From Las Vegas to New Hope, Pennsylvania, fans are toasting Old Blue Eyes at black-tie dinner parties with Rat Pack entertainment. Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio is going wall-to-wall Frank. He is the star of the month on Turner Classic Movies.
Why do people continue to celebrate this man? Begin with his musical genius. As long as melody and harmony are valued, people will listen to, and dance to, and make love to the sounds of Sinatra.
The first of his nicknames was "The Voice." The young man's voice was incomparable in its power, timbre, range and agility. There are the songs he sang in the 1940s as the boy singer in the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands and when he went on his own and wowed the girls who rioted at the Paramount in New York City for a chance to hear Frankie. And there are the songs he sang in the 1950s when the voice deepened and he began to epitomize a grown-up masculine ideal.
In the first category the songs include "All or Nothing at All," "I'll Never Smile Again," "Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night in the Week," "Time After Time." In the second category: "You Make Me Feel So Young," "I've Got You under My Skin," "Witchcraft," "All the Way."
In the 1960s, the third decade of his dominance, Sinatra took swing to new heights with Count Basie ("Fly Me to the Moon"), dabbled in the Bossa Nova ("The Girl from Ipanema"), and made great songs sound like chapters in his own autobiography ("It Was a Very Good Year").
More often than not, it is Sinatra's version of a song that is definitive. He recognized that the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, Jimmy Van Heusen and many others had created classic American popular songs. By recording them, Sinatra renewed the life of great music.
Originally posted 12/12/15. Written for CNN. Reposted on the occasion of the paperback edition of "Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World."
Host Dan Crane tells the story of two strangers in the night, a bag full of cash, and a ship full of weapons bound for the fledgling state of Israel, in this special episode dedicated to Frank Sinatra’s Jewish activism. Guests: Anthony Summers, David Lehman, Shalom Goldman, Paul Karolyi, and Tony Michaels.
Conservatives had a field day when FDR enlisted the Hoboken crooner who made girls faint. That was just the beginning for Sinatra. Here, an excerpt from David Lehman's Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World, in book stores now.
The “Swoonatra” phenomenon reached its apex in the fall of 1944. When Sinatra performed at the Paramount Theater in New York that October, the throng of frenzied teenage girls—the so-called bobbysoxers—made mayhem in the streets. After a Sinatra performance—and Sinatra gave nine of them a day, starting at 8 in the morning—the girls refused to vacate their seats. Sometimes as few as 250 left theaters crowded with more than a dozen times that number. Police had to be called in. In what came to be known as the Columbus Day Riot, the bobbysoxers set in motion the pattern of behavior that marked the arrivals of Elvis Presley in 1956 and the Beatles eight years later. Having practiced their fainting techniques in advance, girls shrieked and swooned in bliss when the skinny vocalist bent a note in his patented way.
When Sinatra met Humphrey Bogart, the star of Casablanca andThe Maltese Falcon said that he’d heard Sinatra knew how to make women faint. “Make me faint,” Bogart said. Sinatra’s faint-inducing ability was also on the agenda when he met Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Fainting, which once was so prevalent, has become a lost art among the ladies,” the president told Sinatra in the White House on September 28. “I’m glad you have revived it.” Then the commander in chief asked Sinatra how he did it. “I wish to hell I knew,” Sinatra said.
The singer had wrangled the White House invitation when the Democratic Committee chairman asked his pal, the restaurateur Toots Shor, to a reception. FDR was glad to host Sinatra; it would counteract Bing Crosby’s endorsement of his opponent, Republican Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York, Roosevelt’s old job before he went to the White House. “Look who’s here,” Roosevelt exclaimed and asked the singer to confide the title of the song that would be No. 1 on the hit parade next week. “I won’t tell,” FDR grinned. “Amapola,” Sinatra said. (The title may have sounded Italian to the president—and Italy was an uncomfortable subject in wartime—so he switched the subject.) The meeting went well, though the president was said afterward to scratch his head in wonderment at the idea that the skinny crooner had revived what he called “the charming art of fainting.” “He would never have made them swoon in our day,” he told an aide after the party broke up.
Was "Strangers in the Night" Sinatra's best album of the 60s? Marc Myers thinks so. In today's Wall Stret Journal Mr Myers has an excellent, informative,and thoughtful piece on the song, which rose to the top of the charts in 1966. You heard it everywhere that summer, and as Myers reports, this was most unlikely: it had been years since Sinatra reached the apex in sales. Not even Oscar winners "All the Way," "High Hopes," and "Call Me Irresponsible," had reached number one. This was the generation of Elvis and the Beatles, a generation allergic to the idea of a tuxedo and bow tie.
As to the album that Myers believes was FS's best of the decade, it is certainly underrated -- perhaps understandably so, for the title song, despite or because of its popularity has never been a critical favorite. The song on the flip side of the 45, "Summer Wind," with its Johnny Mercer lyric, is a better song and has had and a more charmed afterlife. It alone makes the album something special. Other highlights are "You're Driving Me Crazy" (despite a humorous lapse into Brooklynese) and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," the Rodgers and Hart standard that, as Myers notes, Sinatra sings at a "breakneck" tempo. But the album also has "Downtown," the Petula Clark song that FS seems to despise even as he sings it, and other okay songs that are not in the same league as such others highlights of the period as "My Kind of Town," "It Was a Very Good Year," and "Luck Be a Lady Tonight."
As an LP "Strangers in the Night" does not compare with "Sinatra's Sinatra" -- a kind of "best of the best" anthology in which, nearing 50, Sinatra sings some of his favorites, from "I've Got Under my Skin" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" to "Nancy" and "Put You Dreams Away." Because most of us prefer the originals (recorded under the Columbia or Capitol labels in the 40s and 50s), this album does not rank very high critically. But to newcomers it is an excellent introduction to the Voice in the mid-60s..
Myers has clever reasons for dismissing other contenders for the title of best album. But the argument that the albums with Basie are all swing, that "September of My Years" is darkened by moroseness, that the albums with Jobim are too much of a kind -- doesn't hold water. Using that criterion, you would eliminate "In the Wee Small Hours, "Only the Lonely," "Songs for Swinging Lovers," at al, from consideration for best album of the 50s.
To provoke such a discussion is a victory for the writer, and I look forward to reading more of his writings on jazz here: http://www.jazzwax.com/
At the moment  I am listening to “Frank’s Place” on XM-Satellite Radio. Host Jonathan Schwartz just played a song written by his father, Arthur Schwartz: "I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan" from Sinatra’s A Swinging Affair, which he recorded in 1957, a year after Songs for Swinging Lovers. “Sinatra extended the life of this music by twenty-five years,” Jonathan says. Now he’s playing Rosemary Clooney singing Gershwin’s "Strike up the Band." And here's the Duke Ellington band with the maestro’s "Mood Indigo," very mellow, and here’s Sinatra in saloon mode with the same song.
A year has gone by and the show is now called “High Standards.” I wonder why the change. Maybe the Sinatra estate threatened to sue over taking Frank’s name in vain. Anyway, here is Mel Torme, "Dancing in the Dark," and Nelson Riddle, "Out of My Dreams," and Lena Horne, "Out of Nowhere," and Stacey Kent, "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart," and Sarah Vaughan, "My Heart Stood Still." And here is the Sinatra of 1946 with "Sweet Lorraine" as arranged by Sy Oliver with Nat Cole at the piano, Johnny Hodges on alto sax, and Coleman Hawkins on tenor. Jonathan brings a lot of imagination to his playlists. I remember, though it happened seven or eight years ago, the day he advanced the thesis that three Hammerstein lyrics – "Make Believe" (from Show Boat), "People Will Say We’re in Love" (from Oklahoma) and "If I Loved You" (from Carousel) -- were versions of the same idea. Each arose as a solution to the problem of creating a theatrically persuasive love duet between two persons who had not yet met, barely knew each other, or were feuding. Each relied on a conditional premise, a supposition or, in the case of "Make Believe," a frank suspension of disbelief. And though I love the Kern song best of the three, I think Schwartz is right in saying that the three exist in a progression, that "If I Loved You" is – from the theatrical point of view -- the best of the three, and that the “bench scene” in which it figures is the consummate example of the Rodgers & Hammerstein strategy.
In his autobiography Schwartz recalls the exact moment he became an ardent Frankophile. It was in the early 1950s and on a jukebox the young man heard Sinatra sing "The Birth of the Blues" (Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson). He says he played it a dozen times. And he's right, it is a fantastic performance, brilliant. Jonathan's fidelity to Sinatra is famous. One Sunday afternoon in December he plays a rare recording of Sinatra singing the Soliloquy from Carousel. It’s an unusually long, musically varied tear-jerker of a song in which the character, a ne’er-do-well carnival barker, imagines that the baby his wife is carrying will be a boy, enjoys the thought, realizes that it may be a girl, and finally vows to make or steal the money needed for the child’s upbringing, “or die.” Sinatra gives it all he has. It’s his birthday, December 12. He has been dead now for nine years. The song ends: “Or die.” There ensues a hush. Then Jonathan says, “I know you’re listening,” and I get the strong feeling that he is talking not to the radio audience but to Sinatra.
In 1986 Schwartz won a Grammy for Best Album Notes, which he wrote for FS's The Voice -- The Columbia Years, 1942-1952. One recent afternoon Schwartz plays "Frenesi," "Perfidia," and "Amapola" back to back to back: three songs with one-word foreign titles. You remember "Amapola," don’t you? Years later it would serve Sergio Leone as a recurrent motif throughout his Jewish gangster epic, Once Upon a Time in America (1984), a cinematic masterpiece, with James Woods and Robert De Niro. When Sinatra went to the White House in the fall of 1944, the President asked Frankie what would be number one on the hit parade that week and promised he would keep it secret. “Amapola,” Frank said, and for an instant FDR looked a bit confused. Was the singer speaking Italian? Sinatra was so skinny that after he left Roosevelt chuckled. So that’s what the girls are going for these days. In my time they liked a little more flesh on the bone. You didn’t know Sinatra got invited to the White House? What’s more he had an audience with the pope. It was a year later, after the war, when Sinatra was making his first trip abroad to entertain the troops. He was traveling with Phil Silvers. Singing and dancing, the future Sergeant Ernie Bilko had supplied the comic relief to the romantic leads Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl (1944). I bet you didn’t know that Phil Silvers wrote the lyrics for the Sinatra standard "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)." Well, he was a great pal of Sinatra, and the two of them - so goes the story -- were on their way to see Pope Pius XII in the Vatican. “Wait till I see that Pope,” Sinatra said. He was going to give him a piece of his mind about Father Coughlin’s anti-Semitic rants in Detroit. Of course when he entered the papal presence he thought better of it, and when the pope asked him what he sang he replied earnestly with a list of song titles starting with "Ol’ Man River." Now it was the pope’s turn to look puzzled. By “what do you sing” he had meant to ask whether the singer was a tenor, a baritone, or a bass.
Happy birthday.. -- DL
There was exactly one international movie star who appealed equally to grunts in German, American, and British uniforms during World War II. Born on December 27, 1901 in Berlin at 9:15 PM, Marlene Dietrich spoke English in an accent all her own, with traces of German, schoolgirl British, and a sexy lisp. Acting in movies, performing in clubs, and doing one-woman shows in big West End theaters, she glowed in Der Blaue Engel (Josef von Sternburg, 1930) prior to a long Hollywood career working with von Sternburg again and later with Hitchcock, Welles, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kramer, and other Hollywood professionals. (Of Welles, she told aspiring actresses, "you should cross yourself when you say his name.") She played opposite Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Spencer Tracy, and took pride in having slept with three Kennedy men: Joe Sr, Joe Jr, and JFK. She lived to a grand old age and died in Paris on May 6, 1992, spoiling the birthdays of Tony Blair, George Clooney, Willie Mays, Robespierre, Freud, the aforementioned Welles, and Professor Martha Nussbaum. The deceased Robespierre and Freud, in an exchange of letters, expressed the hope that she would choose between them "as between a ring of the Inferno and an intellectual Eden" (to use Freud's phrasing) set on a campus like that of Princeton but with no politics allowed.
When Rodgers and Hart wrote that "the most beautiful girl in the world / isn't Garbo, isn't Dietrich,/ but a sweet trick," the songwriters confirmed that Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich ran one-two in virtually all international blonde bombshell competitions in the fourth and fifth decades of the twentieth century. Garbo (“I want to be alone”) had the reputation of a recluse and the silence of the lovers on Keats's Grecian urn. Dietrich, on the other hand, never could resist donning a man's top hat and sitting on top of the piano singing a sexy song in her hoarse voice and irresistible lisp. Dietrich sang in three languages (she does Piaf-like French ballads well) with a voice that made up in sheer sexual horsepower what it lacked in vocal range and power. Ich bin von kopf bis fus auf liebe eingestellt is even better in German than in the English version that begins “Falling in love again, / Never wanted to, / What am I to do, / Can’t help it.” She made that song seem autobiographical, the story of the female enchantress who can't blame herself for leading men like lambs to the slaughter. Anyone else singing the song sounds like an imitator. Of how many singers and songs can this be said? Not many.
I believe that "The Most beautiful Girl in the World," the song in which Lorenz Hart rhymes “Dietrich” with “sweet trick,” is a waltz though I heard Sinatra sing it at an incredibly fast tempo in a television concert in the late 1960s. Dietrich had major affairs with Sinatra ("the Mercedes-Benz of men," she said), Jean Gabin, Yul Brynner, and Edward R. Murrow, and was bi-sexual. There is a rumor that she went down on Tallulah Bankhead at a party. In the dictionary of slang that Oxford University Press published, the phrase that most fascinated her was "cock holster," denoting the mouth in the act of oral sex though she could think of other apt uses for the phrase. In 1930 she measured at 35-24-33.
Marlene's natal chart reveals a lusty Capricorn with hard-working Virgo rising. Behind the scenes swift Mercury and blonde Venus play games of cache-cache inspiring all who watch to imitate the frolicking gods of Olympus. Dietrich's Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are in Capricorn, her moon in Leo. This is consistent with her talent for arousing attention, her ability to communicate desire mixed up with wickedness and danger, and her hard-boiled complexity. She can sound sardonic or melancholy, jaded or contemptuous, and this adds a layer of depth to her poker-faced personality. Her eyes say she's seen it all and a lot of "it" was shitty. :Dressed in a man’s suit, tie, and shirt with French cuffs, she holds an unlighted cigarette between forefinger and thumb, waiting for you to light her with your Lucifer. And you will.
The Geneva School of astrology holds that when your mid-heaven is in Taurus and the constellations are in their proper order, the chances are that you will grow to a height of five feet six inches, if you're a woman, and that is exactly how tall Marlene was, and blonde, with lush lipstick that she needed to renew after every kiss she bestowed. Her cards (the Chariot, the Moon, the Knave of Swords, the Nine of Wands) reinforce the impression of a woman of rare beauty and charm. A palm reading indicates a fluency in languages, an appetite for sex, and a pair of shapely legs. The yin in her chart outweighs the yang by a healthy margin. But there is enough stellar ambiguity to make her the object of desire of males across the sexual spectrum. She is a role model for dominant women and an icon of veneration among the submissive. It is said there are two kinds of men. One kind favors Garbo, the Swedish goddess, who played Anna Karenina; the other goes for Dietrich, who would be terribly miscast as Anna Karenina. But you had to live in the twentieth century to grasp all the implications of this statement.
The greatness achieved in the career of Marlene Dietrich implies what Frankfurt School astrologists call a "fifth house dominant personality." I do not know what this means, but it sounds right. As a young woman Dietrich starred as a sultry seductress, the cabaret singer who turns the starchy professor into a lovesick bum in Blue Angel. She is Circe mixed with Carmen, radiating confidence. She demands at least as much from a man. “Give me the man who does things, does things to my heart, / I love the man who takes things into his hands / and gets what he demands.” Ein Mann, ein richtige Mann! The strong and silent type, under a big palm tree (pronounced "twee"). She'll see what the boys in the back room will have and tell them she cried, and tell them she sighed, and tell them she died of the same.
Several notable aphorisms have been attributed to the charming, alarming Blonde Venus: "Most women set out to change a man, and when they have changed him they do not like him." "A country without bordellos is like a house without bathrooms." "In America, sex is an obsession; everywhere else, it's a fact."
Dietrich is the ultimate sex symbol because in any relationship with her the forces of Thanatos are constantly threatening to create a crisis that the forces of Eros must confront. That raspy, intimate, seductive, threatening voice challenged or dared the manliness of any man: you’d pretty much have to be John Wayne to impress her, or Gary Cooper in his prime. Tyrone Power thought he would double-cross her in Witness for the Prosecution. He thought wrong. She could do a “ducky” English accent. During the war she transcended the conflict: Allied and Axis soldiers alike responded to Dietrich’s rendition of “Lilli Marlene.” And she retained her status as a sex symbol well into her 70s. Her appeal is enhanced by her power to do harm or to witness destruction without blinking. In Touch of Evil, she read Orson Welles's palm and knew his future was a blank card. And she kept a straight face while telling him.
Marlene Dietrich added something vital to every movie she was in, from a second tier Hitchcock effort to Judgment at Nuremburg, where, as Spencer Tracy’s confidante, she stands for nothing less than Germany herself, a magnificent blonde who once owned a brothel. -- DL
Jazz standards and Hollywood movies of the 40s, usually in black and white, often in a noir mode, go together like streetlamps and shadows, seam stockings and high heels, fedoras and belted trench-coats, scotch and soda. They’re as right for each other as Rogers and Astaire -- or Rodgers and Hart. The pleasure in developing this thesis lies in furnishing apt illustrations. Let me give a few. You’ll note that certain names recur; they “keep coming back like a song,” to quote a lyric Irving Berlin wrote for Bing Crosby in 1946.
Max Steiner composed some exciting suspense music for The Big Sleep, Howard Hawks’s 1946 movie of Raymond Chandler’s novel. It is very effective, and so, in its way, is the swinging number Lauren Bacall and band perform at the casino run by racketeer Eddie Mars: And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine (music Stan Kenton and Charles Lawrence, lyrics Joe Greene). The lyric locates us in noir central: “She’s a real sad tomato, she’s a busted valentine.” But my favorite musical moment in The Big Sleep is subtle enough that you might not notice it the first time around. Bacall (as one of the notorious Sternwood sisters) and co-star Humphrey Bogart (as detective Philip Marlowe) are bantering in a restaurant. In the background, a piano player is playing two great jazz standards: I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan (music Arthur Schwartz, lyrics Howard Dietz) and Blue Room (music Richard Rodgers, lyrics Lorenz Hart). At first you might think that what you’re hearing is just tremendously appealing café music. Only later do you realize that the two songs themselves have captured, in a whimsical fashion, the structural meaning of the scene.
The Big Sleep will culminate in the image of two lighted cigarettes in an ashtray as the words THE END appear on the screen. It’s a fitting image for the romance of Bogart and Bacall, who like to smoke and drink and make witty repartee in a roadhouse café. The by-play between the two romantic leads is utterly charming, but it is also, for much of the picture, utterly incongruous because incompatible with the story-line. The movie needs them to be lovers, the audience expects them to flirt, to link, and to clinch, and this duly happens, but at considerable violence to the logic of the plot, which puts their characters on the opposite sides of a quarrel.
Though this duality may threaten the coherence of the picture, it makes the scenes between Bogart and Bacall doubly entertaining. The dialogue is full of double meanings and playful digressions. In the restaurant scene with the piano soundtrack, the two are nursing their drinks. They employ an extended racetrack metaphor to communicate their sexual interest. She: “Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front-runners or come from behind, find out what their hole-card is. What makes them run.” He invites her to take a stab at summing him up. “I’d say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.” He: “You don't like to be rated yourself.” She: “I haven't met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?” He: “Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how far you can go.” She: “A lot depends on who's in the saddle.”
The ostensible purpose of the encounter is for Bacall to pay Bogart off – to pay him for the work he has done and get him to drop the case. Thus: I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan. Once this plot requirement is out of the way, Bacall and Bogart get down to the real cinematic purpose of their being there: to tease and flirt and advance their budding romance. And now the piano player plays Blue Room, which idealizes the successful outcome of such a romance. Lorenz Hart’s lyric stars you and me and the prospect of our betrothal and a subsequent time ever after when “every day’s a holiday, because you’re married to me.” It’s a song second perhaps only to Tea for Two (music Vincent Youmans, words Irving Caesar) as an idealized fantasy of marriage so beautifully innocent it almost brings tears to your eyes.
The Big Sleep needs the two songs in the background, and not simply because they are in exact counterpoint to the course of the conversation between Bogart and Bacall. A soundtrack of popular songs by Rodgers and Hart, Schwartz and Dietz, Irving Berlin, and the other great masters of the thirty-two bar song is as necessary in noir movies of the 1940s as the city streets, the silhouette in the window, the Mickey disguised as a highball, and the night spots the characters frequent, from Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca (1942) to Eddie Mars’s casino in The Big Sleep, where beautiful costumed girls check Bogart’s coat, offer to sell him cigarettes, and vie for the privilege of delivering him a message.
Nor do the songs suffer from being relegated to background music, shorn of lyrics. The solo piano renditions of I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan and Blue Room insinuate themselves in your consciousness. If you don’t recognize them, fine; if you know them, so much the better. When you listen to an instrumental version of a song whose lyrics you know and like, what you’re hearing is a metonymy of the song: a part standing for the whole. The text is not altogether absent if you the listener can supply it. (When the septuagenarian Frank Sinatra went up on the lines of The Second Time Around the audience helpfully sang them). But to make my point about the interdependence of Hollywood films and popular songs, let me offer this montage:
-- What better way to convey the faithful consistency of “iron man” Lou Gehrig, the Yankee first baseman who long held the record for most consecutive games played, than with Irving Berlin’s song Always? In Pride of the Yankees (1942), the song does double duty as the musical affirmation of Gehrig’s loving fidelity to his wife, Eleanor, played by Teresa Wright.
-- Johnny Mercer’s lyric for Tangerine (music Victor Schertzinger) extols the charms of a vain and fickle Latin beauty. To the strains of this song, Barbara Stanwyck plays the ultimate femme fatale in Double Indemnity (1944), who conspires with insurance man Fred McMurray to eliminate her husband. In a flashback in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), the same song plays on the car radio when Stanwyck, playing a neurotic heiress this time, flaunts her father’s wealth to betray a friend and seduce Burt Lancaster. The great Jimmy Dorsey big band version of this song features Bob Eberle’s romantic solo followed by Helen O’Connell’s brassy satirical retort.
--- As David Raksin’s theme for Laura (1944) plays in the background, the homicide detective played by Dana Andrews becomes obsessed with the murder victim, a beautiful dame (Gene Tierney), whose picture hangs on the wall. Laura obligingly returns to life -- the corpse in the kitchen belonged to somebody else – and whenever in future we need to summon her up, we need only hum Raksin’s theme. Johnny Mercer added his lyric to the music months after the movie was released.
--- To Have and Have Not (1944) is notable for being the first movie pairing Bogart and Bacall. It’s the one in which the foxy young actress seduces the hardened skeptic by teaching him how to whistle: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” The song she “sings” in the movie’s nightclub scene is How Little We Know (music Hoagy Carmichael, lyrics Johnny Mercer). There are three things to keep in mind about the scene. 1) It is the composer who is playing the piano. 2) The song is an under-appreciated gem in the Carmichael – Mercer canon; I like it almost as much as Skylark. 3) It is said that the young Andy Williams enhanced the voice coming out of the throat of Lauren Bacall. (4) Jacqueline Bouvier loved the song, and during her junior year in Paris, she wrote out the bridge in English and in her own French translation for the benefit of one of her French hosts.
-- In The Clock (1945) office worker Judy Garland meets soldier Robert Walker on a two-day leave in New York City. At the moment they realize they are falling in love, the piano player in the restaurant is playing If I Had You (music Ted Shapiro, lyrics James Campbell and Reginald Connolly).
--- Somebody puts a coin in the jukebox in the diner and out comes I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me (music Jimmy McHugh, words Clarence Gaskill), triggering the recollected psychodrama in Edgar Ullmer’s strange reverie of an unreliable (unbelievable) narrator in Detour (1945). The movie is a paranoid masterpiece, and the very title of the song goes to the heart of its mystery. The viewer “can’t believe” the events he or she is witnessing, because the narrator is either delusional or a liar or both in some blend. The same song punctuates The Caine Mutiny, where it has a more conventional signification.
-- A drunken Fredric March still in uniform and his game wife Myrna Loy dance to Among My Souvenirs (music Horatio Nicholls, lyrics Edgar Leslie) on his first night back from the war in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Hoagy Carmichael tickles the ivories at the gin joint where the reunited couple have gone with their daughter (Teresa Wright) and returning airman Dana Andrews.
-- Rita Hayworth invites the American male in the form of tightlipped Glenn Ford to Put the Blame on Mame (music Doris Fisher, lyrics Alan Roberts) in Gilda (1946). In The Lady from Shanghai (1947), the same red-haired enchantress seduces Orson Welles and coyly sings Please Don’t Kiss Me (same songwriters), a phrase that says one thing and means its opposite. Given the way Hollywood films wink at one another, it’s no surprise that we hear an instrumental version of Put the Blame on Mame in the background when tough-guy Glenn Ford sets out to foil the killers in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953).
-- The radio reliably pours out love songs in keeping with the plot twists in Delmer Daves’s Dark Passage (1947). Humphrey Bogart plays an escaped convict with a new face who will escape to South America with Lauren Bacall if he can figure out who killed his pal and framed him for the murder. During the course of the movie we hear instrumentals of I Gotta a Right to Sing the Blues (music Harold Arlen, lyrics Ted Koehler), I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan (music Arthur Schwartz, lyrics Howard Dietz)\, and Someone to Watch Over Me (music George Gershwin, lyrics Ira Gershwin). “You like swing, I see,” says Bogart. “Yes, legitimate swing,” Bacall counters. When Dark Passage gets serious about the love story, we see a record spinning on Bacall’s record player and the golden voice of Jo Stafford sings Too Marvelous for Words (music Richard Whiting, lyrics Johnny Mercer) and legitimates the romance.
-- In Key Largo (1948), the fourth Bogart-Bacall movie on this list, Claire Trevor plays a washed-up night-club singer and full-time lush in the entourage of gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). Trevor sings Moanin’ Low (music Ralph Rainger, lyrics Howard Dietz) a capella, her voice faltering, and when she finishes the torch song, says, “Can I have that drink now, Johnny?”
-- Manipulative Anne Baxter supplants Bette Davis as queen of the stage in All About Eve (1951), and the romantic Broadway ambiance of New York City is communicated in background instrumentals of all-star songs by Rodgers and Hart (Thou Swell, My Heart Stood Still), Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (Stormy Weather), Arlen and Johnny Mercer (That Old Black Magic), and Ralph Freed and Burton Lane (How About You?). The last named begins, “I like New York in June.”
The use of Among My Souvenirs in The Best Years of Our Lives is exemplary. Edgar Leslie’s 1927 lyric communicates regret at the passing of time. Trinkets and tokens diligently collected and treasured offer some consolation but do nothing to stop the flow of tears. In the movie, when the U. S. army sergeant played by March comes home he brings souvenirs of the Pacific war as gifts for his teenage son. But like the knife in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Crusoe in England,” when it has become a souvenir on the shelf after Crusoe returns home from his island, the mementos of the global conflict have lost their meaning. They seem vaguely unreal, lifeless. In contrast, the photograph of his wife that a hung-over March looks at the next morning – another sort of souvenir – has all the meaning in the world for him. And Among My Souvenirs – played on the piano by Hoagy Carmichael, hummed in the shower by a drunken March, and heard as background music -- unifies the whole sequence and endows it with the rich pathos that make the song so durable a jazz standard. I recommend that you listen to Art Tatum play it on the piano or, if you can get your mitts on it, a recording of Sinatra and Crosby doing it as a duet on television in the 1950s
[A version of this essay appears in Boulevard, ed. Richard Burgin.] -- DL
1. The Background
Frank Sinatra discovered Jack Daniel’s one sleepless night in the early 1940s. “It’s been the oil to my engine ever since,” he later said. He famously praised “anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or Jack Daniel’s.” Frank always kept a bottle nearby, offstage, and he was buried with a flask of JD in his casket.
In her autobiography, Judith Campbell Exner—the moll who was mistress to both John F. Kennedy and the head of the Chicago mob—recalled a day spent with Sinatra. He “acknowledged the comings and goings of an endless string of visitors, growled at flunkies, drank martinis, ate lunch, drank Jack Daniel’s, ate hors d’oeuvres, drank Jack Daniel’s, ate dinner, and drank more Jack Daniel’s.”
By the mid-1960s, Sinatra could drink a fifth of Jack Daniel’s and still go on stage.
Like any respectable Sinatra aficionado, I’ve imbibed my share of Tennessee’s trademark sour mash whiskey. And as the author of a new book titled “Sinatra’s Century,” I had extra incentive to try the latest ultra-premium Jack Daniel’s bottle, sent to me by my editor at The Wall Street Journal. Called, by coincidence, Sinatra Century, the limited-edition 100-proof whiskey was aged in 100 “alligator-charred” oak barrels (so called for their scaly interior surface, the deepest of all the chars used to impart flavor and color to the liquor). It hit shelves in October, in plenty of time for toasts to Frank Sinatra on his 100th birthday, December 12, 2015.
I wrote my book because I’ve loved the singer’s voice, musical savvy and definitive versions of standards ever since I heard “All the Way” and “Witchcraft” on the radio when I was 8 or 9. Timing it to the centennial, I wrote the book in 100 parts, because Sinatra’s career ran parallel to and threw into relief what Henry Luce called the “American century,” and because the century is the perfect form for a subject with so many facets.
This video clip is even better than the one I posted on Dean Martin 's birthday (June 7) of the famous reconciliation scene during the Jerry Lewis Telethon of 1976 twenty years after he and Dean Martin broke up their world-famous comedy act, with "Jer" playing the out of control overgrown teenager. and "Dino," nine years older, the straight man and Lothario. They had enjoyed a ten-year-run of movies and sold-out appearances at the Copa and other such hot spots when they decided, like many a couple, that they had irreconcilable differences and couldn't endure another day in each other's company. The Telethon encounter, arranged by the Godfather, was the first time they saw or spoke to each other after twenty years of stony silence. Sinatra: "I think it's time, don't you?" [Imagine if you could reconcile two warring nations this way.]. Notice the cigarettes -- not as props but as part of the routine in several senses. The Dean-Jerry exchange is sweet: "So. . . how ya been? . . . There were all these rumors about our break-up and when I came out to do the show and you weren't here I knew they were true. . .So. . .ya workin'?" Dean, on why they broke up: "Because I was a Jew and you were a Dago." The phone number line is good, the duet with Dean and Sinatra is funny ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "Too Marvelous for Words"), and though Dean is not in best voice, the sequence helps substantiate Jerry's assertion that he was the greatest straight man of all time. -- DL
The celebrations of Frank Sinatra's birthday continue. You can join in with a copy of Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and his World. Get a taste of the book with this interview that aired recently on WABE.
So many people ask David to name his essential Sinatra playlist, more so now with the buzz around his just published Sinatra’s Century.
Here is his lucky 21:
1) All or Nothing at All (music by Arthur Altman, words by Jack Lawrence). First recorded on August 31, 1939, the day before the Nazis invaded Poland, this most famous of the songs Sinatra sang with Harry James’s band became a huge hit in 1943. Track four of the seventeen-track album, Frank Sinatra with Harry James and His Orchestra, released in 1995.
2) I’ll Never Smile Again (music Ruth Lowe), 1940. Here is the sound of the Tommy Orchestra at its best: with Tommy on trombone and Frank’s solo supported by the Pied Pipers, Jo Stafford among them. You’ll find this version of the song in many CDs featuring the Dorsey band. But don’t neglect to compare it to FS’s mature version of 1959, in the album No One Cares, arranged by Gordon Jenkins.
3) Saturday Night (is the Loneliest Night in the Week) (music Jule Styne, lyrics Sammy Cahn). Recorded February 3, 1945. Superb up-tempo arrangement by George Siravo. Instantly brings back the atmosphere of America on the home front during the last year of World War II. On Sing and Dance with Frank Sinatra, a must-have CD. Also on disc three of superb four-disc set The Best of the Columbia Years: 1943 – 1952 (1998).
4) The Song is You (Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein). Arranged by Axel Stordahl, recorded October 26, 1947. A song FS may be said to own. On disc three of The Best of the Columbia Years: 1943 – 1952.
5) Body and Soul (Johnny Green music, Edward Heyman lyrics). Great jazz standard. Recorded November 9, 1947, with Bobby Hackett on trumpet. On disc three of The Best of the Columbia Years: 1943 – 1952.
6) The Birth of the Blues (music Ray Henderson; lyrics Buddy DeSylva and Lew Brown), 1952. Gem from the end of FS’s run with Columbia Records. On disc four of The Best of the Columbia Years: 1943 – 1952.
7) I’ve Got the World on a String (music Harold Arlen; lyrics Ted Koehler), 1953. No one ever sounded more jubilant than FS here. On The Capitol Years, an indispensable three-disc set released in 1990.
8) Young at Heart (music Johnny Richards; lyrics Carolyn Leigh). A big hit in 1953, this is the tune you hear in the opening and closing credits of Young at Heart with FS and Doris Day (1954). On The Capitol Years.
9) All of Me (music and lyrics Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons). On Swing Easy album (1954), arrangements by Nelson Riddle. The final song on FS’s first album with Capitol Records.
10) It Never Entered My Mind (Music Richard Rodgers; lyrics Lorenz Hart). A highlight of FS’s first “concept album,” In the Wee Small Hours (1955), arrangements by Nelson Riddle.
11) Last Night When We Were Young (Music Harold Arlen; lyrics Yip Harburg). See description of #10 above.
12) I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Music and lyrics Cole Porter). Arguably FS’s greatest up-tempo number. On Songs for Swingin’ Lovers album (1956) arranged by Nelson Riddle. Also on The Capitol Years.
13) The Lady is a Tramp (Music Richard Rodgers; lyrics Lorenz Hart). Showstopper in Pal Joey, 1957 movie starring FS, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. Album: a belated addition to A Swingin’ Affair, arranged by Nelson Riddle (1957). On The Capitol Years.
14) Witchcraft (music Cy Coleman; lyrics Carolyn Leigh), released as a single with a Nelson Riddle arrangement in May 1957. When Elvis Presley appeared on a Sinatra TV show in 1959, each singer sang a song associated with the other. Sinatra did “Love Me Tender” while Presley did “Witchcraft” as teenage girls shrieked. On The Capitol Years.
15) All the Way (music Jimmy Van Heusen; lyrics Sammy Cahn). Released as a single with a Nelson Riddle arrangement in 1957. FS sings it in the 1957 movie The Joker is Wild and it won the Academy Award for best original song. On The Capitol Years.
16) One for My Baby (and One More for the Road) (Music Harold Arlen; Lyrics Johnny Mercer). Arranged by Nelson Riddle. FS’s signature saloon song. Better even than the cut on the album Only the Lonely (1958) is the alternate version you will find on The Capitol Years.
17) Fly Me to the Moon (music and lyrics Bart Howard). Count Basie Orchestra, with arrangements by Quincy Jones, in the 1964 album It Might As Well Be Swing. The unofficial anthem of Project Apollo, which landed the first men on the moon in July 1969. On disc two of the four CD box set The Reprise Collection (2010).
18) It Was a Very Good Year (music James Van Heusen; lyrics Sammy Cahn), arranged by Gordon Jenkins on September of My Years album (1965). Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven. On disc two of the four CD box set The Reprise Collection.
19) That’s Life (1966) (music and lyrics Kelly Gordon and Dean Kay). Arranged by Ernie Freeman. A defiant FS backed by girl singers. On disc three of the four CD box set The Reprise Collection.
20) My Way (1969) The Chairman’s cri de coeur. Arranged by Don Costa. On disc three of the four CD box set The Reprise Collection.
21) Theme from New York, New York (music John Kander; lyrics Fred Ebb). FS recorded it in 1979 for his Trilogy album (1980). You hear him belting it out after every Yankee game in the Bronx, win or lose, come rain or come shine. On disc four of the four CD box set The Reprise Collection.
Without these songs the day would never end. I can’t get along without them very well. And if you thought it was easy to limit myself to twenty, all I can say is . . . you got it wrong and that ain’t right. I couldn’t sleep a wink last night. -- DL
Last week David Lehman and Geoffrey Riley had a grand time talking about Sinatra's Century , David's new book, just out from HarperCollins. They listened to songs (such as "All of Me" and "My Favorite Valentine") and talked about the Rat Pack, Sinatra's wives and lovers, and volatility of Sinatra's personality, which was mirrored perfectly by the ups and downs of his career. Follow this link to hear the full interview.
David continues to get well-deserved praise for Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World. Friends both near and far are writing to tell him how much they enjoy the book. Sometimes they make recommendations, like this one from Richard Snow. It's very much of its time (1944):
David Lehman’s “Sinatra’s Century” is a much shorter but more intimate portrait [than James Kaplan's biography]. Many of the same anecdotes used by Kaplan can be found here, too, but Lehman, an established poet, widens the frame of reference, thereby expanding the emotional resonance of the songs. He compares Sinatra’s version of “One for My Baby” to both Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” and to Ernest Hemingway’s famous story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Whereas Kaplan accumulates facts, Lehman tells us what those facts mean. For example:
“There are two reasons that male resistance to Sinatra turned completely around. . . . His voice deepened . . . and he was able to sing so convincingly of loss, failure, and despair unto death.” But when a fact is needed, Lehman comes through: In a 2014 commercial for Jack Daniels, a voiceover tells us what Sinatra’s recipe was: “three rocks, two fingers, and a splash.”
There it is, a Sinatra haiku, and, boy, what a splash he made.
-- Sibbie O’Sullivan is a writer on the arts who lives in Wheaton.
(from the review in the Washington Post, October 28, 2015)
Mr. Lehman appears to have listened to cuts from each of Sinatra’s nearly 600 recording sessions, watched most of his 50-odd movies and his countless TV shows and specials, and read deeply in the bibliography. A fan, Mr. Lehman pronounces Sinatra “the greatest of all popular American singers,” his work “an aesthetic experience of intense pleasure,” and the star no less than “the most interesting man in the world.” He compares Sinatra’s 1958 recording of the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer lament “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” to Hemingway’s pitch-perfect story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” about a forlorn, tipsy old man reluctant to leave a Madrid cafe. Sinatra’s ballad, Hemingway’s nihilistic tale and the sight of Humphrey Bogart stood up in the rain by Ingrid Bergman at the Gare de Lyon in “Casablanca,” he writes, are “what American existentialism, as a mood or an aesthetic condition, is all about.”
Happily, most of Mr. Lehman’s Sinatra appreciation is on a less cerebral plane. He ticks all the familiar biographical boxes: mother-ridden boyhood in Hoboken, N.J., bobby-sox mania, career eclipse, Ava Gardner, movie stardom, Rat Pack shenanigans, mob and Kennedy connections, master of sex, sad decline. But, like a good rewrite man, Mr. Lehman holds the reader by ferreting out of the voluminous files lots of choice quotes and anecdotes that reanimate Sinatra’s gamy lost world.
Here is Ava Gardner proclaiming, “He weighs 120, but 110 of those pounds are pure c—k.” Here is movie mogul Louis B. Mayer sobbing as he watches young Sinatra belt out “Ol’ Man River” in 1943 at the Hollywood Bowl. And there’s Sinatra’s first glimpse of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’s smash comedy act: “The Dago’s lousy, but the little Jew is great!” Or screaming in a Hollywood restaurant at Mario Puzo, the author of “The Godfather,” with its portrayal of a mobbed-up crooner many thought was based on Sinatra: “Choke. Go ahead and choke, you pimp.” In his final days, Sinatra watches the 1955 movie version of “Guys and Dolls,” in which Marlon Brando got the role he coveted of the suave gambler Sky Masterson, and complains to his daughter, “He still can’t sing.” Like a pharaoh, he is buried with provisions for the next world: a flask of Jack Daniel’s.
-- Edward Kosner. Mr. Kosner is the former editor of Newsweek, New York, Esquire and the New York Daily News and the author of a memoir, It’s News to Me.
from the review in the Wall Street Journal
Sheckey Greene always used to like telling his Las Vegas lounge audiences about the time Frank Sinatra saved his life. Here’s how poet David Lehman quotes him in “Sinatra’s Century.” Sheckey was “standing out in front of Caesar’s Palace one night and three big tough guys began to kick the hell out of me. They were giving me a terrible beating but finally Frank came up and said ‘okay, that’s enough.’ ”
No one is ever likely more trustworthy about Sinatra than Kaplan has now been in his behemoth two-volume biography.
I must confess, nevertheless, that poet and anthologist David Lehman’s “Sinatra’s Century” is more to my liking because his 100 glowing and gleaming fragments on Sinatra’s life and meaning are filled with wildly entertaining quotation, anecdote and insightful critical judgment.
-- Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News (October 25, 2015)
In this set of affectionate and vibrant fan’s notes, poet and critic Lehman (A Fine Romance) celebrates Ol’ Blue Eyes’s 100th birthday (December 12) with 100 impressionistic reflections on the singer’s successes and shortcomings. He includes mentions of Sinatra’s tempestuous marriage to Ava Gardner and his relationships with Mia Farrow, Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe, among others. Lehman colorfully points out that Sinatra remains a part of the American cultural scene, with his songs playing in commercials, as background music in restaurants, and in opening and closing credits of movies and television shows such as Wall Street and The Sopranos. He also as a signature brand of bourbon named after him. Sinatra stays in the public eye, Lehman observes, not only because of his work as a movie actor and a singer but also because of his nonconformity and his fondness for being a maverick. Sinatra’s vocal range and phrasing were so pure and powerful that he had teenage girls swooning from the moment he stepped on the stage. Lehman describes Sinatra’s friendly rivalry with Bing Crosby, his lifelong friendship with Dean Martin despite their widely disparate personalities (Martin liked to get up early, Sinatra partied late into the night), his perfectionism, and his famous clashes with gossip columnist Rona Barrett. In the end, Lehman’s lively reflections wonderfully celebrate Sinatra’s enduring impact on his own life and on American culture. Publisher's Weekly. (Oct.)
In this set of affectionate and vibrant fan’s notes, poet and critic Lehman (A Fine Romance) celebrates Ol’ Blue Eyes’s 100th birthday (December 12) with 100 impressionistic reflections on the singer’s successes and shortcomings. He includes mentions of Sinatra’s tempestuous marriage to Ava Gardner and his relationships with Mia Farrow, Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe, among others. Lehman colorfully points out that Sinatra remains a part of the American cultural scene, with his songs playing in commercials, as background music in restaurants, and in opening and closing credits of movies and television shows such as Wall Street and The Sopranos. He also as a signature brand of bourbon named after him. Sinatra stays in the public eye, Lehman observes, not only because of his work as a movie actor and a singer but also because of his nonconformity and his fondness for being a maverick. Sinatra’s vocal range and phrasing were so pure and powerful that he had teenage girls swooning from the moment he stepped on the stage. Lehman describes Sinatra’s friendly rivalry with Bing Crosby, his lifelong friendship with Dean Martin despite their widely disparate personalities (Martin liked to get up early, Sinatra partied late into the night), his perfectionism, and his famous clashes with gossip columnist Rona Barrett. In the end, Lehman’s lively reflections wonderfully celebrate Sinatra’s enduring impact on his own life and on American culture.(Oct.)
Lehman, David. Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World. Harper. Oct. 2015. 224p. ISBN 9780061780066. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062408822. BIOGRAPHY
This book offers 100 brief meditations on Sinatra and his music. Lots of fans out there could write 100 mash notes, but what makes this book so special is that the fan in question is distinguished poet Lehman, editor of the “Best American Poetry” series and the Oxford Book of American Poetry. So expect elegant writing and creative insight along with the outpouring of affection. (from Library Journal, April 6, 2015).
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.