The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (57): When Sinatra sung Tchaikovsky

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (57): When Sinatra sung Tchaikovsky


norman lebrecht

May 11, 2020

The pitch is true, but he smudges every bar line. Wonderful despite all.

The conductor was Axel Stordahl. A pseudonym?

The real deal is this:




  • Adam Stern says:

    May I share a bit of expert information? Years ago, a friend mentioned that she’d once read that Frank Sinatra was a big fan of the music of Vaughan Willians. As someone who wouldn’t want to live without either Sinatra or RVW, I was delighted and intrigued by the notion that the one prized the other. In trying to verify the information, I wrote to Mr. Charles L. “Chuck” Granata, identified on one online source as “…one of the world’s experts on Sinatra, [who acted] as the project director/producer for all of his Columbia recordings, and has completed hundreds of interviews with people who worked with Sinatra on his records.“ Here is part of the very informative e-mail that the kind Mr. Granata sent in response to my inquiry:

    >> Frank Sinatra had a long, albeit “clandestine” relationship with classical music! By his own admission, he would listen for many hours when he was alone, and as you noted, he often cited Vaughan Williams as a particular favorite. Unfortunately, I can’t recall ever reading about a specific piece that he favored, though I would venture to say that it was likely VW’s standard repertoire that he was exposed to. I make this assumption since as a music industry insider, Frank probably received new releases from various record labels through the years, and all one needs to do is scan the most recorded pieces from the 40s, 50s, and 60s to get a good idea of what he might have been listening to.

    >> But, his love for classical music extended far beyond that.

    >> In sitting with Nelson Riddle to delineate his thoughts on orchestrations for upcoming recording sessions, Frank often said things such as, “In the beginning, make like Puccini.” Even Riddle wasn’t familiar with the type of instrumentation that Sinatra was yearning for, and he went to the library and pored through some Puccini scores, to learn that what Sinatra admired was the doubling of certain instruments.

    Another reason to respect Sinatra’s tremendous and irreplaceable artistry.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    This is only for those who are fond of popular music and its stars of the 1940’s and 1950’s. I am not one of them. I would much rather listen to the popular music singers of 1920’s and to a lesser extent 30’s. When one examines the stuffy American culture after the war, one can understand why young people rebelled in 1960’s.

  • fflambeau says:

    Sinata, it is well known, could not read music; he really had no musical training. He was the Mafia’s golden voice.

  • Philip Edwards says:

    ‘Sang’, not ‘sung’. When Sinatra sang Tchaikovsky. Axel Stordahl (of Norwegian parentage) was Sinatra’s arranger in the 1940s. He was married to the lovely popular singer June Hutton.

  • Toddsail says:

    Like comparing apples and oranges…..

  • Phil Ayling says:

    Axel Stordahl was also known as Alec Stordahl and Odd Stordahl. He was an Arranger, Orchestrator and Ghost-Composer on various 1940 MGM Musicals. Sadly, he is not well remembered today.

    He was the main Arranger for Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra and did all of the early songs that featured Frank Sinatra. Alex left for Hollywood when Sinatra left the Dorsey Orchestra. He was Sinatra’s first Music Director and wrote almost all of the early arrangements for Frank Sinatra initial solo recordings.

    He was also one of the first Arranger-Conductors to work on Variety Television, with the likes of not only Frank Sinatra, but also Dinah Shore, Jackie Gleason, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Doris Day and quite a few others. Most of those early TV shows are ‘lost’.

    Unfortunately his career was cut short by illness and he died around the age of 50.

  • Yes Addison says:

    By the time this appears, it’s probable that half a dozen people will have said the same, but…not a pseudonym. Axel Stordahl was a very fine arranger, the American son of Norwegian immigrants. He worked with Sinatra in the latter’s early years, and the two reunited for the last of Sinatra’s famous Capitol albums (Point of No Return, 1962), shortly before Stordahl’s death at 50.

    He also wrote the music for at least two standards, “I Should Care” and “Day by Day,” which Sinatra and many others recorded.

  • Philip Edwards says:

    Apologies. I can now see that Norman was being humorous in using ‘sung’, and I couldn’t correct my comment.

  • Andrew says:

    Pseudonym? Axel Stordahl was Sinatra’s longtime arranger and conductor throughout the 1940s until 1952 with Columbia Records They made one last album in 1961 for Capitol Records. It was his real name.

  • Paul Dunn says:

    Why would you suggest Axel Stordahl was a pseudonym?!

  • Paul Dunn says:

    Btw, Norman, Nelson Riddle’s not a pseudonym either

  • Ron Swanson says:

    Axel Stordahl was Tommy Dorsey’s main arranger. Stordahl meet Sinatra when he joined Dorsey’s big band in 1940. Stordahl worked with most of the big name singers of the period, Doris Day, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, to name a few.

  • V.Lind says:

    “Sang,” not “Sung.”

  • pjl says:

    SANG not SUNG surely???

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    A particularly nice version with violin obligato here : Domingo + Perlman

  • Jacob Christensen says:

    Axel Stordahl was a real person – Nelson Riddle before Nelson Riddle. Allmusic has an entry about him

  • Simon Montagu says:

    And not forgetting Spike Jones’ version:

  • Hans Christian Doerrscheidt says:

    Axel Stordahl was very real:

  • clarrieu says:

    Axel Stordahl, a pseudonym? really?
    Composer of the famous “I Should Care” among others…

  • Jason Lewis says:

    Apples and pears. Frank is singing – in his own style – a popular adaptation of the song. To say, in that context, that the bars are smudged is just daft…

  • Adrian Murray says:

    A pseudonym ? Certainly not !

  • christopher storey says:

    if you think the pitch is true, NL, your hearing needs attention ! The first two notes are hideously out of tune ( although in fairness he cannot have been helped by an introduction from the 6th Symphony )

  • Paul Randall says:

    Recommended reading about ‘Tchaikovsky’s Complete Songs’ is to be found in the book of that title written by Richard Sylvester – for me, one of the greatest music books ever written. Endless reading here if you feel that these songs are some of the greatest of all. Richard discusses all the wonderful singers of this repertoire, including Sinatra and also some of the famous performers who simply blunder through them.

  • Rob says:

    A terrible arrangement by Axel. He could do much better.

    Here’s Tchaikovsky by way of a swingin Billy May arrangement for the amazing Nat King Cole….

  • Larry says:

    One night Sinatra was a guest on the “Tonight Show.” Johnny Carson said to him: “When I’m trying to get a woman in a romantic mood, I play Sinatra records. What do you play?” And Sinatra specifically mentioned Debussy’s “The Engulfed Cathedral” and “other long-hair stuff.”

  • Ray Noblesse Oblige says:

    Al Bowlly was a better singer for me than Sinatra. Sadly, he doesn’t get the same recognition as Sinatra. Sinatra started with Tommy Dorsey a year earlier than Bowlly’s tragic death at the age of 43 in 1941.

  • Michael Sharp says:

    Two bits of relevant trivia.

    In October 2018, I attended “An Evening with Sophia Loren” where she was interviewed by Jonathan Ross. When asked about Sinatra, she mentioned having made a movie with him – “The Pride and the Passion” – just after his split with Ava Gardner. She said he was very depressed at the time and spent every free hour in his trailer listening to classical music.

    Alec Wilder wrote many songs, his most famous being “I’ll Be Around” which Sinatra recorded. He also composed a large amount of classical music, often for instruments with a small repertoire. Sinatra was friendly with him and talked him into letting him conduct some of his pieces.

  • Perry Stalsis says:

    It Happened In Broolyn . . . “One highlight of the film is seeing and hearing Sinatra and Grayson singing “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s 1787 opera Don Giovanni.” . . .

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Frank used to sneak into performances of the N Y Philharmonic so as not to attract attention. Additionally, he was a great admirer of Heifetz.