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where the classics never go out of style

Frank Sinatra’s 1965 Reprise album entitled September of My Years, with arrangements by Gordon Jenkins, has long been one of my very favorite Sinatra albums. Even when I was in my early teens, I would sing along with great conviction to this collection of songs that were all about growing older and looking back. While it was true that, like George Bailey, “I was born old,” even I wasn’t THAT old. Nevertheless, the album spoke to me. I was, and continue to be, mesmerized by it.

Sinatra adored the album’s arranger, Gordon Jenkins. In Will Friedwald’s 1995 book entitled, Sinatra! The Song Is You, Friedwald cites a quote from a late 1970s interview Gordon Jenkins gave to DJ (and game show host), Wink Martindale, stating, “The first time we worked together, a hundred people showed up because they thought it was going to be a free-for-all. He had a reputation for being tough to work with,” Jenkins recalled, “and I also have a reputation for not holding back. So the studio was just jammed [with people] waiting for the fight to start. And we never did have any fight, not ever. We have never had a cross word.”

To work with Sinatra for more than three decades and be able to say, “We have never had a cross word,” is a monumental achievement in and of itself. To have produced some of the greatest recordings of the twentieth century through that partnership is the stuff that legends are made of and both men, Sinatra and Jenkins, have to be considered legends of The Great American Songbook.

I am not a musician but I consider myself to be a fairly good judge of the great songs of the 1920s – 1970s, those songs from the Big Band Era, Broadway shows, and Hollywood films that have since been grouped together as The Great American Songbook. I remember being somewhat shocked years back when I read certain reviews and realized there were critics who weren’t crazy about Gordon Jenkins’ syrupy strings. I suppose from another source, I might be bored by all of it as well but when matched with Sinatra, it works. And Sinatra knew it worked. He wasn’t a trained musician but he enjoyed an incredible ear and an inherent sense of musicianship that rarely failed him. There’s no doubt he was a sucker for strings and string arrangements but he also knew how to use those strings and arrangements to elevate a syrupy love ballad into high art.

The video on this piece isn’t much to look at but you don’t need to. Just close your eyes and enjoy the magic of Gordon Jenkins and Frank Sinatra.

Gordon Jenkins had been one of the first people in the music business to recognize an audience for American Folk Music. He scored a huge hit with The Weavers and “Goodnight Irene” in 1950 when just about no one else in the music business wanted anything to do with the song. His confidence in the group’s ability to put over the song and his astute judgment in recording it, paid off handsomely for Jenkins.

When it came time to record the September of My Years album it’s only natural that Sinatra would turn to Gordon Jenkins. He had a track record with strings, sentimentality and folk music, all elements used to perfection in the September of My Years album. “It Was A Very Good Year,” the breakout song of the collection, had originally been recorded four years earlier by the Kingston Trio. Jenkins reworked the arrangement and turned it into a Sinatra classic. It was so recognizably masterful that when CBS News did an hour long portrait of Frank Sinatra in the fall of 1965 as he approached his 50th birthday, they taped a whole segment featuring Sinatra’s recording session of the song.

No one was more thrilled with Sinatra’s recording of “It Was A Very Good Year” than composer Ervin Drake. Frank’s recording no doubt made Mr. Drake a lot of money and well as elevating his song to iconic status.

This Sunday on my radio show I will do what I’ve done for a number of years now, I will play every cut from Jenkins’ & Sinatra’s September of My Years album. Please join us for some glorious music and memories, this Sunday, September 25, 2016 at 12:00 noon Eastern time on Jazz 90.1 FM in Rochester, New York. Remember, you can listen in from anywhere via our live web stream on our home page at www.jazz901.org  or just click HERE.

By the way, apropos of Sunday, September 25, 2016 – that will mark Charles Osgood’s last show as host of CBS News Sunday Morning. I avoid the news and magazine shows like the plague and yet, this has been one of my most favorite shows on television for well over a decade. Mr. Osgood will be sorely missed. He is an intelligent, gracious and witty host. We hope to continue to “see him on the radio.” Tune him in Sunday BEFORE my show – he’s on the CBS TV network from 9:00 – 10:30 am Eastern and I’m on at 12:00 noon – what a Sunday!!!

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