"The Gordon Jenkins Collection Featuring Manhattan Tower"
"I love Gordon," Frank Sinatra said a few days before the death of Gordon Jenkins in 1984. "And, of course, you know I'm crazy about his
orchestrations. I think he's probably the most sensitive man in terms of arrangements, you can hear it. I don't mean that the others, like Nelson
(Riddle) and Billy (May), were not, but Gordon really displayed sensitivity. When you spoke to him you felt it, you heard it. I've known him a long
time, for many years as a matter of fact, even before he wrote (for me). I first met Gordon a long time ago when I was with Disney. I heard some of
the early stuff he did for Nat Cole and Judy (Garland) and I always dreamed about him doing some work for me. And that thing about New York,
Manhattan Tower, that was beautiful. Anyway, he pleased me all the time every time we worked together."
From the liner notes of The
Gordon Jenkins Collection Featuring Manhattan Tower
Gordon Jenkins was one of many orchestra directors, or band leaders as most would call them. He was in the the same league as Glenn Miller,
Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Nelson Riddle, Lawrence Welk, and others, who were making great music in the 1940s, 1950s. His most popular
hit, was "Goodnight Irene," with The Weavers. Like the Dorsey Brothers, Gordon Jenkins would recrute many singers to lead his band. The
Gordon Jenkins Collection Featuring Manhattan Tower collects 21 of Jenkins' career, spanning the years 1945 to 1953. The lead vocalists in this
collection were many, and the most popular vocalists we all recognize, were Dick Haymes & Judy Garland "For You, For Me, For Evermore," The Andrews
Sisters "I Can Dream, Can't I," Billie Holiday "God Bless The Child," Louis Armstrong "It's All In The Game," Another popular bandleader
also joined Jenkins on two songs in this collection, Artie Shaw "You're Mine, You" and "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles." There just isn't
music like this anymore, as big band music and its leaders recorded the best music in what would be later called Big Band Jazz, and Adult Contemporary.
Again, from the liner notes: Gordon Jenkins made beautiful music. It is, in his own words, "A clean, healthy song, with words of hope and
promise." The most cruical aspect of Jenkins' music is his sound itself: it's built on a big string section. As an orchestrator, Jenkins started with
dance bands and radio programs, and by the end of the war was probably the most in-demand vocalist's arranger on the scene, one of the few pop
orchestrations in that period to possess an unmistakable trademark sound recognizable on hundreds of recordings.
With Manhattan Tower,
Jenkins at last came into his own both as a recording artist and a creator of longer works. It's significant that Manhattan Tower was released in
1945, the same year as future Jenkins collaborator Frank Sinatra's The Voice. Just as The Voice was the first pop music "concept album"
a la Sgt. Pepper, Manhattan Tower was the first "album musicial" a la Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar (It's significant that
both happened not long after both the first widely-successful Oklahoma! and Duke Ellington's first extended work, Black, Brown, Beige,
and also not long before the invention of the long-playing disc.)
Manhattan Tower is a multi-prog pop song fantasia which contains a vague
storyline (which Jenkins stressed more strongly in his later "updates" of the work) but is primarily a series of orchestral and vocal impressions of
New York. Although it requires a considerable amount of disbelief - the written narration is so hokey it's hysterical - the piece on the whole is as
enthralling and engaging and just plain fun as the best show music. Constituting the most perfect example of Jenkin's music and his ideas, the Tower
is embelematic of the best kind of kisch, which still works 50 years later. Originally a 12" 78 album (four extended sides) and later a 12" LP,
Manhattan Tower was an immediate best-seller. Decca later claimed it sold over half a million units, a remarkable statistic considering that it
contained no well-known songs, no big-name stars or Broadway or Hollwood tie-ins. In 1956, when Jenkins left Decca for Capitol Records, he remade
Manhattan Tower in hi fi, adding several new songs to the suite.
The "Manhattan Tower" on this compilation is from 1945, consisting of 4 parts: "Magical City," "The Party," "New York's My Home,"
and "LOve In A Tower." Narration was by radio actor Elliot Lewis, who was currently in uniform, stationed in Los Angeles with the Armed Forces
Radio Service. Jenkins explained that if Lewis could get away for three hours by 8am, he'd be done by 11. Better yet, Jenkins said to Lewis, he would
be paid, of $250.00. Lewis agreed, and as it turned out, Lewis' work was completed in one take, in 17 minutes. "Manhattan Tower" sounded like
a Broadway musical, or even an old-time radio feature. It was probably a recording that was ahead of its time.
Throughout this collection, Jenkins' orchestra surely sounds rich, dramatic, and simply, beautiful. It is true of what they said about his "sound."
Beautiful, and it is easy to hear how he was an in-demand orchestra leader for other well-known singers and/or other bandleaders wanting to work with him.
The orchestrations were rich, full in sound. Even the singers (whether they were the most popular ones or not), they all would probably have their own
sucesses from working with Jenkins. Listening to those who were very popular -- Louis Armstrong's "It's All In The Game" was a great song, and
his voice was easily recognized. "It's All In The Game" would become a #1 hit for Tommy Edwards, in 1958. Many of the songs will bring back
the old-time radio style, as many big band songs were part of a radio show's format.
With only 21 songs on this particular compilation, and the guest vocalists and bandleader (Shaw), there were far many well-known artists that Gordon
Jenkins had worked with -- such as Ethel Merman, Al Jolson, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald (from the Decca label, which Jenkins had started with, then later
moved to Capitol). After Decca, there was Jimmy Durante, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra he had worked with. From the liner notes, again: The only
major Decca star whom Jenkins didn't share a session with was Bing Crosby. Crosby made Jenkins rich when his disc of the latter's song, "San
Fernando Valley," became a number one hit, but, as Bing biographer Gary Giddins has observed, somewhere along the line the two men had a falling
Other artists to mention: Jenkins worked on four albums with Nat King Cole [(1957-1963); Capitol], five albums with Frank Sinatra
[(1957-1959); Capitol], (1962-1981); Reprise], Hoagy Carmichael (1951), The Andews Sisters (1951), Ella Fitzgerald (1955), Judy Garland (1957, 1959),
Danny Kaye (1958), Jimmy Durante (1965), Harry Nilsson (1973).
Gordon Jenkins was born May 12, 1910, and passed away from Lou Gehrig's Disease, on May 1, 1984. He was 73 years old.
Rich, full orchestrations, superb vocals. Every song is great, although Gordon Jenkins' name (and his music) just may have not been as popular as
Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Nelson Riddle, Lawrence Welk, and others, his music and career are definitely worth mentioning.
"Goodnight Irene" maybe remembered, and most likely a "one-hit wonder" for Gordon Jenkins, but that is not true. His career in music was
successful for him. For those who enjoy 1940s/early 1950s Big Band Jazz, Gordon Jenkins' music is worth knowing.
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