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MAVIS RIVERS - A BRIEF HISTORY
On May 19, 1929 in Apia, Western Samoa, Mavis Chloe Rivers was born into a musical family. Her Samoan father Moody Rivers was a sax player, and bandleader, who initially got Mavis interested in music, especially the standards and big band music. Her Samoan mother Louisa brought 13 children into the world and as the oldest child Mavis influenced each of her younger siblings as the family grew. Gathering for musical sing-alongs became a regular event through the years as music was so important to the Rivers family. Mom used to tell me that these get-togethers were the foundation of her musical upbringing, and that was instilled in me as well. Eventually, the family settled in Auckland, New Zealand for greater opportunities and as the Rivers kids grew many of them pursued music. Younger brother Harry became a very good drummer, and two sisters, along with Mavis, formed The Rivers Sisters who released many popular records in New Zealand. In the mid-1950's it was Mavis who eventually stood out to become one of New Zealand's most popular vocalists, recording for New Zealand's biggest label. Following this success Mavis decided to pursue her dreams and move to the USA. In a very short amount of time her talents were recognized by Los Angeles-based ukulele virtuoso Johnny “Ukulele” Ka`aihue. Johnny, whose famous sister Mary Kaye was a Las Vegas lounge act mainstay (and who also was the uncle of Henry Kapono of Cecilio and Kapono fame in Hawaii) assembled a Hawaiian styled trio that performed all over the Los Angeles area hiring Mavis as vocalist & guitarist. The other member of the trio, whom mom eventually married, was my soon-to-be father, vocalist and bassist Dave Catingub.
As Mavis' vocal ability began to get more notoriety she set out to record a demo (a tall order in the late 1950’s!), and literally based solely on her incredible vocal ability, landed her first recording contract with the legendary Capitol Records in Hollywood, recording her very first US album backed by the arrangements of the one and only Nelson Riddle.
After Being nominated as best new artist at the very first Grammy awards, and after recording three acclaimed LPs for the Capitol Records label, her label mate Frank Sinatra decided to end his own relationship with Capitol. His answer to the issues he was having with Capitol Records was to form and create his own recording label. Sinatra created Reprise Records, a label that would focus more on the music and artistry of its artists. Sinatra of course asked his buddies to join him immediately, including Dean Martin, Joe E. Louis, Rosemary Clooney, and many more of the finest singers and instrumentalists of the day. As Sinatra was always a leader in recognizing a person's talent no matter what their race or creed, he also hired a variety of people of color including Sammy Davis Jr., Ben Webster and Duke Ellington. The very first female vocalist he signed, whom Sinatra nicknamed his “Swinging Lady”, was Samoan-born Mavis Rivers. As a result mom entered the studio in late 1960 to record what would be one of the first three initial releases on Sinatra’s Reprise records. Amazingly Mavis at the time was very pregnant, but everyone involved with the recording all mutually agreed that she should finish the album as soon as possible. The legendary Marty Paich (father of David Paich, the leader and founder of the rock band Toto) was enlisted to write the arrangements and back Mavis with his famous Dek-Tette which included jazz greats Mel Lewis, Bud Shank, and Jack Sheldon, among others. After the recording sessions a photographer was sent to our home to take pictures of her for the cover of her album. Still very pregnant at the time it was only a couple of months later in March of 1961 that Mavis gave birth to me, her second son, Matthew Catingub. And with the release of her album simply titled "Mavis", my mother had completed one step in her amazing journey from Samoa to Sinatra.
FROM SAMOA TO SINATRA - THE PROJECT
This is the recording project I always wanted to do, and I knew I HAD to do. When I lost my mom in 1992 my heart told me that one day I had to honor and thank her, not only for the musical gifts she blessed me with, but also to honor the music she loved, as well as the people that loved her, and made her career what it was, and by extension made what I have been able to accomplish in my life even possible.
My mother being pregnant with me at the time of her recording her first Reprise album can only be described as a fortunate stroke of serendipity. As you will read below I have had the opportunity to obtain my mothers isolated recorded vocals from that era, and I have been able to use this precious audio in the creation of my new project. The mere fact that I am singing with my mother in duet form, knowing that she was pregnant with me, is an indescribable experience. Jumping off script for a moment, but on a related anecdote, my mothers last full-length album recording, IT’S A GOOD DAY recorded in 1983, was recorded in the same studio that she recorded this first album for Reprise, with her son leading the band, rather than in her tummy.
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My mother went on to record two more albums for Sinatra’s Reprise label, each of them garnering more praise and respect for this little girl from Apia Samoa. She passed away in 1992, as she had cosmically foreseen, while on stage doing what she loved: singing and performing with her son Matthew at her side. Since that night I had always wished there were a way to find one last opportunity to perform with my mother. Now, thanks to incredible advances in recording technology, I have been able to do just that, and then some. FROM SAMOA TO SINATRA is a musical love letter from her son to his mother. It’s a project I have long dreamt of completing and that goal has finally been accomplished.
As I write this I am happy to say I have made it to my 60th year on this planet. And in my career I have felt that mom has always been somehow helping me from afar. From getting a chance to honor her by singing at Carnegie Hall just a few years after her passing, to the wonderful journey I have had through the years as a Symphony Orchestra Pops Conductor/Performer, a journey that began in Honolulu Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, where my mother was laid to rest. This is the album I knew I always knew I had to record.
FROM SAMOA TO SINATRA - THE PROCESS
Assembled during an unprecedented time of a worldwide pandemic in 2020/2021 all of the performances on this recording were captured remotely in studios both professional and personal, as well as in socially distanced safe environments, such as the legendary Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia. In my career I have been fortunate enough to work with musicians all over the world. Because of this I decided to choose colleagues from coast to coast in the USA and Canada, and especially Hawaii. Each of these musicians contributed their brilliant performances while in sequestration during the pandemic months of 2020 and 2021 and I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them.
The creation of this project has been a life long ambition of mine. It honors the music of both my incredible jazz vocalist "mommy," and one of the people I admire most musically and in life, the one and only Mr. Frank Sinatra. Each song was carefully selected for its relevance to each of these artists, as well as their place along the journey FROM SAMOA SINATRA
FROM SAMOA TO SINATRA - THE SONGS
It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) 2:16
(Lyrics by Irving Mills, Music by Duke Ellington)
Duet with Mavis Rivers
We open this recording with a virtual duet of my mother and I on the Duke Ellington standard. She recorded this classic song for her first Reprise Album simply titled "Mavis", and this is the first instance of me duetting with my mother's recorded voice from 60 years ago, and while she was pregnant with me!
This Could Be It 3:06
(Lyrics & Music by Johnny White)
The liner notes from Mom's 2nd Reprise album say that Frank Sinatra himself had this on his own personal list of 'Songs I Should Really Record'. My mother was one of the only artists to record it, and since it is a personal favorite of mine I wanted to include this swinger.
I Remember You 4:32
(Lyrics by Irving Mills, Music by Victor Schertzinger)
Mom recorded a fast swingin' version of this song on her third Reprise album, but I wanted to do a gentle version that wraps a lush string section around it. And lyrically I sing this lovingly for my mother.
Get Out And Get Under The Moon 2:32
A favorite song of mine that Mom used to do live, and also recorded it on one of her Capitol albums. I wanted to give this a kind-of Dean Martin swing swagger to it because it's just a real fun song to sing, and also let's the band loose as well.
On Second Thought 3:17
(Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Music by Cy Coleman)Lead Vocal-Mavis Rivers
Piano & Vocal Group-Matt Catingub
Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, composers of WITCHCRAFT, and THE BEST IS YET TO COME, among many other great standards, composed this song exclusively for my mother. On this one I placed my mother's original recorded vocal as the lead voice in a four-voiced virtual jazz vocal group and the results are just plain cool!
People Will Say We're In Love 3:50
(Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Music by Richard Rodgers)
Duet with Amy Hanaiali`i
Alto Sax-Matt Catingub
If one singer of Pacific Island heritage could be considered the carrier of the flame it would be my dear friend, and number one female vocalist in Hawaii Amy Hanaiali`i. I asked Amy to sing this standard with me which my mother recorded on her first Reprise album. The obvious smiles on our faces as we sang say everything about the joy we both shared recording this Rodgers and Hammerstein duet!
There's No You 4:36
(Lyrics by Tom Adair, Music by Hal Hopper)
Guest Vocal-Mavis Rivers
This is a most special song as I chose it to sing at Carnegie Hall in tribute to mom, and it is my favorite of mom's recordings. She was pregnant with me when she recorded this, and it feels like a passing of the torch. Mom starts singing the verse as she recorded 60 years ago, but morphs into my vocal in present day as I then sing this song FOR her.
You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To 3:26
(Lyrics & Music by Cole Porter)
Alto Sax- Matt Catingub
Recorded on her "Mavis" LP this song, and Mom's version, has always been a favorite standard of mine. Love that the McDuffie Center strings get a chance to be featured and 'swing' on this tune!
(Lyrics by Gene Lees, Music by Antonio Carlos Jobim)
Mom loved Bossa Nova, and loved Antonio Carlos Jobim. And I loved how she interpreted both. And Sinatra famously recorded a number of Jobim songs making Tom Jobim famous in America .So I wanted to do my own version of one of the classic Brazilian jazz standards that both she and Frank loved to sing and gift wrap it with a gorgeous string section coating!
The Best Is Yet To Come 3:22
(Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Music by Cy Coleman)
Duet with Mavis Rivers
Alto Sax- Matt Catingub
A true jazz vocal standard, and its title also happens to be Mr. Sinatra's epitaph. Thanks to modern recording technology I get to perform this song as a duet with my mother's voice excerpted from her third Reprise Album, whom by the way shows why Frank nicknamed her his "Swingin' Lady"!
All My Tomorrows 4:29
(Lyrics by Sammy Cahn, Music by Jimmy van Heusen)
Another favorite ballad of mine. A song written for Mr. Sinatra and recorded by both he and my mother. Marty Paich's original arrangement for mom was just awesome I tried to capture the spirit of that while injecting my own style into my own arrangement
Honeysuckle Rose 4:45
(Lyrics by Andy Razaf, Music by Fats Waller)
Alto Sax- Matt Catingub
The opening track from mom's "Mavis" LP. Arranger Marty Paich decided to not use a piano 95% of the time on this record, and only possible because of my mother's incredible musical pitch. With that I decided, in part, to mirror that concept, and also get a chance to feature my dear friend Kevin Axt on bass, who accompanied my mom for many years.
In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening 3:24
(Lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Music by Hoagy Carmichael)Piano- Matt Catingub
A shout-out to mom's time at Capitol Records. But this version of this song is special in that Capitol Records founder, and legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer, wrote some extra lines of lyrics especially for my mom, and I have included those in my recording!
Pick Yourself Up 3:02
(Lyrics by Dorothy Fields, Music by Jerome Kern)
"Tenor Sax"- Matt Catingub
Mom used to share a story about her excitement of watching Sinatra record this song for one of his Reprise albums. I was fortunate to re-visit this song when I arranged the music for George Clooney's Oscar nominated, and Grammy winning film Goodnight & Good Luck for which I arranged the music. This arrangement is based on the fun cha-cha version I did for the film.
Medley: Away In A Manger/Hark! The Herald Angels Sing 3:46
Vocal Group-Matt Catingub
During my mother's time at Reprise Frank Sinatra asked his artists to each record a track for an all-star Christmas LP. My mother was asked to record two songs as a medley. I have taken my mom's recorded vocal and wrapped a brand new arrangement around it using a "choir" and full band. This bonus track I hope will bring yearly Holiday smiles to all!
FROM SAMOA TO SINATRA - LINER NOTES BY WILL FRIEDWALD
For Matt Catingub, From Samoa to Sinatra is more than just a catchy album title. In fact, I can’t help but be reminded of how, for Sinatra himself, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers was also far from merely a memorable name for an album, or even a marketing hook. When Sinatra and Nelson Riddle recorded those 15 tracks for that masterpiece of an album in 1956, the idea of “swinging lovers” was very real and concrete: love songs rendered with a big band jazz beat. The arrangements swung, they danced, they moved, they jumped, but it was Sinatra’s supreme skills as an interpreter that they still remained love songs at their core: even though couples could dance to this music, they could also make love to it. This was undeniably a jazz album, but with Sinatra turning on the romantic heat on “Love is Here to Stay” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” these classic ballads were as seductive as ever. “Swinging Lovers” indeed.
This was undoubtedly the quality that Sinatra himself recognized in the singing of Mavis Rivers when he lured her away from Capitol Records to follow him to his new enterprise, Reprise Records, in 1960. Just like Rosemary Clooney and Keely Smith, two other female singers whom Sinatra recruited for the new Reprise operation, Mavis could move you emotionally even while moving you physically and rhythmically, and break your heart without ever breaking the beat.
Both the late Miss Rivers and her second-born child, Matt Catingub, achieve this over and over again here on From Samoa to Sinatra, thus honoring this tradition, that Sinatra established, of Swinging Lovers. In fact, nearly every track exemplifies this ideal, a song with powerful emotional resonance that nonetheless moves, jumps, and dances. Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” (no less than “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”) is a regulation example of how to achieve both goals at once, first famously by Sinatra (on A Swingin’ Affair 1956), then by Mavis (on her second Reprise album Mavis, 1961), and now by Matt, in honor of both of them.
For me, the acid test is “On Second Thought,” one of the most devastatingly touching lyrics ever written by Carolyn Leigh, with a worthy melody by her greatest collaborator Cy Coleman. Both songwriters were longtime contributors to the Sinatra songbook, and they wrote this torch song expressly for Mavis, probably on Sinatra’s request. Alas, The Chairman himself never performed this one, but Mavis and now Matt render it with such specifically Sinatra-informed acumen that he almost didn’t have to. Matt’s arrangement casts his mother’s voice in a quartet harmony setting and, sublimely musical and swinging as it is (and in spite of how most other singers do it at a much slower tempo), the song still more than gets its point across on a purely emotional level.
“People Will Say We’re In Love,” delivered in tandem with Hawaiian chanteuse Amy Hanaiali`i, is a rocking, uptempo treatment of the traditional Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune duet - transformed from a Broadway 2/4 to a swinging 4/4 and yet with the feeling between the two participants still being more than palpable. Granted that the opener “It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)” is a pure Duke Ellington swinging “flag waver” that isn’t customarily performed for its emotional impact, but here, Matt’s feeling for his mother is impossible to miss - especially since we know that when Mavis sang this in 1960 for her first Reprise album, she was then carrying her second child, and that Matt was already learning from a master musician even while still in utero.
“There’s No You,” written by Matt Dennis and Tom Adair for Sinatra while he was still in embryonic form (so to speak) within the Tommy Dorsey band, is taken at a much slower tempo but still highly danceable. “This is It” by the lesser known Johnny White (also from the 1961 album Mavis) is another delightful example of one of the most deliberately Frankish songs I ever heard, sounding like an unreleased Sinatra-Riddle Capitol single, yet which seems to have never crossed the chairman’s doorway.
“Desafinado,” which uses the lesser known English lyric by Canadian scribe Gene Lees (even as Sinatra and Jobim did) speaks to Sinatra’s interest in world music - yes, the patron saint of the American songbook was all for building bridges rather than boundaries. And “Pick Yourself Up,” as Matt tells it, is a special story; Mavis was present in the studio in 1962 when Sinatra and Neal Hefti recorded their brilliant take on this Fred Astaire classic. Matt’s treatment is strictly his own, and, ingeniously incorporates the latin standard “Adios” as a countermelody, which gives the Fields-Kern perennial a warmly latinate underpinning that it never had before.
The ballad “I Remember You” and the jazz-age novelty “Get Out and Get Under the Moon” come from the songbook of Mavis’s other legendary label-mate at Capitol Records, the great Nat King Cole. (Matt learned them from Mavis, but it’s my personal contention that Nat inspired Mavis to sing them.) The latter is delivered in a jaunty 4/4 rather than a 1920s two-beat, whereas the former joins “All My Tomorrows” as one of the most moving ballads here. The late Sammy Cahn would have never admitted it, but the lyric to this classic 1959 song for Sinatra (which the Chairman sings over the main titles of A Hole in the Head) shows that, whether Sammy would have fessed up to it or not, he was, in fact, an incurable romantic.
It’s become a kind of millennial cliche to describe a collection of songs as a “journey,” but that’s exactly what Matt Catingub has achieved, as enjoyable as any “road movie,” in this voyage from Samoa to Sinatra. And the music of the great, underappreciated Mavis Rivers, no less than that of Sinatra himself, is so nice to come home to.
Will Friedwald, September 2021
FROM SAMOA TO SINATRA - CREDITS
Produced by Matt Catingub & Allen Sviridoff
Recorded and Mixed by Matt Catingub
All Lead and Background Vocals by Matt Catingub (except where indicated)
Strings recorded by Rob Evans & Steve Moretti
Strings recorded at Capricorn Sound Studios, Macon, Georgia
String Sessions Co-Produced by Steve Moretti
All other recording done at individual recording spaces throughout the U.S. and Canada
All Arrangements and Orchestrations by Matt Catingub
Cover Photo of Matt Catingub- Maryanne Bates
Cover Concept - Kevin Axt
Alto Saxes - Alex Budman (Los Angeles, CA), Tammy Danielson (Orlando, FL)
Tenor Sax - Larry Cook (Honolulu, HI)
Baritone Sax - Pat Beliveau (Calgary, AB Canada)
Trumpets - Dave Scott (Sedona AZ), Joel Spanky Gray (Edmonton, AB Canada), Jens Lindemann (Los Angeles, CA)
Trombones - Alex Isles (Los Angeles, CA), Brien Matson (Boston, MA)
Bass - Kevin Axt (Los Angeles, CA)
Drums - Steve Moretti (Macon, GA)
Strings performed by members of the Robert McDuffie Center For Strings at Mercer University, Amy Schwartz Moretti, Director
1st Violins-Amy Schwartz Moretti (Concertmaster), Anna Black, Virgil Moore, Ally Cohen
2nd Violins-Augusta Schubert, Caitlyn Clingenpeel, Chelsea Cline, Mimi Fan
Violas-Carlos Walker, Seido Karasaki, Alec Luna
Cellos-Peyton Magalhaes, Constantine Janello, Luis Parra, Lichi Acosta, Sara Scanlon , Juliana Moroz
Basses-Dylan Reckner, Kevin Axt
Matt Catingub would like to thank...
My Mommy Mavis Rivers - What a blessing it was to share Stage, Studio, and of course "Life". I love you and miss you every day.
Allen Sviridoff - as usual your vision and enthusiasm brought this project across the finish line. Thanks for a lifetime of career highlights. Oh and by the way thanks for the album title!!!
A very special thanks to the Sinatra organization, President Charles Pignone, and the staff and technicians at Warners Reprise and Rhino for all their help with the Mavis tracks.
Amy Schwartz Moretti - your beautiful violin and your beautiful soul illuminate THERE'S NO YOU. Thank you for being there from the start of this project, for being a great friend, and for making "this" all happen.
Steve Moretti - For over 20 years you have been my musical heartbeat, my right-hand man, my musical partner, and one of the best friends anyone can ask for. Not to mention the finest drummer I have ever shared the stage with.
Kevin Axt - You are family. You were there when mom left us, and you've been around for all of the important life markers. I love you, thanks for always being there.
Warner Brothers - Thanks for preserving and providing the precious audio that has made much of this project possible.
To all the Cats (and kitten) in the band - throughout the years all of you have in one way or another helped me make incredible music, and your participation on this project means so much. Thank you for your friendship and your music!
To the brilliant and talented members of the McDuffie Center for Strings 2020/21 - your dedication and craft shine brightly on the performance you gave me on this project. Thanks again to each one of you and good luck in your musical future.
Siriusly Sinatra at SiriusXM Radio - Thanks for supporting this recording, as well as my previous efforts. Honored to be in the rotation!
Matt Catingub plays Yamaha Saxophones and Theo Wanne Mouthpieces