Cole Porter

The band started swinging a song

There's no need to present here one of the most famous and talented American lyricist and composer of the XXth century. The oeuvre of Porter, written in about 40 years of intensive production, is an immeasurable treasure of almost thousand songs.

For those who are in a search of biographical and more specific informations, I suggest a visit to the Cole Wide Web pages, one of the most complete and easy access to Cole's life and work.

My story begin in 2006 with the writing of 22 symphonic arrangements on unavoidable American songs like "Some enchanted evening", "September song", "You and the night and the music" and others. The CD album "So in love", featuring the flemish bass singer Wilfried Van den Brande and the Nürnberger Symphoniker conducted by Dirk Baert, was recorded in March 2007 in the prestigious Meistersingerhalle of Nürnberg.

Composers and lyricists like Berlin, Rodgers, Weil, Hammerstein or Kern are the indisputable representatives of both quality and diversity of the recorded repertoire, but the whole production of "So in Love" was soon convinced that Porter's work reaches summits of unsurpassed power. Therefore, after several months of intensive researches and thorough preparation, the producer decided to embark the same team on a far more ambitious adventure: an anthology of Cole Porter's works.

Something's got to be done

I was tremendously excited by the original philosophy of the production regarding the chosen style of the arrangements - an entirely justified, and perhaps even unique point of view. The objective was to restore the pristine spirit of Porter's songs, written almost exclusively for musicals, while using the larger dimension and the wide color palette of the symphony orchestra.

Cole Porter was all his life long in close relationship with classical music. It started from the study years - Cole received a very large musical education, practicing piano and violin at home, continuing at the Harvard School of Music after he left Yale, and ending later at the Schola Cantorum in Paris with Vincent d'Indy. 

Cole assiduously attended concert halls and opera houses, and entertained close relations with many classical musicians like Arthur Rubinstein, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud and Erik Satie. Cole always placed the most faithful interpretations far beyond improvisation, however well intentioned they were, revealing by this attitude a classical spirit. His message to Frank Sinatra about "I've got you under my skin", saying: "Do not sing my song if you can't keep to the line I composed!", is a well-known evidence, not to mention his faithful taste for Ethel Merman, who always respected the scores down to the smallest details.

Porter's songs are obviously not considered by Porter himself as sources of improvisation for jazz singers and musicians in need of repertoire! Without wanting to criticize the invaluable work done on Porter's material by musicians as prestigious as Stan Getz, Red Garland, Dinah Washington, Betty Carter ... or Michael Bublé, we must nevertheless recognize that these versions are far different from the models that generated them.

The return to basics seems even more justified, and my job has been to achieve synergy between the Urfassung aesthetics and ethics of Cole Porter, and the specific language of the symphony orchestra and classical writing.

Down in a dungeon deep

Unfortunately, the production progressively deviated from its primary objective, turning more and more ambiguous, coming closer to the more or less symphonic, Ella-and-Frankie-like swing versions of Porter's songs. This shift toward the déjà vu, rather déjà entendu, weakens of course the essence of the project. In order to get this swing touch, the production decided to add a rhythm section to almost all the arrangements already written. Alas, most of these additions are stylistically incompatible with the spirit of the symphonic arrangements on which they were implanted by force, without even consulting me, while drastically changing the tempi, erasing any hint of rhythmic flexibility and greatly weakening the emotional dimensions of my original scores.

Sitting on the fence I carefully integrated elements of rhythm section to the remaining arrangements, putting all my hopes in a last recording session. But I had to drain the cup of bitterness to the dregs: changes applied by other members of the production have definitely sealed the fate of the project.

By reading all this above one can understand how much I was disappointed by the Cole Porter Sessions CD-box, poor outcome of this production, also marred by many other negative points (numerous errors of editing, inadmissible mix, erratic vocal performance, etc.). But this bad ending is certainly not the final one. This long and exciting adventure gave birth to 61 symphonic arrangements, about 4 hours of music. This material of great wealth refreshes the most famous songs of Cole Porter, and also allows the discovery of unfamiliar, or even completely unknown titles. It's a respectful tribute to Porter's talent and oeuvre, and I'm sure to present it to the audience in a near future.

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