Celebrating Sammy Cahn

Come Fly with Me: The Sammy Cahn Centennial Concert
Nov. 24, 3pm
Prudential Hall

Sammy Cahn, a smart-alecky kid from the Lower East Side, somehow grew into a songman whose words would melt hearts or, in the case of Frank Sinatra, help create a legend.

The lyricist, who teamed with some of the greatest songwriters of his time, was attuned to the Kid from Hoboken’s street-wise swagger but tempered it with suavity, notably in the Capitol Records sessions in the 1950s and early ‘60s. Hit after hit rolled from the studio – “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Come Fly with Me,” “Love and Marriage,” “High Hopes” – all the progeny of Cahn’s dynamic partnership with composer Jimmy Van Heusen.

sammycahnpiano_300x232_2.jpg“I understand I’m considered to have ‘put more words into Frank Sinatra’s mouth than any other man,’” Cahn (1913-1993) observed in his autobiography, I Should Care: The Sammy Cahn Story. No argument from Frank Sinatra, Jr., who told NJPAC, “Sammy Cahn didn’t just write songs for Frank Sinatra. He wrote hits for Frank Sinatra.”

Frank Jr., an accomplished bandleader and orchestrator, picks up the mic at NJPAC for Come Fly with Me: The Sammy Cahn Centennial Concert, an evening of swinging sounds featuring another vocalist with Sinatra-esque style, Steve Tyrell. The New Jersey Symphony Chamber Orchestra provides the accompaniment (the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is collaborating with NJPAC for this event) and proceeds benefit arts education programs of both presenters.

The pre-Thanksgiving program is a feast of Cahn’s achievements, most of them written with Van Heusen. (Coincidentally, this is the centennial year for both songmen.) Novelty numbers like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and “Pocketful of Miracles” – one of the tougher ones to write, according to the lyricist – will pepper a selection of lush standards, including “Call Me Irresponsible” and “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night in the Week).” Cahn’s typically breezy style will be front and center in “Love Is the Tender Trap,” “Walking Happy” and “Teach Me Tonight.”

A go-to interpreter of Cahn’s songbook, Frank Jr. mentions in conversation Cahn’s American classics – “All the Way,” “Time After Time,” for starters – then adds a couple of personal favorites: “All My Tomorrows” and “The Second Time Around,” with its lyric: “It’s that second time you hear your love song sung,/Makes you think perhaps that love like youth is wasted on the young.”

Born Samuel Cohen, the son of Polish immigrants, Cahn had no fear of starving at least, because his father owned a restaurant. He ran with a rough crowd in a neighborhood where you had two life choices, his widow, Tita Cahn, remembers being told: “show business or the chair.” Cahn gravitated to the music programs at the Henry Street Settlement, a social services agency where five students today are sponsored in his name.

That scrappiness informed his lyrics, but, as Tita says, “Under the finger-snapping, wise-cracking guy who entered the room was a tender-hearted, very sensitive ballad writer.” She describes different sides of Cahn’s personality, using an early Sixties Sinatra hit written with Van Heusen and a 1940s love song released during a rewarding partnership with composer Jule Styne.

“His great humor is clear in all those songs that are upbeat, ‘Come Blow Your Horn’ for instance: ‘If you want to score – roar.’ That’s very Sammy. But then he was equally a great, great ballad writer. For ‘I’ll Walk Alone,’ which was a very big World War II song, the same writer who writes ‘If you want to score – roar’ writes, ‘I’ll always be near you, wherever you are,/Each night in ev’ry prayer./If you call I’ll hear you,/No matter how far;/Just close your eyes and I’ll be there.’ That’s the tender-hearted guy I fell in love with.”

Which comes first, words or music? “The phone call comes first, always the phone call,” Cahn famously said. Through the years there were many: 26 Oscar nominations and four statuettes were awarded for his film work alone. Bent over his piano, wearing owlish spectacles, Cahn poured out the words that made Chicago your kind of town, tagged Millie as thoroughly modern, and pleaded “Just kiss me once,/Then kiss me twice,/Then kiss me once again,/It’s been a long, long time.”

Frank Sinatra, Jr. says he recently chanced on one of his father’s “Rat Pack” flicks, Robin and the 7 Hoods, and stopped to listen to the Cahn-Van Heusen soundtrack. “It was just a constant flowing of these great tunes that were successful. More than just good music.”
Reminiscing in the centennial year of her husband’s birth, Tita Cahn says Sammy and the Chairman of the Board shared “a kind of synergy.”

“I think that’s because they were both from the East, Frank from Hoboken and Sammy from the Lower East Side – they had a street way of speaking. So the language of Sammy’s songs was comfortable for Frank to sing … ‘All the dreams I dream, beg or borrow,/On some bright tomorrow’; ‘If you’ll let me love you/It’s for sure I’m gonna love you’; ‘If you can use some exotic booze …’ How about ‘Ring-A-Ding-Ding?’

“They ‘got’ each other.”

For tickets, click here.

Oct. 2, 2013
 

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