Christmas Collection
It's time for mistletoe and holly - and Sinatra music
It's beginning to sound a lot like Sinatra - and the holidays never sounded so good. This beautifully packaged collection features 18 career-spanning holiday classics, including three Nelson Riddle-arranged gems available for the first time on CD: "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and two classics recorded with Bing Crosby, "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas".
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It should come as no surprise that Frank Sinatra felt right at home singing Christmas songs, since that seems to be how he felt singing every other kind of song, too. But holiday tunes were clearly a favorite of Sinatra, who began tackling Yuletide classics during his early days on Columbia Records, and continued doing so during his 1950s tenure on Capitol. When he formed his own label, Reprise, he turned right away to material geared for the winter months: his first Reprise album, Ring-A-Ding-Ding!, contained the spirited version of "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" - that kicks off this compilation.
Although three of the songs on The Christmas Collection were drawn from a rare 1957 television special, Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank, most were recorded during Sinatra's tenure on Reprise. One song is from that first session in 1960, five from a studio stint in October 1964, five more from the 1968 sessions that resulted in the album The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas. A 1975 single produced two more holiday gems. And the rarest song in the collection, an emotional rendition of "Silent Night," was made in 1991 at the request of daughter Nancy Sinatra, with an orchestra conducted by son Frank Sinatra Jr. added more than a dozen years later.
The songs are from Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne and Jimmy Van Heusen, Mel Torme and Robert Wells, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Jimmy Webb, and others. The arrangements are by Nelson Riddle, Jack Halloran, Don Costa, Johnny Mandel. The voice is Sinatra. The message, and the music, is timeless.

CREDITS:

Song credits:

1. I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Irving Berlin)
Arranged by Dick Reynolds
Recorded December 21, 1960

2. The Christmas Waltz (Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne)
With the Jimmy Joyce Singers & Orchestra under the direction of Nelson Riddle
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Nelson Riddle
August 12, 1968

3. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (J. Fred Coots/Haven Gillespie)
From The Frank Sinatra Show (ABC) - "Happy Holidays With Bing & Frank"
Originally Aired on 12/20/57
Arranged by Nelson Riddle

4. The Little Drummer Boy (Katherine Davis/Henry Onorati/Harry Simeone)
With Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Jack Halloran & Dick Reynolds
June 16, 1964

5. We Wish You The Merriest (Les Brown)
With Bing Crosby and Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Jack Halloran & Harry Betts
June 19, 1964

6. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane)
Arranged by Gil Grau
Orchestral track recorded on April 30, 1963
Orchestra Conducted by Gus Levene
Vocal recorded on October 13, 1963

7. Go Tell It On The Mountain (Traditional, adapted by Jack Halloran)
With Bing Crosby and Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Jack Halloran
June 19, 1964

8. The Christmas Song (Mel Torme/Robert Wells)
With Bing Crosby
From The Frank Sinatra Show (ABC) "Happy Holidays With Bing & Frank"
Originally Aired on 12/20/57
Arranged by Nelson Riddle

9. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day (Henry W. Longfellow/Johnny Marks)
With Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Nelson Riddle
June 16, 1964

10. I Wouldn't Trade Christmas (Sammy Cahn/James Van Heusen)
With Tina, Nancy & Frank Jr. and the Jimmy Joyce Singers & Orchestra under the direction of Nelson Riddle
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Nelson Riddle
August 12, 1968

11. Christmas Memories
(Alan Bergman/Marilyn Bergman/Don Costa)
Produced & Arranged by Don Costa
October 24, 1975

12. The Twelve Days Of Christmas (Traditional, adapted by Sammy Cahn & James Van Heusen)
With Tina, Nancy & Frank Jr. and the Jimmy Joyce Singers & Orchestra under the direction of Nelson Riddle
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Nelson Riddle
August 12, 1968

13. The Bells Of Christmas (Greensleeves) (Traditional, adapted by Sammy Cahn & James Van Heusen)
With Tina, Nancy & Frank Jr. and the Jimmy Joyce Singers & Orchestra under the direction of Nelson Riddle
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Nelson Riddle
August 12, 1968

14. An Old Fashioned Christmas (Sammy Cahn/James Van Heusen)
With Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Nelson Riddle
June 16, 1964

15. A Baby Just Like You (John Denver/Joe Henry)
Produced & Arranged by Don Costa
October 24, 1975

16. Whatever Happened To Christmas (Jimmy Webb)
With the Jimmy Joyce Singers & Orchestra under the direction of
Nelson Riddle
Produced by Sonny Burke
Arranged by Don Costa
July 24, 1968

17. White Christmas (Irving Berlin)
With Bing Crosby
From The Frank Sinatra Show (ABC) "Happy Holidays With Bing & Frank"
Originally Aired on 12/20/57
Arranged by Nelson Riddle

18. Silent Night (Joseph Mohr/Franz Gruber)
Arranged by Johnny Mandel
Conducted by Frank Sinatra Jr.
Produced by Charles Pignone, Johnny Mandel & Terry Woodson
Original vocal session Produced by Michael Lloyd
Vocal recorded on August 27, 1991
Orchestral track recorded on March 23, 2004
Recorded, Mixed & Mastered by Al Schmitt
With/Bill Miller: celeste - Al Viola & Ron Anthony: guitar
Chuck Berghofer & Jim Hughart: bass, Julie Berghofer: harp, Larry Bunker: percussion

Album credits:
Produced by Charles Pignone
Executive Producers: Robert Finkelstein and Jimmy Edwards
Remastering: Bill Inglot & Dan Hersch at DigiPrep
Editorial Supervision: Sheryl Farber
Art Direction: Hugh Brown & Maria Villar
Design: Maria Villar
Photo Research: Steven P. Gorman
Cover Photo: William Read Woodfield/CPi
Ornaments Photo: Hugh Brown
Ornaments: Timothy Eames
Project Assistance: Steve Wollard and Steven Chean

Special Thanks to: Nancy Sinatra, Frank Sinatra Jr., Tina Sinatra, A.J. Azzarto, Sonny Golden, Joe Soldo, Larry Walsh, Michael Lloyd, Melissa Edwards, Julian Stone, Keith Robinson, Alan Fletcher, Kevin Kennedy, James Austin & Matt Abels

LINER NOTES:

If you were to choose one word to describe anything, or everything, about Frank Sinatra, it would have to be extraordinary. There's just no other way to explain his talent, his career, the life he led. Yet he was also the kind of man we ordinary humans could easily identify with - especially at Christmas.

Like every other family man, the holiday season received special attention on the Sinatra agenda. Unlike most of us, however, Frank Sinatra didn't merely celebrate Christmas; he was part of it. For over 50 years - culminating with the contents of this CD, recorded at the height of his considerable powers - his musical grip on the Yuletide consciousness has become more and more pronounced.

Christmas has always required a reassuring, familiar voice as a connection to the less complicated times of our lives. No two performers in popular music have conveyed that feeling for dozens of Christmases more than Frank Sinatra and his early idol, Bing Crosby. Fortunately, in 1964 Sinatra conjured up a Yuletide collaboration with Bing and Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians titled 12 Songs Of Christmas. Released on Sinatra's then-relatively new Reprise Records, the LP features the first recorded seasonal duets by the two greatest pop vocalists of the 20th century. The selections they chose to record together display the breadth of their musical taste: While "Go Tell It On The Mountain" is handled majestically and with due reverence to its traditional folk roots, "We Wish You The Merriest" is Sinatra and Crosby at their jolliest - full of good tidings and humor.

Sinatra took his Yuletide musical obligation seriously, taking a break from his "ring-a-ding-ding" persona to delve into the more traditional holiday emotions. Perfect examples of this are "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" and "The Little Drummer Boy," also from 12 Songs Of Christmas. Both exude traditional solemnity while filling us with the optimism inherent in the season.

The most Christmassy of all the songs on the album, however, is a tune written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen called "An Old Fashioned Christmas." If contemporary listeners scratch their heads at the reference to "finding that at the Automat," the previous line, "My mom there in the kitchen, basting the Christmas bird," captures a perennial, comforting scenario.

Fast-forward 11 years to 1975 and Sinatra's still reveling in comforting holiday images on his last Christmas song released by Reprise (on a single only): "Christmas Memories." He sings about "stringing popcorn . . . cookies baking in the kitchen," and "cards and ribbons everywhere." And as if those images weren't customary enough, on the record's flip side, "A Baby Just Like You," Frank makes reference to his first grandchild, Angela. There's nothing more traditional than a Grandpa beaming over his new granddaughter!

Sinatra didn't just sing of family in his musical Christmas gifts; he also invited them along for the ride. In 1968 he recorded a delightful LP with his three children - Nancy, Frank Jr., and Tina - appropriately titled A Sinatra Family Christmas. Released in 1969, it includes solos by the Sinatra kids as well as three numbers they performed with "Pop," the highlights of which are a charmingly contemporary retooling of "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" and a masterful tongue-in-cheek Cahn/Van Heusen composition, "I Wouldn't Trade Christmas." The package was rounded out by two solos by "Pop" himself, Sinatra's third (and best) recording of "The Christmas Waltz" and Jimmy Webb's beautifully sardonic "Whatever Happened To Christmas," whose dark message was wrapped around a gorgeous melody. Many believe it to be Frank Sinatra's greatest holiday performance ever.

The best Christmases are those that include unexpected surprises, and these classic Sinatra performances are not the only gifts under the proverbial tree. Several years ago a very rare television show that aired only once during the 1957 holiday season was discovered in the vaults at Sinatra Enterprises. Directed by Frank himself, it starred Sinatra and Bing Crosby in a half hour filled with traditional carols and contemporary Yuletide songs. Filmed right after their historic pairing in MGM's High Society, this long-lost treasure reveals the camaraderie so delightfully on display in that classic film. Three songs from the TV production have been mastered here for their CD debuts, including duets by Frank and Bing on Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" and Crosby's perennial "White Christmas," the greatest holiday standard of all time. (The third song, the Sinatra solo on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," had been recorded by Frank a decade earlier, but here we are treated to a more updated arrangement by the masterful Nelson Riddle, who also arranged the two duets.) The historic significance of these performances is only overshadowed by what could easily be considered the centerpiece of this essential holiday collection. In August 1991 Frank Sinatra had not been in a recording studio for over three years, a longer recording sabbatical than his self-imposed "retirement" between November 1970 and April 1973. Daughter Nancy was participating in a recording project with producer Michael Lloyd involving a collection of Christmas songs. It would feature a formidable lineup of stars to benefit an altruistic organization dedicated to the enhancement of children's hospitals throughout the country.

Nancy . . . children's charity . . . Christmas.

Frank had no wiggle room. Nor did he want any. His response was immediate, and on August 21 he walked into a studio for a 1 p.m. session. The song chosen was the most reverential of all Christmas songs, "Silent Night." Now, anyone familiar with Sinatra's recording technique knows that this wasn't his favorite time of day to record (he preferred evening sessions), and on top of that he wasn't feeling 100 percent. Neither of these two circumstances, however, stopped him from making musical magic the way he had done hundred - even thousands - of times before.

Nancy Sinatra remembers: "It was an emotional day, because he was doing it for the children . . . He was not feeling good that day, and it was difficult for him to record. I hear the weakness and the frailty in his voice, and it is so sweet and tender that it is just heart wrenching."

For the next 13 years "Silent Night" remained a footnote in the Sinatra recording canon, forgotten by all but the most astute Sinatra-phile. But it was too important a performance to leave dormant.

In 2004 producer Charles Pignone had the inspired notion to supplement Frank's vocal with a full orchestra, and, in an equally impassioned move, he sought out Johnny Mandel to supply the arrangement. Mandel had been the arranger/conductor on the very first Sinatra session for Reprise, resulting in the classic Ring-A-Ding Ding! album (represented here by the effervescent and wintry "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," which, incidentally, was arranged by Dick Reynolds, since Mandel was pressed for time to finish the album). So, in effect, both Johnny and Frank have come full circle together, providing the beginning and the end to the Sinatra-Reprise era. The significance was not lost on the arranger.

Johnny Mandel recalls that "I was glad to have the opportunity to do this arrangement. It was a labor of love and respect. I was very touched by Frank's reading of the song. The whole idea was to make it sound like he was right there with us . . . and he was."

Pignone and his production team, led by longtime Sinatra associate Terry Woodson, then gathered a special group of musicians to form the core of the orchestra. The members of this astute rhythm section all spent a sizable chunk of their professional lives touring and/or recording with Mr. Sinatra. Al Viola, Ron Anthony, Chuck Berghofer, and Larry Bunker all reveled in the opportunity to participate in one last Sinatra session. And, of course, it wouldn't have been a "real" session without the participation of Bill Miller, whose delicate celeste introduction sets just the right tone for Frank's equally delicate interpretation. Bill Miller: "It was like old times with all the guys back in the studio. We missed Frank, but we knew that he was there in spirit, and I'm sure he would have been proud of this recording, especially knowing that we were all back together and that Frank Jr. conducted the orchestra."

To quash any thoughts of nepotism, it should be noted that Frank Sinatra Jr., knows the special demands required by his famous father's legendary perfectionism, since he toured as the conductor of the Sinatra orchestra for seven years. Those demands and that presence were all-pervading the night of the historic session.

Terry Woodson: "Right before it all started, I said to [engineer] Al Schmitt that there is so much tension in the room, you'd expect 'The Old Man' to walk in." Ironically, like "Whatever Happened To Christmas" - recorded nearly a quarter of a century earlier - "Silent Night" resonates with the uneasiness of contemporary times, but in a strange way it also serves as a settling tonic to build our confidence toward a more optimistic future. And, after all, isn't that what Christmas is all about?

-James Ritz

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Christmas Collection
(2010-03-25 18:49)
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