Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Zito's Zingy Stringy Legacy

Torrie Zito, a musical arranger who worked with a lot of great singers, died last week. Reading his obituary got me thinking about the role of an arranger, and the impact Torrie Zito has had on my listening.

Since I'm a huge Sinatra fan, I can immediately hear Zito's string arrangements on two songs from a long-forgotten 1965 musical (Skyscraper): "Everybody's Got the Right to Be Wrong" and "I Only Miss Her When I Think of Her". The former is a nice swing number; the latter a ballad. Why are these songs planted in my memory? It is due to the combination of Sinatra with his impeccable phrasing and Zito with his arranging. No singer stands alone.

I'm preparing for a musical performance, so I can appreciate the communication that needs to occur between a singer and his or her musical arranger. A song is basically a template, and the pleasure of collecting countless versions of standards is discovering how they can be rethought and experienced anew through the filter of another singer and arranger.

If you're a Tony Bennett fan, you have heard much Zito in your aural pasta. His temperament is similar to Bennett's: although his style must ultimately be branded "pop music", there is always a strong jazz undercurrent. Reading an interview with Zito brought up a name from the 1960s that I hadn't thought about in years: Andre Kostelanetz. Oh, how my father loved his records (along with the Ray Conniff Singers). How I defined them as the quintessence of musical cheese! And how I've come to eat my words over the years! (Well, I appreciate Zito, anyway.)

Troll through a search for Zito on Barnes & Noble and you're knocked out to realize how many great performers he worked with over his career. He was a musical craftsman who honed a style that provided a platform that many singers found attractive.

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