Last weekend, I was listening to an album by the great Peggy Lee called The Man I Love. Released in 1957, it stands out not just for the stylish performance by Ms Lee, or indeed a bounty of lush warm arrangements by Nelson Riddle, but more so for the credited conductor – Frank Sinatra. Obviously known more for his vocal prowess, he recorded not a note on this album, but conducted the orchestra throughout the sessions. Sinatra’s skill and dexterity in interpreting a lyric is without question, but it made me wonder how qualified he actually was to direct and control an orchestra, and how honestly the musicians would have followed him, given Riddle will have been loitering in the shadows somewhere. It’s true to say that Sinatra, the crooner, was known for being in charge of everything in a studio, dictating tempi to his conductor, demanding more from the brass section etc, so it wasn’t the biggest leap for him to be asking the same from the conductor’s pedestal. The orchestra will have been known to him, or the key players at least, and they certainly will have known of his reputation, but I can’t help thinking that there were occasions when Riddle might have been forced to raise a surreptitious eye brow, or wave a finger or two, out of sight of ‘ol blue eyes to help the session flow, with key players staring at the conductor, but looking for guidance from Riddle. To be fair, Peggy Lee’s accompanist, pianist Lou Levy recalled, “The Man I Love was a lovely project. Frank was very easy to follow, Nelson did a great job, and Peggy sounded wonderful.”
When Richard is conducting a rehearsal for GRB, he does so with speed, accuracy, attention to detail and misses not a thing. I can imagine the chaos where he to hand his baton to me, and tell me to get on with it. I might know the songs but it wouldn’t take long for the whole thing to grind to a halt, I’m sure. So for that reason alone, I must remain in awe of anyone, Sinatra included, who can control and maintain the musical flow in front of so many musicians.
Mind you, in 1957, Sinatra was at the height of his powers, especially at Capitol Records, and what Sinatra wanted, Sinatra usually got. Had it been a different decade and he had demanded NASA fly him to the moon, no really – he probably would have got there!