The Man Behind "What Now My Love," "It's All in the Game,"
"The Twelfth of
Never," "Ebb Tide" and Other Classics
Carl Sigman...The Man Behind...
By Steven Rosenfeld
Which 20th century songwriter had a six-decade-long career with work recorded
by Count Basie, Benny Good- man, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Louis Prima,
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, The Four Coins, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Brenda
Lee, Sonny and Cher, Andy Williams, Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughan, Jerry Lee
Lewis, Merle Haggard, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell among others?
Why Carl Sigman, of course. But most people would ask,
"Carl who?" And
that's just the way he liked it, explained his son, Michael Sigman, who just
released a three-CD set featuring the remarkable career of a man who preferred
to let his music speak for itself.
"The interesting thing about doing this whole package
was (by his own
design) he didn't want people to really know him or even his work as the work
one person," Michael Sigman said. "He just wanted people to like each
Well, people certainly did like Carl Sigman songs and not
artists whose voices poured out of radios and records for years. Sigman's life
very much followed the ebbs and flows of mid-century American pop music created
in and around New York City for people who enjoyed a dash of wit,
sophistication and urban style.
Born in 1909 and raised in Brooklyn, Carl Sigman's career
beginnings. While giving piano lessons, he started writing his own melodies. He
found Johnny Mercer, best known for working with Duke Ellington, and Mercer
became his friend and musical mentor.
"After playing softball together in the Brooklyn
schoolyards, we'd spend
long nights writing what seemed to be Isham Jones songs," Mercer wrote in
memoirs. "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."
Michael Sigman says his father soon focused on lyrics and
tried to write
songs that sounded like snippets of conversation. The titles attest to his
success: "All Too Soon," "What Now My Love?" "Losing
You." Of course, hearing
artists such as Nat King Cole implore a disappointed lover to "Come Out Of
Rain" added a timeless touch.
Before World War II, Sigman tended to get assignments from
big bands to
write lyrics. He would go to the Brill Building in Manhattan and write. The CD
features "It's Square But It Rocks" from this era, performed by Count
and his Orchestra with Helen Hume. The title refers to the dance floor and a
club, said Michael Sigman.
After the War, Carl Sigman continued writing on his own, but
collaborating with Bob Russell and Bob Hilliard, They often spent hours
together writing music and lyrics, Michael Sigman said. Then the music
business changed yet again.
"As he got older and the business changed, it became
much more that he
would not necessarily meet the person that he was collaborating with, but would
get even in the mail, or by messenger - a whole bunch of melodies from a
publisher, with a note saying, 'Carl, can you write lyrics to any of
his son recounted. "He wouldn't do the two-hour-a-day discipline thing. He
would just obsess on them until they were all done."
Sigman remembers his father sitting at the piano at their
home, playing the key phrases of a melody over and over. "He always said
come up with a title, you're halfway there," Michael Sigman said.
"And what he
would try to do was get a title of those venacularese words if I can say
that with a melody."
As you might suspect, Frank Sinatra was his father's
Sinatra recorded 13 Carl Sigman songs, starting with "Love Lies" in
1940 to "What
Now My Love," in a duet with Aretha Franklin in the 1990s. What Carl
liked best about Sinatra was what everybody liked his amazing vocal phasing,
Michael Sigman said.
What's been most gratifying to Michael Sigman about the
project has been
the reaction by artists who know his father's music and in some cases still
perform it. Sigman got a surprise phone call this winter from Keely Smith,
who told him, "I knew your dad wrote "Bongo, Bongo" but I didn't
know he wrote
all that other stuff!"
"My favorite one from someone who is on the disc is a
I got from Brenda Lee, which said that "Losing You" is one of her
songs and she still does it whenever she plays. It shows the value of great
songs," Sigman recalled. "It was signed 'Love, Brenda.' That was a