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Steve TyrellJM: Why Sammy Cahn this time?

ST: Simple: I’ve always loved his songwriting. As anyone who knows me is aware, I am a fan of songwriting and consider myself a “song man.” That comes from working with greats like Burt and Hal, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and being around Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Ashford and Simpson – and being a songwriter myself, though not in their league. Everything I do is from the “song out.” I got a lot of insight into Sammy’s way with words and poetic genius via my love of Frank, since Sammy wrote 87 songs Sinatra recorded. Sammy Cahn wrote a ton of songs for movies and I have a long history of working with movie songs, starting with “Alfie,” “Valley of the Dolls,” “Promises, Promises” and “Butch Cassidy.” Great film songs have always inspired me. It’s also Sammy’s 100th birthday this year!

JM: What do Sammy Cahn’s songs mean to you personally?


ST: I learned so much about songwriting from studying his work. He was one of the most brilliant lyricists who ever lived. He really wrote for the joy of it, though he had a funny response when people would ask him what comes first, the music or lyrics. He laughed and said, “The check” because he and Jimmy Van Heusen and Jule Styne were hired to do so many film songs. He was nominated for 23 Academy Awards. He wrote words that sing, and knew how to do that better than anyone. Taking a larger historical view, his words were really the voice of the Rat Pack and that era of music we look back on now as being the hippest time in music history.

Diddy used “Luck Be A Lady” when he did that commercial for Ciroc Vodka a few years ago. One of the top shows now is “Mad Men,” and people love the way the show captures that time. The Oscars celebrated 50 years of Bond music earlier this year. One of the lines that sets some of Cahn’s later work apart from early Songbook tunes is “picked out a queen size bed” in “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head,” which Dean Martin sang in “Ocean’s 11.” Cole Porter never wrote about beds in his time. So Sammy spoke for the hippest, sexiest people in history. Things started to get sexy.


JM: Why do you think we are still collectively so in love with the Great American Songbook?

ST: To me, these songs comprise America’s greatest contribution to the arts. Nothing we’ve ever done in music measures up to the songs written by Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sammy Cahn with Jule Styne and Jimmy Van Heusen. These greats knew harmonies and melodies and how to write words that sing. That’s what Sammy was most proud of, that he wrote words that sing. When he wrote “Call Me Irresponsible,” he said it was a “five syllable song” by a guy from a “one syllable neighborhood.” When I choose the songs I want to record, I feel like a painter working from an endlessly rich and timeless palette. My challenge is always to make the songs sound modern yet timeless.

 

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