Gershwin, Kern, Berlin, Porter…Sinatra?
Could it be that the Chairman Emeritus belongs among the great pop tunesmiths as not just a singer but the source of a repertoire as individualistic as a composer’s? James Moody thinks so, and the renowned jazz saxophonist is out to prove it with the imaginative Young at Heart, the first major instrumental album in decades to treat songs written for or sung by Frank Sinatra as a musical canon.
The best place to explain this, Moody thought, would be Patsy’s, a family-run Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan, reputed in New York lore to be Sinatra’s favorite spot. A dozen restaurateurs would disagree, but the issue seemed resolved when Moody’s waiter insisted that he’d had the pleasure of serving Mr. Sinatra 30 or 40, maybe 50, times. Part of the pleasure, no doubt, was the star’s customary tip of a $100 bill per person at his table.
”That’s a part of it — his attitude,” Moody, 71, said over pasta primavera. ”Sinatra is always in charge. He knows exactly what he wants, and he knows how to get it — particularly in his music. Composers [including Jimmy Van Heusen and Jule Styne] wrote especially for him, and that’s when they did their best work. They knew what he wanted, his style, the way he swung musically, the melancholy words. And he picked his songs very carefully. They had to fit him. It was almost as if he wrote the songs.”
A sometime singer himself, Moody may be best known for crooning the ”vocalese” lyrics written by the late jazz singer Eddie Jefferson to match Moody’s legendary solo improvisation to the chords of ”I’m in the Mood for Love.” In fact, he warbles the title tune on Young at Heart. ”I thought I’d sing one number,” he said, ”just to make Frank sound good.”