966. The Sands Hotel, Las Vegas. In the wee small hours of a March morning the acres of gambling territory begin to quieten down. Only the hard core players remain — those who can’t quit when they are behind. Despite the unremitting air-conditioning, a stale atmosphere settles like a blanket, the garishly-lit gambling tables take on a cheap, tawdry, and somehow defeated aspect that cannot be dispelled even by the paid-to-be-perky croupiers as they work the graveyard shift. Vegas at this point in the am. deals a hand that only losers can truly appreciate.
Walking, and none too steadily, through the lobby toward the bank of elevators, there comes a smallish, balding, middle-aged figure in dinner clothes. He is being guided by a taller companion who is whispering conspiratorially into an ear that clearly resents what it is hearing. The head jerks angrily and there is a mutter ofdiscontent aimed at the lobby in general. Both men stop, and the shorter of the two, face tightening, fires off a salvo dotted liberally with expletives. The recipient nods hurriedly, placatingly, with a resigned air that suggests he’s heard all this before.
Coming across the lobby on a direct collision course with the men are two women who perhaps could best be described as having passed through the first blush of youth. As they near the eye of this minor hurricane they jolt to a stop, both having recognised an object of affection. A whispered consultation takes place, then bags are opened, pens and paper come to hand. and they hurry toward the smaller man who is facing them. He has paused for breath as they swoop. Loud, excited Texan-inﬂected accents break into the smooth hum of lobby sounds. Both insert themselves firmly between the two men and almost with one voice squeal ‘Frank, could we have your autograph?‘
In a career as the greatest popular singer of his time, Francis Albert Sinatra has attracted adverse publicity the way fly-paper attracts flies. Record producer and broadcaster Elliot Meadow witnesses another side of the great man, while Kenny Mathieson analyses his vocal style.
Time freezes. The taller man’s look changes from resignation to dismay as the women paw their quarry. Slightly intoxicated and visibly annoyed, the Frank in question conveys all the signs of someone who in the next few moments is going to live up to a reputation for creating nasty public scenes. An episode to gladden the heart of any tabloid newspaper reporter, should there be one at hand — and there usually is — seems on the verge of occuring.
As everybody out of the line of fire holds their collective breath, a quite remarkable and totally unexpected shift of mood sweeps over the leading player in this little drama. Suddenly he smiles and, gently disentangling himself from the clutching hands of his two admirers, takes the proffered paper and pens, enquires as to their names, then writes a few words for each. With great courtesy he thanks them, smiles again, and with his colleague (who now wears a look of enormous relief) in close attendance, turns and enters a waiting elevator.
As the doors close, the original theme of displeasure is heard being reprised while the women remain rooted ecstatically to the spot. Eventually, they too step into an elevator leaving any hungry newshound in the vicinity to mull over what might have been. On this occasion, at least, there would be no lurid morning headlines shrieking of yet another Sinatra peccadillo.
1975. September. The Uris Theatre, New York City, forty-five minutes before the Count Basie Band will open the evening’s proceedings. This is the first night of a two-week engagement that has excited the imagination of large numbers of Manhatten concert-goers. Hardly surprising as Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra have rarely, ifever, graced the same stage together before.
Situated in mid-town, the Uris is a hub of activity both inside and out. Extra police are on
On an outake irom a 1956 Capitol recording session, the Count Basie Band’s Introductory phrase to “How Little We Know’ is interrupted by the slnger’s-‘once more'. In response to an inaudible enquiry irom the booth, Sinatra replies ‘No, I’m just trying to chest with notes, but you can’t cheat with notes. You've gotta sing them.’ And sing them he does, impeccably, in the inimitable manner which marked him out as the greatest popular singer oithe century.
Born in Hoboken, New Jersey. in
1915, Sinatra inherited — even it unconsciously-the Italian bel canto tradition oi singing, and its iniiuence is a constant in his work, notably in terms oi his legato (literally ‘bound together') delivery, and his trademark handling oi extended vowel sounds. That remarkable breath control was also iniluenced by listening to trombonist Tommy Dorsey during his stint In Dorsey’s popular band in the 1940s, notably Dorsey's way oi running beyond the end oi a phrase and into the next one beiore taking the breath, a classic Sinatra device.
‘Sinatra could turn a thirty-two bar
song Into a three-act play,’ singer Julius La Rosa once said, and although he never claimed to be a jazz singer, his easy swing and that ilawless phrasing endeared him to generations oi jazz players as well as singers. Idollsed in the 1940s, Sinatra overworked his voice, and seemed, in his own phrase, ‘all washed up’ by the early 1950s.
instead, he made a remarkable comeback, aided by the iirst oi many non-singing iilm roles in ‘From Here To Etemity'. Previously known mainly as a bailadeer, he added swing to his repertoire, recording a string oi classic
records ior Capitol which remain his strongest body oi work.
In the early 1960s, at the height oi his popularity, Sinatra quit Capitol and helped set up a new company, Reprise, recording tor the label throughout the decade, including sessions with both Count Basie and Duke Ellington. lie retired in 1911, but resumed his career in 1973, and has worked ever since. It the singer who visits Glasgow will not be the same one who recorded those wonderful Capitol sides, he remains one oi the tiny band oi great stars able to draw audiences on his name alone. (Kenny Mathleson)
61116 List 29June— 121u|y 1990