I kind of wish I could say my grandparents had turned me on to Frank Sinatra…because that would sound kind of cool and make it seem as if I had had some kind of hipster grandparents who dug the jazz and knew all the ingredients of a good gimlet.
But, alas, neither set seemed very interested in music at all. I’m not even sure they were aware that music existed. My Mother’s parents owned a ranch and raised cattle and quarter horses. My Dad’s parents…
Well, my Dad’s parents lived in Yuba City. Google it.
In the end I discovered Frank through people my own age when my friends and I entered our “Lounge” phase in college, Sinatra became a large part of our lives very quickly. Disgruntled by the fact that no one in our group was in a fraternity, and we weren’t invited to any of the formal parties, we began to throw our own “Lounge Parties.” And they were a huge hit.
This was nice because the ladies enjoyed the suave atmosphere, music and drinks…and we enjoyed the ladies. That and we hired doormen to keep the Greeks out. But regardless of your affiliation or age group, Frank Sinatra is a man whose music has sort of a universal appeal. This is due not only to the fact that Frank was an amazing badass, but more from his incredibly great taste in producers and musicians. Frank knew who to pick and when and it served him well. This is what set him apart from his Rat Pack compatriots, and kept his career strong for as long as it lasted.
When I started listening to Frank, I was a huge fan of his live 1966 album “Sinatra at the Sands.” Here you find Frank in full Vegas mode backed by none other than the Count Basie Orchestra with Quincy Jones producing. It’s an excellent time capsule for the period, and full of great music…but I wanted more.
More of the more pensive Frank who cut the concept album with Jobim. More of a jazzier Frank.
And in 1997 I got my wish when Blue Note records released the recording of “Frank Sinatra with the Red Norvo Quintet, Live in Australia, 1959 ” It’s quite a mouthful for a title, and as far as I know the only Sinatra recording Blue Note has released, but it ranks up there as one of the best live recordings of the man I’ve ever heard.
The sound quality is far from stellar…but it was 1959, and despite of the lack of high quality recording equipment, the absolutely stunning energy of the performance lifts this album higher than it might otherwise be. Have a listen to the curtain dropping version of ‘Night and Day’ above. So stylized by Red Norvo’s Quintet as to be unrecognizable at first, the crowd gives an audible gasp when Frank transitions right into it…smooth as silk.
Any question that Frank was only as good as his backing band dissipates with the first listen, although that is no swipe at Norvo and his group. Quite the contrary, it’s Norvo’s sparse arrangements and shimmering vibe work that allow Sinatra the freedom to really stretch his voice on this recording. And that feeling of relaxed enjoyment from Frank that pushes the envelope here, as is evident on this recording of ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ where he takes a dig at some guy in the front row.
It’s a feeling of real joy and enjoyment that seems to seep from every nook of this record…right down to Frank’s banter with the obviously enraptured audience. And after a listen you may count yourself among their number.