Showing posts with label Frank Sinatra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frank Sinatra. Show all posts

Monday, July 3, 2017

I Could Have Told You

One of the great joys of music is meeting different musicians and then hearing them play or sing pieces I’m not familiar with.  Wikipedia says The Great American Songbook, also known as 'American Standards', is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century.  That’s enormous territory and although I’ve been playing songs from that genre for more than fifty years, I still come across new ones (to me).  Most are fun to play and some are very moving.  Such is the case with the song “I Could Have Told You” The haunting melody was written by the great James Van Heusen, a friend of Sinatra’s, and the melancholic lyrics were penned by the prolific lyricist Carl Sigman. 

The  recording became a Frank Sinatra “signature song.” The Nelson Riddle arrangement was recorded as a single on December 9, 1953 just days after Sinatra reportedly attempted suicide over his broken marriage to Ava Gardner.  No wonder it is so mournful and heartfelt and supposedly he never performed it in his endless appearances on stage. Obviously, the song conjured painful memories. It later appeared on his 1959 compilation album Look to Your Heart and another one that same year, made up of mostly sorrowful songs, No One Cares.   

It was also recorded by Bob Dylan (surprisingly to me) so if one likes his voice and style you can also find it on YouTube.  It can’t compare to Sinatra’s smooth tonality and phrasing. 

Although I probably heard the song in my years of listening to Sinatra, I didn’t have the sheet music or take note of it.  I was “introduced” to it by a singer we came across in our many visits to the Double Roads Tavern in Jupiter.  The Jupiter Jazz Society headed up by Rich and Cherie Moore has a Jazz Jam there on Sunday nights.  Rich is a very talented pianist and can play almost any style. We’re supporters of the Society and try not to miss a performance.  We learned about the Society and Double Roads from our good friend (and my bass accompanist from time to time) David Einhorn who occasionally plays there.   So one connection leads to another in the small music world and there we saw a performance by an upcoming interpreter of the Great American Songbook, Lisa Remick.

A prediction: we’ll hear a lot more from her in the future.  She’s a perfectionist, the kind of singer we really appreciate, trying to go to the heart of a song, and singing it while conveying the emotional foundation of the lyrics and the melody.  Such is her interpretation of “I Could Have Told You” on her CD, Close Enough for Love.   

Thus, I was captivated by that song on her CD. I found a lead sheet for the piano and after playing it over and over again for myself, decided to record it and upload it to YouTube trying to allow the melody to speak for itself, with my usual disclaimer that it was recorded under less than ideal conditions in my living room and using a digital camera.  I played it just one time through and one can follow the lyrics which are below. It’s a gem of a song.

I could have told you
She'd hurt you
She'd love you a while
Then desert you
If only you'd asked
I could have told you so
I could have saved you
Some crying
Yes, I could have told you she's lying
But you were in love
And didn't want to know
I hear her now
As I toss and turn and try to sleep
I hear her now
Making promises she'll never keep
And soon, it's over and done with
She'll find someone new to have fun with
Through all of my tears
I could have told you so

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I gave a belated 100th birthday piano concert in honor of Frank Sinatra – only a few days late, my regular Brookdale Senior Living home monthly performance, ironically on my own birthday.  I listened to Sinatra all day on Dec. 12, his 100th and I wondered how different my life would have been if there had not been a Frank Sinatra.  He permeated our culture.  

The Great American Songbook would not exist in its present form if there was no Sinatra.  I remember in high school I was just getting over my fascination with Elvis Presley, and abandoning my guitar lessons, when a new kid moved into my neighborhood. Ed was unlike any of my other friends. When we hung out in his room he had two albums he played over and over again, Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me, and Ahmad Jamal’s At the Pershing: But Not for Me, both released in 1958 on the eve of my senior HS year.  My parents never listened to such music. Those albums brought me back to the piano. 

So, thanks to that accidental connection, and Frank and Ahmad, I’ve had a musical life of joy playing the songs of the Great American Songbook during my entire adult life.  And I’ve had all those decades of enjoying Sinatra but it wasn’t until he was in his mid-70’s, the age I’m now approaching myself, that I had an opportunity to see him in person.  It was June of 1991 and we had ventured to Las Vegas for a long weekend to see our dear friend, Peter and his wife Marge, who lived there. 

Peter had been diagnosed with cancer but he was still mobile and relatively pain free and our mutual wish was to see Sinatra who was then appearing at the Riviera Hotel.  We had practically front row seats, slightly off to the left, and he sang many of his signature pieces, some of the same ones I played at my concert such as The Lady Is a Tramp, I’ve Got you Under My Skin, New York, New York and the piece I concluded my own piano tribute to him, My Way. That June 1991 appearance turned out to be among his last concerts in Vegas.  His orchestra was enthusiastically conducted by his son, Frank Sinatra Jr. 

Although one could tell that age had taken its toll on Sinatra’s voice by then, his phrasing, which made him so distinctive, as well as his personality, came through.  He had the ability to convince the audience members that he was singing directly to and for you.

I had one tangential connection with The Chairman of the Board.  In 1998 my publishing company published Ol’ Blue Eyes; A Frank Sinatra Encyclopedia, chronicling every song he ever sang, every movie he ever appeared in.  I gave a copy to a transient boater who was docked next to me at our marina as he was Sinatra’s drummer for many of his concerts over a twenty year period (forgot his name).  So I was regaled about several personal incidents and it was enjoyable to hear from someone who worked closely with him.  Bottom line, Sinatra was a perfectionist when it came to music and how he sang a song.

He was also an outspoken person all his life.  I found his 1963 Playboy interview fascinating.  Then, of course, the threat was communism and the cold war.  I’m pretty sure if he were around today, he’d have a thing or two to say about the present world tumult and the breakdown of our political process.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Plaintive Melodies

As much as we enjoy returning to live on our boat in Connecticut, the worst thing about summer is leaving my piano behind.  If I was a professional, or played nearly at that level, it would be intolerable.  But I remember having once worked with the great harpsichordist, Ralph Kirkpatrick (in the capacity of publishing and cataloging the works of Scarlatti), visiting him at his home in Guilford CT which was populated by harpsichords and grand pianos.  He had made lunch for us, with some wine, and before we got back to work I timidly asked him whether he might like to play a piece.  He looked at me as if I had lost my mind, saying he never gives private audiences and especially not after a glass of wine.  I wondered, doesn't the love of music transcend everything else? 

Contrast that experience to the one I had with Henry Steele Commager, who was the dean of American intellectual historians.  I used to visit him in Amherst and we would work in his study on the second floor.  On the first floor he had a baby grand piano and one day, again after lunch, I asked him whether he played.  He raced to the piano and I quietly sat listening to him play a Beethoven sonata, and very competently. For Commager, playing the piano was his creative outlet and during that moment historian took second place.  I understand that.

My piano has been good to me this past year and in fact we've been partners, preparing programs that I performed at the Hanley Center in West Palm Beach, a rehab facility, and at The Waterford in Juno Beach, a retirement home.  Actually, most of the music I played at the Hanley Center was impromptu from fake books but at the Waterford I gave musical presentations with some commentary (Ann frequently helping me with the latter), something I really enjoyed doing, and now have programs for the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Claude-Michel Schönberg, and songs of the Great American Songbook as immortalized by Frank Sinatra.  

Next season, I'll do others and perhaps record another CD at a professional studio.

Of course I have no illusions about the enduring value of such recordings, other than having goals keeps one young, and it is a joy to be able to play.  Luckily for me, my kind of piano playing -- reading the melody line and improvising with chords -- is sort of like riding a bicycle; once you know how to ride, you can do it anytime without frequently practicing.  So, a summer away from my friend doesn't really set me back in terms of my ability to play. 

Nonetheless, as we prepare to leave, I look at my piano with a melancholy regret and I tend to play pieces that reflect that mood. Recently, I found myself playing some Bill Evans songs, constantly reverting to his "Time Remembered" -- a piece with abstract, floating harmonies, not exactly melodic.  It reminds me a little of Debussy, but in a more abstract form, so I found myself fiddling around with some classical music, not one of my musical strengths, but what better piece to play than Debussy's "Reveries" as a bookend for the Bill Evans piece.  From there I turned to one of Stephen Sondheim's most beautiful ballads, "Johanna" from Sweeny Todd,  much more structured than the Evans piece, but all three musical compositions share this sense of the plaintive. 

I set up my camera and recorded the Sondheim piece, a brief rendition (BlogSpot has restrictions on video size).  It is less than two minutes. and as I never play a piece the same way twice, improvising much of it, when recording (especially video with just a digital camera in our echoing living room), some self consciousness encroaches.  Nonetheless, I include this below as a musical statement of the moment and particularly because "Johanna" most accurately captures my mood.   Whoever said Sondheim can't write a beautiful melody is crazy as this is one of the most haunting songs I know.  It is also one of his few outright love songs.

We'll be on the road soon and the blog will go quiet for a while.