December 12, 2015


Happy 100th, Frank!


Today would have been Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday, and with all the countdowns of his best recordings, newspaper retrospectives and TV specials in which, for what it's worth, only Harry Connick, Jr. and Tony Bennett had the chops to pay tribute to Sinatra), I have little to add, other than to provide YouTube links to a few of my favorite Sinatra recordings.

Sinatra started out as a crooner, gaining his first fame with the big bands of Harry James and hen Tommy Dorsey. After the war, he was a solo act, and his voice had deepened, but he still played the role of a guileless romantic. In 1946 Frank recorded this version of Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful" with an arrangement by his frequent colleagues at that time, Alex Stordahl.

The mature, swinging, tough-yet-vulnerable Sinatra that defined most of his career (and the performer we think of today) emerged in 1953 when Frank moved to Capitol Records and was paired with arranger Nelson Riddle.  As famous as Sinatra had been, "I've Got the World on a String" introduced the world to a new voice, one that would become iconic, much-admired and much imitated.While Sinatra did more than anyone to sustain and validate the Great American Songbook of Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Kern, and the others, he also sang the songs of contemporary writers.  

One his great collaborators was the lyricist Sammy Cahn, who provided Frank with hits such as "Love and Marriage," "Teach Me Tonight" and "All the Way."  "The Second Time Around" shows off Frank's magnificent voice and the emotional depth he brought to a lyric, in this case a song not about the starry-eyed, whizzbang excitement of first (young) love, but the quiet joy and comfort of second love.  This is a song that only a man who has been around the block a time or two can sell, and Frank imbues it with a wistful gratitude for being granted that second chance.  

Frank was perfect for the movie version of Guys and Dolls. Of course, he probably should have played the romantic lead, Sky Masterson, instead of the comic relief, Nathan Detroit, but the studio gave Sky to Marlon Brando (!!!).  So, Brando got to sing "Luck Be a Lady" in the movie, but Frank recorded it and performed it for the rest of his career.  In this live version from the late '60's, we begin to see some of the Rat Pack mannerisms that morphed into caricature over Sinatra's later years, but his remarkable power, phrasing, pitch and diction are all there.

Frank brought palpable melancholy and vulnerability to songs like "In the Wee Small Hours" and "One for the Road," but while we empathize with him, we never pity him.  This emotional state...along with his ability to sing with incredible delicacy...served him well in the late 1960's when he paired with bossa nova pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim.  In this duet medley of bossa nova hits (and one Irving Berlin tune) from a TV special one hears the simple beauty of Sinatra's voice.

Posted by at December 12, 2015 7:39 AM