New songs on the Songs from the Golden Age of Swing tour

Published: 19 Feb 2024

This week, conductor Mike Paul-Smith talks us through two new songs which may* make their way onto our set list for the upcoming tour with our 30-piece Orchestra. 

Tickets are selling fast – check out the upcoming dates and book your tickets today!

*please note that we play a slightly different set list each night, and we can’t absolutely completely guarantee that these songs will feature on the tour… but they probably will!

 

Luck Be a Lady

Arranged by Billy May for Frank Sinatra

“I’ve wanted to perform Luck Be a Lady with our orchestra since we started performing as the expanded line-up in 2020. We’ve previously performed the song with our 10-piece All-Stars band, but that was years ago and it’s quite a tricky song to recreate with just 10 musicians – so I can’t wait to perform with our 30-piece Orchestra. 

Luck Be a Lady is one of those songs that has “a” definitive version – the one arranged by Billy May for Frank Sinatra. It’s one of those arrangements that you recognise within two notes, and if there is a better arrangement of this song out there I don’t know of it!

“The song was written by Frank Loesser for the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls, and also featured in the 1955 film of the same name. Although Frank was in the film, he didn’t sing this song – that went to Marlon Brando, leaving Frank with other songs such as Adelaide

“The definitive Billy May arrangement of the song was written for the 1963 compilation album Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre, which is a really interesting collection of songs from four different shows (Guys and Dolls, Finian's Rainbow, Kiss Me Kate, and South Pacific) with the songs performed in a “repertory” style – i.e. by singers who wouldn’t expect to play those roles on stage or on screen (the irony being, of course, that Frank Sinatra really wanted to play Marlon’s part of Sky Masterson in the film). 

“The Billy May arrangement was originally intended to be performed at some pace – just as the song is performed in the show – but Sinatra suggested slowing it down, giving it a bit more punch. 

Frank Sinatra and Billy May in the recording studio

Above: Frank Sinatra and Billy May in the recording studio

“That certainly contributes to the long running time of the song – at over 5 minutes, it’s longer than virtually any other Frank Sinatra record. Although it would be easy to perform a cut-down, 3-minute version of the song, I can’t bring myself to do it – the arrangement is just fabulous and keeps building from one section of the song to the next (there are barely any sections of the song which are repeated, which is no mean feat). 

“One of the main features of the song is a glorious bit of stratospherically high lead trumpet playing – on the record played by Conrad Gozzo – which I’m sure our trumpet section are excited about re-creating.

“Sinatra loved the song and the arrangement so much that he included it in his live shows for years – including, perhaps most memorably, with Count Basie & Co at The Sands in Las Vegas (captured on the 1966 album Sinatra Live at the Sands With Basie – for those shows, Billy May’s arrangement was adapted by Quincy Jones as the Basie band didn’t have a string section). It survived right up to Frank Sinatra’s last recording session, the Duets II album.

“We’re intending to perform this song pretty faithfully to the Billy May arrangement – sadly, I don’t yet have a French horn section in the Orchestra so there will be a few minor differences, but hopefully we’ll still capture the spirit and energy of this fabulous recording.”

  

The Girl From Ipanema

Arranged by Claus Ogerman for Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobin 

“Another song we’re hoping to introduce on the Songs from the Golden Age of Swing tour is the famous version of The Girl From Ipanema from the Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim album, recorded in 1967. 

“I find this song and album really interesting because it was recorded at the height of a bossa nova crave, spurred on by Jobim, a pianist/guitarist/composer who wrote a really great collection of songs which have stood the test of time. The Girl From Ipanema is actually believed to be one of the most-recorded songs of all time, second only to The Beatles’ Yesterday.

“In fact, The Beatles are relevant to the story of the Sinatra/Jobim recording session because in the late 60s, they were everywhere – and Sinatra, like other jazz musicians at that time – was paranoid about becoming less relevant, and slipping out of the public consciousness. He also wanted to try something new, outside of his "comfort zone" of Great American Songbook standards, so the idea for a session with Jobim, performing mostly Jobim's compositions, was born.

“Sinatra really wanted the album to be a success, and he poured everything in to it. It’s a really great version of Sinatra that is heard on the recording – he cut back from his smoking and drinking habits to be in top shape for the session, and according to people present on the day really worked the musicians hard to make sure they had a perfect recording; which is in contrast to his singing style, which is subtle and lacking the harder edge that Sinatra often had in this period.

Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim

“Talking of subtlety, the instrumentation and orchestration on the album is really interesting. Claus Ogermam, who had worked with Jobim before, was selected to arrange the album, and he did so in a very subtle, very understated way – The Girl From Ipanema features rhythm section and strings, but then just a trio of flutes and a trombone. In fact there’s a great anecdote regarding the music copyist Vern Yocum who, when he picked up Ogerman's scores to write out the band parts, was worried that the session wouldn’t work out because there was almost nothing there.

“But work it did – a really great collection of songs which was followed up shortly afterwards by another Sinatra-Jobim session. We can’t wait to recreate this song on the tour – tickets are selling fast so do get yours today!" 


About the author

Mike Paul-Smith

Mike Paul-Smith is the musical director of Down for the Count. He formed the band in 2005 and since then has directed them for performances at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, Cadogan Hall London, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, The London Jazz Festival, Twinwood Festival, and at countless other theatre and jazz club shows.

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