(Larry Coleman, Buddy Dufault)
Axel Stordahl’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
Composer (of I Should Care and Day by Day), vocalist, arranger and conductor, Axel Stordahl’s main claim to fame was as musical director and advisor to Frank Sinatra during the first decade of the singer’s career. Axel is the Danish form of Absalom but even after all this time some disc jockeys still call him “Alex”. He is largely credited with bringing pop arranging into the modern era. More specifically he was a pioneer of symphonic-style backings in a popular context. Kostelanetz was the orchestra-only equivalent. Make no mistake though, Stordahl was just as capable of conventional big band arranging.
A native New Yorker from Staten Island, he was born Odd Stordahl in 1913 to parents of Norwegian descent. Stordahl worked his way up as sideman/arranger for Bert Block and Tommy Dorsey (playing fourth trumpet and singing in a vocal trio). His gorgeous arrangements for Dorsey blossomed into perfect accompaniments for Sinatra at the studios of Columbia Records. One of the best examples of a Stordahl orchestration was Everybody Loves Somebody. (I recall wondering why that excellent 1948 song wasn’t already a hit, but 16 years later Dean Martin got around to it). Axel was conductor/arranger on nearly all Frank Sinatra records from 1943-1953. Oddly, Stordahl didn’t get a single mention in Marmorstein’s “The Story of Columbia Records!”. A pallid complexion, softly spoken and a sensitive musician, Stordahl suffered from a rheumatic heart. His interest in serious music, particularly Frederick Delius, influenced his ballad charts.
Sinatra and Stordahl eventually parted company, the crooner going to Capitol. However Stordahl conducted Sinatra for his first date at the new label and recorded several light orchestral 78rpm discs also at Capitol. (By the way Capitol is strictly pronounced Capi-TOL as it’s spelt, not Capi-TAL). When I was a radio announcer, the powers that be insisted on it. It’s important to remember there would be no Riddle without Stordahl, who paved the way for Nelson to be his natural successor. And talking of the composer of High Strung, it might be worth mentioning that an earlier Dufault (François) born in France in 1600 was considered one of the greatest lutenists of his time.
In the 21st century, the title High Strung (grammatically speaking it should be “highly-strung”) became even more appropriate in terms of the state of anxiety that affects so many people today. Once again the David Rose sound is in the frame with a labour intensive exercise from the very start. Instead of pizzicato (as in Holiday for Strings) it’s just regular arco, quickly changing to the woodwind and before we know it, we’re back to the strings.
Then taking another leaf, this time out of the Rose middle section formula, Stordahl heads for the heights with a horn and a strong string tremor. Soon we’re back at the start for a brief repeat of that exercise. Then unlike Holiday for Strings the main melody slows right down, beginning with a suggestion of the opening of TwelfthStreet Rag and the Du Und Du waltz. A piano joins the strings for some romantic meanderings in the manner of Leonard Pennario’s Midnight ontheCliffs.
Then seven assertive string chords re-introduce the by now familiar melody in its original fast state but this time we go quickly into another glorious Rose-like quake (with a hint of Robert Farnon’s Portrait of a Flirt). And finishing on a nervous note, High Strung is brought to a conclusion by the timpani.
In the second half of the 1940s the light orchestral world was turned on its head when the musical baton was handed on from Rose to Farnon, who gave the style a fix that changed light music forever. (Just shows you that even Stordahl was well acquainted with the Farnon style). Who wasn’t!
High Strung Axel Stordahl Orchestra Capitol 78 rpm CL 14047