Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.
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In the Wee Small Hours (Capitol 1955)
Nancy Sinatra’s personal favourite from the Capitol years; the first set of songs Sinatra recorded specifically for an LP sustains a midnight mood of loneliness and lost love – it’s a prototypical concept album. Listen closely and you’ll hear the soft intake of his breath. My own personal favourite is “What is this thing called love?”; extant session tapes revealing that Sinatra had his vocal ‘divebomb’ nailed down on the word “called” firmly in hand from the first take. Arranger Nelson Riddle wisely decided the playing length needed trimming.
The reeds on “Ill wind” are majestic, and originally issued on vinyl as two extended play discs, this album defined Sinatra, the torch singer. He would plumb even greater depths on “Only the Lonely,” but this collection established the template for emotional angst.
Songs for swingin’ lovers (Capitol 1956)
A Swingin’ Affair (Capitol 1957)
Back to back album projects that defined the Sinatra/Riddle partnership. The first album was a collection of numbers designed to deny the rock & roll that was then changing America – and succeeded. The songs were standards, mostly 10 or 20 years old, but Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle showed how timeless jazzy, hip sophistication can be.
The follow up release simply continued the eclectic mix of swing tunes and effecting ballads with the unusually lengthy playing times of each side maintaining the heady party atmosphere in millions of homes in middle America.
It’s the unification of all the musical elements in an intoxicatingly upbeat mood. The Sinatra ‘two beat’ is underpinned by Alvin Stoller’s drumming and Al Viola’s rhythmic guitar vamping on bars two and four. “The Voice” preferred Irv Cottler’s percussive work in nightclubs and concert halls, but Stoller ruled in the studio. Harry “Sweets” Edison contributed his distinctive trumpet beeps and congenial personality to the proceedings whilst longtime pianist Bill Miller anchored the arrangements with tasteful trills and fills.
Music of this genre has never found a better home.
A 2012 interview with veteran Sinatra engineer, John Palladino.
Where are you? (Capitol 1957)
This indescribably beautiful set of doomed ballads may just be Frank Sinatra’s finest album with the melancholic string-meister Gordon Jenkins. Twisted obsession highlights “Laura” and “I’m a Fool to Want You,” death bleeds into “Autumn Leaves,” and the usually upbeat “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home” is taken at a funeral crawl. Jenkins lacked Riddle’s inventiveness and variety in pacing and could not compete with Billy May’s driving music and humour. What he contributed was the lushest of musical landscapes for Sinatra’s inescapable sentimentality. One appreciates the Sinatra/Jenkins partnership at thirty, reflects on the overwrought heartsopping romanticism at forty and lives and breathes every moment of the aching and inconsolable musicality at fifty.
My father loved this album, and I think of him whenever I play it. He was always clear on the subject of italian bel canto singers and Sinatra in particular; “You can’t beat the spaghetti,” he would repeatedly say with a contented smile.
Initial pressings were in mono, but in 1959 this downbeat collection became Sinatra’s first stereo release.
Sinatra Live! - Seattle 1957
“Sinatra ’57 in Concert” is an invaluable, 62-minute set taken from a June 9, 1957, concert in Seattle that author-critic Will Friedwald cites as “the major document of Sinatra and Riddle at work together in front of a live audience.” The collection’s 18 songs include such signature Sinatra tunes as “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “One for My Baby” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Unfortunately, it is an audio only recording, yet a superb document recorded on 3 track stereo by the legendary Wally Heider.
Wally Heider (1923–1989) was an American recording engineer and recording studio owner. After a distinguished career as an engineer in the 1940s and ’50s, he was instrumental in recording the San Francisco Sound in the late 60s and early 70s. A significant number of Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 albums were recorded in his studio including “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” by Neil Young with Crazy Horse, “Déjà Vu” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Electric Warrior” by T.Rex, “Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison, “American Beauty” by Grateful Dead, “Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and “Abraxas” by Santana. His high-energy style endeared him to many musical artists whose work was enhanced by his engineering techniques.
His initial collection of recordings from the big band era formed the basis of the Hindsight Records catalogue, acquired from Heider in 1979 by Thomas Gramuglia. Through Heider, Hindsight ended up owning over 9,000 copyrights and masters. (Source – Wikipedia).
The following weblog is devoted to him.
Come Fly With Me (Capitol 1958)
The debut pairing of Sinatra and Billy May provided the perfect musical backdrop for 175 million Americans still dreaming of holidays abroad by transporting the listener around the world in under forty minutes. From the runway taxiing intro of the title track to the exotic sounding gong at the end of “On the road to Mandaley”, May introduces his usual palette of wide ranging exotic sounds to perfectly complement the swinging jet setter on vocals.
Curiously it was “Moonlight in Vermont” that would become the staple entry in the Sinatra live repertoire featuring an orchestration lush enough to make Gordon Jenkins purr with pleasure. A cornerstone moment in Sinatra’s vocalising technique occurs when he croons the line “are so hypnotised by the love-lee eeeevening summer breeze”; it’s a perfect example of his legato technique and ability to wring every last drop of emotional intensity from a lyric. If you don’t know how to breathe properly your tonality will be falling horribly away on the word ‘breeze.’
“Come fly with me” was Sinatra’s first true stereo recording (as opposed to reprocessed stereo), but initial worldwide pressings were monaural; the situation remaining unrectified until 1962.
Frank Sinatra sings for Only the Lonely (Capitol 1958)
Nelson Riddle’s finest arrangements, and an album project borne out of personal tragedy; both his mother (cancer) and six month old daughter (bronchial asthma) had died prior to the sessions commencing. The arranger poured much of his grief into this ultimate “downer” album.
“Only the Lonely” is a stark collection of introspective saloon songs and blues-tinged ballads and was a mammoth commercial success, peaking at #1 on Billboard’s album chart during a 120-week stay. Cuts from this LP, such as “Angel Eyes” and “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” would remain staples of Sinatra’s concerts throughout his life.
The album cover was a Grammy award winner in 1959, yet its contents were woefully overlooked at the ceremonies that year; an absolute travesty for Frankophiles everywhere.
Sinatra and Strings (Reprise 1962)
One of the most acclaimed albums of his career, ‘Sinatra and Strings’ is a brilliant collection of standards sung with spectacular passion and feeling by Frank Sinatra, who at the time of the November 1961 recording sessions, was in peak form. The 1962 set is Sinatra’s first with arranger Don Costa, and it stands as their finest collaboration. Every song here is a classic ballad, every performance an elegant masterstroke.
The album is also available as a Mobile Fidelity numbered limited-edition 180-gram LP , half-speed mastered from the original analog tapes. The 21st century generation, raised on 6x MP3 compression and the covenience of the digital compact disc have little idea about the immeasurably superior sonic landscape of quality vinyl. For this release, MoFi engineers took their time in extracting every possible detail and nuance from the album, resulting in a pressing that makes Sinatra and the orchestra come alive in your room. It is only the greater needs of my family that stop me indulging in a Michell Orbe turntable and a series of half speed pressings. Maybe one day.
September of my years (Reprise 1965)
His daughter Nancy recalls conceiving for the first time, of a world without her father when she heard this album. Sinatra would hit the big 50 at the year end and here he explores aging, despite being initially uncomfortable with a subject so close to his own privately-held sentiments.
Each song is tinged with a wintery sadness as the singer, feeling the weight of years, searches his soul and finds himself lacking. The songs are all gems, with some recent ones (“Once Upon A Time”) mixed with ones that Sinatra had covered before (“Hello, Young Lovers”), but now with a weary veneer, courtesy of the smooth, soaring arrangements of Gordon Jenkins, who lets the woodwinds and strings moan and cry with each nostalgic sentiment. Jenkins’s string work is integral to the overall mood of the album and this became more apparent the following year with the subsequent release of “Sinatra at the Sands”, his first official live recording. It’s a superb recording but the stringless version of “September of my years” with the Basie band pales in comparison.
My favourite song on the album is the most widely known. In the hands of Sinatra, “It was a very good year” is elevated from folkie hokum to reflective high drama. My late mother-in-law hated the song even long before she became unwell. I have no such qualms about the recording, for death is merely a part of living.
The album was a Grammy award winner and ranks alongside “Only the Lonely” as a cornerstone entry in the Sinatra canon.
Sinatra/Jobim – the Complete Reprise Recordings (Reprise 1967/1969 : This compilation 2010)
This compilation album gathers tracks from two sets of recording sessions Frank Sinatra did with Brazilian singer/songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim, one in 1967 and another in 1969. The first set of sessions in late January and early February 1967 resulted in the ten-track LP “Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim,” released later in 1967. Jobim joined Sinatra, singing on such tracks as “The Girl from Ipanema,” “I Concentrate on You,” and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” with bossa nova arrangements by Claus Ogerman.
The second set of sessions held in February 1969 were intended for a follow-up LP to be called “SinatraJobim” that got as far as having an album cover designed, but never came out. Most of the tracks were issued in 1971, during Sinatra’s temporary retirement, on an album called Sinatra & Company which also included more of the singer’s attempts to remain at the cutting edge of his industry with covers of more contemporary material like “leaving on a jet plane”; I only wish he had before the lyric sheet was handed to him in the studio.
A couple of the unused Sinatra Jobim tracks turned up on singles in the U.S. or overseas whilst the duet “Off Key (Desafinado)” sat in the can for decades, not turning up until the box set “The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings” in 1995.
I’m lumbered with the original Sinatra & Company album and I never play past the first seven recordings. Thanks to my Brennan hard drive CD player I am able to programme all the Jobim recordings as one continuous play for despite being separated by two years, the first ten tracks and the second ten fit well together. Sinatra sings gently and sensitively throughout. The chief difference lies in the musical backing, as the 1969 tracks were arranged by Eumir Deodato, with orchestra conducted by Morris Stoloff, and they have less of a Brazilian feel. Still, the sessions have always belonged together on a single disc, and they constitute a special niche in the Sinatra catalogue.
I love his version of “Wave” and when I recorded a cover version in my studio I had to cut my vocals early in the morning to achieve the desired tonality on that low Eb. Of course, Sinatra recorded it to order late at night as one’s range naturally rises yet his vocal divebombs are staggering. More than anything, he is an object lesson to all these current histrionic singers that dramatic moments in a song should be few and far between to further emphasise the emotional intensity of the lyrics.
The ultimate ipod for the golden oldies (I mean people of my age not music of a certain era!!!) A 52nd birthday present from my wife into which I have uploaded 800+ CDs. So I now have my complete music collection at the press of a handset in our lounge without the clutter of masses of shiny discs and jewel cases. Brilliant women know how to keep both themselves and their partners content.
Knew a woman once though, who, amidst a burgeoning relationship, stared in silence for two minutes at my recording studio and turned to say, whilst simultaneously pointing at all the equipment, that it was “Either her or that”. I went for “that!”
The Reprise Collection (4 CD Box set 1990)
A superb 1990 issue to commemorate the Chairman of the Board’s 75th birthday, compiling choice album tracks and rare singles such as “Here’s to the Band” b/w “It’s Sunday.” The first is a homage to the young Sinatra’s big band days whilst the flipside is a paean to mature love with Tony Mateola’s exquisite classical guitar accompaniment matched note for note by the fragility in Frank’s voice. The number was originally cut for orchestra with an arrangement by Gordon Jenkins but at 68, Sinatra’s musicality remained intact and he plumped for a more intimate setting of guitar and voice.
The collection was also notable for the inclusion of “Zing! Went the strings of my heart,” a 1960 recording with Johnny Mandell, long thought lost, which enabled radio stations to finally and legitimately compile A- Z Sinatra specials.
Frank Sinatra – A life in performance (10 DVD Box Set)
All the “Man and his music” specials plus selected “in concert” films.
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
Running parallel to his musical career was his life in motion pictures, awash with stinkers, pure entertainment froth but also a handful of performances that any actor would be proud to include in his CV. Obviously there is his supporting actor Oscar winning role in “From Here to Eternity” (1953) but that performance, despite considerable merit, was essentially drawn from the experience of his teenage years in Hoboken. In preparation for this film, he visited drug rehabilitation centres and extracted a performance from within himself that had verve and believability. Ernest Borgnine took the Best Actor Oscar in 1956 for “Marty” but Sinatra should have won for “Arm”.
Though obviously dated in some of its aspects, its scenes of Sinatra, as the eponymous doper, falling on and off the wagon remain chilling and continue to inform contemporary films with the same subject matter. The Chairman of the Board excels in the jazz audition scene displaying a flair for hi hats and parradiddles as he moves around his drum kit.
The opening credits feature spiny, cut-out projectiles, vaguely redolent of veins and syringes, that manage to be disconcerting despite the accompaniment of Elmer Bernstein’s rather brassy jazz score. Throughout the main titles sequence the lines proliferate and jab at awkward, unsettling angles and the film is seemingly penned in by four of these lines, suggesting the many forces hemming in Sinatra’s Frankie Machine from all sides. Finally, the titular “golden arm” (which actually refers to Frankie’s prowess as a card dealer and not the location of his track-marks) appears as a bent and tortured appendage, reaching out for either redemption or a fix.
The film has the feel of a stage play but nothing can detract from the central performances. Sinatra actually recorded a title song that was never publicly issued at the time. Written by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by Sammy Cahn the number was recorded on 31 October 1955 but would remain officially in the vaults until the release of the 6 CD “Frank Sinatra in Hollywood” collection. Naturally I had the recording on bootleg several years earlier but the fidelity on the official release is superior. The lyrics evocatively capture the inner torment of a junkie.
“He makes his own drinks, his own paradise,
But paradise is just a false alarm.
And no one’s really sadder than
The man with the golden arm.
He buys every thrill and pays any price,
And thinks he’s having fun, and what’s the harm,
He’s following the devil’s plan,
The man with the golden arm.
What is that strange desire that sets his soul afire,
The hopeless need for it that makes him plead for it,
The wall starts closing in, the room begins to spin,
There’s no escape and there’s no friend,
How did start, where will it end,
The ending is clear, and not very nice,
A nameless grave beside some prison farm.
There is no story sadder than
The man with the golden arm.
But there’s a chance that he can shake the misery,
That if he’s strong enough, and fights it long enough.
The ones who do are rare, with some hope and prayer,
The nightmare’s starting, but so’s the end,
You’ll find the sun and walk among men,
And gone are the dreams, the fool’s paradise,
The heaven that was just a false alarm,
And no one’s really gladder than
The man with the golden arm,
The man with the golden arm.”
Royal Festival Hall concert (ITV) 1962
As is so often the case with any major artist, performance footage capturing the star at some kind of career zenith is often woefully thin on the ground. Thankfully, there is film of Sinatra at something close to a career peak – Melbourne ’60 springs to mind, although the camera crew failed to capture any ‘close-ups’ of the star. However, there is also a complete British show available form his 1962 World Tour.
On November 25 2014, Universal Music Enterprises & Frank Sinatra Enterprises released ‘Sinatra: LONDON,’ a deluxe 3-CD/DVD and digital audio collection presenting the remastered original studio album “Sinatra sings famous songs of Great Britain,” with a treasure trove of other London highlights from Sinatra’s career. The expansive set’s more than 50 previously unreleased recordings include session material from the album, a 1962 BBC ‘Light Programme’ radio special with introductions to each song by Sinatra himself, a 1953 live session for BBC Radio’s ‘The Show Band Show,’ and a Royal Albert Hall concert from 1984. More significantly, the collection’s DVD features a previously unreleased filmed 1962 concert from the Royal Festival Hall, plus a 1970 concert appearance from the same venue with a never before released performance of the classic song ‘A Foggy Day.’
Unfortunately, the monochrome ATV recording of his 1962 Festival Hall appearance is still unavailable to purchase separately, and so – for now at least – I will persevere with my old pirated VHS tape copy – lovingly transfered to DVD several years ago. Three or four generations down from the master tape, it is still eminently viewable, a near perfect record of the ‘Chairman of the Board’ at somewhere near his singing peak – 46 years of age and two years into the management of his own record label.
Following a very brief intro by David Jacobs, onto the floor strode Sinatra and to commence an incredible list of classic popular song performances. Barely pausing to take breath, the first half was performed with minimal introductions but after a single break, the rest of the show was peppered with comments on the songs, the fellow musicians and much else. At one point an English ‘cup of tea’ was consumed for its soothing affect, before Sinatra stubs out a cigarette on the hallowed stage! Jacobs would recall years later, observing the singer fully clothed apart from his trousers, standing on a bench ready to be lowered by members of his entourage into his pants at the very last minute. Questioning this odd ritual, the riposte from Ol’ Blue Eyes was withering “If I didn’t do this, I’d end up looking like you!”
The accompanying sextet gives a swinging informality to the musical programme, a tad light on orchestral gravitas, but with a noticeable joie de vivre. Sinatra was both in very good voice and in total synch with the musicians – the ensemble having been together on a charity tour across Europe and beyond for some time. Highpoints are difficult to identify amidst an abundance of riches, but ‘Day In Day Out’ gets ‘high power’ treatment with Frank’s rhythmic handclaps, ‘One For My Baby’ – cigarette lit in hand and richly performed, even acted out, and ‘You Make Me Feel So Young,’ with great vibes from Emil Richards, are especially memorable. ‘Night and Day,’ the old Cole Porter chestnut which Frank would record in countless interpretations, is particularly poignant, performed by the saloon singer alone with only Al Viola’s guitar.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel of the same name, director-producer John Frankenheimer’s chilling, Cold War thriller boasts a eclectic cast firing on all cylinders.
Financing for the movie was secured via public support from President Kennedy, who was personally interested in seeing the movie made. The overall tone of the film is paranoic, surrealistic, dark, macabre, cynical, and foreboding, climaxing with a pseudo Hitchcockian finale at a political rally.
‘The Manchurian Candidate’ features a host of remarkable performances, several from actors cast cleverly against type. Frank Sinatra’s edgy, aggressive turn as Marco may be the finest dramatic work of his career whilst Laurence Harvey’s chilly onscreen demeanor was never used to better effect. James Gregory is suitable malleable as the befuddled Senator Iselin; whilst Angela Lansbury’s portrayal of Raymond’s mother was a career tour de force and a complete departure from her normal screen persona.
Entertaining yet unsettling, the central brainwashing theme retains an uncomfortable topicality as this unusually tense and intelligent political thriller gathers pace. Far ahead of its time, its very prescience consigns the 2004 remake to acute obselescence.
The Naked Runner (1967)
Widely denigrated upon general release as one of Sinatra’s cinematic clunkers, this espionage thriller now warmly displays hitherto unrevealed charms.
Filmed at the height of the Cold War and with customary flash direction from Sidney Furie, Sinatra is industrialist Sam Laker, a wartime crack shot unwillingly reactivated to assassinate a rogue agent now working with the communists.
Filmed in London with a veritable who’s who of British studio supporting players – Peter Vaughn as Slattery, an old army buddy now working for British Intelligence. Edward Fox, still seven years from international stardom in ‘The Day of The Jackal’ as a psuedo British diplomat, and the ever reliable Derren Nesbitt as our resident tuetonic psychopath.
The dialogue is one dimensional yet Sinatra excels in his reaction shots, in particular the woodlands scene where he anticipates a bullett to the back of the head.
Fully embroiled in a mid life crisis, The Chairman of the Board abandoned the location shoot to wed actress Mia Farrow, twenty nine years his junior, in Hollywood, leaving Furie and producer Brad Dexter to patchwork the all too hasty finale with a double. If he was a ‘pain in the ass’ to work with, it doesn’t show although his indifference to the product is best exemplified by the title music. Convening in April 1967 to record the theme song ‘You are here’, an achingly tortuous ballad requiring breath control beyond the call of duty, the number remaine conspicuous by its absence when the final cut hit local theatres in July.
Currently available only in a shocking pan and scan version, this underrated curio remains worthy of a digital overhaul.
Sessions with Sinatra : Frank Sinatra and the art of recording (Charles Granata 1999)
One of my essential purchases. Granata, producer and director of Sinatra’s Columbia recordings, offers a rare glimpse into the work that went into making the Sinatra sound. He covers all the technical details, from Sinatra’s early pioneering of the microphone as instrument to transcripts of his many studio directions and casual late-night jokes. Granata summarizes the major recording eras in Sinatra’s career, from the Columbia years (1943-1952) to his Duets work in the mid-1990s with singers such as Bono and Chrissie Hynde.
Phil Ramone, who engineered several key Sinatra sessions and went on to produce all of Billy Joel’s key albums, contributes a reverential foreword which sets the tone for the entire work. Nevertheless in the studio, Sinatra was a “study in concentration;” a stark contrast to his attitude to movie making where ‘one take’ was all he would offer any director. “I’ve got you under my skin,” his cornerstone recording, took thirty five.
There are many available recollections from friends of the frequent contratemps in the Sinatra-Gardner household. In the final analysis, the singer was at his happiest and most focussed within the confines of a recording studio. It is the four corners of these soundproofed rooms that are his lasting testimony and not the domestic battlegrounds where he lived.
The Song is You – A singer’s art (Will Friedwald 1995)
The scholarly work that shifted my focus on Sinatra from detached appreciation to focussed interest. I borrowed this book from my local library and after I had renewed the title five times, the librarian enquired whether I had ever considered purchasing it! I did, and in my humble estimation this is the Sinatra bible, the essential tome for ‘frankophiles.’
Growing from a casual fan into a serious devotee where someone like Sinatra is concerned is a daunting prospect, as more than three hundred CDs currently in circulation will attest. Once you have sidestepped and left behind the mythology surrounding the man, a wider appreciation of his gift of expressive interpretation, and for the Great American Songbook takes over. Since Friedwald is two years younger than myself, it was obvious that he too, could not be a first generation fan and a certain affinity for his writing therefore grew with each chapter. That’s not to say that he isn’t as bedevilled with bias and musical pretentiousness as any writer. I grew tired of his sideways digs at The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Bono, and other talented, respected artists from the rock world, alluding to their poor singing and the paper-thin nature of their material. Many rock singers do not have superlative trained voices, but they write thought provoking material and generate exciting sounds. I prefer to think of myself as musically open minded, which is why the story of Chet Atkins journey to Madrid in the 60’s to study under the tutelage of the classical guitar maestro Andres Segovia has always amused me. Segovia considered the american to be one of his leading pupils and had also gone on record as saying that the electric guitar was one of the abominations of the modern world. Atkins was a renouned electric country picker and notable record producer of such luminaries as Elvis Presley, The Everley Brothers and Jim Reeves. In the latter days of his illustrious career he developed in conjunction with the Gibson company a bespoke tailored “electro-classical” guitar.” They are expensive instruments and my wife purchased a Washburn model for me in 1996 which was evidentlty the next best affordable item. As well as the option for “direct injection” recording the neck is smaller in width for more comfortable five fret stretching. Chet is one of my biggest influences and was able to integrate himself comfortably within any genre of music. If only Segovia had realised!
Friedwald himself is on a par with the spaniard for musical snobbery. In spite of being a jazz purist, his weighty tome is a marvellous stroll through Sinatra’s career, plotting the many high points and occasional misstep such as some of his late 60s/70’s output (“Cycles”,“Watertown”, “The Future-reflections on the future in three tenses” etc.) His ear for the nuances of Sinatra’s vocal performances is especially illuminating and I have found this a superb book to have on hand when listening to his albums as he points out many subtleties that add depth and resonance to the experience.
I have “The Song is you” – The complete Tommy Dorsey recordings (1940-42) boxed set, and Friedwald devotes over 100 pages to this period of development in the Sinatra style. Dorsey’s trombone techniques were instrumental in developing Sinatra’s ‘legato singing’ and the kid from Hoboken perennially acknowledged his days on the bus with the band as being the happiest of his professinal life.
Friedwald also does a commendable job of characterizing the notable arrangers that Sinatra returned to over the years. The job of the arranger was to take an existing song and write an orchestration to it to support the singer. Thus, they fashioned the sound and the feel of a recording in much the way a modern producer does. The celebrated genius Nelson Riddle comes across as driven and subservient, the swinging Billy May perennially upbeat and easygoing, the strings-loving Gordon Jenkins as patient and sanguine. Friedwald also resurrects the reputation of the much maligned Don Costa who worked with Sinatra on a lot of his more questionable projects although we can forgive the man anything for the truly wonderful “Sinatra and strings” album (1962). I also have a sneaking regard for his orchestral contributions to the “man alone” project from 1969. Making Sinatra relevant and keeping him on the jukeboxes throughout “Beatleland” was an uphill struggle and the edgy Costa was saddled with this thankless task.
Friedwald’s book reinforces Sinatra’s honesty – he believed in what he sang. Every performance in the studio was prefaced by weeks of research and the quest for a deeper understanding of the song’s lyrical content. Each available studio out-take is testimony to the man’s inestimable dislike of rote singing and his devotion to processing and distilling each thought and emotion the lyricist had in mind at the time of conception. James Kaplan in his 2010 biography “Frank” faithfully chronicles the singer’s views on this subject;
“At that point, I’m looking at a poem,” the singer said. “I’m trying to understand the point of view of the person behind the words. I want to understand his emotions. Then I start speaking, not singing the words, so I can experiment and get the right inflections. When I get with the orchestra, I sing the words without a microphone first, so I can adjust the way I’ve been practicing to the arrangement. I’m looking to fit the emotion behind the song that I’ve come up with to the music. Then it all comes together. You sing the song.”
Sinatra (Robin Douglas-Home 1962)
This slim volume has been highly regarded within Sinatra circles for years and was the first and indeed only one of two occasions in which the singer opened up to a journalist; the other being the 1965 documentary filmed by NBC in which the entertainer was interviewed by Walter Cronkite.
I was delighted to obtain this title in 2013 in an antique shop for the princely sum of £2. The cover was in a delapidated state but the hardbound book and its contents were fine. The 64 page volume has purported for years, to offer the near definitive inside track on the man and I would now concur with these sentiments.
Robin Douglas-Home was an English journalist who met Sinatra in London and was struck by how far the public image missed the mark. The two hit it off, and the singer invited the author to follow him back to America where he tagged along for two whole months. The outcome was an intimate portrait of Sinatra the entertainer, Sinatra the millionaire entrepreneur, Sinatra the pal – every facet of an enigmatic personality was explored.
Douglas-Home himself, was a popular jazz pianist whose uncle was the former British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home and his younger brother Charles Douglas-Home the chief editor at The Times. He was a leading society figure during the 1950s and 1960s and engaged in a cladenstine affair with Princess Margaret after his marriage to the model Sandra Paul ended in 1965. She went onto three more marriages, the last one being to the former Tory Party leader Michael Howard and is now a successful novelist. Her first husband was not so fortunate in life. In addition to his authorized biography of Sinatra he had four novels published yet by the age of 36 had committed suicide. He suffered from clinical depression for years and in Sinatra may have recognised a kindred spirit although in contrast, the singer’s solitary recorded attempt in the early 50’s was clearly a cry for help.
Douglas-Home was initially struck by the exceptional sharpness and directness of Sinatra’s eyes – very blue with a dash of gun-metal grey which stabbed rather than saw and challenged rather than looked. The second quality was his courtesy. He was, the writer noted, scrupulously observant about those oft-forgotten details like offering and lighting cigarettes, getting up and opening the door for women, watching for an empty glass or a length of ash on a cigarette. Where was this vandal, this uncouth philistine he had so often read about in the columns of the popular press and the pulp magazines? Or was he just on best behaviour?
Throughout the two months the writer spent with Sinatra the singer confessed to being a frustrated conductor with a desire to commission a concierto for the spanish guitar whilst immersing more of his time and talent into business of which he had numerous interests – Reprise Records, Essex Productions (his film company),four music publishing companies, radio stations in the Pacific North-West and a hotel casino near Reno, Nevada. At the age of forty six, he gave the impression of a man changing direction yet ultimately he was to continue performing on stage until his eightieth year.
Describing Sinatra’s personality, Douglas-Home wrote “His presence is unusually powerful; when he is in a room, he somehow manages to dominate it, whatever he is doing. He emits a curious sort of electricity, a peculiar galvanism probably generated by the kinetic war that must continually rage between the paradoxes of his inner self. A flamboyant extrovert, yet huntedly introspective; to watch him in a group of friends, or to listen to much of the conversation, one would imagine him to be the most self-confident man in the world. But in a group of people whom he does not know so well, he keeps to the outer fringe, or perhaps sits in a corner, with the clear air of someone who is not entirely sure of himself. And always he has need for reassurance from people, that his act went well, or that his recording was up to standard, o that his gift was the right one – although he does his best to hide the fact that he does need this reassurance and would never lay himself so open that he had to ask for it outright.” I can personally relate to some of these traits. Every time I seek my wife’s comments about a portrait or confirmation of the objectivity I have been seeking in my writing I inwardly wince for I trust her judgement, but I don’t always want to hear what she thinks.
Sinatra (Richard Havers-DK Publishing)
The ideal coffee table Sinatra book and a credit to one of my favourite publishing houses Dorling Kindersley, quality publisher of children’s titles, who compiled Richard Havers mind-bogglingly panoramic overview of the life, career, and works of The Chairman of the Board with such loving attention to detail and style that it equals anything that has come before.
Chronologically laid out, the author weaves the genealogy of the Sinatra family in its historical context, giving a brief, but thorough history of American immigration at the turn of the century and follows Sinatra’s birth, his youth, his early successes and meteoric rise to fame and eventual legendary status with clear, detailed analysis. He neither butters over Sinatra’s failures nor waxes overly rhapsodically about his triumphs, but with an even-handedness that belies the difficulty in achieving such a goal.
Aesthetically pleasing throughout are the countless side-bars which help the reader place Sinatra in time including inserts devoted to the depression, popular band singers during Sinatra’s early struggles; listings of Sinatra’s studio recordings with Harry James, and Tommy Dorsey; notes on artistic rivals and co-workers such as Bing Crosby and Connie Haynes, film reviews, album reviews with full track listings, year-by-year music charts showing Frank’s placings, concerts he headlined, tours he made, details about the record companies he signed with, and much, much more. All of this is accompanied by hundreds of black and white/color scans of sheet music, film posters, record albums, promotional fliers, photographs of all the players, historical photographs of places he worked and stayed, his wives and lovers, the Rat Pack, and again, much more.
This is the behemoth edition to end them all. You won’t take it on holiday but you won’t accidentally leave it somewhere either and yes, it’s in my studio!
An impressive merchandising store, interesting articles and a style section on the art of wearing a fedora.
A German website with english translation section. The site contains a comprehensive song index, recording session dates with song titles and available DVD reviews.
Youtube – tons of audio and visual material; an opportunity to catch up on several US tv interviews (Johnny Carson 1976, Larry King 1988) never broadcast in Britain at the time.
Last Update : 13/8/15
This portrait of Frank Sinatra dates from 1957 at the time he was filming “Pal Joey.” He was forty one, and enjoying the fruits of a commercial revival previously unheard of in showbusiness terms. He had secured a best supporting actor Oscar, and was redefining the long playing record as an artistic medium with a matchless series of thematic albums for Capitol Records.
Yet five years earlier, Columbia Records had failed to renew his contract and he had also been dropped by the MCA agency and his film studio. His second marriage, to the actress Ava Gardner, was already in trouble and the former idol of the bobbysoxers was headed inexorably towards an artistic cul-de-sac.
His daughter Tina, wrote of a man who became racked with almost catatonic depression, full of the pain and regret that he had staved off for years. Not for once would his first wife Nancy hear him say “I should never have left you; I should never have left home”. It was the one bet that he was unable to walk away from with a shrug.
His life was so well documented, so tumultuous that the only surprising aspect of it was its longevity. He destroyed his family for the infatuation of his life, led the high life as one of the world’s most renowned bachelors, took a third wife more than half his age in his fiftieth year, and antagonised his children further at sixty with his fourth nuptials. He consorted with Presidents and key Mafia personnel, actively promoted racial integration whilst publicly humiliating his close fiend Sammy Davis Junior, was a keen philanthropist whilst simultaneously verbally and physically assaulting members of the American press, was a near perfect father to his two daughters yet romote from his only son and essentially did things “his way”. It’s the stuff of legends, but in reality the very worst of self indulgent behaviour that has polarised public and private opinion of the man for decades.
In Sinatra’s world you were either “in” or “out” and to be on Frank’s shit list was a badge of dishonour that could affect one’s career, so far did the tentacles of his influence extend. His eldest daughter Nancy, now seventy three, can still barely discuss the darker side to her father’s personality, so redolent being her memories of his loving and attentive ways. The Sinatra’s made a conscious decision not to sue Kitty Kelly for her “libellous” biography of the family patriarch in 1986 but in reality, as most people realised at the time, much of the written word was true.
If you challenged him with reasoned argument he could be amenable, but you would still cut the atmosphere with a knife. Suitably emboldered by the contemporary sounds on his 45 release “That’s Life,” Sinatra exclaimed enthusiastically “That’s a hit” until producer Jimmy Bowen informed him that the winning version would require one final vocal take. After interminable silence, Sinatra returned to the mike to chomp, chew and spit out every nuance of the lyrical content and duly landed on the charts. He might appreciate your artistic input, but that didn’t mean he’d thank you for it; being rehired was the ultimate validation.
A cursory glance at any website or biography of the star will include copious references to the trials and tribulations within the Sinatra-Gardner marriage. At the core of this wealth of material is the oft repeated assertion that Ava was the love of Frank’s life. What appears less clear is what he meant to her. In any event, I believe the position remains unclear on both sides.
Infatuation is a static process characterized by an unrealistic expectation of blissful passion without positive growth and development. Characterized by a lack of trust, lack of loyalty, lack of commitment, lack of reciprocity, an infatuation is not necessarily foreplay for a loving scenario. People, however, have many reasons for making commitments.
Understanding the difference between genuine love and infatuation is fundamentally simple but not easily digestible. Fundamentally, infatuation rules where the relationship does not elicite the best in both partners. It manifests itself in an inability to assess and evaluate oneself, one’s partner and the relationship as a whole.
The power struggle within Frank and Ava’s relationship, the lack of monogamy, constant threats and emotional games all hint at an unhealthy liaison.
What is irrefutable to all intents and purpose is that the two protagonists got on with their lives after their divorce. After her third marriage to Sinatra ended, Miss Gardner pursued one relationship after another, each one at best diverting and, at worst on occasions, physically intimidating. She was capable of drinking any man under the table, and her personality was clearly confrontational. Her relationship with the actor George C. Scott in the mid-60’s nearly killed her. Sinatra meanwhile, consoled himself with numerous Hollywood starlets and hookers, whilst periodically resuming relations with Ava throughout the next decade. Towards the last years of her life she would attend his concerts in London, and he paid all her medical bills when she was gravely ill.
In view of Sinatra’s indifference to so many women once he had bedded them, one cannot help but wonder whether this long running infatuation would have dissipated had Gardner been more compliant, essentially willing to start a family and prepared to put her career on hold. This is a woman who twice aborted pregnancies whilst carrying his child, and who maintained that they were both too much like children themselves to have one of their own. Ultimately she would never experience motherhood.
Sinatra personally viewed his daughter’s mini-series about his life in 1992. There are domestic scenes in the programme showing a distracted husband pacing his Bel Air home with constant thoughts of Ava as his first wife Nancy and their children prepare the Xmas tree. He wants to win Ava, to possess her, to be seen around town with the most beautiful woman in the world on his arm. In many ways it is his statement to the world; ‘look what I can get.’ Eventually he destroys the family unit to marry her, and the relationship barely lasts another two years. In doing so he forsakes the only woman whose feelings for him he can truly trust, since Nancy had known and loved him in pre-fame days
From 1953 to 1966 he lived the life of the perennial swinger, the ultimate bachelor around town before succumbing to an inexplicable mid life crisis which culminated in his third marriage to a woman he could easily have fathered. There is considerable evidence to suggest that Mia Farrow loved him in as many ways possible for a person of such tender years, and unquestionably she sought nothing from him financially when the couple separated two years later. But honestly, what on earth was he thinking?
He was a bachelor again from 1968 until 1976 when he married for the fourth time, a relationship which hurt his children greatly as they had observed him seemingly moving towards a reconciliation with first wife Nancy. His fourth marriage lasted nearly twenty two years until his death in May 1998, but was a fiery relationship, punctuated by violent outbursts, temporary separations and reconciliations. Barbara Sinatra published her memoirs in 2011, and emerges as a “practical woman” on a mission quietly observing famous personalities and their tempestuous relationships; an existence she would soon comprehend first hand. Divorce papers were once reportedly drawn up, until Sinatra finally encapsulated ‘real life’ with one totally honest, if outwardly unromantic comment. “Barbara, who the hell is going to want either of us now at our ages?”
In her book she describes her husband’s alcoholic tendancies and personal withdrawal from early morning scenes in which valets would find her husband and cronies slumped on the floor after carousing for hours. There is the old standby Dean Martin joke about feeling sorry for non alcoholics since their awakening each morning is the best they’ll feel all day. It’s amusing and yet not reflective of his own lifestyle outside the Sinatra orbit, where he would retire early and rise by seven for an eight a.m. golf match. Sinatra, by his own admission, was a twenty four hour manic depressive and nobody drinks to excess merely for the “fun of it.”
In any event, whatever his demons, he continued to record (sporadically) and to tour (regularly) and despite physical impediments, would still happily stay up until the wee small hours drinking and talking, more often than not about his days ‘on the bus’ with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. When he died, the only surprise was that he’d lasted so long.