MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
In 1960, Frank Sinatra went from being a mere pop star to a bonafide music mogul. That year, he formed the brand new record label Reprise Records, and became "The Chairman of The Board." This hour on the show, we'll explore the early years of Reprise Records and hear from the singers who called the label home, including Sinatra himself, his friends like Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin, as well as other singers like Keely Smith and Mavis Rivers.
It’s The Chairman: Reprise’s Early Years, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - Frank Sinatra, “You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You”
Frank Sinatra with arranger Billy May, performing “You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You.” That’s from Sinatra’s 1961 album Sinatra Swings, his second album for Reprise Records. This album came out two months after a very similar Sinatra album, also arranged by Billy May, called Come Swing With Me, which he recorded for out of obligation for his old label, Capitol. Sinatra Swings was designed to undercut Capitol’s sales of Come Swing With Me. Sinatra even tried to give the Reprise record the purposefully similar title Swing Along With Me.
MUSIC CLIP - FRANK SINATRA AND COUNT BASIE, “I'M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER”
MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON AND NELSON RIDDLE, “A SLEEPIN' BEE”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re looking at the early history of Reprise Records, the label founded by Frank Sinatra in 1960.
The story of Reprise Records begins, strangely, with Norman Granz. Granz was the impresario in charge of Verve Records, of jazz’s most important labels in the 1950s, boasting a roster with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Oscar Peterson, and Stan Getz. Granz and Sinatra were no fans of one another: they were too similar and too controlling to ever get along.
Norman Granz was interested in selling Verve Records around 1960, and Frank Sinatra was interested in buying it. Sinatra was growing very frustrated with his current label Capitol Records. He was tired of answering to someone else, and wanted more control, more ownership, and more power.
He made a play for Verve, but Granz was not interested in ceding control over to Sinatra. Granz sold the label to MGM instead. But the seed was planted in Sinatra’s head. He wanted his own record label.
It was late in the year 1960, soon after Sinatra finished the presidential campaign for his friend John F. Kennedy, when he became the Chairman of the Board of Reprise Records... “Reprise” as in the musical term “to play, and play again.” There’s no truth to the old rumor that Sinatra pronounced “Re-prize,” as in a “reprisal against Capitol Records.”
Sinatra was technically still under contract with Capitol at the time, so he tried to make a big splash with his first Reprise album, to compete with his current Capitol albums on the market. The first Reprise album was a hard swinging record called Ring-A-Ding-Ding. “Ring-A-Ding-Ding” was actually one those phrases that was part of Sinatra’s unique vocabulary. His friends Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn had a little fun turning this Sinatra-ism into a song.
Here’s Frank Sinatra with “Ring A Ding Ding,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “RING A DING DING”
Frank Sinatra with “Ring A Ding Ding,” that’s from his first album for his own label Reprise Records. The arranger there was Johnny Mandel, a young arranger who Sinatra discovered in Vegas. Sinatra wasn’t able to land some of his regular arrangers like Nelson Riddle or Billy May for various contractual reasons, but they would make the leap to Reprise in due time.
The direction of Reprise in its early years was built on the tastes of Frank Sinatra. It became a repository for the work of his friends and other singers he enjoyed, as well as a few comedy records, but absolutely no rock and roll. Sinatra’s Vegas pals played a role in Reprise’s first few years, including Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, and Bing Crosby (once they could all be freed from their other contracts). Let’s hear some early Reprise Records from these three, beginning with Sammy Davis. Here’s a track from his 1961 Reprise Record The Wham Of Sam, the tune “Let There Be Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - SAMMY DAVIS JR., “LET THERE BE LOVE”
MUSIC - DEAN MARTIN, “EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY”
MUSIC - BING CROSBY, “RETURN TO PARADISE”
Some Rat Pack tunes for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records. We just heard Bing Crosby from his one solo Reprise album. That was “Return to Paradise,” from his 1964 island-themed record Return To Paradise Islands, arranged by Nelson Riddle. Before that we heard Dean Martin in 1964 with his hit “Everybody Loves Somebody.” And starting that set, Sammy Davis Jr with “Let There Be Love,” arranged by Marty Paich.
Two of Reprise Records biggest female singers from the early years were Keely Smith and Rosemary Clooney. Both singers were close with Sinatra, and he played a part in bringing them along to his new label. For Clooney, her first album for Reprise in 1963 was an album of ballads that she actually recorded years two years earlier for RCA. It was arranged by Nelson Riddle, but RCA never released the album. Desperate for material, Sinatra bought the recordings masters, and released it on Reprise under the title Love. Here’s Rosemary Clooney from that album with “Someone To Watch Over Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ROSEMARY CLOONEY, “SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME”
MUSIC - KEELY SMITH, “BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH”
Singer Keely Smith from the Reprise album The Intimate Keely Smith performing “Blame It On My Youth.” Before that, we heard Rosemary Clooney from her Reprise debut with “Someone To Watch Over Me.”
One of the biggest coups from the early years of Sinatra’s Reprise Records was the addition of bandleader Count Basie to its roster. Basie and his Orchestra made four studio recordings for Reprise in the early 1960s. Two of these recordings were duets with the chairman himself. The Sinatra-Basie sessions were touted by the label as a “Historical Musical First,” and they remain some of Sinatra’s most memorable, relaxing, and swinging recordings. Here’s Sinatra and Basie with the Gershwin tune “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA AND COUNT BASIE, “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT”
Frank Sinatra with Count Basie and His Orchestra in 1962 with “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” That’s from their first album together, for Reprise Records.
MUSIC CLIP - Stan Getz and Bob Brookmeyer, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”
We’ll hear more from the early years of Sinatra’s Reprise Records in just a bit.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “FLY ME TO THE MOON”
MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “THIS COULD BE THE START OF SOMETHING BIG”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been looking at the early years of Reprise Records this hour, the label created by singer Frank Sinatra in 1960.
Sinatra’s early albums for Reprise fell into one of two categories. There were the designed to undercut the sales from his previous record label Capitol, including Ring-A-Ding-Ding, Swing Along With Me, and Sinatra’s Sinatra. And then there were the pet projects. These included his duet with Count Basie, his remembrance of Tommy Dorsey, and some larger projects like Sinatra and Strings and The Concert Sinatra. These last two projects showed the singer flexing his muscles a bit by performing with a large orchestra, often with some weightier material, something that would define his later career in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Here’s Sinatra in 1961 from the album Sinatra And String, arranged by Don Costa. This is a curious “Verse-only” version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “STARDUST”
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “I HAVE DREAMED”
From the album The Concert Sinatra, that was the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “I Have Dreamed” from the show The King and I. Before that, we heard Sinatra with “Stardust” from the album Sinatra And Strings. The Concert Sinatra from 1963 was one of Sinatra’s finest performances. The arrangements were by Nelson Riddle and featured an ensemble of over 70 musicians, the largest group to ever assemble in a studio to back a pop singer. That session also includes a marvelous version of “Soliloquy,” another Rodgers and Hammerstein song, from the show Carousel. Fun fact, Sinatra was initially supposed to play the lead role of Billy Bigelow in the 1956 film version of Carousel, but got spooked by the demands of the role, and left the production.
Sinatra’s turn as record executive meant that many other stars fell under his wing at Reprise records. Besides his Rat Pack friends like Sammy Davis Jr, other singers that worked on Reprise included jump blues legend Jimmy Witherspoon and the marvelous Samoan jazz singer Mavis Rivers. In 1960, Rivers was touted as the next big thing and compared to Ella Fitzgerald. One thinks that had she started her career a few years earlier, she would have been a much bigger star. But unfortunately, she became popular just as the idea of a “jazz singer” was something of a relic. Rivers recorded three albums for Reprise Records. Let’s hear from some of them now, beginning with her take on “Honeysuckle Rose,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MAVIS RIVERS, “HONEYSUCKLE ROSE”
MUSIC - MAVIS RIVERS, “LOVE YOU MADLY”
MUSIC - JIMMY WITHERSPOON, “LOVER COME BACK TO ME”
Jimmy Witherspoon, the former jump blues star, taking his turn as jazz singer on the tune “Lover Come Back To Me.” That’s from his 1961 album Spoon from Reprise Records. Before that, we heard singer Mavis Ravis, who is from Western Samoa by way of New Zealand, performing “Love You Madly” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” Those are from her first two records for Reprise records.
By 1963, almost as soon as Frank Sinatra founded Reprise Records, he gave it up. Call it his capriciousness, but Sinatra sold the company to Warner Brothers in August 1963, in a generous deal that left him out ahead. The driving reason for the sale was that Reprise was hemorrhaging money. Sinatra’s reluctance sign rock artists closed him off to a huge part of the market, and his ambitious pet projects bled the company dry.
One of the biggest culprits was the project The Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre. This ambitious four-disc set featured everyone on the Reprise catalog—including Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, The Hi-Los, Dean Martin, and Keely Smith—performing songs from recent Broadway hits like Finian’s Rainbow, South Pacific, and Guys And Dolls. It was an expensive project that didn’t pay off commercially for the label.
It did, however, produce one of Sinatra’s most memorable recordings. The tune was “Luck Be A Lady” from Guys And Dolls, a film Sinatra starred in 8 years earlier. Sinatra’s swinging version of this tune was perfectly suited to his Vegas lifestyle. And it’s also one of the last recordings he made while serving as the Chairman of the Board for Reprise Records. Here’s Frank Sinatra with “Luck Be A Lady,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “LUCK BE A LADY”
Frank Sinatra with “Luck Be A Lady,” arranged by Billy May. And thank for tuning into this edition of Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “NICE 'N' EASY”
Thanks for tuning in to this edition of Afterglow.
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey. Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, inviting you to tune in next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow