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: