Last week I posted on Paul Weston's Mood for 12, a mid-'50s relaxing delight that I feel is among the smartest "easy listening" albums of the decade. My Weston post triggered a wave of emails from secret easy-listening listeners who offered up their own suggestions. Among the emailers was arranger, writer and jazz historian Jeff Sultanof, who favors Robert Farnon [pictured].
Admittedly, I've never been a big Farnon guy. A little heavy on the "easy" for me and not nearly enough edge. But Farnon is highly regarded by arrangers for good reason: His mastery with enormous string sections. And he does grow on you if you focus on what he's doing with those soothing strings. So I asked Jeff if he'd provide a list of his favorites for those who might be curious.
Here's Jeff Sultanof's list and comments:
Sunny Side Up: The Music of DeSylva, Brown and Henderson. "Farnon's masterpiece as an arranger, and one of the finest albums of orchestral arrangements ever written. He knew their value. He re-recorded several of them over the years." This one is available at iTunes.
Presenting Robert Farnon. "A good overall starting place. A couple of tracks also have jazz solos. Included are two Alec Wilder pieces and a version of Laura that the composer David Raksin loved." This one is available at iTunes.
How Beautiful is Night. "This one features pianist George Shearing with the Robert Farnon Orchestra." This one is available at iTunes.
Melody Fair. "Farnon originally composed these pieces for publisher Chappell's music library. These themes were heard all over radio and television during the '50s and '60s." This one is available at iTunes.
Canadian Impressions. "All library music, grouped by Robert Farnon as a suite. Gateway to the West was the theme for The David Susskind Show." This one is available at iTunes.
Tony Bennett: With Love. "One of Bennett's finest albums, barely released in 1972 when Clive Davis was dumping the older artists on his label." This one was never issued on CD and is available only on vinyl.
Sinatra Sings Songs from Great Britain. "This album wasn't Sinatra's finest moment, and it went unreleased in the U.S. for many years. But some of the arrangements are among the best Sinatra ever sung to. A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square cannot be missed." This is available at iTunes.
J.J. Johnson: Tangence. "J.J. had always wanted to record with Farnon, and he got his chance. This suffers from a poor mixdown, but is well worth hearing. " This is available on CD from independent sellers here.
JazzWax note: Though I'm not a Farnonite, I will say that my favorite Tony Bennett album with Robert Farnon is actually a swinger: The Good Things in Life (Verve) from 1972. It features a drop-dead uptempo recording of End of a Love Affair. Unfortunately, the album never made the leap to digital in the U.S. A Japanese CD of the album was available but is now out of print.
JazzWax clip: Here, the Singers Unlimited take on Robert Farnon's gorgeous How Beautiful Is Night...