The Sinatra/Wilder CD – music I had not heard in almost 40 years. It summons up the rooms which had the sound system – previously the stereo, before that hi-fi and before that the record player – in the different places I’ve lived.
Don’t worry. My impulse is to reminisce, but I won’t.
Unfortunately, aural madeleine though it might be, the music isn’t very good. Pleasant and mildly quirky, is how I’d describe it. All of a muchness, though.
There are thirteen tracks. Six are Wilder compositions, “Air for Oboe”, for example, on which Sinatra conducts the Columbia String Orchestra. The remaining seven tracks are short, 78 rpm length, 2-3-minute, pieces, “His First Long Pants”, for example, played by the Alec Wilder Octet, which included Jimmy Carroll, Eddie Powell, Mitch Miller and Toots Mondello. Miller also is the soloist on the Airs for oboe and English horn; Julius Baker plays the Air for Flute. Sinatra conducting. How did that happen?
According to a Sinatra hagiosite, Sinatra had heard
“semi-classical pieces composed by Alec Wilder backstage at the Paramount Theater. For some reason, this experience led him to a desire to conduct some of Wilder's music; nevermind that he had never conducted before, or even knew how to read full-score music.” The notes to the CD, by Goddard Lieberson, who was president of Columbia, say that Sinatra had two of the Wilder pieces among records he would play backstage between shows, and became so enthusiastic that he called Wilder late in the night.
Sounds like PR to me. I wonder what the real story was? The interesting thing is that Sinatra conducted these in 1945. According to Wikipedia “Sinatra found unprecedented success as a solo artist from the early to mid-1940s after being signed to Columbia Records in 1943.” However, the article goes on to say, “Being the idol of the "bobby soxers", he released his first album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra in 1946. He was conducting these Wilder pieces around the same time he was cutting his first album.
As I say, pleasant, mildly quirky, but as bland as a madeleine.
Here’s the one with the best title: “Her Old Man was Suspicious,” one of the octet pieces.
This example of supreme uncharitableness is copied from somewhere in the ether:
“When I came to Columbia, he was already at the nadir of his career," Miller told the Chicago Tribune in 1987. “He had lost his television show, he had lost his movie contract, he was chasing after Ava [Gardner], he was behind in his income taxes. In short, his records would not sell, his voice was gone."