mets in the first Subway Series in a generation, I rooted for the Yankees, who were victorious, and who, at that time, were busy carving out a virtual dynasty of pinstripe victories (World Series wins in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000).

And remember: A diehard fan isn't a fairweather fan. A diehard fan roots for his team even when they are perpetual losers. I was only 2 years old (1962) when the Yankees of Maris and Mantle won their last World Series before the late 1970s revival of the winning franchise, though in 1970, I did see the Yankees beat the Mets in the old Yankee Stadium for that exhibition game, "The Mayor's Trophy Game." That was about the only glory I could find in Yankee land until the back-to-back 1977 and 1978 World Series wins, with great ballplayers like Ron Guidry, who won the 163rd game of 1978 (the Cy Young year that he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA), when the Yankees came back from a 14-game deficit to tie the hated Boston Red Sox, and beat them at Fenway, going on to win the American League Pennant and the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers, for the second year in a row. And then... nada. The BLEAK 1980s and early 1990s. The Yankees were most certainly NOT the "General Motors" of baseball when I was growing up. I suffered through more than a decade of this city being a Mets town. In fact, New York City has almost always been a National League town; it supported two National League teams (the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers), and it was only natural that the National League loyalists embraced the Mets when the franchise took to the Polo Grounds field (abandoned home of the New York Giants) in 1962, and later, Shea Stadium in 1964, and Citi Field in 2009. They became the Miracle Mets of 1969, winning their first World Series over the Baltimore Orioles; they went back to the Series in 1973, losing Game 7 to the Oakland Athletics, but they won the insane 1986 World Series. For diehard Yankee fans, it was literally INSANE. The New York Mets, our crosstown rivals, were facing the Boston Red Sox... yes, the DESPISED Boston Red Sox, who were living under the "Curse of the Bambino," not having won a World Series since they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Their last Series win was in 1918. Now, Michael Kay, can you honestly tell me that you weren't just a little ... elated ... that that ball went through Bill Buckner's Red Sox leggings in Game 6, leading to a Mets victory, and a subsequent Mets championship in Game 7? You can't possibly have wanted the Boston Red Sox to win over the New York Mets. I mean, above all, we are diehard New Yawkas!!! I ain't gonna be rooting for the freaking Red Sox to win over a New York team, no way, no how!

Same goes for Second City Chicago (or is that Third City?). I mean, yeah, I know, the Chicago Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908 (though we don't have to listen to the Chicago White Sox anymore, telling us that they haven't won since 1917, thank goodness!). And if the Cubbies pulled off some kind of Red Sox miracle and win four straight over the Mets, I might even want to see them settle their own scores and join the ranks of modern World Series champions.

But as long as a New York team is in the race, I'm a diehard New Yorker. However, as I said, miracles do happen. I'm a diehard Yogi Berra fan too, and it was Yogi who said "It Ain't Over Til It's Over." The Yankees ought to know. That "Red Sox miracle," I just referred to, happened in 2004. Up 3 games to none, the Yankees lost FOUR STRAIGHT GAMES to the Boston Red Sox, who took the American League Pennant, and swept the St. Louis Cardinals to end their 86-year championship drought. When they were down to their last outs in their four-game victory over the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, there was a tiny part of my heart that said, "All right, already, win the damn thing so we don't have to hear about this Curse of the Bambino anymore!" Now, that doesn't mean I was ecstatic that they went on to win the World Series in 2007 and 2013, but enough is enough!

I may never root for the Red Sox, but who can doubt the humanity of the Fenway Faithful when they broke out spontaneously in a rendition of "New York, New York," after 9/11, or the humanity of the Pinstripe Faithful when they broke out in a rendition of "Sweet Caroline" after the Boston marathon tragedy? In the end, we're all just American baseball fans, and we honor the talented, even when they are on the other team. The Red Sox did good by Derek Jeter in his last games at Fenway, and the New York Mets did no less. All of baseball paid respect to the great #2.

So just because I'm a diehard Yankees fan doesn't mean that I can't admire the talented ballplayers on other teams. (Or the theme song of other teams!) Who doesn't marvel at the achievements of the fine Mets pitchers, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, or Matt Harvey. Harvey grew up a diehard Yankees fan, and attended the last game that Derek Jeter played at Yankee Stadium in 2014, rooting on one of his baseball heroes in another one of his great finales. The teams have had amazing cross-fertilization; how could a diehard Yankee player and former Yankee manager like Yogi Berra go on and manage the Mets to a World Series? How could a Mets manager like Joe Torre, go on and manage the Yankees to four World Series championships? I have admired the achievements of Mets from Tom Seaver to Mike Piazza to David Wright, current captain of the Mets, who, like Jeter, is a class act. How does admiration of talent on another New York ballclub make one any less a diehard fan of the New York Yankees?

So as another sports broadcaster, Howie Rose, would say, "Put it in the books": "Let's Go Mets!"

Postscript: Anything stated above does not mean that I identify with obnoxious Yankees fans who think they have a birthright to a World Series trophy, or to obnoxious Mets fans, who are usually expressing their Yankee hatred out of envy (my brother and sister-in-law, Mets fans, are, of course, exceptions!). And it should be noted that I have rooted for the Mets in the National League for as far back as I can remember. How else could the Yankees have met them in a Subway Series in 2000 if I didn't!?

Post-postscript: Congratulations to the New York Mets, who captured the National League pennant last night, sweeping the Chicago Cubs four games straight. In listening to all the post-game interviews, I could not help but think about all the current Mets who wore Yankee pinstripes in one capacity or another (Newsday actually tells us that through 2015, 122 players have played for both teams, including 62 position players and 60 pitchers): Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon (who was the winning pitcher last night), Tyler Lee Clippard, Kelly Johnson, and let us not forget the current Mets (and former Yankees) hitting coach: Kevin Long. I mention this because if it is supposed to be traitorous for diehard Yankee fans to root for the Mets, it must be positively sacreligious for former Yankee players and coaches to work for the Mets. This whole Kay-inspired tirade against rooting for the Mets is just laughably off-base, especially when rooting for the Mets almost always means that one is rooting for former Yankees, who just happened to be wearing blue and orange instead of Navy Blue pinstripes.

October 14, 2015

Song of the Day #1274

Song of the Day: 'Round Midnight, music by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, with lyrics later provided by Bernie Hanighen (though others further embellished the tune over time), was published in 1944, but it is thought that Monk had written the song in the mid-1930s. In keeping with the theme of this list, "My Favorite Songs," this one is not just my favorite Monk song, but, perhaps, one of my all-time favorites in the history of jazz. There are so many recorded performances of this wonderful jazz standard (perhaps the most recorded song written specifically by a jazz composer): the first version ever recorded, by Trumpeter and Big Band leader Cootie Williams (with a youthful Bud Powell on piano), the original rendering by Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald (with Oscar Peterson on piano), and Carmen McRae (of course) [YouTube links]. Among other performances: from the Oscar-winning soundtrack of the 1986 film with Best Actor-nominee, saxman Dexter Gordon, "Round Midnight", featuring Bobby McFerrin's "instrumental" vocal and Herbie Hancock's impeccable piano [YouTube link], the Miles Davis-John Coltrane masterpiece [YouTube link] from the 1957 Davis album ("'Round About Midnight"), and an utterly brilliant acoustic jazz guitar solo performance by the incomparable Joe Pass [YouTube link]. The list goes on and on, but I should note that among my favorite versions, there are two that stand out: the first, by the "Divine" jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan, recorded live from her "In Performance at Wolf Trap" (presented on PBS TV on 28 October 1974) [mp3 link; her "Scattin' the Blues" is from the same concert, and don't forget another one of her live versions of "'Round Midnight", in which Sassy scatted, alongside be-bop trumpeter extraordinaire Dizzy Gillespie in 1987 [YouTube link]), and the second, by the often overlooked, but never underappreciated, trailblazing jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne, whose rendition appears on his classic 1963 album "Tapestry" [mp3 link]. Chuck was a family friend, and his style of "consecutive-alternate picking" had a deep impact on my own brother, Carl Barry, who is, of course, my all-time favorite guitarist. Chuck even played at my brother's wedding to Joanne, my sister-in-law, who just so happens to be one of the best jazz singers on earth. Chuck's version of this Monk classic is probably my favorite instrumental interpretation. We are two years away from the Monk Centenary; I'm glad to have brought more attention to his work in this mini-tribute on the occasion of the 98th anniversary of his birth. Long live Monk!

October 13, 2015

Song of the Day #1273

Song of the Day: Straight, No Chaser, composed by Thelonious Monk, with lyrics provided by Sally Swisher, has become one of the great jazz standards of the Monk legacy. Check out Monk's original 1951 recording (and that's Milt Jackson on vibes), and versions by Miles Davis, with Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, and, of course, Carmen McRae [YouTube links].

October 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1272

Song of the Day: Ruby My Dear, composed by Thelonious Monk, is another jazz standard that emerged from the work of this celebrated pianist. It was named after Monk's first love, Rubie Richardson. Check out Monk's solo piano version of this tune, Monk with John Coltrane, and Monk with Coleman Hawkins [YouTube links]. And, once again, one of the finest jazz vocalist interpreters, Carmen McRae, provides us with another wonderful take on a Monk song, from her album "Carmen Sings Monk," with lyrics by Sally Swisher, renamed "Dear Ruby" [YouTube link].

October 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1271

Song of the Day: Blue Monk, composed by Thelonious Monk, has become a jazz standard. It was featured on the artist's album, "The Thelonious Monk Trio," with bassist Percy Heath and drummer Art Blakey. Check out the original Monk recording, and other renditions as well, including one featuring the lyrics of Abbey Lincoln, another vocal version by Carmen McRae and finally, a swinging solo piano performance by McCoy Tyner [YouTube links].

October 10, 2015

Song of the Day #1270

Song of the Day: The Ballad of Thelonious Monk, words and music by Jimmy Rowles (with a little help from Jimmy McHugh), is a tribute to the legendary, lovably off-center jazz pianist, who was born on this date in 1917 (and who actually passed away on my 22nd birthday on 17 February 1982). The most hilarious and joyous rendition of this was performed by that wonderful interpretive jazz songstress Carmen McRae, recorded live at Donte's in Los Angeles, California in 1972 for her album "The Great American Songbook," with a group that included Rowles on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, bassist Chuck Domanico, and drummer Chuck Flores. Rowles's tune is a country-and-western paean to a jazz master [YouTube link]. We'll be tributing the Monk for a few days here at Notablog.

October 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1269

Song of the Day: Goodbye Mr. Evans [YouTube link to various renditions], composed by the incomparable jazz alto saxophonist, Phil Woods, was written as a tribute to the equally incomparable jazz pianist Bill Evans, who passed away on 15 September 1980. On 29 September 2015, the composer of this lovely paean to Evans, passed away. Two of my all-time favorite jazz musicians gone, 35 years apart, in September, standing on either side of the Equinox. Of Evans, Miles Davis was once criticized by the 'brothers' who could not understand why he'd hired a white pianist, to which Miles is said to have replied: "You find me a brother who plays like that, and I'll hire him." Miles knew what Bill brought to jazz, and jazz has never been the same since. Much the same can be said about Phil Woods; a disciple of Charlie Parker, who married Parker's widow, he took the bop linguistic of Parker to another level. From his brilliant Grammy-winning orchestral work [YouTube link] with Michel Legrand to his amazing small group recordings to his triumphs even in pop music (who can forget his melodic solo on Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are"?), Woods was one of the greatest jazzmen of his generation. I had the privilege of seeing both Evans and Woods in small group settings, the former at the Village Vanguard, the latter at The Bottom Line. Their virtuosity was matched only by the creativity of their individual musical imaginations. So it is fitting to remember Woods, who passed away on Tuesday, at the age of 83, with this tune (for which the legendary Steve Allen later provided lyrics), Phil's own celebration of another jazz master. Check out Phil Woods and the Festival Orchestra, performing this wonderful composition, as well as a Phil Woods Quartet rendition (and among so many others, check out tenor saxman Scott Hamilton's version as well). [YouTube links]. Goodbye Mr. Woods. Gone, but, like Mr. Evans, never forgotten, for the loveliness he left to this chaotic world.

September 23, 2015

It's Over But it Ain't

One of the most famous sayings attributed to the late, great New York Yankees' catcher, Yogi Berra, was: "It ain't over 'til it's over." Alas, today we learned that for Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, the consummate ballplayer, it is indeed over. Yogi passed away late on Tuesday, 22 September 2015, at the age of 90, and on the 69th anniversary to the day of his big-league debut.

But with Yogi, it ain't over. It can never be over. The legacy he left to this world is one that will keep on going for generations to come.

He was one of the greatest catchers in the history of the sport, a three-time American League MVP, 18-time All Star, and a remarkably and aggressively talented ballplayer who was essential to every winning Yankee ballclub, which earned him 10 World Series rings. He went on to coach and manage both the New York Yankees and their crosstown rivals, the New York Mets to League pennants, even though neither team won a World Series under his leadership. But those losses did nothing to tarnish his magnificent career. He was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1972.

There is nothing I can say about this gentle man that hasn't been said already by the people he knew and all of those whose lives were deeply touched by his greatness. I was not a part of the generation that had the privilege to see this man play the game he so loved, but I was part of the generation that saw him emerge as one of the most beloved human beings ever to grace that game. There wasn't a single Old-Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium that didn't bring the Yankee faithful to their feet every time he was introduced. There he was, wearing his iconic Number 8 uniform, a number shared by Yankee catcher Bill Dickey, a number retired in honor of both men on 22 July 1988 by the Yankees, and made an eternal part of Monument Park at The Stadium.

I did have a chance to see how infectious and inspiring his very presence was to the Yankees and their fans. After a long estrangement from Yankee team owner George Steinbrenner, Yogi returned to Yankee Stadium on the 18th of July 1999 for a tribute, billed as "Yogi Berra Day." I will never forget that day. We listened to the proceedings on the car radio, traveling to a mini-vacation on the Jersey Shore. Pitcher Don Larsen, who threw a perfect game to catcher Berra--the only perfect game ever thrown in the World Series--threw out the first pitch to Yogi, and to the delight of the fans.

As if touched by the greatness of their presence, David Cone took to the mound, and, almost eerily, threw a total of 88 pitches to his batterymate, catcher Joe Girardi. Eighty-eight pitches of perfection, for not a single ballplayer on the opposing team (the Montreal Expos) ever reached first base. 27 batters up. 27 batters down. On the day of Yogi's triumphant return to The House that Ruth Built, Berra became a Yankee Good Luck Charm.

I will miss him, but in the power of memory, his sincerity, his integrity, and his unique ability to make us smile, will live on.

Postscript [4 October 2015]: I am reminded by readers that I cited Yogi for his wisdom on the tacit dimensions of knowledge, in my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism:

[Michael] Polanyi develops this distinction between "subsidiary awareness" and "focal awareness" by using the example of the pianist who cannot shift "his attention from the piece he is playing" to the movement of each of "his fingers while playing it," without messing up his performance. . . . This distinction was also recognized by that great philosopher of baseball, Yogi Berra, who, when he was told to "think" about what he was doing at the plate, struck out. Berra observed: "You can't hit and think at the same time." [177 n. 69]

September 20, 2015

Song of the Day #1268

Song of the Day: This Could Be the Start of Something Big, written by Steve Allen, originated as the theme song to a 1954 TV musical production of "The Bachelor" not to be confused with the current "reality show"). It eventually opened up the show for which Allen was the first host: "The Tonight Show." Check out classic renditions by Ella, Steve and Eydie, Jack Jones, Bobby Darin, and a blazing big band instrumental treatment by the Count of Basie. What better way to celebrate television than with this swinging track. Tonight, check out the 67th Annual Emmy Awards on Fox.

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