<< p. 3 >>
<< 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 >>

__Before any reader forms a mental picture of a lonely, isolated man, and starts in with the pop psychology, understand that Carl Sigman lived the life he desired, however remote it might seem to those who prefer or find comfort in the extended families we develop in business, recreational activities, clubs and the like. Michael adds, “He was very, very private. He never talked about his experiences in World War II, and I only learned after he died that he had won a Bronze Star, when I found it in his personal items. One of the great things about the way he was, though, is that there was no ego, no showing off, nothing like that. The flipside is that he wasn’t as expansive personally as he was in his music. He expressed his deepest feelings in the songs. And those are certainly loving and heartfelt and intimate.”
__That Carl Sigman became a songwriter at all is music’s gain and the legal world’s loss. A graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, Sigman, in deference to his mother, who had insisted he become a doctor or a lawyer, matriculated at New York University, earned a bachelor of law degree from the NYU Law School and was admitted to the New York State Bar. But Carl’s heart was not in the study and practice of law, so he started hanging around the Brill Building in Manhattan, where many of the top songwriters of the day were to be found penning the tunes that would soon be heard on the Hit Parade. He was befriended by and wrote his first professional song with Johnny Mercer, who recalled in his memoir, “After playing softball together in the Brooklyn schoolyards, we’d spend long nights writing what seemed to be Isham Jones songs. [Jones fronted a formidable dance band in the pre-swing era, was a first-rate songwriter himself, and was a regular presence on Billboard’s Top 20 pop chart from 1920 through 1938.] But we had only one song published, ‘Just Remember,’ and it was not a hit. But I loved Carl’s tunes. As it turned out, he was also a great lyric writer, which he later proved.”

__What Mercer doesn’t mention is that he pushed Sigman into lyric writing. When they met, Carl was a tunesmith, a melody writer. But Mercer advised him, “A band has 15 musicians who can write tunes to one person who can write a lyric. You have a flair for it; you’ll get songs published.” Of course Mercer knew whereof he spoke, but even he could not have envisioned the monuments Sigman would construct after launching his career with “Just Remember,” that 1936 co-copyright with Mercer.

Frank Sinatra recorded twelve of Carl Sigman’s songs.

__The 1940s would be the first of four-plus bountiful decades for Carl, more than justifying Mercer’s assessment of the budding songwriter’s gift. The beginning of the ’40s saw the Big Band era in full flower, but giving way, post-war, to the rise of small combos, such as The King Cole Trio, which recorded several of Carl’s songs for radio transcription. As well, the ’40s saw Carl on the charts with “Before Long,” by Louis Armstrong; “It’s Square But It Rocks” (interesting title in light of the musical revolution the ’50s would bring) by Count Basie with Helen Humes; “Busy As A Bee,” by Benny Goodman with Helen Forrest handling vocals; “The Thousand Islands Song,” by Johnny Mercer, then Arthur Godfrey, and then Louis Prima; “Don’t Ever Be Afraid To Go Home” by Bing Crosby and later Frank Sinatra, recording one of twelve Carl Sigman songs he would set to wax over the years; and “Crazy He Calls Me,” by Billie Holiday.
__From King Cole to Lady Day to the Count to the Chairman of the Board to Der Bingle to Satchmo — that these towering artists, not merely among the most important of their time but of all time, zeroed in on Carl’s songs is evidence enough to warrant him being mentioned in the same breath with the decade’s most important songwriters.
__Throughout his long career, Carl continued to write hits in his own style, oblivious to the changing trends in popular music (Michael says his father had neither a record collection nor any interest whatsoever in generational changes in musical taste). His great gift was his innate understanding of how listeners connected emotionally with a direct, conversational style of lyric. Almost entirely devoid of flowery language and surreal imagery, his songs instead trade on colloquial expressions and plot lines easily accessible to and recognizable by listeners who have struggled with sustaining relationships in the face of quotidian pressures, or find the strength to get through a hard day and still believe everything will work out in the end. Not that Carl Sigman was pop’s answer to Woody Guthrie — far from it, for his songs were also devoid of political or social commentary, apart from personal politics — but he had a populist touch in understanding the forces that shape common folks’ lives. He also was blessed with gifted collaborators through the years, among them Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Gilbert Becaud, Francis Lai, Jimmy Van Heusen, Bob Hilliard, Peter De Rose, E.Y. Harburg, Percy Faith, Erroll Garner, Bob Russell and Luis Bonfa. >

<< 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 >>