Friday, December 7, 2012

December 12, 1915

If you can honestly say you'd rather hear a melody from the Great Amerian Songbook sung by any male singer other than Frank Sinatra, you needn't read any further. 

On the other hand, if like millions of his fans, you were more than willing to accept his invitation to fly away to exotic lands where a one-man band would toot his flute for you, we can celebrate his birthday on December 12th by remembering the man and the many hours of blemish-free recordings he shared with us, not to mention his films, concert and television appearances. 

I was born in 1937, so the Frank Sinatra of the early 40's, whose singing caused countless teen-aged girls and untold adult females to swoon as he crooned, didn't include me. I feel certain, however, that my infant sensory system absorbed his distinctive sound as it floated into the nursery, emanating from the speaker of our family's never-silent table model Philco.

My parents were fans of the big bands, so my earliest Sinatra experience probably originated with the recordings he made while working with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.  The radio was the singular source of news and entertainment in the 1930's, and from it we were kept informed of Allied troop movements and other crucial data during the Second World War.  Our spirits were greatly buoyed by the songs that reminded us and the GIs that we'd be sitting under the apple tree when they all came marching home. 

Even in the very early stages of my life, Frank Sinatra impressed me with his phrasing, his sound completely impossible to duplicate: his placement (intonation) was perfect, i.e., he always nailed each note with unwavering accuracy.  He didn't have to add a hint of melisma to help his voice glide with style and grace from one interval to the next because for him, even the most demanding intervals were never more of a challenge than the simple act of breathing.   

His voice reproduced the music as written, and to add to his sonorous appeal, he could also transmit a sense of having experienced the joy or pain of a lyric, always getting the "read" right:

  "It's quarter to three ... there's no one in the place except you and me." 

"Oh, but you're lovely with your smile so warm and your cheek so soft ..." 

"I see your face before me, clouding my every dream ... you are my only theme." 

The young baritone's sound was pure and vibrant, like a cup of strong coffee.  As the voice matured, it became a more potent blend, laced with a shot of Jack Daniels.  His vocal skills became more prodigious, and the intimate nature of his interpretations also reflected his masterful microphone technique.  The voice projected a powerful virility.  It was an understated, irresistible attraction to women.  Men were impressed with his "cool" image, his nonchalant swagger, and the "I'll do it my way" mystique which developed right before our eyes.   

As a singer, my admiration for his precise enunciation and perfect diction knows no bounds.  Superb examples of these distinctive Sinatra vocal components are found in a well-known YouTube clip from 1967 (see below), in which Sinatra and Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim combine to remind us of the intense emotion which can be created with subtlety, nuance, good taste and laid-back simplicity. 

The video opens with Frank at the beginning of Jobim's famous composition called "Corcovado" (or with Gene Lees' English lyric, "Quiet Nights").  The opening lines conjure a scene ripe for romance.  One can picture a beautiful room with a spectacular view, a couple having spent the day walking and talking, perhaps sharing a glass of wine in this secluded space. "Quiet nights and quiet stars, quiet chords from my guitar", as Sinatra sings them, are some of the most meltingly-seductive lyrics in the history of romantic ballads. 

The medley which follows includes Irving Berlin's "Change Partners", and "I Concentrate On You" by Cole Porter, both sung and played with infinite depth, warmth and affection.

 The video ends with a beguiling duet on what is probably Jobim's most famous song, "The Girl From Ipanema".  If you listen closely, you can hear Frank having a spontaneous fling with a hint of scat behind Jobim's vocal, and there is a charming syncopated moment at the end of the song which obviously delights them both.   

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sinatra.  I truly miss you more than words can say because the standard you set makes it nearly impossible to listen to the many sincere but transparently less qualified who would lay claim to a seat on the Board, much less the one occupied by the Chairman.   

 I think you will love these 6:30 minutes:  


Tony Croce said...

Beautiful. Hope all is well with you. Tony Croce

Anonymous said...

Very nicely put, Ms Sloane. We (Songbrids) sometimes take for granted just how amazing he was. It's as though he somehow 'sold out' by becoming so incredibly famous and yet, as you point out, he seems to have owned the GAS songs once he recorded them. It is hard not to think of his versions ("It's Easy To Remember," "Fly Me.." "One For My Baby.." etc.) as the standards (no pun intended) by which every other version ought to be measured. I sing many of his songs at the Fairmont in Boston every Saturday night and I find myself having to listen to multiple versions of any of the Sinatra tunes to begin to exorcise his version, lest it turn into live-band karaoke. I was born in '62 and yet I feel as though he is part of the soundtrack of my life, such was his influence over such a long period of time. Thanks for writing about him and I'll raise a glass of red in his memory (sorry, no "Jack" for me) on Wednesday. Merry Christmas to you! Peter Smith, Boston

Random Thoughts said...

Hi Carol:

Thanks so much for this video. I've always felt that Sinatra's first-released album with Jobim was one of his best and it's nice to see them performing together. The work is impeccable.

You're post covers much about what made Sinatra so appealing to so many, including to men. You nailed it.

In addition to Sinatra's equisite timing and musical taste, I particularly loved the fact that, for the most part, he dressed up for his audiences, invariably wearing formal attire for his concerts and nightclub appearances; this elevated the occasion to something more special than it might have been had he dressed down, and the audience felt that specialness.

Also wonderful is the fact that Sinatra invariably credited the composer/lyricist and arranger on each song he performed. He respected all and said so.

Thanks, Carol.