Leo Green is a top BBC radio presenter, curator of The Green Room and talented musician whose career has involved playing alongside the likes of Van Morrison and Ray Charles. Here, Green shares with us his top five artists to include for the perfect dinner playlist.
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1) Frank Sinatra
With thousands of songs to choose from, it’s hard to go wrong, but I would suggest anything from the albums he recorded with Count Basie’s Orchestra such as I Only Have Eyes For You. Frank was someone who liked to eat out at restaurants every night and always wanted the music to his taste in the venue, often booking his own piano player for the night to play, just in case he fancied singing after dinner. Famously one night in New York, Frank was eating and his friend, the comedian Don Rickles, came over to say hello. He told Frank he was having dinner with a woman he was trying to impress and asked Frank if he wouldn’t mind popping over to the table later. Ever the gent, Frank agrees and about 15 minutes later, he wanders over to the couple and says, “Hi Don, how are you, nice to see you”. At which point, Don looks up and says, “Frank, do you mind? Can’t you see we’re in the middle of eating?” Classic Sinatra – and a nice story for your dinner party.
2) Dinah Washington
The voice that inspired everyone that followed her – and the go-to singer for Amy Winehouse. Although anything by her is incredible, What a Difference a Day Makes never fails to stop me in my tracks. Dinah led an interesting life. She was married an impressive eight times, mainly to the guys in her band. Husband number one was a drummer, then there was George Jenkins, a musician. Number three wasn’t a musician, so he’s of no interest to us. Number four was her bass player, Walter Buchanan, and then she tried a sax player with husband number five, Eddie Chamberlee, although that didn’t last too long and she ended up firing him during a gig one night. Husband number six was an actor called Rafael Compos, number seven was a drummer and then her eighth and final husband was a late night TV host. Still, who are we to judge? Given her interesting romantic history, I’m not sure how much she believed the sentiment of What a Difference a Day Makes – which makes her interpretation of the song even more amazing.
3) Nat King Cole
When Frank Sinatra got home, he said the voice he put on his home stereo to relax to was that of Nat King Cole. If you listen to Nat’s versions of Let There Be Love, L-O-V-E or When I Fall In Love, it’s easy to see why he was one of Sinatra’s favourite singers. Nat was the only equal in Jazz to Louis Armstrong, in that his instrumental playing was as influential as his vocals. As a piano player, he influenced the style and technique of so many who followed him, perhaps most notably Ray Charles and Oscar Peterson.
4) Aretha Franklin
Chronologically and stylistically, Aretha took the baton from Dinah Washington. The combination of Dinah’s influence – and Aretha’s own gospel background – ended up with a voice and a style that will probably never be bettered. Where Frank Sinatra defined an entire genre of singing, Aretha also defined her own genre, establishing
what it took vocally to be a soul singer. To accompany your dinner party, how about her version of You’re All I Need To Get By or Try A Little Tenderness? I’m sure the occasion will be all the better for it.
5) Ella & Louis
Two for the price of one for this selection. The recordings made by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong never fail to put a smile on my face and so I would recommend anything by these two. If I had to choose one, it would have to be their recording of George and Ira Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here To Stay, as that was the song my wife and I walked down the aisle to. Enjoy your dinner party...