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Sessions with SINATRA


If you can buy only one Sinatra bookafter youve bought all the hundreds of records or CDs
this is the one to have. Kirkus Reviews
A wonderful book that deftly re-creates what it was like to be there as Sinatra crafted his great-
est recordings. It is meticulously researched, and a pleasure to read. I highly recommend it!
Michael Feinstein
This magnificent book, loaded with photos, is a must-read for Sinatra followers, singers and
potential singers, fans of the recording-studio scene, and Great American Songbook enthusiasts.
San Francisco Examiner
Sessions with Sinatra is the way to get to know the most important singer of this or any other
century. It was always about the music. Rosemary Clooney
Mr. Granatas amazingly detailed accounts of the legendary records the singer made should
become an essential part of any library. Dallas Morning News
This book is precious, for it documents the care and thoughtfulness that accompanied the creation
of my dads greatest recordings. Chuck Granata is a font of information.
Nancy Sinatra
Sessions with Sinatra is written from the heart: a refreshing and accurate portrait of the wonder-
ful relationship Frank had with musicians, and the depth of his understanding of music. . . . In
musical terms, this books got chops! Quincy Jones
Sessions with Sinatra is a delight. Frank Sinatra completely changed the course of what Chuck
Granata refers to as the art of recordinghis book tells how and why. . . . Theres no other book
like it, and you will learn tons about Sinatra that you never knew beforeI know I did.
Will Friedwald,
author of Jazz Singing and
Sinatra! The Song Is You

Sessions with
A pocket history of modern sound recording. . . . By showing how much thought and effort
Sinatra put into his recording sessions, Granata reveals how seriouslydespite his breezy, devil-
may-care personahe took his craft. Booklist

Charles L. Granata is one of the leading authorities on the music of Frank Sinatra and is the
author of Wouldnt It Be Nice: Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds.

An A Cappella Book
Distributed by
Independent Publishers Group
$19.95 (CAN $29.95)
SINATRA Frank Sinatra and the Art of Recording
Cover design: David Scott FOREWORD BY AFTERWORD BY
Cover photo: Sinatra in the Capitol Studios,
photograph by Sid Avery, courtesy of MPTV Archive PHIL RAMONE CHARLES L. GRANATA NANCY SINATRA
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Sessions with
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How Deep Is the Ocean (How High Is the Sky) words and music by
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Irving Berlin, Copyright 1932 by Irving Berlin. Copyright renewed.
International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
Granata, Charles, L. It Was a Very Good Year by Ervin Drake, 1961, copyright renewed
Sessions with Sinatra : Frank Sinatra and the art of recording/ 1989 by Ervin Drake and assigned to Lindabet Music Corporation,
Charles L. Granata. administered by the Songwriters Guild of America.
p. cm.
Ive Got You Under My Skin words and music by Cole Porter,
Includes bibliographical references, discography, and index.
copyright 1936 by Chappell & Co. Copyright renewed. Assigned to
ISBN 1-55652-356-4 (cloth)
John F. Wharton, trustee of the Cole Porter Musical and Literary
1-55652-509-5 (paper)
Property Trusts. Chappell & Co. owner of publication and allied rights
1. Sinatra, Frank. 1915-1998. Criticism and interpretation.
throughout the world. International copyright secured.
1. Title.
All rights reserved.
ML420.S565G73 1999
782.42164'092dc21 99-27871 (Love Is) the Tender Trap lyrics by Sammy Cahn, music by James
CIP Van Heusen, 1955 (renewed) by Barton Music Corp.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Lush Life by Billy Strayhorn. Copyright 1949 (renewed) Tempo
Music, Inc./Music Sales Corporation (ASCAP). All rights
administered by Music Sales Corporation (ASCAP). International
The author has made every effort to secure permissions for all the
Copyright Secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
material quoted in this book. If any acknowledgment has
inadvertently been omitted, please contact the author. Moonlight in Vermont by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf and
copyright 1944 renewal 1972 by Michael H. Goldsen, Inc.
All photographs courtesy of Charles L. Granata unless Nice N Easy words by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, music by Lew
otherwise noted. Spence, 1960 by Eddie Shaw Music Co., copyright renewed and
assigned to Threesome Music and Lew Spence Music.
Lyric excerpts used by permission: All rights reserved. Used by permission.
April in Paris by E. Y. Yip Harburg and Vernon Duke. Published by Ol Man River words by Oscar Hammerstein, music by Jerome
Glocca Morra Music (ASCAP). Administered by Next Decade Kern, 1927 UniversalPolyGram International Publishing, Inc.
Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved. Copyright renewed. All rights reserved.
April in Paris by Vernon Duke and Ey Harburg 1932 BMG Songs, Put Your Dreams Away (75%) lyric by Ruth Lowe, music by Stephan
Inc. (ASCAP), Kay Duke Music (ASCAP), and Polygram Weiss and Paul Mann. TROCopyright 1942 (renewed), 1943
International. All rights on behalf of Kay Duke Music (ASCAP) (renewed) Cromwell Music, Inc., New York, NY and Chappell & Co.,
administered by BMG Songs, Inc. Los Angeles, CA. International copyright secured. All rights reserved
Bewitched words by Lorenz Hart, music by Richard Rodgers, 1941 including public performance for profit. Used by permission.
(renewed) Chappell & Co. Rights for extended renewal term in U.S. Ring-A-Ding-Ding! lyric by Sammy Cahn, music by James Van
controlled by WB Music Corp. o/b/o The Estate of Lorenz Hart and Heusen, 1961 by Maraville Music Corp., copyright renewed and
The Family Trust u/w Richard Rodgers and The Family Trust u/w assigned to Maraville Music Corp. and Cahn Music Company. All
Dorothy F. Rodgers (administered by Williamson Music). All rights rights on behalf of Cahn Music Company administered by WB Music
reserved. Used by permission. Corp. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Body and Soul words by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Say It (Over and Over Again) by Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh,
Eyton, music by John Green, 1930 Warner Bros. Inc. (renewed). copyright 1940 by Famous Music Corporation. Copyright renewed
Rights for the extended renewal term in the United States controlled by Famous Music Corporation.
by Warner Bros. Inc., Herald Square Music an Druropetal Music,
Canadian rights controlled by Warner Bros. Inc. All rights reserved. Something Stupid by C. Carson Parks, 1967 Greenwood
Used by permission. Music Co.

Bye Bye Baby (from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) words by Leo Robin, Theres a Flaw in My Flue by Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen,
music by Julie Styne, copyright 1949 (renewed) Dorsey Bros. Music, 1948, 1958 Bourne Co./Music Sales Corporation (ASCAP).
a division of Music Sales Corporation (ASCAP). International International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Used by permission.

Close to You words and music by Al Hoffman, Jerry Livingston, and Quotation from Me and My Music by Frank Sinatra, first published
Carl G. Lampl, 1943 by Barton Music Corp. Copyright renewed in LIFE magazine, April 1965. 1965 by Frank Sinatra. Used by
1970 and assigned to Barton Music Corp., Hallmark Music Co., Inc., permission, Sheffield Enterprises, Inc.
and Al Hoffman Songs, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Close to You by Al Hoffman, Jay Livingston, and Carl G. Lampl.
Copyright 1943 (renewed) Al Hoffman Songs, Inc./Hallmark Music 2004 by Charles L. Granata
Co./Barton Music Corp. All rights for Al Hoffman Songs, Inc., All rights reserved
administered by Music Sales Corporation (ASCAP). International A Cappella Books
copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission. An imprint of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Guess Ill Hang My Tears Out to Dry words by Sammy Cahn, music 814 North Franklin Street
by Jule Styne. Copyright 1944 by Chappell & Co. and Producers Chicago, Illinois 60610
Music Publishing Co., Inc. Copyright renewed. All rights ISBN 1-55652-509-5
administered by Chappell & Co. International copyright secured. Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved 5 4 3 2 1
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Sessions with
Frank Sinatra and the Art of Recording
C H A R L E S L. G R A N A T A

An A Cappella Book
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For Barbara, Kate, and Alex,

with love

and for Mom and Dad,

who nurtured my love for music, and

encouraged me to follow my dreams.

In memory of Frank Sinatra

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Foreword by Phil Ramone ix

Introduction xiii


T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 19 4 2
Beginnings 1

Discovery 3

The First Recordings 5

The Dorsey Style 8

The Voice 10

The Songs 14

The Microphone 17

Wax Impressions 25


T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S , 19 4 3 19 5 2
Making the Break 29

Taking Charge 31

Charting the Way 33

Anatomy of a Recording Session 35

Body and Soul: Evolution of a Performance 39

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The Columbia Studios 42

The Concept of Albums 47

Diversity Personified 48

In Pursuit of Perfection: The Singer as Producer 50

Triple Threat: The Cutting Edge of Technology 57

Sound on Sound 57
The Birth of the LP Record 59
The Magic of Tape 64

Sinatra Swings! 66

Downward Spiral: The Mitch Miller Influence 69


T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2
A Capitol Thought 79

Sinatra in Hollywood 81

Frank Meets Nelson 85

The Team 87

A Musical Marriage 92

Dynamic Duo 98

The Hottest Ticket in Town 102

My Buddy 106

The Capitol Studios: 5515 Melrose Avenue 109

The Capitol Studios: Hollywood and Vine 114

Model of Perfection: Close to You 118

From Mono to Stereo 126

With Gordon Jenkins 132

With Billy May 134

Melancholy Serenades: Only the Lonely 138

Season of Discontent 143

Manic Depression: Come Swing with Me and Point of No Return 146

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Chairman of the Board 153

Ring-a-Ding-Ding! and Sinatra and Strings 156

Great Songs from Great Britain: The London Sessions, 1962 163

Frank and Splank (Sinatra and Basie) 168

Tour de Force: The Concert Sinatra 171

Early Autumn: The September of His Years 174

Straddling the Line: Rock N Roll Sinatra 179

Somethin Stupid 183

Francis A. and Edward K. 188

Middle of the Road 189

Elder Statesman 190


Duets 203

Full Circle 209

Afterword by Nancy Sinatra 213

Appendix A Companion Recordings 218

Appendix B The Basic Collection 220

Appendix C Concept Albums 222

Appendix D Fifty Songs That Define the Essence of Sinatra 225

Acknowledgments 227

Bibliography 229

Index 233
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Frank Sinatra and Phil Ramone.

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F rank Sinatra has always been a part of

my life. From the time I was three, Sina-

tra always seemed to be the common thread

showed him in the studio (like Sinatras

Swingin Session!!! and my favorite, The Con-

cert Sinatra), and tried to imitate how the band

that ran through my musical development. As I and the singer were miked. When I finally got

grew, I got hip to that finger-poppin sound of the chance to visit a Sinatra session, I looked at

his early Capitol records, and by the end of the every microphone placement and memorized

1950s, I knew inside out every disc that he it. The day I realized my dream of engineering

made. When I was in my teens, I would even a Sinatra session, I was in heaven.

conduct the Billy May band in the same way During my career, Ive had the good for-

that kids today play air guitar. tune to record and produce artists like Quincy

As I began to think about the process of Jones, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Elton

recording, I knew that Frank Sinatras albums John, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Barry

set the industry standard. When I became an Manilow, and Natalie Cole. But the achieve-

engineer, I studied those album covers that ment that Ive always been the proudest of
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is having worked with Frank Sinatra as both an mess up! Since I had reached this high a plateau,
engineer and a producer. When the call came to I prided myself, as I hope anybody would, on not
work with him, there was no question that I had taking any chances.
reached the major league. Yet it was never an ego Everything around him had to be thought
thing, although I must admit, it was an incredi- out. Youd take all the little details, and then go
ble rush for me to realize that I was on the same over them fifty times. Id ask myself, What am I
level with a man who was my hero. going to do in the studio? How do I get everybody
Not everything I learned from Sinatra was to understand that they have to start rolling the
specifically technical: the major thing he taught tape as soon as we know hes coming down the
me, and the industry at large, was about profes- hall? I couldnt even imagine any other way of
sionalism. In fact, everything I know about doing working with Frank. It wasnt that he insisted on
things right I learned from Frank Sinatra. it. On the contrary, I would hope that he wasnt
One night that proved to be a turning point even aware of what we were going through in the
in my career as an engineer was the night Quincy booth. I wanted him to feel totally free to concen-
Jones and I went to hear him at The Sands in Las trate only on what was required of him.
Vegas. We were seated, and as the house lights There was always an unspoken command that
went down, there came this grandiose announce- everyone who ever worked with Frank felt: This
ment: Ladies and Gentlemen, Francis Albert is your position in this enterprise, be it musician,
Sinatra! Frank walked onstage to begin the first engineer, or producer, and I dont expect you to
song, opened his mouth and started singing, only be anything but great. The word whoops just
to find that his mike was dead. He didnt say a wasnt in his vocabulary. He expected the best
wordhe just dropped the mike right on the floor, from everyone. If you approached every day as
and walked off. The whole room was as quiet as though a Sinatra session were looming, youd have
death. But a couple of minutes later, the an- a much better attitude about your work, for he sim-
nouncement was repeated, and he walked back on. ply inspired and brought out the best in you. Ac-
You better believe the mike worked this time! He tually, you would do even better than your very
didnt say a word about what had happened dur- best. In those two to three hours, there was a level
ing the entire show, but you can bet there was hell of concentration, of collective excellence, in
to pay backstage afterward. Not from him, inci- which everybody in the room was working at the
dentally. It came from the people that should have absolute highest peak. The best thing was that,
been on top of things right from the startthose once in a while, when things were really going
that should have known better. right, Frank would turn around and just give you
I learned from that experience to always have a grin. It was the greatest kind of approval you
a back-up: to have two microphones set up, and could ever receivethe kind of approval you re-
better than that, to be sure theyre tested and re- ceive from your parents when they really love you.
tested. And Ive found that the days that I dont per- When you got that look from him, you realized
sonally check every damned wire myself are the thats what it was all about.
days that things go wrong in the studio. The studio is a great place to be when every-
On my first recording session with Frank, I things running smoothly. Its funny, but when
made sure to double mike it, and he noticed that. everything is tightwhen you know what youre
I remember he looked at the two mikes, then at doing and operating at your peakthats when
me, and asked Why are you doing that? I teased you can cut loose. Once you hit that plane, you
him a little bit, then said, Bill Putnam (one of his can make suggestions, try different things, slow the
favorite engineers in Los Angeles) told me Dont tempo down or speed it up. You know from expe-
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F O R E W O R D xi

rience that this can only happen when everybody that, but he would sign autographs and accom-
is pulling together, when there are no distractions, modate everybody.
when youre operating at Franks own level.
In the studio he demanded total concentra-
tion, both of himself and everyone around him.
When you get to that place, that sweet spot where
everythings in the pocket, you can even laugh
at the rare mistakes that do happen. You dont have
to worry that if, for instance, some trumpeter plays
W hatever inspired Frank Sinatra to be
the person he was, he mentored for
everyone in the world the art of record-
ing, which is what this book is all about.
Through the years weve read a lot about Sina-
a perfect phrase or hits a beautiful high A and tra. This book is not about the personal side, but
somebody else goofed, it cant be done again. You the professional part of his life, from a musical
know that if need be, he can hit it againit was- point of view. If you have any sort of passion for the
nt a fluke that he was able to do it in the first place. music, this book has all of the answers.
He did it because its his job, like it is yours as the Within these pages, Chuck Granata draws on
engineer, to be the best. his deep knowledge of both Sinatras craft and the
Even when he was pushing eighty, Sinatra was fine details of the recording process to explain the
operating at a level of excellence that was aston- most important part of Sinatras legacy: his per-
ishing. I would be working with the younger artists sonal discipline in the recording studio. Reading
that were singing with him on the Duets albums, how the technology evolved around him and how
and there were specific lines I wanted the other vo- he worked so diligently to use it effectively is fas-
calist to sing exactly with him, or perhaps in uni- cinating, and highlights all of the major contribu-
sonsometimes maybe an octave away. It was tions Frank has made to our field. No recording
then that they learned that what sounds so easy can career has ever been chronicled in quite this way.
be the toughest thing in the world. Theyd say, Then too, no career has the expansive scope
How the hell did he do that? What did he do? of Sinatras. He embraced all of the music from the
How did he make that happen? big bands to rock, and in doing so, made himself
The energy that flowed between Sinatra and the narrator of the history of popular music.
the musicians was something to see. There are al- As I read through it, I asked myself, If Frank
ways combinations of players who bring to the were to pick up this book, what would he think?
party, on the first take, something that makes mu- Im sure he would be proud of it and say that it was
sic fabulous. When it came to recording, Frank marvelous. His reaction would probably be much
didnt enter as an individual star. When he came the same as mine: he would start browsing, and be-
into that room, he was part of an ensemble that was gin to remember recording songs that changed the
going to make music. The champ was in the ring! world, and places he recorded in, and people he
He knew from his days of watching Tommy worked with. For me, thats the important infor-
Dorsey what it meant to have a band play well, and mationthe prime stuff!
what it took to get the most out of the players. Ive From 1939 to 1994, Frank Sinatra was the most
seen artists who are aware that the band is there, consistent man, doing the most consistent things
and they appreciate the musicians, but dont really in the recording studio, that anyone has ever done.
interact with themmusically or physicallyon I think of him every day, and I miss him
any level. Even during our last dates together, the dearly.
string players were coming over with their charts
to have Frank autograph them. In my experience, Phil Ramone
your typical superstar wouldnt want any part of Bedford, New York, April 1999
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I adore making records. Id rather do that than almost anything else.

Frank Sinatra, 1961

Frank had the color and the fire and the brains and the imagination. Intellectual background,
strangely enough. Artistic sensitivity.
Nelson Riddle, 1983

F rank Sinatra was a master of the art of

recording. His work in the studio set him

apart from other gifted vocalists; and perform-

choice of arranger and orchestral accompani-

ment, and ultimately, the color of the sound

achieved, Sinatra, more than any other pop

ers old and new, vocal and instrumental, vocalist, was intimately involved with the cre-

emulate his accomplishments there to this day. ation of his recordings.

What did he have that others so admired?

First, Sinatra was above all a musician. His

instrument was his voice, and it was a priceless

instrument that he worked tirelessly to perfect

throughout his long career. Then, Frank Sina-

tra was directing his own recording sessions and

functioning as his own producer years before it


became fashionable. From song selection to

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xiv S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

More elusive but equally important, the ki- inspiring those around him to latch onto the mo-
netic energy that Quincy Jones once called the mentum he generated, to reach just a bit higher,
heat surrounded the singer. When he entered to outperform themselves. Each performance
the studio, the atmosphere suddenly became bears the imprint of the confident, intelligent
highly charged. He had a magical aura about artist that he was; his recordings are suffused with
him, said Rosemary Riddle-Acerra, the eldest the intellectual background and artistic sensitiv-
daughter of Sinatras favorite arranger, Nelson ity that Nelson Riddle spoke of.
Riddle. He would come into the room, and you Although his singing voice is probably the
would just be in awe of him. most recognizable in the world, and dozens of
This book endeavors to re-create the vitality books and articles have been written about the
of those moments; to place you, the reader, in the more sensational aspects of his life, few seek to
studio with Frank Sinatra to experience the spirit, analyze and explain the virtues of Frank Sinatra
intensity, and craftsmanship of his recording ses- as a musician or recording artist. He was an actor,
sions. At the same time, it traces recording ad- producer, and concert artist, but it is his record-
vances that had a direct impact on Frank Sinatras ings that express the essence of his genius, guar-
work in the studio, including the evolution of the anteeing his place among the most influential
microphone, disc recording, magnetic tape, musical figures of the twentieth century.
stereo, and digital recording: all critical tools that From his very first session with Harry James
contributed to his artistic success. in 1939 to the highly successful Duets albums of
the 1990s, Frank Sinatra presided over more than
four hundred recording sessions, resulting in well
over a thousand recordings, most of which were
released to the public. In 1965, Sinatra explained
his interest in recording to CBS News corre-
spondent Walter Cronkite. I think making
records is the great fun of all time, because its
currentits right there. When you finish a
recording, you blink your eye (or your ear, as it
may be), and boom, the playbacks on, and youre
listening to what youve done.
From the beginning, Sinatra exhibited a
brash confidence that would help propel him to
astounding success. As he relaxed between sets
with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra at Holly-
woods Palladium Ballroom one evening in the
early 1940s, Sinatra remarked to his friend, song-
writer Sammy Cahn, I am going to be the
worlds greatest singer! As Cahn later explained,
Sinatras enthusiasm for recording was in- I looked at him, and said, Without a doubt! He
fectious and motivated those who participated in was pleased, and made me repeat what I said. He
his sessions to strive for the perfection he de- seemed so intense that there was no way I could
manded of himself. Always exhibiting the high- dispute what Frank had said.
est degree of professionalism and respect for the As he left the bandstand in 1942 to pursue a
music and musicians, Sinatra led by example, solo career, Sinatra made a careful assessment of
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I N T R O D U C T I O N xv

the current music scene, and, realizing there was who compose and perform music go about cre-
a place for the romantic musical style he was lean- ating their work. Where does their inspiration
ing toward, set out to perfect a musical persona come from? How do they transfer their ideas to
to fit the bill: positioning himself not just as a paper and convey it to their collaborators? Why
multi-talented creative artist, but a commercial do their recordings sound the way they do?
one as well. The answers to these questions as they relate
At the same time he embraced the rapidly ad- to Frank Sinatra lie within the memory of the
vancing art and science of sound recording. people who worked on his recordings, and I have
Throughout his career he utilized the burgeon- found the recollections and opinions of the scores
ing technology to his best advantage, devising and of participants I befriended in the course of my
mastering techniques that would serve him as he nine years of research to be warm, insightful, and
progressed. His half-century tenure as a fixture compelling. His story was their story, and it be-
in the studio encompasses every modern techni- came apparent to me that, without the support
cal innovation in the field of sound recording, of these key players, the music of Frank Sinatra
and few things have had as profound an effect on simply wouldnt exist. It is for this reason that I
Frank Sinatra or our perception of his talent. have chosen to rely heavily on the words of these
Sinatras interest in the recording process musicians, producers, songwriters, arrangers, and
was a logical extension of his desire to control his engineers to reconstruct the studio methodology
destiny. The path to greatness, he knew, would he perfected.
be through the piercing vulnerability of his per-
formance. To truly understand the significance
of these performances and how they fit into the
overall scheme of what Sinatra, from early on, in-
tended for his future, we must first consider how
carefully they were planned and executed. Sina-
tra left little to chance, especially when, for him,
singing meant exposing his soul in such a deeply
personal way. If I make a bad record, it hurts me
far more than it does the public, he said.
Like Duke Ellington before him, the singer
was a perfectionist who understood that a record
was forever. You can never do anything in life
quite on your own, he once explained. You
dont live on your own little island. I suppose you
might be able to write a poem or paint a picture
entirely on your own, but I doubt it. I dont think
you can even sing a song that way, either. Mak-
ing a record is as near as you can get to ital- Invaluable to portraying Sinatra as a studio
though, of course, the arranger and the orchestra artist are his raw session recordings, from which
play an enormous part. But once youre on a I have drawn selected excerpts. Having had the
record singing, its you and you alone. With a opportunity to work on the restoration of his
record, youre it. vintage recordings, I was able to gain access to
As a music enthusiast, I have always been in- many of the original unedited session discs and
trigued by the ways the gifted men and women tapes containing valuable dialogue that occurred
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xvi S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

between takes and during breaks in the session. book, for these are critical subjects that will aid
To sit in a modern studio and eavesdrop, fifty the reader in appreciating the performance and
years after these moments occurred, is a delight- studio situations that arose as Sinatras career
fully eerie experience. In some cases, the con- developed.
versations are so absorbing and the fidelity so true I have offered some musical critiques as well,
that you feel as though you are sitting among the at times indulging in an analysis of a particular
musicians in the orchestra. I hope that I have performance. I hope these will help explain why
been able to capture and preserve in print what Sinatras is an art form to be cherished, and what
is so fascinating to hear on tape and disc. is important to listen for. I have carefully chosen
Unfortunately, space limitations prohibit me these specific recordings because I felt they cap-
from examining each and every Sinatra record- tured the essence of Sinatra and his music.
ing session or discussing every album he made. In this regard, the specific recordings sug-
Instead, I have presented a representative sam- gested in Appendix D, Fifty Songs that Define
pling of historically and developmentally impor- the Essence of Sinatra, will enhance the readers
tant Sinatra sessions that serve to offer a detailed understanding of the musical/vocal techniques
look at the singers versatile career. and sonic qualities described here.

S inatras recordings encom-

pass a remarkable range of
styles and rhythms. Each of
his four main periods offers a dis-
tinct musical sound, so that in
many respects we hear a different
artist with each passing era. This
variety transforms his recorded cat-
alog into a vast musical play-
ground, chock-full of nooks and
crannies that yield many wonder-
ful surprises for those willing to

W hile this study generally

follows a chronological
path, it is organized so that
important topics that relate to
Frank Sinatras work in the studio
are introduced and explained in a
logical fashion. For example, im-
portant discussions about Sinatras
voice, his relationships with song-
With Nelson Riddle.
writers, and the importance of the
microphone appear early in the
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I N T R O D U C T I O N xvii

It must be stressed that no individual was Sinatra-Riddle partnership was musically ideal
more or less responsible for abetting Frank Sina- and illustrates how a symbiotic musical relation-
tras success in the recording studio. Those indi- ship between orchestrator and singer can make a
viduals whom the singer worked with brought world of difference in what we hear and how we
fresh perspectives to his art, and whether their hear it.
contributions were small or large, good or bad, Then too, Nelson Riddle not only spoke at
Sinatra studied and adopted the portions that fit great length about his work with Sinatra, but also
his needs best. published an invaluable book explaining his
You will notice that in several sections I have method of arranging. His many articulate inter-
chosen to highlight Sinatras work with Nelson views, plus the discussions I have had with dozens
Riddle. There are two primary reasons for this. of his friends, family members, and colleagues,
To begin, his work with Nelson Riddle was a allowed me to study and understand how Riddle
critical turning point. Largely by chance, the worked as a musician, and, more important, how
arranger became a key player at a time when the he worked for Frank Sinatra.
singers career hung precariously in the balance, The most surprising revelation to come from
and Nelson unquestionably aided Sinatras res- my research was that, despite his fame, Frank
urrection as a mainstream pop vocalist. Most Sinatra was a truly modest man when it came to
Sinatraphiles would argue that his finest work, his talent: he was a celebrity who preferred to de-
and the style he will ultimately be remem- flect the credit for his work to others. When speak-
bered for, was forged with Nelson Riddle. The ing of his work, he unfailingly referred to it as a
collaborative effort, using the words we and were
instead of I and Im. In doing this, he acknowl-
edged the importance of his musical team and
their contributions to the success of the overall
performance. Nowhere was his admiration for
their talent more apparent than in the recording
In the 1970s, Sinatra told songwriter Ervin
Drake that he despised singing his signature
song, My Way, because he felt people might
construe it as a self-aggrandizing tribute. I know
its a very big hit (and I love having big hits), but
every time I get up to sing that song I grit my
teeth, because no matter what the image may
seem to be, I hate boastfulness in others. I hate
immodesty, and thats how I feel every time I sing
the song.
Because of Sinatras reluctance to talk about
himself, most interviews with the singer are po-
lite but superficial. Frank Sinatra opted instead
for musical communication, dropping his guard
only behind the microphone, allowing his record-
ings to serve as the real window to his soul.
This is the story of how he created them.
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Recording with trombonist/bandleader Tommy Dorsey, 1941.

01-part I (xviii-027)_01-part I (xviii-027) 11/2/10 4:16 PM Page 1


The Big Band

formative years created fond memories, and his

BEGINNINGS recollections of the period were vivid and full of

sentiment. There is little doubt that much of

the insight that guided Frank Sinatra over the

A s he grew older, Frank Sinatra

delighted in reminiscing about the big

band era. Frequently, in the company of family

course of half a century as a musician was

based on the practical knowledge hed gained

during his tenure as the featured band vocalist

and friends (especially those connected with with both Harry James (1939), and Tommy

the business), he would slip into the comfort- Dorsey (19401942).

able role of storyteller and talk about how much It was during these years that he befriended

he idolized Bing Crosby and what a tough many of the talented songwriters, arrangers,

taskmaster Tommy Dorsey was. His un- and musicians who would weave their way into

prompted conversation showed that those the fabric of his musical existence, including
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2 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

arranger Axel Stordahl and lyricist Sammy

Cahn. He took quickly to songwriters, and it was
clear practically from the beginning that he pos-
sessed a discriminating taste for top-quality
songs and a knack for selecting only those tunes
that he instinctively knew fit his style.
His perceptive use of the microphone was
born of this era, as was his understanding that a
good measure of his craft was his ability to act.
When singing, he could manipulate and control
his body language to suit the setting of the lyric,
which could evoke a certain response from his
Frank Mane and his orchestra, late 1930s.
listening audience.
Much of the singers musical wisdom stem-
med from the day-in, day-out trials and tribula-
tions of a rising band singer. As far back as the fronted a small jazz combo called The Four
early 1940s, Sinatra was crediting Tommy Dorsey Sharps. The single extant performance by the
with providing the fundamentals that he would group, a Dixieland version of Exactly Like You,
adapt to fit his vocal styling, carefully refining his is a Fred Allen Show radio aircheck, from May 12,
approach to develop a distinct method of phras- 1937. While Sinatra didnt vocalize with the trio,
ing that would become unmistakably his own. he continued to kick around Bergen and Hudson
A sharp observer, Frank Sinatra was among counties in New Jersey, where he eventually be-
the first to realize that the vocalist was quickly friended a young musician named Frank Mane,
supplanting the orchestra as the main attraction an alto saxophonist doing freelance solo work
in pop music and that he could easily apply his wherever he could find it.
talents to capitalize on the trend. While his ar- Initially, Mane and Sinatra crossed paths at
rival signaled the beginning of the end of the big WAAT, a small radio station that sometimes fea-
bands, Sinatra was responsible for rescuing the tured live performances broadcast from its stu-
finest components of the swing style, creating dios in Jersey City. Often, after scrounging
a sensational new sound: one that depended around the station for work, Sinatra would bum
on the vocalist to function as the heart of the rides from the saxophonist, usually to girlfriend
performance. Nancy Barbatos house on Audubon Avenue.
While most biographical accounts cite Sina- (Frank and Nancy met during the summer of
tras time with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey 1934; they were married in Jersey City on Febru-
as being his first real band experience, his big ary 4, 1939.)
band days had really begun much earlier than his Within a short time, Sinatra and Mane were
first Brunswick recording session, held in New frequenting Bayonnes Sicilian Club, where
York City on July 13, 1939. While the Brunswick many musical cronies gathered to compare notes.
date would be his inaugural commercial record- During one of these nights out, Sinatra learned
ing session, it was not his initial foray into a that Mane was forming a small band for the ex-
recording studio. press purpose of making some recordings.
After a stint with a Major Bowes Amateur According to Mane, Sinatra visited the Si-
Hour touring unit in 1935 (as one of the Hoboken cilian Club on the eve of the scheduled record-
Four, a pickup group assembled by Bowes), he ing, where he and his ten-piece band were
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T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 194 2 3

rehearsing in a back room. Before the group dis- mances of Shine and Curse of an Aching
banded, Sinatra approached him. Mind if I Heart were no more than airchecks of broadcast
come along tomorrow? he asked. Mane assured performances, as opposed to formal studio
him it would be fine, and at the appointed time recordings.) This distinction aside, the song and
on March 18, 1939, the band, plus Sinatra, re- its performance are quite unusual, as they hint
assembled at Harry Smiths Recording Studio at at the direction the polished voice would take.
2 West 46th Street in Manhattan. Among the mu- Sinatras vocal is remarkably relaxed, and frag-
sicians in Manes pickup band was reed player ments of the style that would develop fully in the
Harry Shuckman, who would later resurface on James and Dorsey periods are readily apparent in
many of Sinatras Hollywood recording sessions his fluid handling of the vocal lines.
for Columbia Records, and Don Rigney, a drum- Although he didnt know it at the time, Frank
mer who had served as best man at the Sinatras Mane (who died in December 1998 at age 94) had
wedding. given the man who would become one of the
After three instrumentals had been recorded greatest entertainers in the world his first real
(Flight of the Bumblebee; Eclipse, a Mane break.
original; and Girl of My Dreams), Sinatra ap-
proached the sax player, who was bearing the full
expense of the session, and asked whether he
might record a vocal with the group. With some
extra time remaining on the clock, Mane agreed
and quickly brought out a stock arrangement of D ISCOVERY
Our Love, a song based on a melody from
Tchaikovskys Romeo and Juliet.
Since Mane desired to record for purely per-
sonal reasons (he simply wanted to hear what his
arrangements sounded like), and not with the in-
tention of creating commercial discs, only one
master record was made of each performance. In
all likelihood, neither Frank Sinatra nor any of
the other participants received a copy of the
I n the months before he recorded Our
Love with Frank Mane, Sinatra had taken
a job at a small roadside cafe on Route 9W in
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Working as a self-
described singing waiter, he appeared several
recordings they made, and Mane, a fairly mod- nights a week as the featured vocalist with Bill
est man, never publicized the recording after Henri and his Headliners. Customarily, radio sta-
Sinatra became famous. This led to a false as- tions such as WAAT in Jersey City and WNEW
sumption on the part of well-intentioned histori- in New York would broadcast live from venues
ans, who for many years believed that this entry such as the Rustic Cabin, which is exactly what
in the Sinatra discography (tagged with an in- happened on the night that Frank Sinatra was dis-
correct recording date) was a demonstration or covered there by fledgling bandleader Harry
demo disc that the singer had made for Nancy James.
Barbato on the eve of their wedding. Only re- We would broadcast from the bandstand on
cently, with the rediscovery of Frank Mane, WNEWs Dance Parade from 11:30 til midnight,
have the original recording discs from this session remembers Headliners saxophonist Bert Hall,
surfaced and the facts been clarified. then known as Harry Zinquist. Lots of song
Our Love, then, is Frank Sinatras very first pluggers would come in to see the bandleaders
real recording. (The Hoboken Four perfor- at the Cabin, cause they knew that we were
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4 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A


Frank Sinatra on the bandstand with the Bill Henri Orchestra, The Rustic Cabin, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey,
circa 1939. (Harry Zinquist is fourth from right.)

broadcasting live on WNEW. One night as we James agreed, and the next evening he vis-
were playing, one of the waiters came up to the ited the Rustic Cabin to hear Sinatra in person.
bandstand and said to Sinatra, Someone wants When he came over to see me, I almost broke
to see you. It was trumpeter Harry James, and his arm so he wouldnt get away, cause I was dy-
Sinatra was thrilled! ing to get out of that place, the singer once re-
It was a warm evening in June 1939 when membered. Within a day, Sinatra accepted
James, who had left the security of Benny Good- Jamess offer to join the band.
mans band in favor of fronting his own, made the Jack Palmer, one of Jamess trumpeters, re-
trip to the mountain lodge nestled in the foothills members the first time the musicians met their
alongside Jerseys Palisades. His attention had new vocalist. Frank was at the theater where we
been drawn to Sinatra by his wife, singer Louise were appearing. After the first show, he went up
Tobin, who had tuned in to one of the Dance Pa- to Harrys dressing room. Just before the second
rade broadcasts. I heard this boy singer and show, Harry came out and introduced him as the
thought, Theres a fair singer. Now, I didnt think new singer with the band. Frank then joined us
he was fantasticI just thought, Well, now thats at the next date we had, which I believe was in
a good singer. So I just woke Harry and said, New Haven, Connecticut. Ill never forget how
Honey, you might want to hear this kid on the Harry introduced him to the audience. He said,
radio. The boy singer on this show sounds pretty Ladies and Gentlemen, this is our new vocalist,
good. and we dont have any arrangements for him as
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T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 194 2 5

yet. Frank, do you think we can scare something where we would broadcast from various hotels
up for you to sing? Sinatra called out Stardust, and ballrooms around the country. It was experi-
which is not the easiest song to sing. Frank gave ence for a guy who had none: you begin working,
us the key, and the piano and rhythm section be- and making records for a company like Colum-
gan, and we just tried to get some background to bia, and you begin to learn about band setups,
hold it all together. and microphones, and things like that.
The band wouldnt have to improvise behind By early July, the Harry James Orchestra fea-
their new vocalist for long, for arranger Andy Gib- turing Frank Sinatra was making live appear-
son immediately went to work on orchestrations ances at such popular night spots as New Yorks
that would accommodate Sinatra. As the weeks Roseland Ballroom and Atlantic Citys Steel Pier.
and months wore on, the repetition of working As they bused from gig to gig, James prepared to
night after night with a touring band helped him enter the studio to make some new recordings for
sharpen his skills as both a singer and a showman. Brunswick Records, a label that had been re-
When he first came to the band, he was al- cently purchased by CBS Radio magnate
most a novice. . . . He had been working locally, William S. Paley. Among them would be Sina-
and his exposure was pretty limited. So he acted tras very first commercial recordings.
just like a guy that was inexperienced, on a na-
tional scale, says Mickey Scrima, the bands
drummer. With Harry, we were playing coast
to coast, and it made a big difference. Now Sina-
tra was being heard on the big radio networks,

I n 1928 William S. Paley launched his

broadcast empire, the Columbia Broad-
casting System (CBS), with the assistance of
a number of investors, including the Columbia
Phonograph System. Then, in December 1938,
CBS entered the record marketplace with its for-
mal acquisition of the American Recording Cor-
poration (ARC). In addition to the Columbia
Phonograph System, ARCs holdings included a
number of record labels, including Brunswick,
Vocalion, Melotone, and Okeh. The resultant
conglomeration of recording companies was re-
named the Columbia Recording Corporation
(CRC). While CRC would primarily function as
the radio recording arm of Paleys CBS Radio
Network (where programs were recorded and dis-
With Harry James.
tributed to network affiliates on 16-inch lacquer
transcription discs), it soon endeavored to involve
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6 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

itself in commercial recording projects, for which the summer of 1939, to be exact. But to this day,
Paley revived the original Columbia label I can still remember Harry Jamess road manager
name. (This company would later evolve into the following me down the steps of New Yorks Rose-
one now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, land Ballroom, and before I could reach the street
Inc.) calling out, Hey, wait a minute, will you? I wanna
For a short time after the ARC acquisition, ask you somethinghowd ya like the band?
CBS continued to issue recordings made by its When I murmured something rather noncom-
individual labels, with their original imprints. mittal (because critics and reviewers dont like
Since James was under contract to Brunswick, being put on the spot in such a clumsy manner),
and had been making records for them under his he came right to his point. Yeah, but how do you
own name since December 1937, his first record- like the new singer? And then, quite un-
ing with Sinatra, From the Bottom of My Heart abashedly, The boy wants a good write-up more
and Melancholy Mood, recorded on July 13, than anybody Ive ever seen. So give him a good
1939 (Brunswick 8443) was released on that label. write-up, will you, because we want to keep him
Between the end of 1939 and September happy and with the band, and thats the only
1940, CBS gradually phased out the Brunswick thing that will make him happy. Simon, how-
label name and began issuing most of their 10- ever, was genuinely impressed by Sinatras vocal
inch pop 78s (by both the original ARC artists performance. The musicianship that Simon
and its own newly contracted Columbia artists) heard that night can be sampled on rare record-
on the now familiar red-and-gold Columbia la- ings of the bands live dates recently issued on
bel. The four James-Sinatra records that followed compact disc.
the Brunswick disc were all issued on the new Co- It was All or Nothing at All, a tune recorded
lumbia label. at his third recording session with James (August
Though unrefined, wisps of Sinatras char- 31, 1939) that became their greatest hit. While the
acteristic vocal style abound in the ten songs he song wasnt an outstanding seller upon its first re-
recorded with James. While a more detailed lease in 1939, it was reissued in 1943 when Sina-
study of Sinatras vocal powers will be made later, tra signed with Columbia as a solo artist, and
these ten studio recordings, plus the small cache owing to the recording ban that prohibited
of live radio airchecks, set the stage for a better recordings with instrumental accompaniment,
understanding of what vocal tools Sinatra pos- became an overnight sensation.
sessed, and how he set about building upon them Its interesting to listen to that young voice
to create his unique voice. when he first started; the way he attacked that
Music critic George T. Simon, writing in the song, and what he did with the breath control and
September 1939 issue of Metronome magazine, the wonderful phrasing that he used even in those
provided the singer with his first major review. early days, recalls the songs writer, Jack
Featured throughout are the very pleasing vo- Lawrence. Sinatra admired the song so much he
cals of Frank Sinatra, whose easy phrasing is es- recorded it three more times: as a ballad in 1961
pecially commendable, Simon opined, to the with Don Costa, an up-tempo arrangement with
delight of both James and his vocalist. Nelson Riddle in 1966, and a disco version with
In the liner notes for Columbia/Legacys Joe Beck in 1977. Later, as he went along he
1994 CD reissue of the complete Sinatra-James learned a lot more, and added more interpreta-
recordings, Simon reflected on an incident that tion. But I still prefer that young voice singing it,
prompted him to take special notice of the singer. as opposed to all the other versions he did,
It happened more than half a century agoin Lawrence adds.
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T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 194 2 7

Mickey Scrima (in 1999 a spry 83 years were used. Because there is no documentation
young, living in Dallas, and still playing his confirming the locale for the New York record-
drums) remembers Sinatra being nervous at his ings, we must rely on the best guess of Bill Savory,
earliest recording sessions. I wont say he was a retired Columbia engineer who was active in
scared to death, but it was new to him, Scrima the big band recording scene at the time. Some
recalls. He was anxious, like everybody else is of the Brunswick and Columbia recordings from
when were recording, because if youre not ner- 1939 were probably made at World Broadcastings
vous, you dont give a sh. And besides, Harry recording studios, at 550 Fifth Avenue, he be-
had just put the band together and didnt know lieves. I know that around the same time, Harry
what the hell it was going to sound like. You cant recorded Daddy at Liederkranz Hall, because
tell when youre playing in it, but if you record it Helen [Ward, Savorys wife] was the vocalist on
and play it back you can tell a hell of a lot more the date. But the Sinatra-James things dont have
about whats going on. So Harry was anxious, too. the same sound as the recordings that were made
I remember that, on the playbacks, Frank would at Liederkranz Hall, which leads me to believe
sit there and be very critical, saying, Oh, I missed that they were done elsewhere, in much smaller
that . . . or I should have done this or that . . . I studios.
told him, Just cool it; dont dissect the thing. And As we will discuss a bit later, the Liederkranz
wed do another take, and then hed say, Oh, I sound became a hallmark of Columbias
like that one better. . . . Of course, Id remind him records, due in large part to the intense, naturally
that it wasnt his decision to make: it was reverberant qualities of the large room. It was ac-
Harrysand that would relax him! tually on Jamess later recordings that the open,
Jack Palmer remembers Sinatra being con- ringing qualities of Liederkranz Hall became ap-
fident in the studio, but not cocky. There is a dif- parent; if we listen carefully to the Sinatra-James
ference, you know. He seemed to know what he recordings of 1939, the spaciousness of a typical
wanted to do. But at that time, we had no idea Liederkranz Hall date just isnt there.
that history would take the course it did. We just Back in those days, they used four mikes for
rehearsed for those sides like we rehearsed for the whole band and the vocalist, explains
everything else; there was nothing special about Scrima. When we recorded, we had one in front
it in our minds. In terms of doing the recordings, of the saxophones (and the brass was behind the
it was pretty easy: wed go in, theyd balance the saxes), and then they had one in the piano, and
brass, then the saxes, then the rhythm, and then one for the rhythm. The vocalists had their own
the full orchestra. We would usually do a test microphone. It was amazing, because the guys
record, and then we were lucky to get one [take] that were mixing the stuff were fantasticthey
made! Scrima vividly recalls that Sinatra was knew what the hell they were doing. They were
very proud of those initial recordings he made pioneers.
with James. He did get some copies of those first Scrima believes that one mixing engineer in
recordings, some dubs. We would do three or particular worked tirelessly to help distill the best
four takes on a tune, and he would ask if he could sound possible from the bands record dates. That
take one of the ones that wasnt used, he says. young engineer would later resurface as the
Later, he would play them over and over. recording director for many of Sinatras solo Co-
The Sinatra-James sessions, recorded under lumbia recordings. Benny Goodmans band
Columbias auspices, took place in both New used to make great-sounding records, and the guy
York and Los Angeles. For the Los Angeles dates, that did some of the things for Benny did some of
Scrima remembers that the CBS radio studios Harrys records, too . . . Morty Palitz. He was a
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8 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

helluva guy! Hed come up and say, Hey Mick course of his life. Sinatra was about to step into
. . . lets put a pillow in that bass drum, so we can the big time as the featured male vocalist with the
get the thing sounding better. . . . I want you to orchestra of one of the greatest bandleaders in the
sound good. Morty would let you know exactly world: trombonist Tommy Dorsey.
what was going on: hed say, I cant hear the bass,
or he might tell the brass to keep their horns at a
certain level so he could get them all in. And
soloists would have to come down and get closer
to a microphone, and that all had to be worked
out. He never said, We have to do this, hed say,
Lets try it. Hed make it simple for you. He knew
exactly what he was doing, and back then that was
something, because there were very few guys that
did what he did. He was an absolute genius as a
mixer. Those records are just fantastic as far as
the mixing is concerned.
Apart from appearing on the bandstand with
Sinatra, Scrima also roomed with the singer and
his wife, Nancy, who was then expecting their
first child. We were pretty damned close. I
I n an April 1965 Life magazine article, Sina -
tra discussed his tenure with the Dorsey
band. In those days, all the struggling singers
were trying to get with either Tommy Dorsey or
Glenn Miller, he wrote. Millers was the hotter
treated Nancy like a sister. We never had an ar- of the two [bands], but most fellows I knew, al-
gument, we just enjoyed each others company. most to a man, wanted to be with Tommy Dorsey,
It was tough then, because no one had any because he was a better showcase. Millers was
money, Scrima remembers. My dad would not a singers band, Tommys was. He presented
have to send us money to eat on, like fifteen or a singer in a much more specialized manner. In
twenty bucks a week, for about a month because his arrangements, he avoided as much as he
we werent working. We were working two nights could having the singer stand up after the first
a week, and what could you make on two one- chorus, sing the vocal, then sit down and have the
nighters? We were all really struggling. . . . eating orchestra finish. Tommy tried to present the
beans and wieners, which Nancy would cook for singer as a specialized piece of talent with the
us. It was just a fun time. We had a great band, band.
and everyone got along well. Everybody was for When Dorsey came knocking, Sinatra went
each other. running. I didnt know it at the timeI sus-
Even though Sinatra had been with Harry pected it, but I didnt knowthat Tommy had his
James for a scant six months, he was itching to eye on me. I learned later that he was having a
move on to a more established band, where as a few beefs with his singer, Jack Leonard, and was
featured vocalist he would receive far more at- scouting around for a new boy. With the James
tention and wider publicity. If Jack Leonard can band I had cut a record. . . . and the song plugger
make it, I wont have any problems, Sinatra told sent it to Dorsey. He was trying to get Dorsey to
Scrima. I encouraged him to do it. I said, Hey, record it. Tommy listened to it, all right, but he
man, all you have to do is sing: youve got the turned down the song. Instead, he hired me to be
balls, you have a good voice. . . . his singer! I had been making sixty-five dollars a
With his friends encouragement, the young week with James, and I started with Tommy for a
singer made a bold move that would alter the hundred.
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T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 194 2 9

Although traces of what would emerge and still wasnt the whole answer. I still had to learn
blossom as Sinatras unique vocal style are clearly to sneak a breath without being too obvious.
evident as early as the Frank Mane recording, It was easy for Dorsey to do it through his
most musicologists and the singer himself credit pinhole while he played the trombone. He
Dorseys masterful instrumental phrasing as hav- could control the inhalation better because the
ing a profound effect. horns mouthpiece was covering up his mouth.
Tommy didnt work much with me, Sina- Instead of singing only two bars or four bars of
tra remembered. He devoted his time to the mu- music at a timelike most of the other guys
sicians and arrangements, so that left me on my aroundI was able to sing six bars, and in some
own to experiment. . . . The thing that influenced songs eight bars, without taking a visible or audi-
me most was the way Tommy played his trom- ble breath. This gave the melody a flowing, un-
bone. He would take a musical phrase and play broken quality, and thatif anythingwas what
it all the way through, seemingly without breath- made me sound different. It wasnt the voice
ing, for eight, ten, maybe sixteen bars. How the alone; in fact, my voice was always a little too
hell did he do it? I used to sit behind him on the high, I thought, and not as good in natural qual-
bandstand and watch, trying to see him sneak a ity as some of the competition.
breath. But I never saw the bellows move in his At the same time, the singer was also think-
back. His jacket didnt even move. I used to edge ing of unique ways to present his vocal style.
my chair to the side a little, and peek around to When I started singing in the mid-1930s, every-
watch him. Finally, after a while, I discovered body was trying to copy the Crosby stylethe ca-
that he had a sneak pinhole in the corner of his sual kind of raspy sound in the throat. Bing was
mouthnot an actual pinhole, but a tiny place on top, and a bunch of usDick Todd, Bob
where he was breathing. In the middle of a Eberly, Como was coming along, Dean Martin
phrase, while a tone was still being carried was just starting outwere trying to break in. It
through the trombone, hed go shhhhh and take occurred to me that maybe the world didnt need
a quick breath and play another four bars with another Crosby.
that breath. Why couldnt a singer do that too? I decide to experiment a little and come up
Fascinated, I began listening to other soloists. I with something different. What I finally hit on
bought every Jascha Heifetz record I could find, was more the bel canto Italian school of singing,
and listened to him play the violin hour after without making a point of it. That meant I had to
hour. His constant bowing, where you never stay in better shape because I had to sing more.
heard a break, carried the melody line straight on It was more difficult than Crosbys style, much
through, just like Dorseys trombone. more difficult.
It was my idea to make my voice work in the Nelson Riddle once explained the hallmarks
same way as a trombone or violin: not sounding of Sinatras breath control. He sings in a sus-
like thembut playing the voice like those in- tained manner. He breathes long phrases, and
struments. The first thing I needed was extraor- breathes when youd least expect it, holding over
dinary breath control, which I didnt have. I when youd normally expect him to breathe. He
began swimming every chance I got in public gets the most, dramatically, out of his breathing
poolstaking laps underwater and thinking song capabilities by the element of surprise.
lyrics to myself as I swam, holding my breath. I While the first few sides Sinatra cut with
worked out on the track at the Stevens Institute Dorsey have a slightly shy, tentative air, by their
in Hoboken, running one lap, trotting the next. third recording session (March 4, 1940), he seems
Pretty soon I had good breath control, but that to have slipped into a comfortable groove, and
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10 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

the song Say It (Over and Over Again) emerges Daybreak, Too Romantic, Everything Hap-
as the ideal showcase for his fluid, legato-style pens to Me, and I Think of You.
phrasing. Here the singer starts to elongate the Sinatra worked tirelessly and learned his
ends of phrases and reconfigure the tempo of his lessons well. Before long, he realized that his hard
vocal line within the confines of each measure. work and continued perseverance was beginning
Not a word is clipped, and the end of each phrase to pay off. The greatest dividend he received from
melts beautifully into the start of the next, as the investment was a growing reputation as the
though Sinatra is savoring each and every sylla- vocal model by which all others were being
ble. This is evident from the very first line: judged.

Saaaay it, over and over again,

o-o-ver and o-ver again,
never stop saying youre miiiiiine . . .
Saaaay it, e-ver and ever so sweet,
eee-ver and e-ver so sweet,
just like an old valentiiine

The gentle way he enunciates the o sound

in over and holds the word agaaaaaain in the
third chorus display his ease in maintaining a lan-
guid musical flow through the expressiveness of
the vocal line.
If one compares Sinatras vocals to Dorseys
trombone throughout this recording, it becomes
clear that he is indeed trying to mimic what the
S inatras friend the late Sylvia Syms once
asked, How does one articulate the ex-
citement of Sinatra? His humor, his hu-
manity, his swinging, his understanding of lyrics
that turn them into tone poems with his caress?
bandleader was doing instrumentally, as the vo- Sinatra is a violoncello in full bloom. . . . His
cal follows the melodic line exactly. The confi- recordings are ever the mood music to listen to
dence he was gaining continues in the second when making love. To watch him in saloons or in
song from the March 4 session, Polka Dots and concert is to see the art of communication in
Moonbeams, on which his voice is almost action.
virginal. When discussing Frank Sinatras vocal style,
One of the charms about Frank was that he it is easy to discern the individual components he
wasnt like a boy singer in the band, believes borrowed from three of his major influences:
Dorsey pianist Joe Bushkin. This guy was more Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, and Mabel Mercer.
like a saxophone soloist, or an instrumentalist. Crosby, more than anyone, motivated Sina-
That was the feeling we got with Frank, and we tra to become a singer. By his own admission,
loved playing for him. Sinatra not only admired the crooners silky
In addition to the two songs mentioned, a smooth sound, but he also envied the glamour
number of Sinatra-Dorsey recordings merit the and attention that a singer of Crosbys stature en-
designation exceptional, including Ill Never joyed. While many have compared Crosby and
Smile Again, The One I Love, Stardust, Its Sinatra vocally, about the only similarities shared
Always You, Without a Song, East of the by the pair were their concurrent success as the
Sun, Violets for Your Furs, Street of Dreams, first true multimedia megastars of the twentieth
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century. Musically and personally, the two men tensity, than Bing Crosby. Sinatra digs into a
were as different as night and day. song, and tries to get into it; Crosby has a calcu-
Crosby, who began his career a decade be- lated nonchalancehe tosses off a tune. Sina-
fore Sinatra, has long been considered the quin- tras voice is more live and vibrant and fraught
tessential crooner. Working to extend what Rudy with shadows and coloring than Crosbys voice.
Vallee began in the 1920s, he was embraced by For a pop vocalist, Frank Sinatras range was
the public largely because of the unpretentious, impressive. His practical range was low A-flat to
boy-next-door quality of his vocal interpretation. a D, which is about an octave and a quarter, says
While his singing voice was most pleasant and his longtime pianist Bill Miller. But his possi-
undeniably unique, it wasnt just his singing that bilities were low G to high F: almost two octaves.
made Crosby famous, or great. It was the inti- The low G and high F were not practical, and
macy he achieved that gave him credibility and he didnt use them a lothe would use them
helped make a strong impression on the listening once in a while on a tune just to show people that
audience. he could do it!
Bings range, though, was not near Sinatras, Sinatras is a fairly rangy voice, said Nelson
and his voice possessed a much different timbre. Riddle. His voice has a very strident, insistent
Where Sinatra relied on a solid middle ground sound in the top register, a smooth lyrical sound
and reserved the heights and depths of the scale in the middle register, and a very tender sound
for dramatic flair, Crosby favored the bass range, down low. His voice is built on infinite taste, with
which communicated a comfortable, burnished an overall inflection of sex. He points everything
warmth. As a result of the characteristics of his he does from a sexual standpoint.
voice, and the way he chose to use it, Crosby was Music educator Richard Schuller, a vocal
much more proficient than Sinatra at singing in music specialist, helps explain the technical char-
the lower register. acteristics that comprise Sinatras tonal qualities
When Crosby did try to sing up (to the E and the techniques he used for vocal elocution.
to F-sharp range), the physical technique he Right off the bat, his vocal technique was per-
needed to use limited the strength of his voice, fect. The placement of his voice, the way he
and, more often than not, the results proved that breathed . . . was absolutely perfect: dead-on. He
it just wasnt right for him. This is the primary used his voice the right way, too, so that there was-
reason that he couldnt belt and would rarely nt any wear and tear. For instance, the belters
stray from the confines of the relaxed, easygoing voices go to shreds in a matter of time. Sinatra
style he was noted for. Undoubtedly, much of was able to last as long as he did [vocally] because
the foundation for Sinatras soft, round phrasing he had solid technique. Whether he trained his
in the 1940s was inspired by what he admired voice to be that way or whether it was just through
in Crosbys singing, as evidenced by the Crosby- the grace of God that he had this, his singing
esque tone of many of his Columbia-era was impeccable, technically, in terms of vocal
recordings. production.
Nelson Riddle once compared the two Not surprisingly, Sinatras speaking voice
voices. Crosbys range is from a G to a C. Sina- had a typical New Jersey accent. Yet when he sang
tra probably lacks one tone on the bottom that the accent was virtually undetectable. His diction
Crosby has, but he probably surpasses him by as became precise, his articulation meticulous. He
much as four full tones on top. Sinatra has more never garbled, and the words are what I call stan-
of a live, intellectual sound, a sort of burning in- dard American English, says Richard Schuller.
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12 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

In terms of enunciation, the vowels are almost Within that context, even with a flat A, you
Italianate in that they are pure. . . . he didnt can make it less spread. You can drop the jaw and
slough over the vowels, he didnt make diph- open the throat to get all sorts of different colors.
thongs when there were none. And Sinatra had myriad colors. By comparison,
Although Sinatra has said he loosely followed to me, Maureen McGovern has a beautiful voice,
the pattern of bel canto singers, his style had few but its colorless in a lot of ways, as opposed to
of the true characteristics of the classical style Frank Sinatra, whose singing has a lot of color, in
that, translated, means beautiful singing. The all ranges. And when he goes from top to bottom
sound of Sinatras voice was consistent and or bottom to top, its seamlessyou dont hear
smooth. His style was not operatic: it was rooted any breaks between registers. That usually comes
in the pop music style, and his phrasing was per- with training, but he obviously developed it,
fect for that, Schuller believes. through his own sensibilities, says Schuller.
The clarity of his diction may have been In his book The Great American Popular
gleaned from another of Sinatras favorites, Ma- Singers, Henry Pleasants comments that Sinatra
bel Mercer, one of the greatest song stylists, could, and sometimes did, depress the larynx
whose articulation was militarily precise. Rarely and cover, as classical singers do, to sustain a
would Mercer round off or bite the ends of her full, round tone in moving up the scale. On his
words, as Judy Garland often did. Instead, each recording of Day by Day [1961], for example, he
consonant and syllable would be crisply enunci- gives out with full-voiced, admirably focused E-
ated, adding to the appeal of her unique phras- flats and Fs, and even lands a briefly held but con-
ing. (Sinatra would make a point of carefully fident A-flat just before the end. His high Fs at
finishing off certain consonants with a sharply ar- the close of Ol Man River [1963] were also con-
ticulated ending, especially S and T sounds.) ventionally and successfully covered.
While Sinatras superb phrasing is what is Often, when a vocalist interprets vowels, the
usually referred to when evaluating his genius, articulation is quite pronouncedalmost stark.
the phrasing turns out to be much more than sim- Covering is a technique that singers sometimes
ply singing the words properly. I use all the color use to diffuse the bright sound of a vowel. Pleas-
changes I can get into my voice, Sinatra once ants also explains why at times Sinatra con-
said. The microphone catches the softest tone sciously avoided covering, to avoid the
a whisper. artificiality it could add to the vocal sound. The
How you pronounce the word colors the absence of any impression of art was imperative
sound, which is another method of singing a bal- to his style. . . . he probably wanted to avoid any
lad, Schuller says. You dont want vowels that suggestion of vocal vainglory, he wrote. He per-
are big and spread out. You want to cover them ceived, if I hear him correctly, that the slight ev-
down and caress them, which he could do by how idence of strain audible when these critical
he approached the vowel. Instead of singing it pitches are approached openly and lightly, as
wide open, Aaaaahhhhhh . . . , for instance, you picked up and amplified by the mike, suggested
can cover the vowel down. You can, just by a vo- innocence and sincerity, and, in a song of loneli-
cal placement, make the sound come out ness or longing, a sense of pain. The way he sings
rounder. Or, a vocalist can spread the sound that the D on . . . If only she would call . . . in Wee
he doesnt want, and make it flat. Not flat in the Small Hours [1955] is, as I hear it, a charming
sense of the pitch, but flat sonically. So when you example.
pronounce the A sound, if its flat, it sounds like Often Sinatra is referred to as a crooner,
Aye. If it were rounded, it sounds like Ah. like Bing Crosby and Russ Colombo and Rudy
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Vallee before him. The crooner hits a note above The syncopation is affected when you place
or below the desired note, and then shifts up or an accent, or a stress, where you wouldnt nor-
down into that note, producing a distinctive, mally expect it, explains Richard Schuller. In
pleasing warble. Sinatra, however, used a subtler 4/4 time, your stress should be on the first beat. If
technique known as portamento; in which the vo- you stress the second beat, youve created what is
calist glides gradually from one tone to the next, almost a physical reaction, because its not where
effecting what amounts to a vocal glissando be- its supposed to be. Now, the beat always kept go-
tween notes. Portamento is surely what attracted ing: Sinatra took liberties with the rhythm of the
Sinatra to Heifetzs fluid violin bowing and melody, which is within the beat. If one were to
Dorseys billowy trombone slides. The circular change the beat itself, the whole thing would fall
breathing that Sinatra learned from Dorsey is apart.
probably what makes his portamento so com- Sinatra accomplished this by placing sharp
pletely effective. emphasis on certain words in the lyric line. In
Rhythm is another crucial aspect of the Sina- comparison, Ella Fitzgerald, in her interpreta-
tra style. His faultless sense of timing allowed him tions of songs in her classic Songbook series,
to toy with the rhythm of a melody, bringing sticks mainly to the exact rhythmic pattern that
tremendous excitement to his reading of a lyric. the songs were written in. Some songs are writ-
Billie Holiday was a master of this technique. ten without syncopation, and if vocalists (or in-
With few exceptions, every major pop singer in strumentalists) dont add it themselves, the results
the United States during her generation has been are pretty staid. (Mr. Schuller reminds me that
touched in some way by her genius, Sinatra once when Fitzgerald sang some of those songs in her
wrote in Ebony magazine. It is Billie Holiday, live performances, she often created syncopation
whom I first heard in 52nd Street clubs in the where Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter hadnt
early 1930s, who was, and still remains, the great- planned any.)
est single musical influence on me. As we will see, the arrangers who worked
What he likely appreciated about Holiday with Frank Sinatra not only wrote intricately tex-
was not so much the tonal quality of her voice tured musical charts for him, they built flexibil-
but the sincerity and expressiveness with which ity into them, allowing him room to work
she interpreted a lyric. Like Louis Armstrong, rhythmically. An orchestrators recognition of
Holiday had an uncanny knack for sensing the these small yet critical details often makes the dif-
proper placement of words and phrases, and ference between dull musical backgrounds and
she was famous for extending notes well past the ones that crackle with excitement.
confines of a conventional measure, completely When analyzing Sinatras performance,
rephrasing the rhythm of the melody in the many critics hypothesize that the characteristic
process. sincerity of his vocal interpretation is a direct ex-
A great deal of Sinatras flawless handling of pression of his own personal feelings. To some ex-
syncopation may well have come from his love tent this has to be true, for if Sinatra werent able
for Holidays music. Early in his own career, he to understand the emotions he sang about, he
realized that robbing time from one note to the would never have been able to communicate
next could accentuate the spontaneity or em- them so strikingly.
phasize the urgency of a lyric. This might be Producer Mitch Miller, when asked to what
planned or spontaneous; regardless of how much degree the vocalist might have drawn on his per-
he deviated from the original rhythm, its always sonal emotion in rendering his work, made an in-
made up. He never leaves you hanging. teresting comparison between craftsmanship and
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14 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

emotion. The ability to bring all of your talent Lee and Billie Holiday had begun: a soft, inti-
together at a certain moment depends solely on mate style that drew the listener in. Thats the
craftsmanship. Emotion never makes you a hit, magic of a Sinatra performanceit reels you in,
he says. and as the warmth and beauty of the instrumen-
I always tell this to singers: emotion is not tal background flirt with you, the beguiling tonal
something you feelit is something you make quality of the voice takes over, and you are mes-
the listener feel. You have to be very cool, and merized. Frank Sinatra is incomparable and
know what youre doing. You get a little tear in irreplaceable, Peggy Lee once said. His emo-
your voice, you put it there if the lyric calls for it. tional honesty reaches unplumbed depths.
So its craftsmanship . . . and Sinatra had crafts-
manship. Its bullst to say that he draws on
emotion from his personal life, because what hes
drawing is the emotion from your personal life,
and hes saying it for you.
Millers assessment makes perfect sense. THE SONGS
Anyone who saw a Sinatra concert in person dur-
ing his last twenty years can attest that whenever
he sang it, he rarely failed to turn in a stunningly
believable performance of his quintessential
torch song, One for My Baby. Are we to believe
that each such performance (and there were
thousands over several decades) is tinged with the
singers real sadness? Of course not. Its his abil-
ity as an actor that allows him to slip in and out
B ut the singers skill as a performer could
take him only as far as the song itself
could go. From the very beginning of
Sinatras professional career, everything hinged
on the song. Sinatra carefully hand-selected his
of roles that enhance his vocal performance. But own repertoire both for lyric content and for
he needed to have learned the part. melody. They usually say that an artist is as good
Of course, on record the singer needed to as his material, and I think that in nine out of ten
compensate for the visual effects that played a cases that holds true, Sinatra explained in a 1949
major role in his stage appearances. When all is interview with New York disc jockey Jack
said and done, Sinatras genius, both as a vocal- Ellsworth. My friends are songwriters, he once
ist and in the recording studio, is rooted in his told songwriter Ervin Drake. I dont know what
considerable skill as a dramatic actor. The roles Id be doing if it werent for them, because they
for which he garnered critical acclaimFrom give me the stuff to sing. I dont write songs!
Here to Eternity, Suddenly, The Man with Later, when Sinatra felt that he had ex-
the Golden Arm, and The Manchurian Candi- hausted the supply of standard songs, he im-
dateare convincing examples of the breadth plored young songwriters to write better music.
and seriousness of his talent. His ability to intu- Theres nobody writing good songs anymore,
itively grasp a characters essence and identify the he lamented. I wish some new cat would come
most meaningful elements of a plot helped Sina- along and write something decent for me.
tra transfer his persuasive on-screen sensitivities When he discovered composers or lyricists
to the lyrical interpretation required for his vo- that he particularly liked, he encouraged them
cal performances. and engaged them to work for him whenever he
Ultimately, Sinatra continued a tradition of could. It was Sinatra who insisted that the song-
vocalizing that extended what singers like Peggy writing team of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne
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be hired to write the songs for his first major tunes for his multiple weekly radio programs, in-
M-G-M extravaganza, Anchors Aweigh. When cluding the ever popular Your Hit Parade and his
the producers balked, Sinatra told Cahn, If Vimms Vitamin, Max Factor, and Old Gold pro-
youre not there Monday, Im not there Monday. grams. Many songs during this period also came
Frank Sinatra publicly endorsed particular to Sinatra via his growing contacts in the music
songs during his many personal appearances, publishing field (he was a partner in Barton Mu-
where in addition to performing the tune he re- sic with Ben Barton, and later parlayed that as-
ligiously credited each individual songwriter and pect of his business into several more highly
arranger from either the stage or from behind the profitable concerns). During the 1950s, he relied
radio microphone. While this became a Sinatra on trusted friends like Frank Military (now a se-
trademark during the concerts of his latter years, nior vice president at Warner-Chappell Music in
it was in fact a practice that he maintained from New York) to screen songs for him. After a day on
his earliest personal appearances. the movie or television lot Sinatra, Military, and
Sinatras most admiring acknowledgment of Henry (Hank) Sanicola (Sinatras sidekick and re-
a particular tune, however, would be his decision hearsal pianist) would kick back in the Sinatra of-
to record it, and, if it was extra-special, re-record fices on Sunset Boulevard and listen to tunes
it through the years, each time altering the tempo submitted for publication. The practice in those
and approach to offer a different perspective. The days was to choose the newer tunes to be recorded
songs he returned to continually, he turned into and released as singles; the true chestnuts would
classics, such as All or Nothing at All, and The be saved for inclusion on one of his upcoming
Song Is You. theme albums. Later, during the 1960s and 1970s,
His affinity for Cole Porters Night and he would rely on the instincts and suggestions of
Day, though, bordered on obsession. Between his favorite producers, primarily Sonny Burke,
1942 (when he chose the song for his first solo Jimmy Bowen, and Don Costa, to guide the way.
recording session) and 1977 (his last official In another class altogether was Sinatras per-
recording of the song), he recorded five unique sonal lyricist, the legendary raconteur Sammy
recordings of the song in ballad, swing, and disco Cahn. Im considered to have put more words
arrangements. (He didnt stop there. At least two into Frank Sinatras mouth than any other man,
completely different arrangements, jazz and solo he was fond of saying.
guitar, were used for live performances.) Sinatra recorded eighty-seven Cahn songs:
Sinatra was among the first solo singers to of these, twenty-four of his lyrics were set to the
recognize that individual songs from hit Broad- compositions of Jule Styne, forty-three to those of
way shows could survive outside the productions James Jimmy Van Heusen. (This tally doesnt
they were written for, and his success with several consider the dozens of songs Cahn wrote that
numbers from Rodgers and Hammersteins Ok- Sinatra performed on radio, television, and in
lahoma! in 1943 and Carousel in 1945 proved that films, or the special lyrics, often parodies,
his hunch was right. Sinatra began to dig deep he crafted for both his own songs and those of
into the vast reserves of the dormant shows of others).
Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and The Cahn-Styne partnership lasted from
the Gershwins to extract and revitalize songs that, 1942 to 1954 and resulted in dozens of tunes that
save his intervention, might have remained ob- would become Sinatra classics, including Time
scure forever. After Time, Guess Ill Hang My Tears Out to
But songs came to him in many other ways, Dry, I Fall in Love Too Easily, The Brooklyn
too. In the 1940s, he auditioned hundreds of Bridge, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,
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16 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

Dance with Me, and Come Waltz with Me

(the latter dropped from the album at the last
minute), and album closers such as The Last
Dance and Its Nice to Go Travling.
Whenever Cahn was confronted with the in-
evitable question Which came first, the music
or the lyrics? he would invariably give one of two
tongue-in-cheek answers: the phone call or the
check. Given an idea or a melody, this master of
words would sit at his typewriter and in short or-
der bang out a perfect set of lyrics. He once de-
scribed the genesis of the song Saturday Night
(Is the Loneliest Night in the Week), another
Sinatra favorite that was written fairly quickly.
I was home alone in my apartment in New
York, in my pajamas, when my sister called on
me, Cahn explained. She asked, Why are you
home alone? Its Saturday night! My reply was
that I was in show business, and that for show peo-
ple, Saturday night was the loneliest night in the
week. Then I got thinking . . . that would be a
great title for a song. So I called Jule, and within
Rehearsing with Sammy Cahn (standing) and Jule Styne (piano),
an hour, we had a song. We gave it to Sinatra, and
the rest is history! (Sinatra recorded it at both
Columbia and Capitol.)
Cahn more than any other individual un-
Cant You Just See Yourself, The Things We derstood Sinatras unconventional response to a
Did Last Summer, The Christmas Waltz, and songwriters demonstration of his tune. Although
Three Coins in the Fountain. In 1982, the pair he cherished top-quality songs, the singer wasnt
reunited to write two songs expressly for Frank necessarily effusive with praise and could be dif-
Sinatra: Searching and Love Makes Us What- ficult to read. While few others enjoyed the priv-
ever We Want to Be. ilege, Cahn always previewed a new song for
After Cahn and Styne split in 1954, Van Sinatra by singing it to him in person. My wife
Heusen entered the picture, and with him came once asked me, Who came first, you or Sinatra?
a steady stream of standards, all forever associated I said, What kind of question is that? Did he sing
with Frank Sinatra: All the Way, Love and the song to me, or did I sing it to him? She said,
Marriage, My Kind of Town (Chicago Is), I guess you came first.
High Hopes, The Tender Trap, The Second I stand in front of him when I sing him a
Time Around and Call Me Irresponsible new song, Cahn once told me. Sinatra just
most of which came from Sinatra films and tele- stands there, his thumb on his lower lip. When I
vision specials. Then came a string of songs finish, he just nodsthats all. But I wouldnt be
crafted specifically to open Sinatras trendsetting standing in front of him unless he nodded!
concept albums: Only the Lonely, When No The lyricist relished telling this tale. Jimmy
One Cares, Come Fly with Me, Come Van Heusen and I wrote All the Way for the pic-
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ture The Joker Is Wild. Van Heusen and I went up own secret weapon: the microphone, a device
to Las Vegas to sing the song for Frank, and my that came of age with the singers rise to vocal
agent came with us. Now, we were told that he power.
would hear the song before breakfast, which re- If it were not for superior microphones that
ally means 4:00 p.m. So four oclock comes, and accurately reproduce the tone and color of sound,
were waiting in the living room of his suite, and it would be hard to enjoy any amplified perfor-
Frank comes out of the bedroom looking like all mance or sound recording, vintage or otherwise.
of the Dorian Grays. He just looked at me, and A microphoneideally one capable of capturing
said, Youbefore breakfast? Yuckk! Van a clean, undistorted signal and processing its vi-
Heusen and I do the song for him, and after I fin- brations into the electrical energy that transmits
ished the last note, he just turned and said, Lets the sound to the recording machine (be it lacquer
have some orange juice. We had a wonderful disc cutter or tape recorder)is the crucial first
meal, and when we left, my agent was beside her- link in the chain that determines the ultimate
self. How could he not like that song?, she asked. quality of a recording.
He loved it! I told her. He loves them all. His To appreciate the impact of the microphone
reaction was always the same. on Frank Sinatras work, and on the larger land-
The duo had a bit of an advantage over other scape of popular culture, it is essential to trace its
songwritersSinatra shared his home with Van evolution from a very primitive communications
Heusen for a while. Jimmy used to say that he tool to the ultra high tech instrument that it has
should get more royalties than I do, because he become.
claims that he puts the song in Sinatras head. The term microphone was first used in the
When he was around Sinatra with a new song, he first quarter of the 1800s and was derived from the
would play it over and over again. . . . Sinatra words micro (small) and phon (sound). The
would wake up, and he would be playing the word was originally used by an inventor named
song; Sinatra would be having lunch, he would Wheatstone to describe a stethoscope-like device
be playing the song. And Ill tell you this: when he had invented to amplify weak sounds. Wheat-
Sinatra knows a song, no one sings it better. But, stones idea set the groundwork for the modern
when he doesnt know a song, its another story microphone, which is simply a sound collector
he doesnt sing it well. He has to know the song, designed to transform acoustic power into elec-
Cahn said. trical power.
Although they are not really related, many of
the ideas for the earliest microphones came from
the invention of the telephone, which also
spawned the development of Thomas Edisons
phonograph. In 1861, Philip Reis of Germany
THE MICROPHONE constructed and patented the first acoustic tele-
graph, dubbing it the telephone. During the
1870s, Alexander Graham Bell experimented
with different ways of turning sound waves into
electrical impulses.

M usical influence excepted, the most

important benefit of Frank Sinatras
big-band experience was undoubtedly
his discovery of the tool that would become his
These efforts culminated in the creation of
a device that used a thin membrane diaphragm
with a metallic core. The pressure of the sound
striking the diaphragm was duplicated by the
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18 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

moving sliver of metal as it interacted with a mag- connected to a telephone speaker. As Edison
netic field to produce a variable current. An elec- shouted into the speaker, the stylus etched irreg-
tromagnet placed next to the diaphragm could ular marks (representing the sound waves) onto
vibrate it, thereby reproducing the sound through a strip of paraffin-coated paper running beneath
its slight movement as current passed through. it. When the strip was re-run under the stylus, the
By February 1876, Bell and his assistant, Thomas shouting could be faintly heard, to the complete
A. Watson, had a prototype that used a battery to amazement of the group assembled there.
provide the electrical current. It is this model they Edison and his crew set out to assemble a
were experimenting with on the fateful evening more refined machine and, in December, un-
of March 10, when Bell uttered the immortal veiled a working phonograph. This improved ma-
words Watson, come here, I want you!the first chine consisted of a cylinder wrapped in tinfoil,
intelligible sounds to come over a telephone and which was attached to a long feed screw that
proof that sound waves could be processed and could be turned by a hand crank. On one side of
transmitted electrically. the cylinder was a funnel-like mouthpiece con-
The same year, Bell introduced a liquid nected to a thin metal diaphragm, to which a
microphone at the Centennial Exposition in steel needle (stylus) was attached. Shouting into
Philadelphia. This apparatus consisted of a metal the mouthpiece caused the diaphragm to vibrate
wire, only microns thick, placed into a solution and move the stylus, which etched the sound
of water and sulfuric acid. On the other end of waves into the tinfoil as the handle was cranked.
the wire, Bell attached a diaphragm that could On the opposite side of the cylinder was a
be vibrated by voice waves. The vibrations in the playback mechanism, a stylus and diaphragm
water caused a change in the electrical current that was run back over the etchings made in the
that was made to flow through the diaphragm, the foil, which on playback again vibrated the di-
wire, and the water-acid mixture. Two years later, aphragm, thereby faintly reproducing the origi-
in 1878, British professor D. E. Hughes invented nal sound. This crude invention fueled massive
the first practical microphone, the primitive fore- public interest. When it was demonstrated at the
runner of todays instrument. Of course, these Manhattan offices of Scientific American on De-
early inventions were not so much microphones cember 6, 1877, trains full of people arrived to
as they were crude transmitters. hear their voices reproduced. Even the president
Concurrently, Edison was struggling in his of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes, be-
West Orange, New Jersey, laboratory to both im- came interested, wanting to hear for himself the
prove the telephone transmitter (an assignment wonders of the talking machine.
he had accepted from Western Electric) and to From August 1877 (the official date of Edi-
preserve the electrical impulses generated for sons patent for the cylindrical tinfoil phono-
later reproduction. Well versed in the various graph) to September 1887 (when Emile Berliner
methods of converting sound waves into me- applied for a patent on his idea for a flat, metal
chanical movement that could create electrical photoengraved recording disc), all phonographic
impulses, Edison experimented with the idea for recordings were made on soft wax cylinders.
the phonograph, basing his work on his earlier From the end of the cylinder era to the perfection
invention of an automatic telegraph that used of the flat disc that we know as the 78, many im-
strips of paper marked with Morse code. provements and refinements were made in
Working in the lab one night in July 1877, recording and reproducing discs for home con-
Edison fashioned an apparatus consisting of a sty- sumption. One of the greatest advances in record-
lus connected to a diaphragm, which was in turn ing technology occurred in the early 1920s, as the
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T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 194 2 19

method of recording shifted from acoustic to elec-

trical. These changes directly affected how artists
went about making their records.
Prior to 1919, all sound recordings were
acoustic. The performers were grouped around a
wide-bell recording horn, similar to the horn
that Little Nipper the dog is cocking his ear to on
the Victor Red Seal label. Unlike a micro-
phone, which generated electrical current, the
horn functioned as an acoustic funnel that con-
centrated the sound, channeling it to the record-
ing mechanism where it would vibrate the
diaphragm and, in turn, the stylus to etch the
recording medium. The horn severely limited the
scope and quality of the musical sounds that
could be reproduced. N AT I O N A L PA R K S E R V I C E , E D I S O N N AT I O N A L H I S TO R I C S I T E

Positioning the performers around the horn

Acoustic recording session, Edison Studios, New York City, circa 1907
was an art form unto itself. Since the pickup area to 1912.
around the horn was only a few feet, certain in-
strumentalists needed to be placed closer to the
horn so louder players wouldnt drown them out.
As the sound source moved farther away from the
horn, the drop in recording volume became dra- stroyed the recording. If a group was placed too
matic. The early sessions must have been quite a close to the horn, making a louder recording, the
sight, with vocalists scurrying out of the way as in- diaphragm would vibrate rapidly, causing distor-
strumental soloists leapt toward the horn! While tion on playback. For these reasons, drums were
the early engineers (then called recorders) bal- commonly banned from recording studios, and
anced and mixed the recording by physically great care needed to be exercised when a vocal-
moving the performers around the room to ac- ist or instrumental performer reached a loud peak
commodate the position of the recording horn, in the performance.
modern engineers reverse the process by moving Certain other instruments also wreaked
the recording microphone around the studio to havoc. String instruments were very difficult to
best suit the placement of the performers. record, because the early machines could not re-
Although the terms dynamic range and sig- produce sibilants, or S sounds. To remedy this,
nal-to-noise ratio would not evolve for another the Stroh violin was developed. Attached to it
sixty years, they denoted technical factors that were a sound box and horn, which helped am-
early recorders needed to consider. During plify its sound. Usually, piano backs were re-
recording, the wave form inscribed into the wax moved for recording, and the instrument was
changed proportionately with the pitch of the hoisted into the air to bring it closer to the level
sounds. Higher frequency sounds would cause of the recording horn. Despite these painstaking
narrow, densely packed waves, while the lower efforts, pianists were required to play extra loudly,
notes caused the stylus to travel longer distances and even then the instrument sounded tinny
to create longer wave forms. Loud noises forced upon playback. These inherent problems forced
the stylus deep into the groove and usually de- early recorders to be quite selective in what they
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20 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

chose to record for posterity. Whistling records their process for electrical recording was quickly
abounded in the 1880s and 1890s, as did record- embraced because it offered better control over
ings featuring the banjo, xylophone, and brass recording volume and tone. Microphones en-
bandstheir tonal characteristics were best abled recorders to wax performances by larger or-
suited for acoustic recording. chestras, and the sound they got from the
Because they were initially refined for busi- instruments was dramatically improved. The in-
ness use, the early talking machines did a re- creased dynamic range allowed more of the
markable job of reproducing the human voice sound of each instrument to be etched into the
(especially the deeper male voice). Enrico Caruso, disc, resulting in a louder, fuller sound.
widely hailed as the greatest operatic tenor, was Recordists continued to utilize many of the
able to make sound recordings, and, for their skills learned during the trials of acoustic record-
time, they possess a remarkable clarity and rich- ing. The new Western Electric system still etched
ness of tone. But, as enjoyable and precious as the sound signal into a wax record. The operator
they are, recording technology could not fully of the recording machine was required to care-
capture the fiery color and electrifying overtones fully monitor the cutting, as loud peaks could
that were Carusos hallmarks. Our perception of cause a ruinous jump in the stylus, even after
Carusos voice is locked in the boxy, characteris- meters were introduced that allowed recorders
tically vintage sound of acoustic records. to monitor the volume level coming into the
Between the early 1920s (when Caruso microphones.
stopped recording) and the late 1930s (when Several procedures instituted in the acoustic
Frank Sinatra began), recording studios made in- era continued into the electrical era, and many
credible strides. The recordists of Edisons era of these early practicesthe separation of the
developed trial-and-error techniques for manip- recording equipment from the room where the
ulating sound, based mostly on the artistic result performer worked, a recording light or bell to
in individual recordings. By the time Sinatra en- indicate that a session was in progress, and spe-
tered a studio, the balance had shifted toward the cial rooms for performers to relax inare still
scientific, and recording men were fast becom- common in recording studios today.
ing respected for their ability to function as The heart of most microphones was a rela-
painters of sound. Incoming music and voice tively noisy carbon transmitter, which had been
was monitored through loudspeakers as the developed by Emile Berliner and Thomas Edi-
recording was made, offering a much more real- son for telephones. While infinitely better than
istic indication of the balance of sound and the the acoustic horn, the carbon transmitter mikes
sonic characteristics of the recording room. Mu- lacked the sensitivity to reproduce the full range
sicians still needed to be strategically placed of voice and music. As early as 1915, though, there
around the microphone to create just the right had been some experimentation with vacuum
balance of instruments, but now the emphasis of tube amplifiers, which would allow the creation
certain tonal frequencies, reverberation, and mi- of a quieter microphone with improved imped-
crophone placement were all scientific tools that ance and output. In 1917, Bell Labs used this tech-
could be used artistically to add texture and sub- nology to make the first modern condenser
stance to the sound of a recording. microphonea mike with a small built-in am-
Experimentation with electrical recording, plifier and separate power supply. The instru-
where the microphone would replace the ments were unreliable, and it wasnt until the
acoustic horn, began in both England and Amer- mid-1920s that improved condenser mikes, made
ica in 1919. Western Electric led the way, and by Western Electric, began to proliferate.
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T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 194 2 21

Like all microphones, the new condenser company marketed its first permanent magnet
mikes had a diaphragm, but now it was part of a bidirectional ribbon microphone, the RCA 44,
capacitor, or condenser, which was attached to a the first of the classic diamond-shaped micro-
rear plate with a tiny air space in between. High- phones that would become associated with the
voltage current was applied between the plates, Sinatra of the radio and recording studio through-
and, as the diaphragm moved in response to the out the 1940s. A ribbon microphone consists of a
sound waves striking it, the energy between it and thin, stretched duralumin ribbon suspended be-
the rear plate varied, producing a voltage pro- tween the poles of a permanent magnet. While
portional to the sound. The minute energy (ca- anchored at both ends, the ribbon moves freely
pacitance) changes of the microphone required back and forth, allowing for sensitive vibrations
an amplifier to strengthen the current. Early to be converted to electromagnetic energy. The
models used a battery for this purpose. RCA 44, and its improved successor, the 44B/BX,
In the late 1920s, a Dr. Olson of RCAs re- quickly became the industry standard for high-
search and development department began quality sound.
building the first ribbon microphone. In 1931 the First, the mike was bidirectional, which
means it was sensitive to sound coming directly
into it from the front and back and not to sounds
coming from the sides. This pickup pattern made
it particularly effective when recording a vocal or
other instrument that needed a degree of isola-
tion. It was also versatile, as performers could be
placed on both sides of the microphone face; e.g.,
a guitarist and bassist facing each other with the
microphone between them. Since the mike was
bidirectional, it would pick up sound from both
players. A 44, or any ribbon microphone for that
matter, could be placed directly in front of a
sound source, so the desired sound could be cap-
tured free of noise or coloration from surround-
ing instruments, which could affect the quality
of the featured instrument by leaking sound
from other parts of the orchestra into the mike.
Second, the design of the ribbon micro-
phone allowed it to respond easily to the low-pres-
sure sound of treble (high) tones, resulting in
exceptional high-frequency response (which
translates to a crisp, well-defined sound especially
desirable when recording the human voice).
With a flat sound (uncolored by excessive bass
or treble) over the entire frequency range, the
RCA 44 mikes reproduced sound with a quality
that was at once warm and rich, yet incisive.
Rehearsal with the legendary RCA 44 ribbon microphone, circa 1947.
These fine reproduction characteristics made the
44 a perfect vocal mike, the hands-down choice
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22 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

for preserving the mellowness of Sinatras voice

during this era.
The 44s counterpart, the RCA 77 ribbon mi-
crophone, came along in the early 1930s. It was
created to fill the growing need for a directional
microphoneone that could be used in radio
broadcast settings to further isolate the sound be-
ing reproduced from extraneous noises in the ra-
dio (and later TV) studio. The 77 was unique in
that adjustable interior vanes allowed an engineer
to change the pickup pattern from bidirectional
to cardioid to nearly omnidirectional. Retaining
many of the same sonic qualities of the 44, the
RCA 77, with its familiar capsule shape, joined
the 44 as the standard in studios of all types and
became closely identified with radio and public
Ribbon microphones, for all of their suit-
ability as an instrument of the radio or recording
Recording with a Neumann U-47 condenser
studio, were not as desirable for rugged exterior microphone, Capitol Records, late 1950s.
conditions, because the ribbon was extremely
fragile. Even slight bursts of wind or a person
blowing into the mike could tear the ribbon to
shreds. Consequently, while the RCA 44 was om- In 1947, with the audio world poised on the
nipresent for all of Frank Sinatras radio and edge of the high-fidelity era, George Neumann
recording sessions, it was absent during his live introduced his U47, a thick cylindrical micro-
stage appearances. The less-controlled environ- phone that revolutionized hi-fi sound. Neumann
ment of those performances required a sturdier set about improving upon the Bell Labs con-
microphone, and, for in-person performances denser technology of 1917 and by 1928 had devel-
during the 1940s, the Shure Unidyne Model 55 oped his first condenser mike, the CMV3
series and Altec 639B models were the instru- (nicknamed the bottle). This instrument was
ments of choice. extremely progressive, for it enabled users to use
Developed in the late 1930s, the familiar Al- interchangeable heads to vary the directional
tec birdcage microphone was a rugged, reliable pickup. One of these capsules, the M7 cardioid,
directional mike that featured a single element, was the one used on the U47. Neumann, by per-
making it portable and easy to handle. The Shure fecting the condenser microphone, made the po-
55 sported a sleek, modern ribbed design that tential for lifelike sound a reality. Distributed by
kept it a mainstay of the industry from the late Telefunken (thus nicknamed the Telly by in-
1930s to the mid 1960s. These mikes were origi- dustry insiders), the U47 was the first condenser
nally identified with the early rock-and-roll era; microphone able to switch between cardioid and
today, they are sought after as both working mi- omnidirectional patterns. It was effective for a
crophones and props for modern musicians wide variety of applications, including close vo-
who wish to add a classic, retro look to their live cal and instrumental miking and full area (or-
performances and music videos. chestral) recording.
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T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 194 2 23

When the U47 came along, it was like a suit. By 1953, when Frank Sinatra began record-
bomb went off, says veteran film recording en- ing at Capitol Records, the U47 had replaced the
gineer and microphone expert Jim Webb. Neu- RCA 44 as the preferred vocal microphone. The
mann had been experimenting with that change in technology transformed Sinatras per-
technology since the late 1920s, and such re- formance technique.
markable results had never been achieved before. The microphone was of primary import to
After the U47 hit, everyone was copying it, right Frank Sinatra from his earliest days as a band
down to the size of the tube and the windscreen singer. Building on the foundation laid by Bing
and everything. Crosby and Billie Holiday, he brought the mi-
Engineer Bob Fine, then head of recording crophone to its fullest and most creative poten-
for Mercurys Living Presence records, was so tial as a logical extension of his voice. One thing
taken with the ability of the microphone to ac- that was tremendously important was learning
curately reproduce sounds over the entire sonic the use of the microphone, Sinatra said. Many
spectrum that he based his innovative process of singers never learned to use one. They never un-
recording a full symphonic orchestra on a single derstood, and still dont, that a microphone is
U47, strategically suspended above the musicians their instrument. Its like they were part of an or-
in the recording hall. Mercury further secured chestra, but instead of playing a saxophone,
the association by prominently featuring photos theyre playing a microphone.
of the microphone on its record covers; soon He likely drew this conclusion from the re-
other labelsCapitol in particularfollowed action of the largely female audiences to his early
stage appearances. He would grasp the tall mi-
crophone stand (seemingly for support) and lean
into both the mike and the note, physically com-
municating the dynamic he desired. This simple
stage maneuver perfectly accentuated his unique
vocal styling, prompting him to observe that If
I did what they call bending a note, if I just kind
of looped the note, well, they would wail!
Although other performers of the day fol-
lowed suit and used the modern microphone to
their advantage, none handled it more fluidly or
effortlessly. To some singers, it was a barrier be-
tween performer and audience; to Sinatra it was
a tool that strengthened the intimacy between
himself and his listenersa stage prop. Whether
on stage in the 1940s, when the microphone was
a birdcage or Unidyne mounted on a tall stand,
or in the 1980s, when the cumbersome older mike
had been replaced by a handheld cordless model,
Sinatras facile use of this instrument became as
important to his musical persona as his fabled
Sinatras exquisite use of the microphone as a stage prop
deftly communicated the eroticism of his art.
breath control.
Of his technique for handling the mike, the
singer observed, The first rule is to use it with
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24 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

great economy. You dont crowd ityou must

never jar an audience with it, unless theres a rea-
son to as part of a songa comedy number or the
like. I think you must keep it as subtle as possible.
A simple example is popping Ps and other plo-
sive sounds. Theyre easy to avoid. His technique
reduced the effects of popping and harsh sibi-
lance and also served as a natural dynamic range
expander during a recording session. You must
know when to move away from the mike, and
when to move back into it. To me, theres no
worse sound than when a singer breathes in
sharply, and you hear the gasp over the micro-
phone. The whole secret is getting the air in the
corner of the mouth, and using the microphone
A quick listen to any of the recordings high-
lighted in this book will immediately demon-
strate the soundness of Sinatras theory. It was this
level of artistic intuition, combined with his care-
ful attention to every last detail, that set Sinatra
apart from every other vocalist and make his
recordings models worthy of emulation. When
The intensity with which Sinatra approached his craft
Im using a microphone [for live appearances], I and the use of the recording microphone was effectively
usually try to have a black one, so that it will melt captured in the Capitol studios by photographer Sid
into my dinner jacket and the audience isnt Avery.
aware of it, he said. In the April 1965 Life arti-
cle, Sinatra chastised a friend whose talents he
greatly admired, citing her lack of proficiency
with a stage mike. Many years ago I found that physically to the audience. Hed snap his fingers
I could take the mike off the stand and move when he was happy. Hed say it with his hands.
around with it. Thats a boon, and so many Nelson Riddle said, Franks body motion
singers dont take advantage of it. Ella Fitzgerald, was a clear indication of how he felt when we
poor girl, still doesnt. They set up a mike for her, were recording. Usually, his hands would be out-
and she never touches it. You cant even see her stretched, his feet set apart, his head cocked to
face. one side. That is how he stands at the mike in the
The correlation between the microphone large, dramatic moments. Sometimes he puts
and body movement is critical to a performer. his left hand in his pocket when he talks to the
Singers, in the old days, used to sing deadpan, audience.
said Sammy Davis, Jr. Theyd keep their hands British writer Robin Douglas-Home watched
in their pockets and stand up there flat-footed and Sinatra in the recording studio during the Sep-
sing. All the singers from Rudy Vallee on did it tember 1961 dates for the album Point of No Re-
this way. But Frank used to do things with his turn at Capitol. His observations of Sinatras
hands, and convey the song both lyrically and microphone mannerisms in his book Sinatra
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T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 194 2 25

speak volumes about Sinatras mastery of micro- and the steam, hang up the dinner jacket to allow
phone technique. the wrinkles to come out of it, grab a sandwich,
I saw complete and utter involvement with show up on the bandstand, and then . . . the greet-
the song he was singing: involvement so close that ing from the audience was the greatest reward in
one might feel he was in the throes of composing the world!
both tune and lyrics as he went along. When he In those days, we were so busy doing one-
controlled his breathing, he shuddered . . . almost nighters that we really didnt have time to re-
painfully. Shoulders shook, neck muscles hearse and hash out arrangements for recording
twitched, even his legs seemed to oscillate. His sessions, per se, recalls Dorsey alumnus Jo
nostrils dilated and his eyes closed dreamily, then Stafford. Wed try out new songs and arrange-
opened again as sharp as ever as he watched a ments on the road, and if they went well, wed get
soloist, then closed again and his face contorted into the studio in New York (or Chicago or Hol-
into a grimace, and his whole frame seemed to be lywood) and just record the songs that we were
caught up in a paroxysm, quivering all over as he doing on our one-nighters. We really didnt need
expressed a key note or word, like November in to rehearse! (Pianist Joe Bushkin remembers the
September Song. His mouth, sometimes hardly exact opposite being truethe band would
a centimeter from the microphone, widened into record a number, then begin adding it to their
a sort of canine snarl, and he cocked his head now repertoire as it became popular. It is likely that
on one side, now on the other, like a puppy lis- the procedure occurred both ways.)
tening to the squeak of a toy mouse. He was The Dorsey-Sinatra sessions for Victor took
putting so much into that song, giving so much place at several studios operated by the label at
of himself that it drained my own energy just to the time. In the 1930s, the labels flagship studio
watch himwithout hearing a note he was was a converted livery stable located at 155 W.
singing. 24th Street in New York City. These studios con-
tained three recording rooms: Studios 1, 2, and
3. Most of the big-band recording sessions were
done in Studios 1 and 2, where the New York Sina-
tra sessions of 19401942 took place. In 1940, Stu-
dio 3 became the facilitys echo chamber.
WA X I M P R E S S I O N S Victors Chicago studios were located on
Lake Shore Drive; in Hollywood, the studio oc-
cupied space above the RCA record plant on
Olive Avenue. (The RCA division was responsi-
ble for pressing Victors records.) Each of these

T he three years or so that Sinatra spent trav-

eling with the James and Dorsey orchestras
were a prelude to years of voluminous record-
ing activity. Making band records, however, was
vastly different from his solo recording sessions.
studios had equipment setups similar to those in
the World Transcription Studios and Liederkranz
Hall, the studios that Columbia was using at the
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, record-
Every moment was absolutely real, Sinatra said ing methods were still fairly crude, although they
of the hectic pace of the early years. Driving five were infinitely better than the acoustic or early
hundred miles through the night to the next one- electrical recordings of just two decades before.
night stand, and having forty minutes to get out Commonly, only three or four microphones
of the bus and into the hotel; turn on the shower would be placed among the orchestra; vocalists
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26 S E S S I O N S W I T H S I N AT R A

or vocal groups would, of course, have their own they looked like a mirror: you could see yourself
dedicated mike. Popular microphones for both in them, they were so highly polished and shiny.
recording and stage performances during this pe- If you had to cut and polish those waxes, they
riod were Western Electric models 630-A (mov- would sometimes break, and since the machine
ing coil) and 639 (ribbon) and the classic RCA 44 revolved at about 1,800 rpm, it could be very dan-
(ribbon) microphone. gerous! One time, I had one break and fly off the
Until late in 1942, most records were made wheel, and a piece flew right by my head, and it
by etching the recording grooves onto a soft, waxy went right through the building wall that was
disc (thus the phrase waxing a record), then cre- right next to where I was working.
ating a metal-plated master from this soft im- Once the wax was polished, it would be
pression. This resulted in a sturdy but, compared placed on a Scully recording lathe fitted with a
to vinyl, rough-surfaced master disc. It was this diamond or ruby stylus. The stylus had to be ex-
metal part, as it is called in the industry, that actly the right temperature: if it was too cold, the
would create the stampers from which thick, brit- wax would chip, and if it was too warm, you
tle 78 rpm shellac discs could be struck for com- would lose the contour of the groove and you
mercial sale. Since the original wax masters were would lose the high frequencies, Taylor explains.
irreparably altered during the plating process, the When the appropriate conditions were met, the
metal parts struck from them remain the truest session could begin.
original sources for these early big band record- The grooves traced into the soft wax were
ings, and they are the primary choice (over the very fragile. Except in extreme cases (which
78 rpm discs made from them) as the sound would more than likely result in irreparable dam-
source for modern digital restoration. age), the wax master was never played back. In-
There is evidence that some of the Sinatra- stead, it was immediately sent out for plating.
James sessions of 1939 may have been recorded Before plating, the disc was coated with sil-
on 16-inch lacquer discs, though. In 1997, while ver nitrate. Then the wax impression was given a
making archival transfers of all the Harry James special high temperature bath, during which it
masters in the Columbia vault, Sony Music pro- would be coated with a thin layer of copper to
ducer Michael Brooks and engineer Matt Cav- ensure conductivity. The original wax master
aluzzo found one such lacquer disc containing would then be separated from the newly formed
From the Bottom of My Heart among the plating disc, and this metal disc (actually an un-
metal parts that comprise the balance of the early playable negative part containing ridges in-
recordings. No other lacquers for these sessions stead of grooves) became the true master, as it was
have surfaced. Most of the RCA Victor record- the first-generation part struck from the wax disc.
ings likewise survive only as original metal parts. The original wax recording disc, having
To make a master recording on wax, a cake been rendered unusable by the plating process,
of specially formulated carnauba wax was formed would be recycled, its surface shaved down and
into a disc approximately four inches thick. Car- repolished to be used again at another recording
son Taylor, a Capitol Records engineer who session. This could be done until the disc thick-
worked extensively with wax recording in the ness was about one inch, when it would be melted
early days of his career, describes the process of down and combined with other used discs to
preparing the blank discs for recording. We had make new wax blocks.
to shave the wax blocks down so they were ab- The metal master was then plated, creating
solutely smooth, and then polish them with a di- a second metal master. The resulting disc had
amond stone. When they were ready to be used, regular grooves and was known as the matrix or
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T H E B I G B A N D Y E A R S , 19 3 7 194 2 27

mother master. It could be played back to check tioned, many record companies used whatever
for quality. If any defects were found, a techni- scrap material they could find to serve as binders
cian, using a microscope and specialized tools, and fillers for their 78s. It is for this reason that
would smooth out rough spots in the groove. many of the records pressed during the period are
Once the corrected disc was approved, it was unusually noisy.
plated a third time to make the stamperthe After the 3313 LP was developed, a quieter
metal part that the plant would use to produce vinyl disc replaced the brittle shellac platters.
the actual 78 rpm shellac discs to be sold at retail. During the 1930s, Union Carbide had developed
The manufacture of these records was sim- a vinyl resin called vinylite, which was com-
ple and effective. The stamping press, similar in patible with the pressing equipment that made
design to a waffle iron, had a die fitted to hold the shellac records. In the early 1940s, both Western
metal stamper. A finely powdered compound Electric and RCA were using vinyl (victrolac)
called shellac was pumped into the press through for radio transcriptions, and in 1943 the U.S. gov-
holes in the side of the machine, which combined ernment began using a lightweight plastic com-
with steam to melt the compound, allowing it to pound called formvar for its V-discs (Victory
flow into the grooves of the stamper. Cold water discs), the special recordings sent to American
would then be run through the press. Any excess troops stationed overseas.
material around the sides was trimmed, the edges RCA Victor also issued a number of their
smoothed, and the disc sent to the packaging Red Seal classical 78s on cherry red vinyl in 1944.
department. The lightweight vinyl disc was the main reason
A side effect of this process, during which at for the superior fidelity of the LP, and, although
least three metal masters were struck before a cassette tapes were extremely popular from the
record was pressed, was a slight degradation in 1970s on, vinyl remained the primary format for
the shape of the grooves. With each subsequent recorded music until the dawn of the digital com-
separation, the grooves became a bit wider, af- pact disc era (mid-1980s).
fecting their sonic properties to some degree. As methods of recording and reproducing
When you consider that most 78 rpm discs are re- music improved through the early 1940s, Frank
ally four generations removed from the original Sinatra became restless and decided it was time
session master, it becomes easy to understand for a change. Taking one of the biggest risks of his
why their sonic quality can sometimes be inferior. life, he prepared to leave the comfort and secu-
Furthermore, during World War II, when the rity of Dorseys band and strike out on his own.
chemicals used in the shellac compound were ra- Sinatra gambled, and, lucky for us, he won.
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Columbia recording session, New York City, October 1947.

02-part 2 (028-077)_02-part 2 (028-077) 11/2/10 4:18 PM Page 29


The Columbia
arranger for Tommy Dorsey, to write several

MAKING THE BREAK arrangements for his first solo session.

On January 19, 1942, Frank Sinatra made

his first solo recordings at RCA Victors Holly-

A fter roughly three years with two fine

bands, Frank Sinatra made the decision

to try his luck as a solo singer. The proposition

wood studio, a date yielding four sides:

The Night We Called It a Day, The Lamp-

lighters Serenade, The Song Is You, and

was decidedly risky; few singers were making it, Night and Day. Since the singer was still ob-

as Bing Crosby had a decade earlier, if they ligated to Dorsey, the company required his

were not associated with a dance band. Sinatra approval to issue the songs on the Victor label.

knew instinctively, however, that this was the Dorsey refused, forcing their release on the

path to follow, and to test the waters he engaged cheaper Victor subsidiary label Bluebird

Axel Stordahl, then a trumpeter and house Records. The sessions were supervised by
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30 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Victors veteran artist and repertoire (A&R) man, of all timehe had a good quality, and wonder-
Harry Meyerson. ful intonation. When I heard through the band-
Instrumentation relied mostly on members stand grapevine that he was striking out on his
of the Dorsey band, augmented by four violins, own, I figured I had to beat him. Nobody had bro-
one cello, one oboe, and a harp. There was no ken the ice since Crosby, and I thought Some-
percussion used on these recordings. Time was body is going to come along and do this any day.
kept by the simple rhythm section of bass, piano, If Eberly got out ahead of me, Id be in trouble.
and guitar. From all accounts, Sinatra was mes- In a 1986 conversation with author Sidney
merized by the results and spent hours listening Zion at Yale University, Sinatra spoke of his de-
to test pressings of the songs. Of the four tunes, termination. I was with Tommy almost three
three would remain his personal favorites, and he years, and then I decided to strike out on my own.
would record them again and again. And from there on, with Gods will and my stick-
While he had begun to rumble about leav- to-itiveness, I made some kind of stance in my
ing the band as early as September 1941, Sinatra business. Because I believed everything that I was
now earnestly sought to sever his ties with Dorsey, doing was right.
who had been irritating him for some time. Sinatra didnt allow his lack of formal musi-
Skitch Henderson, the pianist on the Bluebird cal training to impede him. Instead, he thwarted
date and a personal friend, vividly remembers the potential criticism by studying with a vocal
breaking point. James (Jimmy) Van Heusen and teacher, with whom he ultimately wrote a short
I were roommates and had a house on Rodeo book called Tips on Popular Singing.
Drive in Los Angeles [Beverly Hills]. The phone Even if I sounded badly, I couldnt tell that,
rang one night, and it was Frank, saying, The Old but I knew that eventually, someone would say,
Man goosed me with his trombone for the last Its not good enough. Study . . . do something
time. Im leaving the band. . . . That was when else. Take some lessons. Which I did, though I
they were at the Circle Theater, and we got Nancy didnt study legitimate musicI cant read a sin-
and little Nancy, and got them an apartment. gle note. I went and found a vocal coach named
In 1965, Sinatra recalled the decision to John Quinlan, who was a wonderful man. He was
break away. During the shows we used to let the an opera singer at the Met, became a drunk, and
kids ask questionstheyd ask about my parents got fired. But he was a great teacher of calisthen-
and my wife and my kids, and it was obvious that ics in the throat, so that you didnt tire when you
they felt I was the neighborhood boy that had sang. Even today, whether Im working that night
made good. The press helped, too, because they or not, I vocalize every day, Sinatra told Zion.
printed stuff from the pro-Crosby group, who While Sinatras time as a serious vocal
were hollering that Sinatra didnt have anything student was short, he exhibited a natural under-
compared to their boy, and my kids would yell standing of music that even the most accom-
back, Yes, he has . . . People began coming to plished classical musicians quickly noticed. He
hear for themselves. I began to realize that there proved to be a quick study and, as if he had a sixth
must be something to all this commotion. I sense, demonstrated unusual proficiency when it
didnt know exactly what it was, but I figured I came to detecting incorrect notes and sounds
had something that must be important. So I de- within the orchestra.
cided to try it alone, without a band. What really John Garvey, a violinist who backed Sinatra
put the clincher on my decision was when I heard on some live dates in 1943, shared these recol-
that Bob Eberly was planning to break off from lections with journalist Henry Pleasants. The
Jimmy Dorsey. Bob was one of the great singers musicians were skeptical, until one day at re-
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 31

hearsal, Sinatra and the orchestra were handed a

new song. Sinatra just stood there with the lead
sheet in one hand, the other cupping his ear, fol- TAKIN G C HARGE
lowing along silently while the orchestra read
through the Axel Stordahl chart. A second time
through he sang it in half-voice. The third time
through he took over. We all knew then that we
had an extraordinarily intuitive musician on our
Sinatra didnt have far to search for a record
label willing to sign him. He had sent a set of
rough acetate dubs of the Bluebird songs over to
T he Columbia years (19431952) found Sina-
tra experimenting with a wide variety of
musical settings, laying a solid foundation
for what ten years later would be his greatest pe-
riod, with Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and Gordon
Manie Sacks, then head of A&R at Columbia Jenkins. While his band vocal recordings had
Records, where Sinatra had made his first record- communicated a warmly nostalgic charm, it
ings with Harry James in 1939. The pair quickly wasnt until he signed with Columbia Records
became friends. Once Sinatra had a verbal nod that he gained almost complete control over his
from Sacks that he would be welcomed at Co- sessions and was able to shape every facet of the
lumbia, he made the break from Dorsey in perfection he sought. From the Columbia era
September 1942. On December 30, he was billed on, Sinatra choreographed his own recording
as the Special Added Attraction alongside
bandleader Benny Goodman at New Yorks Para-
mount Theater. Virtually overnight, the coun-
trys newest sensation, Frank Sinatra, teen idol,
was born.
Because of a recording ban imposed by mu-
sicians union chief James Petrillo, when Sinatra
entered Columbias New York Studio inside
Liederkranz Hall in June 1943, it was sans or-
chestra, and he began his Columbia career by
transcribing a series of a cappella recordings with
the Bobby Tucker Singers and Alec Wilder. The
ban prohibited him from making a full orches-
tral recording for another year and a half, so he
took the opportunity to do some backfield strate-
gizing. Among his very first decisions was to en-
gage Axel Stordahl as his music director. Fearing
he would forever be typecast as a dance band
singer, he asked Stordahl to design soft, lush
string arrangements that would enhance the ro- Sinatra supervised every detail at his recording sessions.
mantic image he wished to project. In short or- Here he listens to a playback with (left to right) arranger
der the Voice was well on his way to fulfilling Axel Stordahl, engineer Harold Chappie Chapman,
the prophecy he had shared a few years earlier and producer Bill Richards, Hollywood, October 1946
(man in upper left is unidentified).
with his friend Sammy Cahnto become the
worlds greatest singer.
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32 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

sessionsa task that most other popular artists, down in the studio was both a permanent record
whether through feelings of supremacy or inad- and a reflection of his aesthetic values. He real-
equacy, ignorance or apathy, left to others. (In ized that his livelihood as a popular singer de-
most cases, a record companys A&R representa- pended on the cooperation of many people, not
tive, or sometimes its recording director, would the least of whom were the musicians who helped
direct an artists sessions.) make his songs sing, and the technicians en-
Although staff recording directors (usually trusted to preserve them.
Morty Palitz, Joe Higgins, Bill Richards, and oc- Rarely would Sinatra treat any of the players
casionally Manie Sacks) were customarily as- with anything less than the highest regard. This,
signed to work with the singer, he assumed combined with Sinatras highly developed musi-
responsibility for and oversaw nearly every detail cal sense, has prompted most musicians fortunate
of his record dates, from song selection to the enough to have worked with him to extol his
sonic balances achieved in the studio on the day virtues as a musical ally. In contrast, many of the
of recording. While the role of the record pro- same top-level professionals have, without solic-
ducer would not fully evolve until the mid-1950s, itation, cited certain other top singers as being
at the height of the Mitch Miller era, Sinatra pi- preoccupied with their own importance, making
oneered the ways artists were handled and their them somewhat difficult to work with.
music recorded for decades to follow. His metic- He had great respect for musiciansall of
ulous supervision and the reputation it fostered them, recalls violinist Dave Frisina, who was the
quickly turned his recording sessions into unfor- first-chair violinist on numerous Sinatra dates at
gettable occasions. Columbia and continued to be a first call player
Quite frankly, I was intimidated, recalls on the singers sessions well into the 1980s. He
Columbia Records producer George Avakian, knew everybody in the orchestraI suppose he
who worked on several Sinatra sessions in the just made it his business to know everyone. He
1940s. Frank would come off the elevator with could hearhe was enough of a musician him-
his bodyguards. Two guards would come off the self to understand when people were playing, if
elevator, theyd look right and left. Then Frank they were really capable musicians.
would step out, and two other guys would step George Roberts, a veteran of the Stan Ken-
out, and theyd look right and left. They looked ton band who played a key role in shaping the di-
like five diamonds walking up the hall! Lest rection of Sinatras next musical summit,
there be any confusion, it must be noted that remembers, The days I spent working with
there was nothing dictatorial or imperial about Frank are, to me, the epitome of everything I had
Sinatras direction of his recording sessions. Once ever dreamed of. He has a charisma, or whatever
inside the studio, the atmosphere relaxed, and, it is about him, that no one else has. This senti-
from all accounts, Sinatra became just another ment has been echoed by dozens of sidemen and
guy in the band or in the booth. technicians who spent years working with Sina-
Unlike other artists who sometimes adopted tra. While he could become extremely impatient
a prima donna attitude, Sinatra, like his con- with the time-consuming process of making films
temporaries Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, and television shows (he was known to bitterly
placed himself on the same level as the musicians stalk off both film and television stages when the
and technicians who aided him. His admiration proceedings didnt progress as quickly as he de-
for the musicians was evident in the loose, good- sired), he would willingly spend inordinate
natured give-and-take that was a hallmark of his amounts of time in the recording studio, inter-
recording sessions. Sinatra knew that what went preting and reinterpreting songs until he was
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 33

song by song, the orchestrator who could custom-

tailor the musical settings to communicate ex-
actly the emotion he desired was the heart of
Sinatras genius. His insistence on giving his or-
chestrators prominent credit on record labels and
album jackets resulted in modern pop arrangers
being brought to the forefront, where their efforts
could be appreciated by the listening public.
While he worked with dozens of talented in-
dividuals throughout the sixty years of his career,
Sinatra remained loyal to a small group of
arrangers who used his boundless musical energy
and insight as a springboard for creating not only
his orchestrations (which were usually far supe-
rior to any they wrote for other singers), but also
as the inspiration for their own personal work. A
good arranger is vital, because in a sense, hes a
recording secretary, Sinatra told Robin Douglas-
Home in a 1961 interview. I must admit some-
thing, he said. Id never argue with someone
like Nelson [Riddle] on a record date. You respect
Having fun as singer Monica Lewis (left) and harpist Elaine Vito,
a veteran of dozens of Sinatras Columbia sessions, look on,
the arranger. Its his datehes the leader.
circa 1945. The collaborators Sinatra was drawn to were
far more than ordinary arrangers. Axel Stordahl,
Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Gordon Jenkins, and
Don Costa were, in every way, more composers
completely satisfied with the results. Sometimes than orchestrators. Theres a huge distinction
a whole three-hour session would be scrubbed between arranging and composing, says com-
and the recording of the particular song or songs poser-musician Joel Friedman. I could take a
rescheduled for the singer to be sure that it was piece of music thats already been written, a Bach
just right. chorale for example, and arrange it for an or-
chestra. Then, someone else could come along
and use all the same notes, but arrange it their
own way. Neither of us is adding anything of our
own, yet we each might use different doubling
or voices in unison, which will give it a com-
C H A R T I N G T H E W AY pletely different sound.
An arranger could simply follow the origi-
nal melody, and maybe expand it a bit, but theres
not a lot of imagination being exercised there.
What Sinatras arrangers did was much different:

T he role of the arranger cannot be overem-

phasized vis vis the quality and success of
Sinatras music. His instinct for selecting,
writing is conceiving original melodic patterns,
and thats what they were doing. All the intros,
and all the minor things that the trumpets and
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34 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

In those days, Axel was writing things that

were beautiful. Nobody wrote ballads as pretty as
he did until many years later, when Nelson came
along. Axel Stordahl really was the Daddy that
people began to learn from in the sense of writ-
ing orchestrationshe really was the most pro-
lific [arranger] of his time, Sinatra once said.
Stordahls luxurious string arrangements for the
singer became synonymous with his suave, ro-
mantic image as the premiere crooner of the
Axel was a very good string writer, who
wrote with a fine harmonic sense, remembered
colleague Paul Weston. He used to use what we
called an Axel Ending on the end of some of the
ballads, where he would use a complicated tag
where hed change key a couple of times in the
last four bars. Also, Ax and I would write coun-
termelodies for the strings, to be played against
the vocal. Most arrangers simply used the strings
as padsfew wrote countermelodies against the
vocalist. Much of Stordahls inspiration came
from his love of classical music, and strains of
With his first music director and arranger Axel Stordahl, early 1940s.
Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Ravel ring clear
The pair brought new meaning to the term musical collaboration.
in the lush swell of his most lovely arrangements.
A lot of Axels sound came from the French
school of writing, more Impressionistic, using
trombones are doing to accentuate the melody the harp and suspension and major seconds and
dont just existtheyre making those things semi-tones, believes bandleader Skitch Hender-
up, even if it was only three notes. Thats writing, son. The Impressionist composers became a con-
so they are as much composers as they are stant thread throughout Sinatras career and
arrangers. would be fully exploited during his later associa-
Mutual respect and understanding brought tion with Nelson Riddle.
Frank Sinatra and Axel Stordahl together in the Unfortunately, little has been documented
early 1940s as one of the first true musical part- about the details of Sinatra and Stordahls work-
nerships of the pop music era. From the first four ing procedures. Stordahls untimely death in
solo sides he made for Victors Bluebird label in 1963 and a rumored dispute between the pair left
January 1942 to the first Capitol Records session researchers with just the millions of notes that re-
in April 1953, it was Stordahl who faithfully main a part of the permanent record. One can
served as Sinatras musical director, creating hun- surmise, though, that because the two spent such
dreds of orchestrations and musical cues for his enormous amounts of time in such close musi-
seemingly endless flow of commercial recording cal and personal proximity, it became relatively
sessions, radio programs, personal appearances, easy for Stordahl to create the backgrounds Sina-
Hollywood films, and television shows. tra desired.
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 35


Axel Stordahls original orchestration for Put Your Dreams Away, one of Sinatras favorite theme songs, circa 1945.

people not directly associated with the artist or

the recording project are allowed in.
A N ATO M Y O F A The recording session (or date) is a highly
RECORDING SESSION personal event in which the performing artist is
completely vulnerable. During the course of a
session, a musician may rehearse difficult pas-
sages or make mistakes in lyric or melodic inter-
pretation. Singers may become frustrated and say

I t is difficult for outsiders to appreciate what

actually occurs at a recording session. Rarely
do we think about the effort that accompanies
the creation of a particular song when it is played
on the radio or on a record in our homes. Much
things not flattering to themselves or their public
image. Artists invest every ounce of their being
for arts sake, and a perfectionist like Sinatra may
be very particular about how the final recording
of the mystery is due to the fact that most record- Although the Capitol recording sessions of ten
ing sessions are closed to the general public. Few years later would differ, during the Columbia
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36 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

years Sinatras sessions were typically closed. We I try to spend at least an hour at the piano, vocal-
are able to study and appreciate the Sinatra-Stor- izing. My standard phrase is Let us wander by
dahl recordings because they were beautifully the bay, progressing two notes at a time, up the
recorded and preserved by Columbia Records, scale and back, he once said. One might won-
reflecting the ideal conditions under which they der how Sinatras lifelong smoking habit affected
were made as well as the dramatic improvements his voice and whether it hastened its decline as
in the direct-to-disc recording methods of the the years progressed. While he usually cut down
early 1940s. In them we see Sinatra creating the dramatically when he knew he was scheduled to
pattern for his recording sessions that he followed record, he rationalized the ravaging effects of
for the next four decades. smoking on the human voice. I smoke too much
During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, a record- and drink too much, but Ive learned that the vo-
ing session typically lasted three hours, during cal chords arent bothered too much by that
which, by contractual obligation, three or four theyre in a protected part of the body. What does
tunes would be completely recorded and mas- hurt them is overuse: abuse like shouting, and not
tered. About an hour or so before the start of the warming up properly before you sing. (Of
session (usually 8:00 p.m. for Sinatra dateshe course, whether Sinatra realized it or not, smok-
felt his voice was sufficiently loosened by this ing did have a deleterious effect on his voice, es-
time of evening, and it also accommodated his pecially in later years.)
busy daytime film schedule), the musicians When Sinatra arrived, the assembled cast
would arrive at the studio to lay out their instru- would begin with a short rehearsal so the engi-
ments and peruse the evenings orchestrations. neers could balance the sound. Until the stereo
Milt Bernhart, an extraordinary trombonist tape era (1957), the direct-to-disc and early tape
who came to the Hollywood film and recording recording method necessitated a perfect balance,
studios in the early 1950s following a successful or mix, of all the orchestral elements (strings,
stint with the Stan Kenton band, was a keen ob- horns, woodwinds, percussion), plus the vocalist
server of the complex behind-the-scenes forces and, occasionally, a choral group.
that drove the studio music world in its heyday. A properly balanced recording allows the lis-
As a first-call player for Frank Sinatras record, tener to hear each of the instruments clearly as
film, and TV sessions for over twenty-five years, part of the whole orchestra and as standout
his insight is invaluable. We never saw the charts soloists. It maintains an equilibrium between the
prior to the session, he explains. But I might volumes of the orchestra and the vocalist. Is the
show up at the studio early, to see what was there. voice too low? Does the orchestra drown it out?
I wanted to get nervous, I suppose. Most people Is the vocal too prominent? The orchestra too far
would say, Dont look at it until its time to start in the background? Are the solo instruments
playing, but I really had to look at the charts, to heard in the distance instead of up front with clar-
start thinking about what I was going to do. ity and presence? Proper balancing is a direct re-
Sinatras role in the sessions began far in ad- sult of microphone placement and setup of the
vance of the actual date. As we will see later, he orchestra in the studio. Each question is pon-
developed a ritual where he would first select dered on by the mixing engineer, who strategi-
all the tunes to be recorded and then carefully as- cally places microphones around the studio and
sist the arranger in sketching out ideas for the then auditions each instrumental section, ad-
orchestrations. justing microphones here and volume levels
He also prepared physically. Every day there, tweaking everything to arrive at just the
when Im doing a club date or planning to record, right blend. Nowadays, years after multitrack tape
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 37

entered the studios and stereo records have be- closely, which enhanced the proximity effect of
come the accepted standard, individual parts the mike, says microphone expert Jim Webb. In
such as the singers vocal have separate tracks other words, the closer you got to the micro-
or space on the tape, isolated from the orchestra. phone, the more bass you would hear. Bing
This isolation facilitates editing or manipulation Crosby really took advantage of that and height-
once the session is over, and engineers can easily ened the fullness of his voice by moving in very
rebalance or enhance the sound captured at the close to the mike.
live recording session. Recording setups of the The bullet-shaped RCA 77 microphones (as
1940s and early 1950s, however, were mono- seen on talk shows hosted by David Letterman
phonicsingle track, balanced and mixed on the and Larry King) were also excellent ribbon mi-
spot, with no opportunity to go back and fix tech- crophones born of this era. Their frequency pat-
nical or performance errors. Nevertheless, the tern and characteristics made them better suited
engineers achieved remarkably well-balanced for instrumental work than for vocals, although
sound. they worked remarkably well for both.
In those days, CBS made their own equip- Once the balance was deemed satisfactory,
ment, says Frank Laico, a retired Columbia en- the orchestra would run down (play through) the
gineer who began working sessions in the song, sans vocal, so that the singer and the musi-
mid-1940s. The mixing console had only six po- cians could acquaint themselves with the or-
sitions! So if you had a large orchestra, you had chestration. This was the point when the
to be careful about how you balanced it. For pop arrangement could be modified and errant notes
recordings, you had rhythm that had to be heard, transcribed by the copyist could be corrected.
so youd use an RCA 44 microphone (the old di- Usually, this run-through would be recorded for
amond-shaped, box-style mike, two-sided) with the engineers to confirm that their balances were
the bass player on one side and the guitarist on correct.
the other. Over the drum kit we might use a sin- In the control room, separated from the main
gle RCA 77, because you couldnt mike individ- recording room by a thick panel of soundproof
ual pieces of the drum setup. Youd use one or glass, the recording engineers would adjust the
two mikes to pick up the brass and woodwinds, volume on the various microphones placed
and one for the strings. And, of course, your vo- among the orchestra. This was accomplished
calist would have his or her own mike. If we had with the aid of a simple mixing board or console.
a vocal group, they couldnt be put on a separate The control room, or sometimes a separate area
mike, so wed put them behind the string section called the cutting room, was where the cutting
and microphone them together, from high up. engineer operated large turntables, which etched
The microphones used to record Sinatras the sound from the mixing board into grooves on
voice in the studio were always chosen with 16-inch recording transcription discs specially
meticulous care. The preferred mike for his vo- coated with a soft plastic lacquer compound.
cals during the Columbia years was the RCA 44 While earlier recordings had originated on
ribbon microphone. Noted for its smooth, warm wax, Sinatras master recordings from 1943 on-
sound and superior reproduction of frequencies ward were cut at 3313 rpm on optically flat alu-
in the vocal range, it was a natural for both close minum discs, which offered a much quieter
instrumental and vocal recording. This is the recording and playback surface. For a time dur-
old-fashioned microphone so closely associated ing World War II when aluminum was rationed,
with Sinatras crooner image of the 1940s. The glass was used as the substrate, and many record-
RCA 44 was a microphone that could be worked ing engineers of the era felt it was inferior (in
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38 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

arrangement and plan how to perform the song.

Usually he stood just off to the side of the
arranger-conductors podium, singing or hum-
ming along softly with the instrumentalists. If any
changes were needed, Sinatra suggested them
and the arranger and orchestra would work out
the details. If satisfied that he was prepared for a
real take, Sinatra would give a nod to the
arranger, then instruct the booth with a casual
Lets try one. Then and only then would record-
ing commence.
Did Frank Sinatra read music? By his own
admission, he did notat least not in the tradi-
tional sense. Sinatra did not play an instrument
and never learned to read music per se. His prac-
C O U R T E S Y O F C O L U M B I A R E C O R D S , M I C H A E L G R AY
tical experience helped him understand written
Columbia engineer Ad Theroux inspects the grooves being etched
into a 16-inch lacquer master, the format that supplanted the wax
music, and he learned to read a lead sheet by
recording process, circa 1943. The cutting lathe was specially carefully following the patterns and groupings of
developed for Columbia by Ike Rodman. notes arranged on the page.
On a standard score, the bars that signaled
important entry points commonly contained a
letter mark, which helped him tremendously.
terms of surface noise) to the aluminum discs. Sinatra made notations directly on the lead sheet
Glass was also far more fragile, and breakage of during his run-through, which further aided him
the original masters was common. The 16-inch in articulating concerns about the music as it was
lacquer-coated platters, originally developed for being played. Sinatras practical experience and
the Vitaphone recording process used in early finely tuned ear also helped him recognize and
talking pictures, revolutionized the sonic quality identify specific notes and distinguish changes in
of both recording studio and radio recordings and those notes: A from A-sharp, for example.
were in many ways the forerunner of the mod- Unlike today, everything at a 1940s record-
ern long playing (LP) record. ing session was done in real time. These were live,
While the end result of a session committed in-studio performances that offered a freshness
to the newer 16-inch masters in the early 1940s and spontaneity that dwindled with the advent
was the comparatively noisy shellac 78-rpm disc, of sound-on-sound and multitrack overdub
the fidelity of the original session lacquers always recording in the years to follow. Basically, the mu-
remained. These have allowed the recent spate sicians were expected to perform these charts,
of superior CD restorations that reflect the re- which they were reading for the first time, as
markable quality of the original recording ses- though theyd been playing them together for
sions. (In the early 1950s, after magnetic years. But these were the very finest musicians in
recording tape became common in studios, the Hollywood and New Yorkmany from the mo-
lacquer discs and cutting turntable were replaced tion picture studios and the Philharmonic Or-
by a tape spool and tape recorder.) chestra or, better still, from the ranks of the Benny
At the sessions, Sinatra used the orchestral Goodman, Glenn Miller, or Tommy Dorsey or-
run-through time to familiarize himself with the chestras or, later, Stan Kentons band. If anyone
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 39

did make a mistake, it was back to square one for especially valuable because it comes at a point in
all involved. his work when Sinatras voice took on darker
Most of the time, Sinatras sessions were re- hues. He began to inject some pain into the mu-
laxed because everyone knew their roles. While sic, as if he were struggling to extract every nu-
the musicians and crew had fun and enjoyed their ance of emotion from deep within his soul. This
work immensely, the atmosphere in the studio somewhat introspective approach to Body and
was never less than professional. Some of the Soul brings the complex lyric and melodic sub-
greatest laughs came after flubbed takes, espe- tleties of the song sharply into focus and presages
cially when Sinatra was poking fun at himself. the aching, melancholic mood that would dom-
On one memorable Columbia date (August inate the late Columbia period.
27, 1945), Sinatra was recording Silent Night. The take-to-take recording session of No-
The arrangement set the tone for Sinatras per- vember 9, 1947, that yielded the song proffers
formance, which is appropriately reverential. valuable insight into the evolution of a recorded
The orchestra, playing superbly, is resplendent in Sinatra performance and a glimpse of the
the joyous sound of the Christmas season. Sud- staunchness of his resistance to executive inter-
denly, two-thirds of the way through a beautiful ference. Most striking is the dexterity with which
take, Sinatra blows a line. Instead of sleep in the singer hones his initial rather rough interpre-
heavenly peace, he recites, sleep in heavenly tation to a gemlike perfection.The reconstruction
sleep. Immediately realizing his error, he breaks of the session is possible through careful audition
the solemnity of the moment. Son of a b! he of the original Columbia session lacquers and
fumes. I sang the wrong goddamned words! through the recollections of arranger George Sir-
The musicians respond with spontaneous laugh- avo, who was an observer in the studio.
ter. After some good-natured ribbing, the session Body and Soul is the first of two tunes to
resumes, a perfect take is made, and everyone is be recorded on the date; the second is the lovely
happy. and underrated Paul Madeira and Jimmy Dorsey
ballad Im Glad There Is You.
Arriving at the Manhattan studio, the or-
chestra performs a run-through, allowing Sina-
tra to become comfortable with the pacing of the
song and formulate a plan for his vocal approach.
B O DY A N D S O U L : This preliminary take, not considered an official
attempt, also assisted the engineers with setting
E VO LUT IO N O F A the proper balance.
PERFORMANCE The test gets underway and sounds as one
might expect: a bit ragged. In the first few bars of
this initial test, featured cornetist Bobby Hack-
ett is heard playing off-mike, the engineers in the
control room having inadvertently neglected to

B ody and Soul is, without doubt, one of

Sinatras most extraordinary recordings.
Long considered the quintessential pop
and jazz standard, it might well (along with
switch his microphone on. They quickly correct
the oversight, and the crystalline tone of Hack-
etts horn joins the orchestra. Sinatra begins to
work his way through the song as Hackett devel-
Im a Fool to Want You) represent the defining ops his solos and obbligati. Along the way, both
moment of the Columbia years. The recording is performers hit a number of wrong notes.
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40 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

As Sinatra sings, he experiments with differ- Midway through the song, at the bridge,
ent ways of enunciating key words, primarily their Hackett blows some critical notes in his solo,
endings. For example, in the first chorus which has begun taking on a different melodic
(1 minute, 41 seconds into the song), he sings: slant from the first takes. As Hackett and the or-
chestra continue to play, Sinatra becomes irri-
My life a wreck youre makin . . . tated. Well, STOP IT! he testily demands.
[eliminates the g, more informal] Stordahl calls the orchestra off, requesting that
You know Im yours for just the taking . . . Hackett (who may have been so engrossed in
[pronounces the g] playing that he didnt realize it) cease playing as
well. In the recording room, the volume is
The take continues, and at the instrumental abruptly faded down, and the lacquer disc cutter
bridge (2:00), Hackett hits some bad notes. The stopped.
cornet solo is noticeably different from what it The first full take clocks in at 3:23. It is a gor-
would eventually evolve into on subsequent geous effortthe orchestral introduction is beau-
takes. Then, in the second chorus (at 2:37), Sina- tiful, Hacketts noodling is heavenly, and Sinatra
tra deviates from the pattern in the first chorus: has again attacked each line with thoughtful
deliberation. As with the first few takes, the tempo
My life a wreck youre makin . . . remains a bit slower. The song concludes with a
You know Im yours for just the takin . . . powerfully emotional crescendo, and the per-
formers are silent as the musical ring in the stu-
The song proceeds to the end, and Hackett dio dies down. As they begin to relax, they hear
again plays a different solo from the one that producer Morty Palitz call down from the con-
would be issued on the master takes. The final trol room. Too long, his voice booms over the
timing of the song is 3 minutes, 18 seconds. The microphone, and into the studio. Very nice,
musicians relax as the control room prepares an- Frank, but well have to speed it up. To which
other lacquer disc for the next series of takes. Sinatra, initially concerned with the emotional
The first attempt at a real take begins, and impact of the song, replies, Naw, we cant speed
shortly into the performance Bobby Hackett it upitll kill the feeling.
blows a note. Nine seconds later, Sinatra stops Youll have to do something . . . we cant fit
singing and calls off the orchestra. On the second it on, reports engineer Fred Plaut from the
try, it is obvious that Sinatra is settling in and feel- booth, referring to the strict time restrictions im-
ing more comfortable with the song and the or- posed by the limited groove space of a standard
chestration. The tempo has been pulled down 10-inch 78-rpm single. Youll have to make a
(slowed) just a shade, and Frank begins to stretch cutthats the only thing I can think of, says
out a bit, taking just a bit more time to carefully Palitz. This annoys Sinatra, who sarcastically
phrase each line. He also becomes deliberate shoots back with the half-statement, half-ques-
with his diction, carefully articulating the -ing tion, You mean to tell me a big outfit like Co-
suffixes in the first chorus: lumbia cant put this on a recordits too long?
Suddenly, from deep within the orchestra,
I spend my days in longing . . . obscured behind a music stand, a voice defiantly
And wondring why its me youre calls out, We can do it down at Mercury! Sina-
wronging . . . tra, his interest piqued, calls back, Who said
that? Stand up, will ya? With the studio silent,
Then, an explosion. everyone looks around in suspense. Unabashedly,
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 41

the oboist contracted for the session stands up. It Manie, I cant tell you anything else. Im only the
is Mitch Miller, who also functioned as the chief engineer. But I can only tell you that what you
A&R producer at the comparatively smaller Mer- heard is the truth: Columbia is not capable of do-
cury Records. You serious? asks Sinatra. Ab- ing such things. As the group leaves the office,
solutely! We could do that down at Mercury, says Sacksby all accounts the gentlest and most
Miller. Sinatra turns to the band. Take five, fel- diplomatic of menglances at Siravo and mut-
las, he says, leaving the studio with Stordahl, ters, That fing Mitch Miller! You take my
Plaut, Palitz, and Siravo in tow. word: this guy will never set foot again at Co-
The group shuffles down the hall and re- lumbia Records as long as Im here!
convenes in Manie Sackss office. Sacks, who was The participants, clearly disturbed, return to
a vice president at the label, listens carefully to the studio, where the decision is made to shorten
Sinatras diatribe. You mean a big fing outfit the timing of the recording by eliminating the
like Columbia cant do what a nickel company full orchestral introduction and moving Hacketts
like Mercury can do? I dont believe this sh, introductory solo up front, where it will lend a
he thunders. Plaut, clearly uncomfortable in the dramatic flair to the opening strains of the
crossfire, looks forlornly at Sacks. Im sorry, melody. The slower, more emotional tempo that

Columbia recording session, mid-1940s, with A&R head Manie Sacks and conductor Axel Stordahl.
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42 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Sinatra demands is maintained. Sinatra turns in Decca second and third. For all these studios,
a stellar performance. The two master takes drip their sound was their stock-in-tradetheir signa-
with heartfelt longing and simple beauty. ture. The legendary Columbia sound of the
On the first, the articulation of each word is 1940s and very early 1950s was achieved by top-
perfect, Sinatra sticking with the formal pro- notch engineers working with custom-designed
nunciations of words like longing and wronging. equipment in superb recording facilitiesall
In the first chorus, he emphasizes the word you skillfully coordinated under the watchful eye of
in the line, You know Im yours, for just the tak- Manie Sacks and, later, Columbia Records head
ing . . . by modulating his voice up. Goddard Lieberson.
For the second (and final) master take, he
loosens up a wee bit, dropping his guard and let-
ting a less formal wrongin take the place of
Then, when he arrives at the appropriate line
in the first chorus, he varies the line by deem-
phasizing the inflection, singing a flat you.
The approved master clocks in at under
3:18, which leaves everyone, technicians and per-
formers, relatively satisfied.
Mitch was a good politician, believes
George Siravo. At the time, he was riding the
crest of a wave. He was a fine classical oboist and
the A&R head at Mercury. As an artist, you had
to respect him for that. Because in this instance,
The CBS/KNX Radio facility at Sunset and Gower in Hollywood
even though Mitch was right, Frank realized that was the locale for many of Sinatras radio programs and Columbia
you cant have everything your own way and still recording sessions in the 1940s.
sing whatever comes to your mind. You have to
listen to some people once in a while. [That in-
cident] gave Mitch a little bargaining power. And
despite Sackss order banishing him from Co- While at Columbia, Sinatras recording ac-
lumbia, Miller eventually found his way back to tivity was split almost evenly between New York
become, as Siravo puts it, the great white father. and Hollywood, depending on his schedule and
In Los Angeles, nearly all of his sessions were
held at Columbias Romaine Street recording
studio, the CBS Radio complex at Sunset and
Gower (home of station KNX, which also carried
THE COLUMBIA STUDIOS Sinatras weekly radio programs), or the CBS
Vine Street Playhouse, located just off Sunset
Boulevard. On occasion, Radio Recorders, then
the largest independent recording studio in Hol-

F rom the early 1940s, Columbia Records en-

joyed a reputation as the top recording con-
cern in the world, with RCA Victor and
lywood, was used.
Since the hub of Columbias business and
recording world was New York City, both the
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 43

corporate offices and the main recording studios echo sound, explains producer George Avakian.
were maintained on the East Coast. The com- Liederkranz was a large studio in a beautiful
panys research and development department building, located at 115 East 58th Street, between
(and its major pressing facility) was located in Park and Lexington Avenues, and was actually
Bridgeport, Connecticut, so most of the techni- run by the Liederkranz Society. It had very nat-
cal direction came from the East Coast as well. ural sonic properties; it was large and had a lot of
For this reason, Columbias New York studios old wood.
were considered their flagship facilities, and the Howard Scott, a Columbia Records pro-
company invested a great deal in developing ducer who used the room for classical recordings
them. Until the late 1950s, the West Coast studios remembers: Liederkranz Hall was the best
were considered an annex and were used recording studio in New York. It was once a Ger-
mainly to accommodate the artists that lived in man beer hall, and it was a great studio: 100 feet
the Los Angeles area. long by 60 feet wide, with 30-foot ceilings. The
Just as famous concert halls help to define only problem was that we couldnt have the heat
the signature sound of the symphony orchestras on in the winter because the old radiators
that play in them, specific recording studios once snapped and popped!
played a huge role in defining the highly indi- Columbia used Liederkranz extensively,
vidual sound of the recordings created by the ma- along with its own penthouse studio facilities lo-
jor record labels. Columbias sound became cated at 799 Seventh Avenue. It was at these two
famous largely through Harry Jamess trumpet locations that Frank Sinatra did the bulk of his
recordings at Liederkranz Hall, which had a great New York recording from 1943 to 1949. There
were four studios at 799 Seventh Avenue, Studios
A, B, C, and D. They recorded Sinatra up there,
in Studio B, remembers retired Columbia en-
gineer Bill Savory.
Early in 1948, CBS-TV took over half of the
Liederkranz Hall facility and created two televi-
sion studios. From all accounts, this completely
altered the characteristic sound of the original
studio, destroying the ambience that had made it
a favorite with producers and engineers.
As a solution, Columbia located and pur-
chased a huge Greek Orthodox church located
at 30th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan
and turned it into the studio that would become
the legendary facility known simply as 30th
Street. Many of Sinatras recordings from 1949
to 1952 were held in the new studio.
In 1949, Bill Bachman [director of the Co-
lumbia Sound Labs], Vin Liebler [head of engi-
With Axel Stordahl and guitarist Matty Golizio at his first Columbia
session with full orchestra, Liederkranz Hall, New York City,
neering] and I went looking for a new studio,
November 14, 1944. says Howard Scott. We found a church at 205
East 30th Street that was not in use. The front part
of the church was a radio stationWLIB, I
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44 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A


The former church housing Columbias 30th Street studio, The final photograph of the interior of Columbias historic 30th Street
circa 1949. studio, 1981.

believe. Inside, it was just one big room. I know or whatever you want. After that, it became pop-
this is when Columbia was about to start using ular, and they dropped Liederkranz.
tape, because in the control room there was a Engineer Frank Laico recalls that in 1950
small area in the corner where they kept the mi- Mitch Miller, relentless in his pursuit of a slick,
crophones and such. Right after we bought the unique pop sound, also fell in love with the stu-
building in 1949, they installed mono tape ma- dio. It was a great acoustic room, nearly 100 feet
chines in the corner where the microphones used by 100 feet, with very high ceilings. We all got
to be stored. For a while, we cut both tape and down there to look at it and loved the sound.
disc, and then went all tape in the first few Mitch walked in and told all the brass in our di-
months of 1950. vision, There will be nothing done to this room,
As the primary Columbia recording facility, as long as Im here. We are going to use it as is.
the 30th Street studio earned a reputation that There were drapes hanging crazily, dust every-
outlived its sale (and ultimate demise) in the mid- where. It was nothing to be proud of, physically.
1980s. That success could be directly attributed He wouldnt let them touch the floors, because
to the studios sonics and the thousands of famous the first thing they would do is come in and sand
recordings that were made there. At first, though, the floors!
the 30th Street location was avoided by most Co- The acoustics at 30th Street were outstand-
lumbia staff producers and engineers. Bill Sa- ingmuch better than nearly any other studio
vory, involved in opening the studio, recalls: anywhere. The room itself was so beautifully res-
Everybody that came in and listened to it said onant. The sound on those records is something
that it was too live. So finally we did something that everyone in the world was trying to dupli-
there with Goddard, one of those early Broadway cate, especially for the strings. We did use echo,
cast albums [South Pacific], and he said This is too. Mostly for vocals, and sometimes on the
just what I want! This is the most flexible place strings. We found a room down in the basement
on Earth! You can make it sound like Broadway, that wasnt being used, and used it as an acoustic
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 45

rings. Reverb (or echo) is what provides a good

measure of the realism in a sound recording, and
because only a limited amount of a recording
rooms naturally reverberant sound can be cap-
tured by a microphone, it became a common
practice in the mid-1930s to add extra reverb into
the recording mix.
In the old days, the dead studios resulted in
unnatural sounds, said Mitch Miller. When
Toscanini performed in Studio 8H at NBC, the
sound was dry and brittle. Then someone decided
to use Liederkranz Hall for recording, and the
whole conception and appreciation of sound on
records changed.
Sound engineers in the 1940s had far less
Recording at 30th Street with Axel Stordahl and vocal group,
circa 1950. The black bottle-shaped microphone suspended from
technical equipment at their disposal then today,
the boom is an Altec M-11, the first modern condenser microphone and when faced with issues such as reverb, they
manufactured in the United States after the war. devised unique methods of dealing with the prob-
lem. For a time, the mens room became the nat-
ural echo chamber at Liederkranz Hall. Bob
Fine had done that with me at Mercury, re-
echo chamber. It was a very smooth, elongated members Mitch Miller. He was a fabulous en-
echoit was sensational! We would have engi- gineer. I said, Bob, weve got to put a halo around
neers come from England that used to come in the voice. It sounds like theyre singing into a
and say, God! Tell us how you get that sound, hunk of wool. So he came up with it in a second.
that echo! and of course, I wouldnt tell them, He put a speaker in the bathroomat Reeves
Laico says proudly. Studio in New York, this waswith a mike hang-
The words reverb and echo are two of the ing there. They sent the signal in there, then took
most misused and misunderstood terms in sound a little bit of the sound that came out of the bath-
recording. So is the phrase high fidelity, which is room speaker, and added it to the original mix.
often used to describe sound that is true-to-life This method was not without its drawbacks.
as realistic and as possible to being in the con- There were many stories of recordings being
cert hall or recording studio. spoiled by someone going to the bathroom, re-
Of course, a record or compact disc that re- calls Avakian. But it always seemed to happen
produces exactly what the human ears hear at a on other peoples datesI dont believe it ever ac-
live performance would be optimal, but this goal tually happened, but I heard stories like that!
is nearly impossible to attain. One of the most dif- (Actually, the idea of using a bathroom as a re-
ficult sonic characteristic to translate to a two-di- verberation chamber was not new. As early as
mensional sound recording is that of ambient 1936, Brunswick recording engineers had exper-
sound, the acoustic sound of any given room in imented with placing a microphone inside a toi-
which a performance (or recording) is made. let to get a close, hollow echo effect.)
To a great extent, the ambient sound of a The engineers at the 799 Seventh Avenue
room is directly related to reverberationa studios found a somewhat more refined solution.
decay period in which the sound overhangs and With the studio situated on the top (seventh)
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46 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

floor, the engineers had a back stairwell with Columbia era, these individuals working the
seven stories of natural echo at their disposal. Bud soundboard were commonly called mixers, a
Graham, whose primary responsibility was clas- term that lasted throughout the 1950s. In the early
sical recording, explains, We tried some other 1960s, their designation as recording engineers
things, a narrow room with highly polished sur- appropriately described the increasing complex-
faces, but it wasnt nearly as good as the stairwell. ities of their craft.
You see, in the stairwell, frequencies changed Engineer Carson Taylor once described the
they dissipated and werent the same all the time. philosophy he applied to his work in both pop
It just had a character that I dont think any of the and classical fields from the 1940s to the 1970s.
electronic or digital echoes could ever have. But There is one thing that distinguishes the mixer
the finest equipment and best studio space in the of today from the classical mixer of yesterday. To-
world would be worthless without the deft hand day, the mixer is part of the group, because he pro-
of the many skilled and intuitive recording engi- duces various effects to make the sounds that the
neers that worked behind the scenes to make artists want, the sounds that make them distinc-
recording sessions run. As early as the Edison era, tive. But that is not true in the classical field. The
the individuals at the controls were the crucial classical mixer should be virtually transparent.
link in the recording chain, ensuring the success From the conductor and orchestra or whatever
or failure of any particular recording. During the artists there are in the studio, to the finished


This is 799 Seventh Avenue, home of the Columbia Records offices and Penthouse Studios (far right side of building),
circa 1950. In the mid-1960s, Phil Ramone renovated the studios and renamed them A&R Recording.
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 47

record you play and listen to, there should be no classical recordings. In 1928, the Royalcraft Al-
intrusion that is apparent on the part of the engi- bum (a twelve-record set) by the English Singers
neer. He has to be a truly transparent entity. He was issued and became the very first nonclassical
controls the mixing so that what the artists want record set.
goes onto the tapes, as they want it . . . not as he By the early 1940s, major American record
decides they want it. companies began offering 78 rpm album sets of
Sinatras producers and technicians ap- tunes by their top-selling popular artists. Frank
proached the task with the utmost respect, and Sinatras first album was an empty photo-cover
their contributions to his success as a recording album set issued in 1943 by Columbia, which
artist cannot be praised enough. Their ability to loyal fans could use to store their growing col-
adapt themselves to Sinatras style and to function lection of Sinatra records.
as largely uncredited yet dependable supporting Although the term single wouldnt really be
players was a primary reason for the superb qual- used until the early 1950s, when RCA developed
ity of the final recordings. the 7-inch, 45 rpm disc, most of Frank Sinatras
During the Columbia years, engineers Fred 78 rpm recordings from 1939 to 1952 (and those
Plaut and Harold Chapman were largely re- of other pop artists as well) were in fact singles
sponsible for transcribing Sinatras sessions. Their individual discs with one song on each side. Most
peers, as well as engineers who came to Colum- albums of the era were simply collections of these
bia years afterward, attribute much of the com- singles, adorned with colorful, sophisticated art-
panys reputation for outstanding sonics directly work that quickly became an integral part of the
to their efforts. Chappies work was unique in listening experience.
the field, believes Sony Music Studios engineer Then, in March 1946, a Columbia album ap-
Larry Keyes, himself with Columbia since the peared that was different. Instead of a haphazard
1960s. When you listen to the recordings that collection of singles, it contained a thoughtful
Chappie and Fred Plaut did, you hear every in- musical program; a collection of songs with a mu-
strument, nothing is blocked out. They had won- sical theme, recorded expressly for the album that
derful earsthey were superb engineers. bore its name: The Voice of Frank Sinatra. This
is the very first of Sinatras concept albums.
This album had a purpose. Someone, and it
is unclear who, made the decision to have Sina-
tra and Stordahl record a number similar tunes
with orchestrations sharing a unifying spirit.
THE CONCEPT OF ALBUMS Advertisements for the album suggest that
the marketing department might have originated
the concept; whether they accomplished what
they originally set out to do is unknown. More
important, Sinatra realized that a cohesive mu-

T he term album originated in the early

1900s, when record companies decided to
group 78 rpm records into sets packaged in
a photo album-style book. These original albums
usually contained four to six brown Kraft paper
sical program would be an extremely effective
means of conveying a specific mood and, if pre-
sented with care, could make a tremendous artis-
tic and commercial impact.
Columbia released a number of 78 rpm al-
record sleeves bound between hard cardboard bum sets over the next four years: Songs by Sina-
covers and, until at least 1928, were used solely for tra, Volume One (1947), Christmas Songs by
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48 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Sinatra (1948), Frankly Sentimental (1949), and intimacy personified, seductively melodic, nearly
Dedicated to You (1950). A fifth set, Sing and child-like, this is Sinatra at his romantic best: sim-
Dance with Frank Sinatra, from 1950 will be dis- ple, honest, and profound.
cussed in detail later. Of these five sets, three Amid the seamless flow of John Mayhews
were released simultaneously on 10-inch vinyl flute and the delicate tinkling of Mark McIntyres
LPs, supporting their case for being among the celeste, Sinatra wraps the lyrics in conviction, in-
very first Sinatra albums. fusing them with sweetness and believability. The
These lost albums are as important to the sensitivity of his faultless interpretation is evident
development of Sinatras career as any other al- throughout, and his vulnerability is particularly
bum, believes Sinatra researcher Tom Rednour. striking when he sings the word you in the lines
Most fans discount them as mere collections of that contain these foolish things, remind me of
old singles, but none of the Columbia 78 sets you. . . . Especially moving is the coy inflection
have been documented as what they really were; he bestows on the phrase scent of roses in the line
albums of new or previously unissued material. The smile of Turner, and the scent of roses . . .
(Each of these albums did actually contain both just after the violin solo. Here, there is a slight
new and old material. The selection of appropri- catch in his voice on the first syllable of roses, a
ate tunes of similar feel was so smoothly done that small touch that renders the performance in-
the fact is almost unnoticeable.) stantly memorable (the nuance is missing on an
For a variety of reasons, the original Colum- alternate take of the recording and is conspicu-
bia albums (these 78 sets and their 10-inch LP ous by its absence). By the time Sinatra gets to
counterparts, not the uneven 12-inch LP compi- the waiters whistling, as the last bar closes . . . ,
lations issued later) were not the commercial suc- we have images of a scene straight out of
cesses his Capitol albums would be. But the idea Casablanca dancing in our heads.
for Sinatras groundbreaking stream of thematic There are dozens of Columbia-era record-
concept albums, his wave of the future, had been ings like this, songs that are sentimental without
born. being maudlin, sweet without being saccharine.
These are the best Sinatra songs of the era, ones
that communicate simple honesty and warmth.
The Nearness of You, You Go to My Head,
A Ghost of a Chance, Try a Little Tenderness,
Someone to Watch Over Me, Why Shouldnt
DIVERSIT Y PERSONIFIED I?, It Never Entered My Mind, Mamselle,
and These Foolish Things each reflect Sinatras
mastery of the ballad and deserve a place among
popular musics greatest treasures.
During the Columbia years, Frank Sinatra

O ne selection from the album The Voice

epitomizes Frank Sinatra and the ro-
mance of the Columbia years. Of the
hundreds of ballads he sang in the 1940s, few ex-
press his tenderness better than his July 1945
was known primarily as a ballad singer. While
sweetly romantic orchestrations dominated his
musical persona, these formative years also af-
forded him the opportunity to experiment and
grow artistically. People who arent familiar with
recording of These Foolish Things with Axel the breadth of his Columbia repertoire might be
Stordahl. Backed by a small chamber group (nine surprised to learn that Sinatra recorded with a
pieces, including three strings), the rendition is gospel group (the Charioteers), an a cappella
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 49

group (the Bobby Tucker Singers), and small he continues joking, reciting one of his oft-used
combos (Alvy West and the Little Band and the goofy endings: Ring-dang-bang-dang-pow!
Page Cavanaugh Trio). He recorded with a Latin The session ended and the song was forgotten.
bandleader (Xavier Cugat), and had a reunion No master number was assigned, no title written
with a big-band leader (Harry James). on the disc label, and the recording went undoc-
Frank dueted with a bevy of ladies (Dinah umented in the Columbia archive until 1993.
Shore, Doris Day, Pearl Bailey, Rosemary A nonvocal project in which Sinatra con-
Clooney, Jane Russell, Paula Kelly, Dagmar, and ducted a full orchestra for a series of Alec Wilder
Shelly Winters), and nearly a dozen vocal groups vignettes marked the singers first attempt to lead
(the Jeff Alexander Choir, the Modernaires, the an orchestra from the podium instead of the side-
Pastels, the Mitch Miller Singers, the Whip- lines. Dismayed that Wilder, a friend, could not
poorwills, Helen Caroll and the Swantones, the get the lovely instrumental pieces recorded, Sina-
Ken Lane Singers, the Double Daters, Four Hits tra had a set of radio performances rushed to him
and a Miss, the Ray Charles Singers, and the Pied and, using the popularity of his name, arranged
Pipers). Musically, he left no stone unturned. for the sessions to be held at Liederkranz Hall.
Sinatras flirtation with Cugat provided a Before the first recording began, Sinatra
pleasant dose of rhumba exotica and is worthy of tapped the podium with his baton and, lest any-
mention primarily because of an undocumented one mistake his efforts as self-serving, explained
and unreleased song recorded at the session. to the assembled musicians that he knew he was
While the world at large is well acquainted with not a conductor and was simply asking them to
the two Sinatra-Cugat tunes cut on May 24, 1945, be cooperative in following his lead because he
Stars in Your Eyes and My Shawl, few know believed in the music and wanted to bring some
that a third song was orchestrated and recorded commercial attention to it. According to sources
that day: an obscurity titled How Long Will It present, the players were struck with the singers
Last? penned by Max Lief and Joseph Meyer. sincerity and assisted him in a doing a very
Originally waxed by Bing Crosby in the 1930s, the
song was introduced by Joan Crawford in the film
It was the last song recorded that day, and a
full arrangement had been written. The one ex-
tant take is really a run-through, and as a vocal it
is incomplete. Both Sinatra and the orchestra
sound rough and somewhat off-key. At the bridge,
as the strings play tentatively, an obviously
pleased Sinatra is heard off-mike. Very nice . . .
I like this arrangement! Its a mother-grabbing
arrangementI like the way it sounds.
Then, at the vocal entrance for the last cho-
rus, he comes back joking instead of singing.
Dee-da-da-da-da-da-dee-da-dum/think we bet-
ter put this one away/it will take too much time
With Alec Wilder (right) at the Sinatra Conducts Alec Wilder
to do it/for today. . . . session, Liederkranz Hall, New York City, December 1945.
Abruptly he then says, Get me the hell out
of here! and, as the orchestra completes the song,
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50 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

credible job of making the records. They were itor and music critic George T. Simon, placed
among my very favorite instrumental recordings, Sinatra in the company of such gifted jazz giants
remembers Milt Bernhart. When I was travel- as Charlie Shavers, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny
ing with Stan Kenton, I would lay down back- Hodges, Harry Carney, Lawrence Brown, and
stage, in the dark, and just play those Alec Wilder Buddy Rich. Accompanying the group for a loose
records.They relaxed me and were a joy to listen rendition of his own signature tune, Sweet Lor-
to because of their tremendous musicality. raine, was pianist Nat King Cole. The record-
ing remains one of the highlights of Sinatras
Columbia epoch and one of the earliest indi-
cations of the direction his music would eventu-
ally take.


In the booth with (left to right) producers George T. Simon and

Mitchell Ayres, drummer Buddy Rich, and composer Alec Wilder

after recording Sweet Lorraine with The Metronome All-Stars,
New York City, December 1946. hroughout his career, the freshness of
Sinatras recordings was due most of all to
his continued insistence on the struggle for
balanced, natural sound, through the arduous
The album, Frank Sinatra Conducts Alec task of performing multiple takes while singing
Wilder, attracted the desired attention and re- along with the orchestra. While this was a neces-
mained in the Columbia catalog well into the LP sity during the disc recording period, he contin-
era. Sinatra, an ardent classical music buff, was ued the tradition long after the arrival of tape into
so taken with conducting that he returned to con- the studios and well beyond the point when over-
duct three instrumental albums: Tone Poems of dubbing became the accepted practice. Once
Color (1956); Frank Sinatra Conducts Music again, his early training weighed heavily. This
from Pictures and Plays, (1962); and Whats New? method in particular was a holdover from the
(1983). He also conducted the orchestra for al- many nights he spent aiming for an excellent live
bums by three of his close friends: Peggy Lee (The performance on the bandstand.
Man I Love, 1957); Dean Martin (Sleep Warm, In the studio, his almost fanatical obsession
1958); and Sylvia Syms (Syms by Sinatra, 1982 with perfection sometimes led onlookers to ques-
the last album ever scored by Don Costa). tion whether the singer was truly concerned with
One of Sinatras hippest sessions was a De- the final outcome or just asserting his consider-
cember 1946 date with the Metronome All-Stars. able power. Jazz writer William Gottlieb covered
This annual ritual, produced by Metronome ed- Sinatras Columbia recording session of October
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 51

22, 1947, a date that yielded (among others) the was his favorite ballad, Raksin told this author.
David Raksin-Johnny Mercer classic Laura as He nailed the song exactly! He had a way with
well as two stunning versions of Cole Porters songsif he really wanted to do it well, he did it
Night and Day that remained undocumented marvelously well. And I was delighted, of course,
and unreleased in the Columbia vault for over because in my mind, he was the pre-eminent
forty-five years. singer of his day. To have him cite my song as a
The one thing that stuck out for me about favorite, and record it more than once, was a real
that session was that Sinatra kept interrupting the kick!
takes, pointing out mistakes from within the or- Both Stordahls magnificent orchestration
chestra, which necessitated many retakes, Got- and Sinatras deadly serious approach to the lyric
tlieb said. This continual request for retakes heighten the sense of mystery, intrigue, and ro-
meant a lot of overtime, which was very expen- mance that the song is meant to evoke. The
sive. At this point, Sinatras career was beginning recording is a prime example of how the exacting
to wane, and I wondered, Does he know what attention Sinatra afforded inflection and intona-
hes doing? Are the mistakes hes hearing really tion pays off in communicating the songwriters
there, or is he trying to show himself and the oth- message.
ers that he is still a star? I asked some friends who A little-known Sinatra recording date from
were musicians in the orchestra, and they unan- the singers transitional phase, surviving on lac-
imously assured me that he knewwhen he quer disc safety copies of a complete Columbia
found fault that day, he was right. I was relieved. session, allows us to peek inside the studio, leav-
The two takes of Laura reveal subtle but ing little doubt as to exactly who was calling the
noticeable variations in interpretation; the shots and how unfailingly accurate Sinatras in-
recording is one of the most haunting and beau- tuition was.
tiful performances of Sinatras Columbia years. The first song recorded allows us to focus on
Sinatra was once quoted as saying that Laura Franks pursuit of sonic excellence; the second is
an example of how the entire creative team,
headed by Sinatra, diligently worked to perfect a
The recording date is July 10, 1949. As the
evening session gets underway at Columbias cav-
ernous 30th Street Studio, Sinatra, arranger Sy
Oliver, and conductor Hugo Winterhalter are au-
ditioning a second instrumental run-through of
George Siravos arrangement of It All Depends
on You. Tonights date will be jazz-flavored, the
orchestra really a big bandno strings. Amid
the chatter and bustle on the studio floor, the vo-
calist, listening intently to a passage by the brass
section, feels that something is amiss. Even be-
fore the session began, there had been problems.
For whatever reason (it might have been set in the
A light-hearted break in the Laura session proceedings,
Liederkranz Hall, New York City, October 22, 1947.
wrong key), the chart needed some revision, and
because Siravo was on the West coast, Winter-
halter and Sinatra had asked Sid Cooper (lead
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52 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

alto player and a gifted writer) to rescore both It an impromptu riff on the melody, as bassist Her-
All Depends on You and Bye Bye Baby. Oliver man Trigger Alpert, drummer Snyder, and gui-
is present to execute any last-minute orchestral tarist Al Caiola join in. After a few moments,
corrections. Sinatras directions continue. Bass and guitar:
Now, on the actual date, the band has run Trig, can you move in about a foot or so, or you
the chart down, and Sinatra has joined in the sec- can pull the mike out if you wish. And the gui-
ond time for a vocal run-through. With the song taralso move in a little closer. Just a shade
just a bit too long to fit on one side of the standard uh, uh, uhthats enough.
78 rpm disc, the decision is made to cut a raucous After thoughtfully surveying the landscape
tenor sax solo performed at the bridge by sideman of microphones and cables and instrumentalists
Wolfe Tanninbaum. The cut is discussed and ex- he has carefully rearranged, Sinatra has the group
ecuted, and, while Sinatra has already had Win- play again to check the musicality of his thinking.
terhalter make some further adjustments in the After another recorded test, Manie Sacks, Sina-
arrangement, he still senses a deficiency some- tras everpresent aide-de-camp, affirms the
where among the trumpets or trombones. changes that Sinatra has made, enthusiastically
Id like to hear the introduction, with the agreeing, Thats much better.
muted brass, he instructs the conductor. The A couple of master takes later, after Sinatra
musicians comply, and the brief section is played has given his seal of approval to It All Depends
for his approval. After hearing the passage, Sina- on You, the ensemble moves on to the next tune,
tra carefully instructs both the musicians and the Bye Bye Baby, written by Leo Robin and Sina-
engineers: Id like to get that as tight as we can. tra sidekick Jule Styne for a show called Gentle-
Trombones: you may have to turn around and men Prefer Blondes. His friendship with Styne has
face the microphone or something. Id like to given Sinatra an edge: the show isnt scheduled
hear the six of you, as a unit, he says. The engi- to open until December, and he has scooped
neer brings down a microphone with two sides, everyone by being the first to record any of the
to help capture the precise tonal quality that Sina- songs from the score. (Within a week of this July
tra desires. The section played through again, the 10 session, Sinatra would record another song
singer continues. Just once more, Hugo, and from the show, Just a Kiss Apart, in New York.
would you use less volume in the reeds, with the Dissatisfied with the results, he re-recorded the
clarinet lead? And would you play it lightly, trum- song in Hollywood on July 21. Both Bye Bye
pets and trombones, if you dont mind? I mean Baby and Just a Kiss Apart were released on
softly, he emphasizes. the same 78 rpm single).
The trombone problem rectified, Sinatra, For Bye Bye Baby, Sinatra will be accom-
now in the booth, turns his attention to the panied by both the band and the Pastels, a lilting
rhythm section. He inquires of drummer Terry four-member vocal combo consisting of David
Snyder: You got enough pad on the bass drum? Vogel, Jerry Packer, Naomi Sunshine, and Lil-
It booms a little bit. Then, without the slightest lian Clark, wife of arranger Sy Oliver. I remem-
hesitation, he turns to the studio prop men. ber that date very specifically, because the studio
Would you put in a small piece of carpet, was dark, remembers Vogel. Usually the 30th
enough to cover the entire bottom of the drum? Street studio was brightly lit; this time, it was very
Satisfied, he addresses the pianist. Say, Johnny dark, except for the small corner where we were
Guarneri, would you play something, a figure or working.
something, and have the rhythm fall in? Wed Sinatra again steers the proceedings as he
like to get a small balance on it. Guarneri begins coaches and advises the members of the support-
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 53

ing vocal group. As this portion of the session be- mutes, and stick them in nice and tight? Sur-
gins, Sinatra and the group have just completed veying the three brass players, he encourages
a couple of quick rehearsals of the song, whose them as one might a championship ballplayer as
tempo producer Sacks has deemed a bit too slow. he leaves the box to pitch a crucial inning. Put
Amid the shuffling of chairs and music stands and em in good and tight, huh? Then, as if wanting
the thumping of microphones being moved as to be triply sure that everyone is on the same
the studio is rearranged to accommodate the vo- page, he quietly asks, There are cup mutes in the
cal ensemble, the singer is heard explaining the brass for the whole first chorus, right? This is
finer points of the songs intent and his views on confirmed as fact.
its interpretation to the vocalists. From my own Guitarist Al Caiola begins to tune up, gently
standpoint, as far as the vocal is concerned, we strumming away off-mike, and Sinatra calls for a
havent found the thing that we started to get test. Lets try it once, just to hear it. A dropped
when we first got on this thing a minute ago. Its mute clangs to the resilient hardwood floor. Sina-
an old-fashioned song, its from a show. . . . Its a tra, quietly addressing the trumpet player, sug-
new show thats going to open, and its a song gests a method for holding the mute tight in the
about a dame whos going to Paris. And its 1920, bell of the horn. Manie Sacks, out of the control
and its a real old-fashioned kind of song, and all booth and on the floor of the studio, calls out,
it should be is just a . . . [snaps his fingers to set Well start right at A, Frank, all right? This is
the tempo] . . . kind of song. conductor Winterhalters cue, and he calls the
band to attention, issuing the official directive.
Here we go, letter A. The bass, piano, and
brass begin, and Sinatra, off-mike, sings the first
few words.

Bye bye baby . . .

Coming closer to the microphone, he picks

up the vocal line with:

. . . remember youre my baby . . .

As he utters the phrase, you can almost hear

him chuckle, as one of the backup singers, near
an open mike, mockingly generates a double lip
smack, mimicking a kiss. Sinatra continues, per-
petuating and encouraging the relaxed, humor-
ous atmosphere by coyly changing the words of
the song:

As the musicians chatter away and settle into . . . when they give you the eye.
their positions, Sinatra polls the brass section. Although I know that you care,
What kind of mutes do we want to use here? Wont you write and declare.
Pondering his own question, he makes an im- That though youre on the loose,
mediate suggestion. You want to try your cup You are still such a square!
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54 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Naomi Sunshine, breaking into laughter, please, he asks, making an impromptu a cap-
muses over Sinatras funny interpretation. Sina- pella vocal pickup:
tra, obviously enjoying the response, continues.
Sacks, now back up in the control room, breaks . . . know that Ill be smiling . . .
in over the studio talk-back mike. Save it! he
says. Sunshine merrily chides Sinatra. Dont Between lines, he calls out, Letter D,
stop now. There is some dialogue between Sina- prompting the rhythm section, vocal group and
tra and Sacks; then the take begins. then full band to join in:
Sinatra is loose, maintaining the medium
tempo he set a few minutes before. About a Sinatra: With . . . [finds key] . . . with my
minute into the take, Sacks voice booms forth baby by and by . . .
from the booth. Hold it, Frankour fault. Sina- Pastels: Bye bye baby, so long . . .
tra, without missing a beat, quips, About time Sinatra: Bye bye baby . . .
you blew one!obviously still playing to the Pastels: Just you remember that youre my
giddy girl singer (Sunshine). baby, when . . .
Another attempt commences, and this time
proceeds to a little over a minute and a half, when After this measure or two, as the group holds
it is aborted, this time at Sinatras request. over on the word when, Sinatra again halts the
Hold it. proceedings. Hold it a second. You know what I
think is another thing that will help us, Manie?
If we can get back just a little bit more toward the
first tempo we were doing that you said was a lit-
tle slow . . . I think were getting a little fast. The
subsequent discussion, more light banter than
anything, typifies the good-natured ribbing that
set the tone for many of Sinatras recording ses-

Sacks: All right, lets try that. We saved

about seven seconds.
Sinatra: Whats it run now?
Sacks: 2:40. And the last time it was 2:40.
Sinatra: What the hell are we worried
about? You put this on a long playing
record and you wont see it! [Elicits
laughs from the assembled cast] True?
Sacks: Youre liable to hear it, though!
Sinatra: [Sarcastically] Hey, theres a
funny joke!
Addressing the vocal group, he instructs
them. When you sing that thing, its not relaxed There are the requisite laughs, and Sacks
enough . . . youre anticipating it a little bit. In let- calls the studio to order. Quiet! Stand by, quiet
ter E, the entrance. It should be a little more please. Hold ithere we go boys. This take is
lazy; hold back on it, I think. Lets try that once, complete, and the producer is pleased. Won-
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 55

derful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Everything was

wonderful on that, he exclaims. One of the girls,
jocularly singing the words to the chorus, com-
pliments Sinatra on his adjustment of the origi-
nal tempo. Did I make it, kid, huh? he asks
brightly. Thats sensational! Sacks proclaims.
Sinatra, zeroing in on the minutest details,
feels that improvements can be made, and sets
out to sharpen both the vocal and instrumental
ending, and a musical discussion between Win-
terhalter, Oliver, and some musicians ensues.
Then came more failed attempts, each one
coming closer to the mark. The group is clearly
enjoying themselves, and the merriment contin-
ues during a short pause in recording.

Sinatra: Id like a sip of tea.

Sunshine: Id like a puff!
ble of the word gloomy. Round the mouth, so it
The other singers laugh. Sinatra responds;
sounds like a whale, he recommends.
Sinatra: Well, come with me. Youre all Sacks now wants to hear the very ending with
under arrest! the group. At the rubato, where the solo is?
Sacks: Hugo, can we hear it starting from Sinatra asks. The ending is repeated, and Sacks,
D? Get on the mikes, will you, kids? somewhat perplexed, states, Something hap-
Sinatra: (Jokingly) Just a second, hold it. pens there! Sure, weve got five people singing
Dont rush me with the tea! Ill pull a and an orchestra!, Sinatra shoots back. But
strike on yaI got four singers with me! somethings wrong with the orchestra . . . some-
Sacks: No, I dont want to hear you, I things being left out, Sacks insists.
wanna hear the group. One of the musicians tells Sacks what the
Sinatra: Thanks a lot! problem is. We didnt play it that timewe
played it down an octave. Were saving it for air
As the piano, bass, and guitar noodle, the time! he quips. I want Sy to hear it, Sacks
girls begin an impromptu vocal, their style far replies, summoning Oliver into the studio. For
more jazz oriented than the arrangement calls the umpteenth time, the ending is played, and
for. There is more discussion, and Sinatra and the this time, everything is perfect. That was all
rhythm section fall in. right. As soon as Sy comes in, its all right! he
The entire aggregation picks up the song, muses. More laughter in the studio.
and when they break, Sinatra hones in on the sec- Then, some final directions from the pro-
tion where the group sings the phrase Ill be ducer. Listen kids, when you get to the end
gloomy. there, be sure to move in closer, will you please?
Dont suppress tonal quality or enuncia- he requests. Bugs worked out, the master takes
tion, he suggests. Just keep it soft, but firm when are finally set to begin, and Sacks pounds the
you sing it. Ill be gloomy . . . , he sings, soft- gavel. All right, stand by . . . lets try it. Stand by
ening the sound of the letters G and L first sylla- . . . quiet, please.
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56 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

After the completed performance, Sinatra is-

sues his assessment.

Sinatra: I dont see anybody going out and

getting drunk about that one!
Palitz: Its all right, the group was all right
on the end, I thought.
Sacks: Lets try another. [Addressing Terry
Snyder] Drums, were too heavy at the
end, my boy.

Sinatra calls for a playback. May we hear

that, please? Relieved that the finest points of
the musical interpretation have been resolved,
the artists now set out to polish up individual per-
formances. While it might seem as though the
group spent an inordinate amount of time on the
details, their efforts have paid off. Excellence
Recording with Rosemary Clooney, 1950.
comes quickly, and within a few minutes, a cou-
ple of takes of the song are made and approved.
For Frank and company, this scenario has
been played out session after session, decade af- derstanding. I was so anxious to do well, and was
ter decade. The changes that Sinatra the singer just concentrating so much on what I had to do
insists on, and the perfection he seeks, all make that I didnt even observe anything else, not even
sense in the final analysis. He didnt need to make him!
heavy-handed demands in the recording studio: Perhaps pianist Stan Freeman, commenting
he had the admiration and cooperation of those on Sinatras professional studio demeanor, said
involved long before the session even began. His it best. I only remember him being very aware
direction of technicians and musicians and other of what he wanted, and getting it! If he thought
vocalists is not that of an autocrat: rather, it is the a flute or oboe part should be left out of one sec-
patient, understanding nurturing of an artist who tion, he would say so. He didnt have to take
sees the overall picture, one who is not affected charge, but nominally he was in chargeand
by the insecurity that is so common in others of everybody knew that. He was always very pleas-
his stature. ant, never any tantrums or anything.
Rosemary Clooney, who made three single Freemans assessment dispels the myth per-
recordings with Sinatra in the late Columbia pe- petuated by a number of biographies, which have
riod (and later worked with him on television and reported that the Sinatra of the late Columbia pe-
at Reprise Records), was impressed by his warm riod (19511952) was so bitter and so difficult to
treatment of her both before and during the ses- deal with that engineers at his sessions tampered
sions. The two rehearsed at the Hampshire House with the controls in the studio in order to dam-
(near Central Park), where Sinatra and Manie age the sound, thereby discrediting him. From
Sacks maintained separate apartments. Frank my research, this appears to be absolutely untrue.
was very giving, Clooney says. He was very un- First, the engineers at Columbia were profes-
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 57

sionals, and would not have jeopardized the high artist, the labels research-and-development team
esteem in which they were held by many artists was on the cutting edge of technology.Columbias
other than Sinatra. Second, there is no aural ev- innovations, in concert with the technical ad-
idence to support this assertion: all of the vocal- vances brought to the table by other sources, her-
ists Columbia recordings are of uniformly high alded the dawn of the golden age of high fidelity.
quality, proved by the proliferation of fine digital Within a two-year span, three separate
restorations made from the master session discs recording advances that would revolutionize the
and tapes. music industry arrived on the scene: tracking
Additionally, working as project director/co- (overdubbing), the invention of the vinyl long-
producer of the Columbia Records Sinatra CD playing (LP) record, and the adoption of mag-
reissues, Ive listened carefully to all of the origi- netic recording tape for preserving recordings.
nal recording session discs and tapes in the Co- Each played an important role in Frank Sinatras
lumbia Records vault, and can verify that session development as a modern recording artist and
dialog and take-to-take recordings indicate that completely changed the way we hear his music.
for all of his impending problems, Sinatra never
wavered from the professional standards he had
set for himself and his colleagues years before.
(One engineer who worked with Sinatra ten years SOUND ON SOUND
after his fallow period felt that at that time, Sina-
tra could be hard on the engineers. There is no Although it took years to catch on in the main-
evidence of this occurring during the Columbia stream commercial record industry, overdubbing
era, though). was not a new idea in the late 1940s. The process
had been used as early as the 1930s, when the
soundtracks of Hollywood musicals were rou-
tinely overdubbed, with great success. In 1941
jazz great Sidney Bechet made the most ambi-
tiously overdubbed recording to date, entering
Victors New York studio to create a disc on which
he played six instruments: tenor sax, soprano sax,
T R I P L E T H R E AT : T H E clarinet, bass, drums, and piano. Problems arose,
however, with each successive overdub, and clar-
CUTTING EDGE OF ity was lost with each new layer of sound.
T E C H N O LO GY It was Les Paul, the brilliant artist/inven-
tor/engineer, who perfected the technique, using
it to produce a dazzling new sound for his own
guitar recordings, which were made in his home
garage studio. Paul, a guitarist who tinkered with

M any turns in Sinatras long career

seem to coincide with important tech-
nical developments, and those of the
late 1940s and early 1950s probably had the most
profound effect on the singer and the direction
the technical aspects of recording to devise the
most profound revolutions the music industry has
ever seen, was the first major pop artist of the
high fidelity era to take an active role in creat-
ing, producing, and engineering his own record-
his work would take. As Sinatra began his descent ings. His insatiable desire to invent ways to
from his position as Columbias premiere vocal successfully record the progressive musical ideas
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58 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

he dreamed up ended in preserving the thoughts in the mid-forties. And the number of overdubs
of an entire generation of artists who based their he was gettingimpossible! Considering the fact
work on the new sonic palette they had at their that he had no formal education as an engineer,
disposal: The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and his knowledge was absolutely amazing.
Simon and Garfunkel among them. As Mary Al- Since overdubbing was achieved by copying
ice Shaughnessy points out in her superb biog- one disc to another, the problem of dealing with
raphy of the legend, Generally speaking, the deteriorating quality from copy to copy was
performing artists and audio engineers are two formidable. As Putnam mentions, Les Pauls over-
distinct species. Musicians often lack the vocab- dubs were sparklingly clear: of such high quality
ulary to successfully convey their needs to tech- that they perplexed fellow engineers. Paul was
nicians, and vice versa. But Les, fluent in both able to produce a high quality overdub because
languages, managed to meld the two disciplines. he conducted endless experiments in his studio
Engineer Bill Putnam (who would later play (ruining some five hundred discs before deem-
a major role in Sinatras life) told Shaughnessy, ing one suitable for demonstration), and devised
Les lived and thrived on the gratification of ways to compress the frequencies recorded and
achieving things that were beyond the current filter out extraneous noise.
state of the art. Nobody was producing the qual- The real secret of his success, though, was
ity of multigenerational disks he was producing the sequence in which he recorded each instru-
ment. His theory was that secondary instruments
should be recorded first, so that if they lose some-
thing in subsequent copying, this will be far less
noticeable than if the clarity or brilliance of a
principal instruments sound were degraded.
The guitarist/engineer would begin by
recording drums first, then rhythm guitar, lead
guitar, bass, and so on until the last thing
recorded was the most important, up-front in-
strument on the record. The drums and other
rhythm instruments are supposed to be in the
background, he once explained. But the bass
player, hes the one who helps set your tempo, so
you better have him right up front. And that lead
guitar better shine . . . he better be brand new.
Pauls method set the standard for multitrack
recordings right up into the late analog tape era.
Pauls initial recordings employing the tech-
nique are Lover, on which he overdubbed eight
guitar parts, and Brazil, issued as one Capitol
78 rpm single in February 1948. The record,
hailed as an outstanding achievement, pioneered
Musician-engineer Les Paul at the controls in his home studio,
1940s. The drive mechanism of the turntable was fashioned from
a new sound for the guitarist, and in short order,
the flywheel of a Cadillac. revolutionized the way sound was recorded.
For vocal/orchestral recordings, Columbia
was among the first companies to successfully at-
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 59

tempt tracking, or adding a vocal track to a pre- the arm as a third engineer brought up the vol-
viously recorded instrumental, to create a com- ume on the disc that contained the section that
posite master. The overdubbing process allowed we wanted to insert. It was a crazy operation! It
for greater flexibility when two elements (vocal worked only if you had takes that had the exact
plus instrumental, for example) needed to be same beats, which was usually the case.
combined for a final recording. The overdubs Extremely rare for the time, the earliest Sina-
were accomplished by recording the orchestra on tra overdubs were done in March 1948, the singer
Disc A. Later, the vocalist would come to the stu- simply dubbing vocals to orchestra tracks
dio, and while the engineer played Disc A (the recorded the previous December (It Only Hap-
instrumental track) through the studio loud- pens When I Dance with You and A Fella with
speakers, the vocalist sang along. In the record- an Umbrella). The decision to use this tech-
ing booth, the engineers mixed the feed from the nique on this first date, as well as on another in
vocalists microphone with the feed from the in- December 1948, in which the orchestra was
strumental track on Disc A, and the combined recorded in New York and the vocal in Holly-
signal was fed to a second cutting turntable, wood (Once in Love with Amy), was probably
which made the mixed master: Disc B. (Later, made because of scheduling problems.
when magnetic tape supplanted lacquer discs,
overdubbing was made easier, and facilitated Les
Pauls invention of a special multi-track record-
ing head that could record sound-on-sound). THE BIRTH OF THE
Producer Arthur Shimkin, who directed
many recording sessions at both Columbias stu- LP RECORD
dios and at Bob Fines Manhattan studio, recalls
an elaborate process in which several turntables Then, in 1948, Columbia Records introduced a
were used to play two or more takes of a song si- new playing medium: the light weight, vinyl
multaneously. Using the volume controls on the Long Playing (LP) record.
mixer, the engineers could selectively control Whereas previous platters were made of a
which take was being fed to the master cutter, fragile shellac compound (a comparatively rough
thereby editing the original lacquer disc record- surface), and spun at a dizzying seventy-eight rev-
ingsa tedious and painstaking process. olutions per minute (allowing a typical ten-inch
Wed have four turntables set up in the con- disc to contain little more than three-and-a-half
trol room, he recalls. They were set up in two minutes or so of program material), the new LPs
rows, with two turntables per row. One turntable were 10-inch discs with a smoother, quieter plas-
would be recording the edited master; the other tic surface called Vinylite, traveling at a much
three would be playing back different takes of a slower 3313 rpm. In addition to the vastly im-
song, which we wanted to extract only certain proved sound quality, the new discs also allowed
portions of. Wed start recording on the master for far greater playing time. Within a very short
turntable, and began playing back the two or time, the ten-inch disc (the standard of the pop
three different takes of the song, all on separate music industry from 1949 to 1954) gave way to a
turntables. When it came to the point that we twelve-inch platter (initially popular for classical
wanted to stop one take and insert a piece from releases), which offered at least twenty minutes
another (which was running on the second and of playing time per side.
third turntables), one engineer would tap the guy Attempts to extend the playing time of sound
in front of him on the shoulder, and hed pick up recordings had been made early in the game, as
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60 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

companies strove to increase the approximately bia Records in 1948 for what would become the
two-minute playing time of a typical commercial modern LP record.
cylinder or disc. Between 1894 and 1904, a vari- Both George Avakian and Howard Scott
ety of companies including International Zono- (then assistant to Columbia executive Goddard
phone, Pathe, and Victor made unsuccessful Lieberson) are familiar with the development of
attempts to vary both the size and speed of their the modern LP. According to Avakian, it was Ted
cylinders and discs. Wallerstein (formerly of Brunswick and RCA)
In 1912, Marathon Records produced some who pushed for the development of a workable
discs that could play as long as sixteen and a half LP. Familiar with the experimentation at
minutes; World Records achieved over twenty Brunswick in the twenties, Wallerstein believed
minutes. In 1925, Brunswick announced that they in the concept of a long playing record, and
had developed an electrically recorded 12-inch thought it entirely possible that one day, it would
disc containing 500 grooves per inch that could be achieved.
store forty minutes of music: twenty minutes per
side. Both Edison (1926) and Victor (1931) failed
with similar products. In addition to technical
problems, the buying public just wasnt inter-
ested in purchasing the new equipment needed
to play the discs.
Much of the technology developed by Vita-
phone Corporation, a joint partnership between
Warner Brothers and Western Electric, was later
adopted for use in sound recording studios. Vi-
taphones most famous film, 1927s The Jazz
Singer, starring Al Jolson, is considered the most
important of the first talking motion pictures,
and the Vitaphone system utilized 16-inch discs,
recorded at 3313 rpm, to provide the sound-
track. While better systems for film recording
supplanted it within a short time, the Vitaphone
process became the basis for the 16-inch lacquer
disc process that dominated the radio and record-
Rene Snepvangers (left) and Howard Chinn at the CBS Research
ing industry throughout the 1940s and very early Laboratories, circa 1948.
By 1932, Columbia was manufacturing 12-
inch discs, rotating at 3313 rpm, for intermission
music played in motion picture theaters. The du- Columbias long playing record worked be-
ration of a single side of such a disc was twenty cause it was what we called microgroove, which
minutes. The speed proved to be well suited to was developed at the CBS lab by Rene Snep-
adding sound to motion pictures: a 12-inch disc vangers and Howard Chinn, who worked for Pe-
revolving at 3313 rpm could contain just enough ter Goldmark, the Vice President of CBS
sound to cover one reel of film, and the sound Research Laboratories. The LP was something
quality was quite good. This disc size and speed they were trying to develop at CBS Labs, simul-
was ultimately employed by Bill Paleys Colum- taneously with color television, Scott recalls.
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 61

pers, remembers Scott. Bill Savory cut the ac-

tual LP masters, using a Westrex cutter and a
heated stylus that Bill Bachman had developed.
The heated stylus cut the grooves a lot smoother
than an unheated stylus, and resulted in less
noise. Bill also innovated many other things, such
as the variable pitch method, that served to im-
prove the cutting of LPs.
To take advantage of the new medium and
exploit their vast back catalogs, most companies,
including RCA Victor, Decca, and Capitol, sim-
ply transferred copies of their 78 rpm masters to
the new LP discs. And, while they may have
joined together the individual pieces of a
Beethoven symphony that had been previously
issued as a cumbersome six-record 12-inch 78 rpm
set, the new discs retained all of the scratch and
rumble of the originals.
Columbia, predicting the development of a
workable LP, had begun to stockpile clean, well-
recorded lacquer masters (recorded at 3313) as
early as 1943. When it came time to reissue their
A priceless reflection: Dr. Peter Goldmark inspects a newly minted LP
stamper as Bill Bachman, the engineer who perfected the LP process,
catalog on the early LPs, Columbia did not trans-
looks on. fer the recordings from standard 78 pressings or
the metal stampers used to create them: it made
new, pristine masters from the high-quality safety
lacquers it had recorded and stored years before.
Goldmark, along with Snepvangers and But the transfer process did not come without dif-
Chinn, continued to toil at making a long-play ficulty, remembers Howard Scott. Bill Bachman
record that contained 200 lines per inch (LPI). went down to see Goddard, who headed the Mas-
When they were unsuccessful, Wallerstein terworks [classical] department, and said he
moved the research from CBS Labs to Colum- needed someone who could read a musical score
bia Records, and in 1947 hired William S. Bach- to come up and work with his engineers. So
man, a research engineer at General Electric, Lieberson sent me up to engineering with Bach-
to head the project. Bachman became the Di- man, but at my request I was still on Goddards
rector of the Columbia Records Sound Labora- payroll so that he could keep an eye on what was
tories in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and with his going on.
expert guidance, a disc that held between 250 and CBS had sent over these three huge turnta-
400 grooves per inch was created. The new disc bles that were operated by photoelectric cells.
was made of a plastic compound, making it The turntables were supposed to synchronize
smoother, quieter, and far lighter than a standard with timers. If a side of a 78 rpm record was four
shellac disc. minutes and twelve seconds, then the second
Jim Hunter devised a way to get the vinyl to turntable was supposed to start after four minutes
flow evenly in a press and not stick to the stam- and twelve seconds and carry on with the second
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62 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

side of the record. It never worked because they When we were getting ready to move to Seventh
were belt drive turntables, and belt-driven ma- Avenue, we were pondering the type of recording
chines never ran the same way twice: there could equipment to use, he said. Thinking ahead to
be anywhere from a one-half to two second dif- the longer record, I insisted that our setup be built
ference. When I got up to engineering, everyone so that everything recorded was done at 3313 rpm,
was stuck. They had worked for six years or so on 16-inch blanks. This gave Columbia a tremen-
with little success, and now Bachman and his dous advantage over its competitors. When the
team still hadnt solved the problem of how to LP finally appeared, Columbia had masters of
synchronize the original 78 rpm sides so they good quality going back almost ten years.
could be transferred continuously on to a long- Wallerstein also demanded that two lacquer
playing master. We needed a simple solution, and discs be cut for every session: one for the current
thats exactly what Paul Gordon [a Columbia en- 78 rpm disc mastering, and one for the future
gineer] and I came up with. long-play archive. These backup safety masters,
We took a turntable and made a clock on which existed for virtually all recordings to that
the platter itself. Then, we put a red arrow in the point, aided the team in bringing the finest pos-
middle of the 16-inch lacquers. You knew where sible sound quality to the new LP masters.
the sides began and ended because you could see Ted Wallerstein was very, very bright and he
them, so I would take the score and mark it where insisted [that] engineering cut double of every-
the one side ended and the next side began. thing: they had A and B sets of lacquers, and
Sometimes the sides overlapped: they would of- we used the Bs, which were essentially virgin
ten repeat a chord and at times two chords, which copies, Scott remembers. (Multiple session lac-
made it tricky. But it wasnt as difficult as it quers for many of Sinatras Columbia sessions
sounds, once you got the hang of it. still exist, and are what help us restore his vintage
Scott details the elaborate method by which recordings in the best possible sound today). On
they accomplished the feat. If it was three turns June 20, 1948, Columbia Records announced the
of a blank audio to the first note on the next side, new format at a demonstration in New Yorks
I would find a splice point at the end of a side and Waldorf Astoria hotel. By this time, the techni-
mark the score accordingly. Then I would signal cal team had increased the playing time from 17
Paul, who had the needle ready to put down in to 22 minutes per side. I addressed the fifty-odd
the groove exactly three turns (measured by the representatives of the press, Wallerstein recalled.
clock markings) before the slice point with the On one side of me was a stack of conventional
turntable running, and he would let it go. The 78 rpm records measuring about eight feet in
only thing you had to take into account was the height, and another stack about fifteen inches
very slight human error factor of my snap to his high of the same recordings on LP. After a short
letting go, yet it worked every time. We could speech, I played one of the 78 rpm records for its
even eliminate the overlapped chords! The prob- full length of about four minutes, when it broke
lems we had were somewhat troublesome: con- as usual right in the middle of a movement. Then
ductors had a tendency to slow down when they I took the corresponding LP and played it right
came to the end of a side, or speed up at the be- past that break. The reception was terrific! The
ginning of the next side. It was hard to adjust for critics were convinced that a new era had come
these changes in tempo that occurred at the orig- to the record business.
inal sessions. Other than those involved in perfecting the
In 1976, Wallerstein discussed the subject product, only one person knew of the impend-
with Ward Botsford of High Fidelity magazine. ing announcement: RCAs David Sarnoff, and he
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 63

was not pleased. Paley had invited him to a could now enjoy more uninterrupted musical
demonstration three weeks before, said Scott. programming and it sounded better because the
They had plenty of time to move quickly and coarse shellac surface of the comparatively crude
start doing their own transfers, but they didnt. 78s had been eliminated. The recording labels,
When Sarnoff heard the demonstration, he was looking to boost sales and regenerate interest in
furious and chewed out his entire staff, in front records, began to reissue the performances in
of Paley and Wallerstein. He left in a huff, and of their back catalogs, now enhanced for the new
course it was two years before RCA would admit format.
to defeat, and begin making 3313 rpm LPs. George Avakian, long considered a pioneer
Sarnoffs reaction was predictable: since in the field of 78 rpm jazz album set reissues,
RCA had developed one of the first LPs, it was a elaborates on the marketing of the new LP. It was
serious blow to the companys pride that their the summer of 1947, and we didnt have anybody
main competitor had perfected it, and Sarnoff specifically in charge of popular albums at the
forbade RCA to adopt the new format for its own time, because that it was essentially a singles
recordings. As a rejoinder, RCA quickly devel- [78 rpm] market and the demand for pop albums
oped and marketed a smaller microgroove disc was quite small. Ted Wallerstein told me that he
which revolved at 45 rpm touching off a fierce wanted to create a pop album department, and
battle in which three different formats and speeds that I was to run it. He asked me to start thinking
(78, 45, and 3313) vied for position. In the end, in terms of more albums but he didnt tell me
the LP won out as the primary format for long why, Avakian says.
programming, and the 45 rpm eventually re- In the fall, Wallerstein came into my office
placed the 78 as the preferred choice for shorter again, and shut the door. He said, Now, Ive got
pop singles, forcing RCA to bend and begin pro- to tell you something about these albums. Were
ducing LPs in 1950. hoping to have a long-playing record very soon.
Wallerstein was once quoted as saying that He very emphatically said, You cant tell any-
he figured that RCA lost 3 million dollars the first onenot even your wife. After outlining the
year they pushed 45s over LPs, Scott says. RCA plan, Wallerstein told me that if it succeeded, Id
set out to damage the LP as much as possible. In be busier than ever, and that I should continue
1962, when I was at RCA, someone finally told to put together pop albums, and also start look-
me where 45 rpm came from. They apparently ing at the pop singles catalog to see what eight-
took 78 and subtracted 33, which left them with song packages could be assembled from it, should
45, which they went with out of spite. this long-playing record became a reality.
One week after the public announcement, Avakians first series of ten-inch pop LPs were
on June 28th, they introduced the LP to the en- released in the summer of 1948. By July 1, we had
tire Columbia distributor and dealer group in At- one hundred titles out, he recalls. I purposely
lantic City. Paul Southard, the vice president of made Columbias very first pop LP (#6001) a
sales, gave a speech during which an LP, Frank Sinatra disc, because he was the best sell-
Tchaikovskys Nutcracker Suite, was played. ing and most important pop artist we had at that
Everyone could see the demonstration through time. Avakians choice was a reissue of Sinatras
a mirror, and at the end of the 22-minute side, the classic 78 album set from 1945, The Voice of Frank
crowd roared! It was a very exciting time at Co- Sinatra, which hit the market as a 10-inch LP on
lumbia. June 28, 1948. Making pop LPs was much easier
The new long-play format was a boon to con- than making the classical reissues, as Howard
sumers and record companies alike. Music lovers Scott had to do, because I didnt have to worry
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64 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

about synchronization, he says. All I had to do writing union (ASCAP) insisted on maintaining
was select eight songs that made sense when put the union-enforced tradition of live radio broad-
together, and they could be assembled quite eas- casts. Rumors about the reasons why Crosby
ily. Howard had to blend all the classical sides to- wished to prerecord have abounded for decades,
gether in a very exacting way. many revolving around his desire to have more
free time to play golf. While prerecording would
afford him a more flexible schedule, in reality,
Crosby simply wanted greater control over the
T H E M AG I C O F TA P E timing and quality of his program.
While NBC would not relent, ABC was will-
Crossing paths with the new LP technology was ing to accommodate Crosbys desire to prerecord
an ingenious method of storing sound for play- his program, and upped the ante by offering him
back and distribution. Beginning as early as 1948, a staggering $30,000 per week budget (including
new sessions at some of the labels were being his salary of $7,500) to produce one radio pro-
recorded not on lacquer disc, but on magnetic gram, to be sponsored by Philco. To sweeten the
recording tape, a medium that had been tinkered deal, Crosby also negotiated to receive an extra
with experimentally since the mid-1930s. The $40,000 from several hundred independent ra-
musician responsible for bringing tape into the dio stations, in return for the rights to broadcast
studios was Sinatras friend, crooner Bing Crosby, the show, which would be provided on 16-inch
an early financial backer of the new technology. lacquer discs. To top things off, the singers own
By 1940, Crosbys annual income was esti- production company, Bing Crosby Enterprises,
mated at nearly $750,000, the bulk of which produced the show, enabling him a broad mea-
came from his appearance fees in motion pic- sure of control over content, guests, creative pre-
tures, on radio and records, and from some very sentation, and other technical details, including
lucrative investments in music publishing, race- what format the program would be preserved on.
tracks, and real estate. Although his NBC Kraft
Music Hall show was top-rated, by 1946 the singer
wished to stop performing it live, and began to in-
vestigate the possibility of recording it on 16-inch
lacquer transcription discs, the standard practice
for preserving radio programs for time-delay.
While the standard lacquer discs preserved the
music with excellent fidelity, the difficulties in-
volved with editing (disc-to-disc rerecording)
were a concern, particularly for radio program-
ming, and the discs themselves were fragile.
While lacquer disc mastering was well suited for
the controlled environment of the recording stu-
dio, it was fast becoming clear that for radio, a
more rugged, reliable recording and playback
method was needed. CO U RT E SY A M P E X CO R P O R AT IO N

When Crosby talked with network officials Jack Mullin (right) demonstrates a new tape machine for Ampex
about the possibility of prerecording, he met with executive Alexander Poniatoff.
resistance. Both the network (NBC) and song-
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 65

In mid-1947, Alexander Poniatoff, head of the off-color, but things were different in radio then.
Ampex Corporation, saw a demonstration of the They got enormous laughs, which just went on
1935 German Magnetophone, brought back and on! We couldnt use the jokes, but Bill asked
from Radio Frankfurt by recording engineer Jack us to save the laughs. A couple of weeks later, he
Mullin. The machine, built by BASF and AEG, had a show that wasnt very funny, and he insisted
utilized a 1/2-inch ribbon of plastic tape, coated that we put in the salvaged laughs. Thus, the
with iron oxide, wound onto large reels, as its laugh track was born.
recording medium. Each reel enabled a recordist A savvy investor, Crosby put money into Am-
to preserve twenty minutes of uninterrupted, pex Corporation, encouraging them to produce
high quality sound. Mullin, quickly sizing up the more machines. In 1948, the second season of
amazing potential of this great machine, also Crosbys Philco Hour was taped with the new Am-
carted fifty bulky reels of tape back from overseas. pex Model 200 tape machine that had debuted
Upon witnessing the capabilities of the prototype, in April; the magnetic tape was the newly for-
and convinced that the recorder could become mulated Scotch 111 from the Minnesota Mining
an integral part of radio and studio recording, and Manufacturing Company (3M), featuring an
Poniatoff immediately set his research and de- improved acetate base.
velopment engineers to work on building an im- Crosby used every opportunity to promote
proved version of the German recorder. the new machines, and in his 1950 film Mr.
A year later, in June 1947, Murdo MacKen- Music, he is seen warbling into one of the new
zie, one of Bings associates at Bing Crosby En-
terprises, also saw Mullins demonstration, and
by August, Crosby had hired Mullin and his ma-
chine to begin using tape to record his radio pro-
gram. For Crosby, the ease with which the
recordings could be edited was of primary im-
portance. By using tape, the singer could record
extra material, then edit the program to fit the
precise time constraints. In that way, we could
take out jokes or gags, or situations that didnt
play well, and finish with only the prime meat
of the showthe solid stuff that played big. We
could also take out songs that didnt sound good.
It gave us a chance to try a recording of the songs
in the afternoon, without an audience, and then
another one in front of the studio audience. Wed
dub the one that came off best into the final pro-
gram, Crosby said in his autobiography.
In 1976, Mullin reminisced about some of
the traditional radio and TV techniques that
stemmed from these experiments with the new
Singer Bing Crosby, a financial backer of early tape technology,
tape recorders. One time, Bob Burns, the hill- encouraged friends in the industry to embrace the new medium.
billy comic, was on the show, and he threw in a Here he poses with a portable Ampex machine, early 1950s.
few of his folksy farm stories, which were not in
Bill Morrows script. Today they wouldnt seem
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66 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Ampex recorders. He also encouraged his col- the 10-inch Columbia concept LP Sing and
leagues to utilize the emerging technology. Dance with Frank Sinatra, an album that was
The ease of editing the magnetic tape conceived and recorded solely with the new Long
(which was accomplished by physically cutting Play technology.
out the unwanted portion with a razor blade, and Where the earlier Columbia 78 album sets
then splicing the remaining sections of record- contained tunes with a common theme, they usu-
ing tape together) was just one of its merits. Mag- ally contained selections recorded over a period
netic tape preserves sound by sending an of several years. With the exception of one tune,
electromagnetic current through a recording each song on this album was waxed specifically
head, over which the tape passes. As it runs over for it. Far more important than its obscurity might
the head, the current passing through the head lead one to believe, the Sing and Dance album
arranges the microscopic magnetic particles im- was the first major Sinatra recording to use over-
pregnated on the tape in certain patterns. Unless dubbing, which was easily facilitated by the new,
another magnetic field disturbs those patterns, high-fidelity recording tape.
they are permanently stored for later playback. Unlike Sinatras 1948 experimentations, the
While disc recording involved a cruder phys- overdubbing for Sing and Dance was not chosen
ical process (the grooves were cut into the lac- to accommodate busy schedules: it was born of
quer, and each successive playback eroded a necessity, because at the time the singer was
minute portion of the sonic information), tape vexed by some exasperating vocal problems.
eliminated the scratches, crackles, and other When we came to do those records, Franks
anomalies that are inherent with the disc record- voice was in terrible shape, recalls Mitch Miller,
ing system. Tape was also more durable and less the producer of the sessions. His voice was very
susceptible to damage than recording session fragile. It was great, but it was fragile. He would
masters made on disc. (Magnetic tape presented be in the booth, and hed sing a beautiful phrase,
its own problems, however, primarily tape hiss and then on the next phrase, his voice would go.
caused by the tape running over the heads.) But you couldnt edit! There were a lot of musi-
Perhaps most important was tapes ability to cians involved, so to save the session, I just shut
translate to a recording a much broader fre- off his microphone, and got good background (or-
quency range, which resulted in sharp, clear chestra) tracks. Didnt even tell him! Then, after
sounding records. By mid-1950, most of the ma- it was over, I got him. I said, When your voice is
jor recording studios had adopted magnetic tape back . . . Wed come in crazy hours, midnight,
as their primary recording method. whateverthe doors were locked so no union
representative could come in. You see, I could
have been kicked out of the Musicians Union be-
cause tracking was not allowed. And that whole
album is tracked!
Not merely a technical milestone, Sing and
S I N AT R A S W I N G S ! Dance with Frank Sinatra survives as a crucial
piece of Sinatras musical puzzle, especially note-
worthy for the cohesiveness of its rhythmic or-
chestrations, provided by the relatively obscure

F or Frank Sinatra, the benefits of these tech-

nical breakthroughs were brought to
fruition in April 1950 with the creation of
arranger George Siravo. Once the idea (whether
the conception of Miller, Sinatra, or both) be-
came firmly planted in the singers musical head,
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 67

the entire Sing and Dance package (conceptu- numbers for those live appearances, the singer
ally, thematically, and musically) provided the may have felt comfortable giving him wider lati-
rock-solid foundation from which Sinatra, in his tude, given his many personal distractions. Sir-
initial work with Nelson Riddle, could spring. As avo also points out that the idea for Sinatra to
his first consciously developed thematic tempo move in different directions and concentrate on
album, these were, in the words of Sinatra histo- snappier material, was not new at all. Frank al-
rian and biographer Will Friedwald, the record- ways had a feeling for finger-snapping things
ings that proved Sinatra really could swing. he loved those things. He had that
Sinatra was time-conscious, says drummer finger-snappin feeling from the first day that I
Johnny Blowers. Working with Frank is like met him, so it
working with a great, swinging horn. Solid wasnt a new, innovative thing. Occasionally, a
takes of It All Depends on You, Should I, guy like Mitch Miller would plant the seed, and
You Do Something to Me, Lover, When sometimes hed listen to them . . . most of the time
Youre Smiling, Its Only a Paper Moon, My he would follow his own intuition.
Blue Heaven, and The Continental placed While Stordahl may not have been adept at
Sinatra smack-dab in the middle of a rhythmic creating rhythm charts, he frequently turned to
arena that he was obviously gravitating toward, orchestrators who had a knack for writing the best
and many of these tunes would work their way in the business, often Siravo or Heinie Beau. I
into his stage repertoire, which at the time was never got the chance to do ballads with Sinatra,
being more or less directed by Siravo. (Sinatra because Ax was his man, remembers Siravo. I
reprised six of the eight songs from this album used to do all the rhythm and jazz things. When
for Sinatras Swingin Session!!!, recorded in Sinatra was doing his radio shows, they did a lot
1960 with Nelson Riddle.) of up-tempo things, and I used to fly from Holly-
George Siravo describes the genesis of the wood to New York. Back and forth, back and forth
seminal recording. I had gained the confidence . . . Christ, I was writing on the plane all the
of Mitch Miller and Percy Faith. They used to time! he said. Id put the sh in my lap, and
send Percy to run the booth, and Id run every- everybody would crowd around and ask, How do
thing else. I just had the librarian and the copy- you write those things? What do they mean?
ist bring in all the musicFrank didnt even pick Youve got nothinnot even a harmonica or a
the tunes. I picked the tunes, I picked the keys, I tuning fork!
wrote the arrangements . . . he didnt even know Although Siravo never became a familiar
what the hell he was going to sing! We made name among the general listening public, he was
trackshe didnt have to know what was going well respected within professional music circles.
on. Most of the time, he was in the studio, live His work on Sinatras Vimms Vitamins radio
with the bandthis was an exception, he noted. show of the early 1940s led to a steadier gig ghost-
This hands-off approach was unusual for ing largely uncredited tempo arrangements for
Sinatra, but is understandable in light of the Stordahl, and eventually, the assignment for the
stresses and preoccupations of his personal life complete, eight-song Sing and Dance LP, for
at the time. Mitch Miller has said that the con- which he was given full credit. Concurrent with
cept for Sing and Dance was his, and that since his work on the 1950 album, Siravo helped plan
Sinatra had been performing some of these songs and orchestrate Sinatras many nightclub perfor-
in his nightclub repertoire, it made sense to in- mances, and his Light-Up Time radio program as
clude them on the album. Since Siravo was in- well. The Sinatra charts, as well as the instru-
volved in assisting him with scoring the tempo mentals he recorded around the same time for a
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68 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

ten-inch Columbia album titled Dance Date the arranger put in there to his benefit. Hed de-
with Siravo, demonstrate his distinctive style, tour: he would postpone singing in there [at that
which sounds much like a blend of a refined so- spot], he would back off. Hed say, F it. I wont
ciety orchestra, dance band, and jazz combo. sing thereIll wait till the riff passes, then Ill do
I learned how to write transparently, and I it. When he sang, he reminded me of what its
have to give a whole bunch of credit for that to like when you go out in the rain, and its just
Ray Heindorf, Siravo explained. Heindorf, the started, and there are only a few drops and you
longtime music director at Warner Brothers stu- can duck between the drops to keep dry. To me,
dios, was also a fellow clarinetist. Ray said to me, Frank was singing between the drops.
Youve got to forget about vertical writingthat First, a great voice alone is not sufficient to
went out with high-button shoes. This was when be a winner. There are other ingredients that
people were still writing vertically, like the Glenn must accompany the great voice, otherwise there
Miller sound. With vertical writing, the notes will never be any success achieved . . . These are
happen upstairs in the melody, and under each the things that are needed to reach the plateau
note, its like a telephone pole. of a winner. First, you need sensitivity, and to
The top of the pole is the melody, the sec- learn how to use the voice to portray an emotion.
ond one under each melodic note is a harmonic Second, you have to have a cultivated ear. If you
note, and thats the way you write. So, you have werent born with one, you have to cultivate an
five reeds, four saxes and a clarinet on top, but ear for singing in tune.
underneath it is four notes that make the har- Then, you need to know what the hell
mony. But Ray told me, Youve got to think hor- youre singing! This is where a lot of singers screw
izontally: left to right. Dont think about chords up: they go to a date, and theyre holding a mi-
any more. Holy sh, what that did to my life! I crophone, yet they still dont know what the hell
started to weave music, like baskets or a rug, or theyre singingtheyre so in love with their
like a three-way conversation where one guy says voice that they dont realize what the words
something, and we all go back and forth. You add mean. Thats where Frank was a genius! He
something . . . you echo . . . you weave something knows lyricshe has a great feeling for lyrics.
in and around what everybody says. Thats the Hes telling a story, but hes doing it musically
way I wrote for stringsfrom left to right, he with his voice. Sinatras the original! He really is,
said. Axel also wrote with great transparency. It because hes got the rare combination of voice
has a beautiful sound. You can see it, too: in other and showmanship . . . everybody copied him
words, if you look at a score, the blacker it looks, even the way he unknots the tie. Now, anybodys
the more depressed a lay person would be. The best shot is to be themselves; the more yourself
denser it looks, the worse it will sound. you can be like, the more individual youll be.
Gus Levene once asked me, What do you Nobody else can copy you without being you
find the most difficult thing to put on the score the original has got the edge.
sheet? Before I came up with the answer, he said Maintaining his originality was foremost in
A well-placed restwhere nobody plays. When Sinatras mind in 1951, the lowest point in his life.
you write an arrangement for Frank, he doesnt Pop music trends were changing, and there was
know where youre gonna put the punctuations little interest in the sweet, pensive vocals that re-
in the music. When you do a date, sometimes the minded many of the turmoil of the war years. In-
singer will say, Hey, that figure is in my way . . . tense personal problems forced the singers
you gotta take it out, its in my way. But Frank emotional hand, and he eventually found him-
would never say that. He would always use what self without his beautiful wife, Ava Gardner, fa-
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 69

milial stability, and, on the professional side, a

movie or television deal. At Columbia Records,
Sinatra floundered to gain solid ground against
recently installed artist and repertoire director
Mitch Millers controversial approach that
would, depending upon ones perspective, revo-
lutionize or bastardize pop music.

D O W N WA R D S P I R A L : T H E


Unguarded moment: engineer Tony Janak caught Frank Sinatra and

H ow will musical history ultimately judge

Mitch Millers contributions? If money
and commercial success are the mea-
sure, Miller should be canonized for creating a
new genre that spawned the careers of dozens of
Mitch Miller reflecting on a playback in Columbias New York
studios, circa 1950. Within a short time, the tranquility of this scene
from early in their relationship would be forever shattered.

pop artists of the 1950s, including Tony Bennett, We had eight of the Top Ten bestsellers in the
Rosemary Clooney, Johnnie Ray, and Guy country some weeks! he adds proudly.
Mitchell. Does their early work, almost entirely The enormous success of the label under
based on novelty tunes, even begin to approach Millers guidance earned him the respect of the
the exceedingly high standards of the recordings CBS executives, as well as a tremendous measure
that Sinatra produced at Columbia between 1943 of power that, combined with his penchant for
and 1950? Certainly not. If the benchmark is mu- control, could be intimidating for an artist. I
sical quality, Miller could well be damned in the know for a fact that Mitch wanted things his way,
court of popular opinion. and in certain instances, it worked, recalled
But in 1950, Miller was the undisputed king Rosemary Clooney. After he finished recording
of a new breed of record-label A&R producers, something, he could call the Sales Department
and the hundreds of thousands of records that and say, Ship three hundred thousand on con-
were shipped monthly from Columbia (many of signment. I mean, he had that kind of juice.
which became million-copy sellersin itself re- When it came to convincing Clooney to record
markable at that time) pumped a staggering her first major hit, Come-On-a-My-House,
amount of adrenaline and cash into the record Miller was at first persuasive, then demanding.
industry. I took over as A&R Director in Febru- He was very sure about what was going to hap-
ary of 1950, Miller recalled. Columbia came pen. You know, I found fault with it, saying, I
from number four to number one in two years. think I should do Tenderly, and he said, I think
you should do this. And then it got to the point
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70 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

of, You are going to do this. Youve got to do this. songs. Much of Sinatras attitude toward the
I went along with whatever Mitch wanted to do, Mitch Millers influence at Columbia can be
which created a very good relationship as far as gleaned from the tone of their conversation about
getting the records out there, because of the very Sinatras latest recordings.
control that he had. If he can call the sales de-
partment and say Send them out, then he can Sinatra: Weve got a new one thats moving
really do you a favor along the way. pretty good called, youll excuse the
While Clooney acceded to Millers pressure, expression, Goodnight, Irene.
her colleague Tony Bennett, who had joined the Heller: Hey, thats a nice tune.
label in 1951, was less willing to do so. He agreed Sinatra: You wanna bet? [pauses] Naw, its
to record some numbers Miller insisted on, with really cute.
the proviso that he be allowed to concurrently Heller: You oughta do a lotta songs like
make records of better songs that utilized the jazz that.
backings that he favored. Sinatra: Dont hold your breath!
If Im going to do a song, I dont want to do
a bad songI dont care how much money it Miller describes a planned 1951 session that
makes. Because if you do a bad song, youre stuck Sinatra aborted before even entering the studio.
with it, Bennett said. Mitch was a very strange I had two songs, The Roving Kind, and My
guy. He was the finest oboe player in America, he Heart Cries for You, that I thought would be
was one of the greatest classical musicians that good for Frank to sing. So I had the arrangements
ever lived. But he had a hunger for a lot of money. made. Frank was on his way to see Ava in Spain,
He was just sitting there playing great music with or Africa . . . I dont know where he was going. But
Toscanini and Alec Wilder and people like that, he was coming in to New York first, and I met
and all of a sudden, he said, Im not just going to him, Ben Barton, and Hank Sanicola at La-
be a sideman. I wanna make more money than Guardia airport, when they arrived at 7:30 in the
any of these guys. Even though hes frowned morning. We came to the studio right away, and
upon, and a lot of people look at him like he took I played these two songs for them. Frank looked
a wrong turn in the music business, he was the at Sanicola, then he looked at Barton and Sani-
first producer. He taught everybody how to be a cola, and said, Im not going to do any of that
producer. Today, everybody has to have his cigar crap. I had musicians hired, I had the chorus
and beard. Mitch invented thathe was the first hired . . . the session was supposed to be that night
guy with that, and he made sure that he made as because he was going away the next morning. So,
much money as any artist. Years ago, there were to save the thing, I got a hold of Al Cernick [who,
no producers; there were just music men in under Miller, became Guy Mitchell], and I spent
charge of A&R. Today its hard to find a guy who all day with him, rehearsing these two songs. We
even knows music, said Bennett. did them that night, and both sides were Num-
Indications that Sinatra was displeased ber One! And, I daresay, if Sinatra had done
almost embarrassedat what Miller was at- them, I dont think they would have been hits
tempting to do came as early as 1950, when he [even] if he did them perfectly. Because the prej-
granted an interview to Atlantic City radio per- udice against him personally at that time,
sonality (and former Harry James band member) wrongly, was outrageous, Miller said.
Ben Heller. Publicly, the singer groused about his Part of the reason for the singers refusal to
dismal sales figures, directly blaming Miller by defer to Miller is outlined in an article appear-
claiming that he was forced to record inferior ing in the September 24, 1956, edition of the
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 71

Philadelphia Inquirera full four years after his a company free of broadcasting affiliations, my
separation with Columbia. In the article, which career is again financially, creatively, and artisti-
reports on CBSs testimony before the House Ju- cally healthy. Statistics suggest that Sinatras pot-
diciary subcommittee investigating the broadcast shot at Miller, CBS, and BMI was unjustified.
industry, Sinatra alleges favoritism between During the Miller era at Columbia, the singer
Miller and certain publishing concerns. Sinatra recorded a meager five BMI songs, and fifty-two
felt that the CBS empire, which included Co- ASCAP controlled numbers. By comparison, in
lumbia Records and the powerful CBS Radio his first three years at Capitol, he waxed a total of
Network, took advantage of their position as both eleven BMI tunes, twice as many as during a sim-
a recording and broadcasting entity, and pushed ilar stretch at Columbiaincluding his first ma-
songs that would have maximum financial ben- jor hit at the new label, Young at Heart.
efit for both the company and, in turn, Mitch In his own defense, Miller vehemently de-
Miller. Journalist Merrill Panitt quotes the singer nies trying to sabotage Sinatra, and scoffs at the
(who provided a statement to the Congressional singers assertion that he was forced to sing bad
committee via telegram) as saying, Before Mr. material. Start with this premise: nobody brings
Millers arrival at Columbia Records, I found my- Sinatra in the studio to do things that he doesnt
self enjoying a freedom of selection of material; want to do. I dont care who it is, Miller said. A
a freedom which I may modestly say resulted in lot of the critics said, Well, whats Sinatra doing?
a modicum of success for me. Suddenly, Mr. So, Sinatra turned it on, and said Id forced him
Miller, by design or coincidence, began to pre- to do bad songs. Nobody could force Sinatra to
sent many, many inferior songs, all curiously do bad songs, or to do a song he didnt want to
bearing the BMI label. do. Imagine pulling Sinatra in by the ear and say-
From its formation in 1914, ASCAP (the ing, You sing this. Right! He [Sinatra] had the
American Society of Composers, Authors, and right to okay any records release. There was a
Publishers) controlled all music licensing. Then clause in his contract that gave him forty-eight
in 1940 a consortium of broadcasters began BMI hours to approve any master for release. If he did-
(Broadcast Music Inc.) to go head-to-head with nt want a particular song released, he could have
ASCAP. To this day, the primary role of both BMI killed it by invoking that clause.
and ASCAP is to collect fees from broadcasters While Miller bore the brunt of Sinatras
for musical performances, and distribute it to the wrath, as well as the lions share of blame for the
composers and publishers. One of the ironies of downward spiral of his career, the producer was
the singers complaint about Millers preference fair in his assessment of the publics perception
for BMI songs, and his hint of some sort of col- of Sinatra during this fallow period. People dont
lusion between the broadcast giant and BMI, is understand the psychology of what happened.
that Sinatra himself at the time owned separate When he started this thing with Ava, and was run-
ASCAP and BMI firms, which published many ning around . . . it was a different climate in those
of the songs he sang, and from which he collected days. Ingrid Bergman had a child out of wedlock.
both performing and publishing royalties. Today, everybody in Hollywood has a child out
Before Mr. Millers advent on the scene, I of wedlock, and they brag about it. In those days,
had a successful recording career, which quickly she was banned from movies in America. Sina-
went into a decline, Sinatra maintained. Rather tra, with his public behavior with Ava, and leav-
than continue a frustrating battle, I chose to take ing his wife, had the priests saying, Dont tell the
my talents elsewhere. It is now a matter of record kids. Dont buy his records.
that since I have associated with Capitol Records,
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72 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

However Miller chooses to rationalize Sina- show, or his films, although he tried to say I
tras behavior, and his own role in what has be- ruined his career.
come one of the most controversial and legendary We all have weaknesses, we all have crazi-
stories in the music industry, the fact remains that ness in our lives. Frank could never face the fact
Sinatras jibes stuck in his craw and caused him that he was responsible for any failure he had. I
a great deal of anguish. Once the Philadelphia always called him the sorest winner I ever met.
Inquirer article ran, Miller seized the opportunity After he left Columbia Records, he pleaded
to vindicate himself, and quickly made photo- with Columbia Pictures to do From Here to Eter-
copies of the story, which, along with a hand- nity. They didnt want him, they thought he
written personal note scrawled on its side, were would be a detriment to the picture. By getting
distributed to friends in the business. Hi Fel- stomped to death in that movie, he did like a pub-
lasa lot of you have asked me so many ques- lic penance for all of it, Miller believes. You
tions about this episode, that I am taking the chart it: from the day that movie came out, his
liberty of sending you this clipping from the records began to sell. [That Columbia] stuff was
Philadelphia InquirerYours, Mitch. never publicized. And then the publics attitude
Economics, more than anything else, turned changed, and it helped. Once he left the com-
out to be a critical snag in the complicated rela- pany, we repackaged the old stuff, and not only
tionship between Sinatra and Columbia Records. did we get back the $250,000 advance, but he
Millers explanation of a special financial made God knows how many hundreds of thou-
arrangement between the singer and the label sands of dollars in royalties more, after that.
helps clarify a very confusing series of events that At the core of many of their disputes was the
ultimately led to his severance as a Columbia simple fact that Miller and Sinatra were cut from
Records artist. similar cloth: both were immensely talented yet
Sinatra had to pay the IRS a big fee for back fiercely independent, and headstrong to a fault.
taxes, Miller recalled. He went to Manie Sacks, The problem was that Frank didnt go about
and Sacks loaned him an advance against royal- voicing his complaints the right way, Arthur
ties. Then Sacks left to go to RCA Victor. In the Shimkin, the founder and President of Bell
meantime, I came to Columbia, and Ted Waller- Records and an associate of Miller, speculates. If
stein, who was then president, said, Mitch, weve he had gone to Mitch and sat down with him one-
got to make this money back, so get him the best on-one, and simply said, Mitch, this is what I feel
things [to record]. Of course, that was my whole that I do best, Mitch would have listened. In-
point! I made Azure Te, and Birth of the Blues, stead, Sinatra told him, Stay the f out of my
and Why Try to Change Me Now, which were studio. The irony of it is that when I asked Mitch
fabulous records. He was singing great, as you can what he thought about Sinatra, he said, Hes the
hear. But you couldnt give them away at the most talented singer in history.
time. So when it came time for his renewal, Co- One of the complexities of the relationship
lumbia just didnt want to re-sign him. And even that surely added to the tension was that while
Manie Sacks wouldnt sign him at RCA! Co- Miller was responsible for launching the careers
lumbia said, No more, and I had to abide by that. of many artists from their start, he inherited Sina-
He had lost his M-G-M contract, he had lost his tra after the singer had spent nearly seven as-
television show. He had burned all his bridges be- toundingly successful years at Columbia,
hind him. I was only working with him on his accustomed to being the center of attention and
recordsI had nothing to do with the television having his own way. In all likelihood, it was
painful for Sinatra to be caught in such a terrible
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 73

rut, unable to regain lost momentum while oth- orders: You dont tell the guys what to do from
ers around him were being nurtured by Miller, the control room. Tell me or Axel, and we will tell
skyrocketing to fame on the coattails of music the guys. Now, I guess Mitch didnt hear him
that repulsed him. very well, because he would forget about that,
Paul Weston, then West Coast A&R Direc- and next thing you know hes telling the band Do
tor for Columbia, remembered one embarrass- this and Do that. This annoyed Frank to no
ing and humiliating incident that occurred end.
during the singers penultimate session for the la- One point of contention was Millers leg-
bel on June 3, 1952. They came out here, and it endary penchant for taking on the role of engi-
was the only time I was on a session. I was the pro- neer, adjusting levels and such himself in the
ducer of the session, but Mitch was out [in the control room. With Frank and Axel, you cor-
studio] running around. We were recording some rected mistakes; you made your own dynamics,
horrible song [Tennessee Newsboy], and Blowers explains. Frank didnt want you turning
Speedy West, the guitarist, was known for mak- dials. Leave the damn dials alonethe musi-
ing the guitar sound like a chicken. Frank sang cians do that. But Mitch did, and then all of a
the vocal, and Mitch rushed out into the studio, sudden one day Frank had as much as he could
and everybody thought he was going to congrat- stand. Quietly, he looked in the control room,
ulate Frank for getting
through, because he did it
well. Instead, he rushed right
past Frank, and embraced
Speedy West, because hed
made a good chicken noise on
the guitar. Frank was
disgusted. . . .
Weston was well aware of
Millers penchant for encour-
aging artists to record lesser
quality songs, because his wife,
Jo Stafford, experienced the
same pressure. You cant be-
lieve the crap that he had Jo
record, tunes like Under-
neath the Overpass, stuff that
just died. He would be very
persuasive, and the artist did-
nt have much choice. Theyd
say, This is a piece of crap,
and Mitch would say, Oh, its
gonna be a hit, so theyd do it.
Tempest in a teapot: Sinatras contempt for Mitch Miller is readily apparent in this 1952
I thought he [Mitch] was session photo, in which he seems poised to lunge over the music stand in frustration. Miller,
arrogant, says Johnny Blow- who produced the session, is in front of Sinatra, out of the cameras range.
ers. You couldnt tell him any-
thing. Frank gave Mitch strict
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74 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

pointed his finger, and said, Mitchout. When Millers observations. From the June 1950 Good-
Mitch didnt move, Sinatra turned to Hank San- night, Irene session to the May 1951 date that pro-
icola. Henry, move him. To Mitch, he said, duced the nefarious canine classic, he waxed
Dont you ever come in the studio when Im twenty-six tunes, including such remarkable
recording again. recordings as April in Paris, Nevertheless, I
The point of no return for Guess Ill Have to Dream the Rest, Let It Snow,
Sinatra and Miller occurred Let It Snow, Let It Snow, I Am Loved, Hello
on May 10, 1951, when Frank Young Lovers, We Kiss in a Shadow, Im a
was paired with the busty Fool to Want You, and Love Me, the theme of
comedienne Dagmar for the his CBS-TV variety show. Among the lesser-
most degrading song of his ca- known but equally gorgeous tunes recorded dur-
reer, the infamous Mama ing this eleven-month period were If Only Shed
Will Bark. An exercise in ab- Looked My Way, Remember Me in Your
surdity, the tune features Sina- Dreams, Take My Love, Faithful, and a sec-
tra crooning to the ond duet session with Rosemary Clooney that
accompaniment of a howling yielded Love Means Love and Cherry Pies
dog, recreated in the studio by Ought to Be You.
imitator Donald Bain. The wistful April in Paris demonstrates
We made that record as a Sinatra and Stordahls ability to bring a sense of
shot in the dark, Mitch Miller drama to the music, through the dynamics of the
recalled. This song came in, musical arrangement and carefully controlled vo-
and I thought, Try this novelty cal execution. (Sinatra himself must have known
number, because they arent that this version of April in Paris approached
buying the great recordstry perfection, for he mimics its vocal lines virtually
something. He was at The note for note in the 1957 re-recording with Billy
Paramount Theater, working Mayin itself, a masterpiece).
with Dagmar, so since they Sinatras original recording of I Could
were onstage together, I fig- Write a Book, from January of 1952, can be
ured, Why not? I even tried to viewed as a vocal turning point. The depth of his
insure the success of Mama tonal quality, punctuated and intensified by his
Will Bark by backing it with a razor-sharp diction, is luxurious and satisfying, a
great songIm a Fool to true precursor to his subsequent work with Nel-
Want You. People dont un- son Riddle and Gordon Jenkins. It is with this
derstand this . . . there was recording (and several others from the months
nothing inferior [about what just preceding this session) that we begin to hear
Frank Sinatra was recording at the subtleties that would later surface as full-
the time] except Mama Will blown trademarks of Sinatras silky, smooth bari-
Bark, but he keeps coming tone style, including a marked deepening of his
back to that, Miller says. vocal timbre and a penchant for a stunningly ef-
Truth be told, the year fective long-phrased glide culminating in a seem-
that culminated with the ill- ingly effortless key change at the songs end.
fated Bark was a good one, One of the most interesting tunes from Sina-
repertoire-wise, for Sinatra, tras underappreciated late-Columbia period is
proving the accuracy of My Girl, from February 6, 1952. Here we find
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 75

Late Columbia session, Hollywood, February 1952.

him bending notes and using the suppleness of Sinatra of the Capitol years (1953). Almost ig-
his voice in new ways; for example, the buttery nored at the time, his brash, gritty recording of
smooth dip he applies to the words when and The Birth of the Blues, and his dramatically
night in the line when the night is cold. The contrasting, stark and desolate rendition of Im
whole feel of this recording, from Sinatras over- a Fool to Want You indicate the real strength of
all vocal execution to the ambient sound of the his voice, sharply dispelling the myth that he had
recording itself, is virtually the same as on his lost his vocal edge, and point up the direction he
recording of Im Walking Behind You from his envisioned for his future.
first Capitol session on April 2, 1953. Of course, The Birth of the Blues receives a confi-
Axel Stordahls presence unified the two dates, dent, snarly interpretation that proves Sinatra had
but when the recordings are played back to back, strength and endurance, and moreover, the for-
the similarities are so pervasive that if you didnt titude to stand up for what he believed in. One
know otherwise, youd believe they were recorded cannot help but think that this was Franks way
at the same session. of flipping Mitch Miller the proverbial bird as
Two tunes in Sinatras Columbia catalog de- he left through the backstage door, and speaks di-
fine his transition from the Sinatra of the late Co- rectly to where the singer would be, a year later,
lumbia period (195152) to the artistically reborn with Nelson Riddle.
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76 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Although the oft-repeated story about Sina- After the master take, Miller is heard over the
tra leaving the recording studio in tears after booths speaker saying, resignedly, Thats it,
singing Im a Fool to Want You on the March Frank.
27, 1951, session may be apocryphal (he in fact Compounding the damaging effects of
either remained in or subsequently returned to nearly every professional wall caving in on him
the studio to record one other song, Love Me, was the fact that as Frank prepared to leave Co-
and those present do not recall such a melodra- lumbia, his friend and musical partner, Axel Stor-
matic reaction), this dramatic performance was dahl, stood poised to move on as well. No doubt
no doubt influenced by the singers deep personal he figured that when Sinatra went down, he
turmoil. would be out of a job as well. His decision to de-
So gripping a performance is this, replete part for the East Coast as Frank was settling on
with fragments of the singers carefully guarded the West Coast distressed the singer, and when
reserve of personal anguish, that it vies for posi- Stordahl hinted that he might take advantage of
tion as the single most devastating recording he an offer to work as the music director for the Ed-
ever made. The precision with which Sinatra die Fisher television show, based in New York,
controls his vibrato on these late Columbia ef- Sinatra gave him an ultimatum. When Stordahl
forts is remarkable, and his vocal dexterity is com- took the Fisher position, the friendship was sev-
pellingly displayed in the sotto voce ending of ered, and as far as anyone connected to the pair
Im a Fool to Want You. Here he drops his voice remembers, they didnt speak for nearly ten years.
to a near whisper to sing, Take me back, I love Not everyone in the music business agreed
you . . . pity me, I need you . . . , injecting a neat with Columbia that Sinatra was washed up. I
little dose of portamento on the word need. The met Hank Sanicola through a friend who worked
ending then builds feverishly until Sinatras voice at Barton Music, recalls Arthur Shimkin. Sina-
becomes one with the soaring choir that brings tra had left Columbia, and in 1952 I made him an
the song to an intense climax. offer to come and record for Bell. The deal was
It is clear from performances like this that pretty good, too: $48,000 for twelve sides. We
Sinatra knew exactly where he wanted to go mu- would pay for the date, and the setup was that for
sically, and exactly how to get there. The late Co- every song that Sinatra picked to record, Bell
lumbia recordings prove that while he was would choose one. I met with Frank once to dis-
struggling to reorganize his personal life, he was cuss the offer, at the Hotel 14, behind the Copa.
also growing by leaps and bounds artistically. If He looked at me, and remarked rather wryly, You
given the chance, he would certainly have sal- wouldnt pick something that would make me
vaged the tattered remnants of his final year at unhappy, would ya? I told him, For every song
Columbia, more than likely with one of the la- we select, therell be three alternates from which
bels house arrangers like Percy Faith. to choose. You will make the choice. He smiled
Mitch Miller and the powers that be at Co- and said, Okay.
lumbia didnt share his vision, though, and the Professionally and psychologically important
near-decade-long tenure that began with such as the offer was for Sinatra at that moment, the
sensational promise ended on a subdued note. singers nemesis ended up nixing it for him. I
For his final recording for the label on Septem- also started Golden Records, which was a chil-
ber 17, 1952, Sinatra swallowed his pride and en- drens record company that was underwritten by
tered the 30th Street studio with Percy Faith to Simon & Schuster, Shimkin continues. My
preserve his ironically glum farewell statement, Music Director at Golden Records was Mitch
Cy Colemans Why Try to Change Me Now. Miller, whom I had hired in 1947. My boss at
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T H E C O L U M B I A Y E A R S, 194 3 19 5 2 77

Schuster, Jim Jacobson, was very close to Mitch, hands? And Frank, who was half-loaded himself,
and when Jim approached him and inquired said, Get lost, creep.
about Sinatras viability as an artist, Mitch flatly When interviewed in the early 1990s, Miller
replied, f him. Hes a has-been. Well, thats all (for all the negative things Sinatra has said about
Jim had to hear. He wasnt investing $48,000 in him) seemed quite objective about the singers
what Miller called a has-been. I disagreedI years at Columbia, agreeing that while it was dif-
thought Frank could make it again. ficult to work with him, he always believed that
Sinatra never forgave Miller, rebuffing the Sinatra was an incredible talent. He seemed to
former A&R directors repeated attempts to patch bear no grudges. In the few years since, though,
things up. A bit later, Miller recalls, I had a Miller has changed his tune.
radio program on CBS, an interview show. Id go Upon Sinatras death in May 1998, when
out to Las Vegas and do a lot of interviews, and I Miller was quizzed by a British television pro-
got to know Joe E. Lewis. So, this one time, I see ducer about his involvement with the singer, he
him in the lobby of the Sands at about two or flew into what the TV producer described as a
three in the morning. He said, Look, Mitch. near tirade, ranting that Sinatra was a pain in
Frank is with Jack Entratter (who managed the the ass who gave me nothing but troubles. He
Sands). Come on over and say hello. I said, No, said he couldnt understand what all the fuss was
Im not interested. Now, Joes a little loaded, and about, and why Sinatra was getting all this atten-
he grabs me. So, we go over, and Joe says, I tion now that he is dead. He was washed upin
brought Mitch over. Why dont you shake a few years this music will be forgotten.
A music industry friend of Millers reports
that his questions evoked a similar response. Af-
ter listening to a lengthy diatribe about how dif-
ficult Sinatra was to work with, the friend posed
a question: But Mitch, Sinatra was a great tal-
ent. Wasnt it all worth it? Millers simple reply
was a reflective Yeah, it was.
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Recording at the Capitol Records studios, Hollywood, April 1953.

03-part 3 (078-151)_03-part 3 (078-151) 11/2/10 4:21 PM Page 79


The Capitol
at Sunset and Vine, and Buddy DeSylva, pro-

A C APITOL THOUGHT duction chief for Paramount, have organized a

new record company, with labels printed as

Capitol Records. . . . (Mike Levin in Down



situation is upped considerably this week but

Beat, July 15, 1942)

The idea for the new record label was born

of frustration. Songwriter Johnny Mercer had

not with any thanks to the Big Three. They are befriended music merchant Glenn Wallichs,

so busy with occupational jitters . . . that and the two began comparing notes regarding

theyve paid very little attention to the business the sorry state of affairs in the record business.

of making and selling records. The same is not Mercer, fast becoming one of the top tune-

true on the coast. There, Johnny Mercer, smiths in the country, felt that artists were

Glenn Wallichs of the famed Music City store routinely given short shrift by the labels that
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80 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

recorded them, and that they were rarely pre- What gets me, though, is that with everybody else
sented at their best. Wallichs, whose Music City in the business pulling in the shutters, these guys
was a rapidly growing record retailer, was dis- are setting sail full of drive and confidence that
turbed by the merchandising and distribution they can make a go of it.
policies of the three major labels: Columbia, Despite the widespread optimism, the small
RCA, and Decca. Since he was looking to expand West Coast label that dared to stand up against
his small custom recording service, the pair be- its three major competitors was almost knocked
gan mulling over the idea of starting their own off the block within months of its birth, primar-
company. ily due to the limit on shellac available for record
Within a short time, Mercer enlisted the as- production imposed by the War Production
sistance of songwriter Buddy B. G. DeSylva, Board in April of 1942, and the industry-wide
who he hoped could provide the cash they would recording ban enacted in August, which prohib-
need to get started. A luncheon meeting at ited the recording of any songs that used an in-
Luceys Restaurant in Hollywood clinched the strumental group. Dave Dexter, a veteran
deal, with DeSylva putting up a total of $25,000 executive with the company, later spoke of the
to launch the label. Mercer, in describing the grim future the company faced. With the
companys beginnings, said, Buddy had always unions ban on recording and the frustrating
been smart and lucky, and could smell money shortage of shellac, Capitols chances for survival
better than a divining rod. He was too busy to ac- were estimated at one hundred to one, he said.
tively participate, but he put $10,000 in the bank, The recording ban ended up working in their
and later added $15,000 to get us started. . . . favor. When James Petrillo [head of the musi-
We only spent $15,000 of the original $25,000 cians union] slapped his ban on all recordings
advance, and were never in trouble from that shortly after our first release, we again thought we
day on. were licked, said Wallichs. But it turned out to
Ginger, Mercers wife, came up with the be our biggest piece of good fortune. Before the
name Capitol. We were sitting in Chasens ban went into effect, we worked night and day,
one night at dinner, trying to decide on a name, turning out such tunes as Cow Cow Boogie, and
Mercer once said. I had tried to clear Liberty G.I. Jive. When those tunes became popular, we
from Liberty Music Shops in New York City, but were the only company that had recorded them,
they were reluctant to let us have it, and seemed and dealers from all over the country began buy-
steamed at the suggestion. Gosh knows how ing them from us.
many [names] we had been through. Victory was The company struggled along, and by 1948
popular at the time, but it was mighty close to had sales of nearly $18 million, compared to the
Victor. Then, Ginger came up with Capitol. almost $200,000 it took in during its first year of
Well, it certainly seemed solid enough, and dig- operation. Among the labels many hits for the
nified. And when Glenn came up with the four year were four that had extended positions in the
stars around the dome, that was it. number one slot: Peggy Lees Maana, Pee
Reviewer Mike Levin, in the Down Beat ar- Wee Hunts Twelfth Street Rag, Margaret
ticle that heralded the June arrival of the first Whitings A Tree in a Meadow, and Nat Coles
batch of Capitol releases, lauded the tiny labels Nature Boy.
product. Their first records are excellent. Sur- Everyone, from studio janitor to graphic
face noise and record materials are far better than artist to Glenn Wallichs (vice president), felt that
the general output. The choice [of songs] is good, Capitol was a family, and the philosophy was that
with the obvious concession to commercialism. there was room for any idea that was valid, either
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 81

artistically or commercially. The late Mike Mait- By 1948, the studios had begun recording on
land, a Capitol staffer who later went on to exec- magnetic tape, and in 1949, Capitol became the
utive positions at Warner Brothers and MCA, first label to release records in all three speeds:
once wrote that The secret to Capitols success 78, 45, and 3313, a move that Billboard applauded
in the 1940s was that the staff was unencumbered in an editorial titled Three Speeds Ahead! En-
by old ways of thinking. The prevalent moods dorsing the growing label, the industry bible ac-
were, What if? and Why not? rather than But knowledged the important trends that Capitol
. . . and Well, seven years ago . . . If the idea was setting: The water has now burst the dam.
made sense, it went into effect immediately. And Lets hope the flow strengthens as companies
that meant right now: not next Friday, not after it other than Capitol find the courage and re-
cleared legal, not after it went through the ac- sources to follow the lead of the West Coast ma-
counting department or the board of directors. jor. The growth of the company over the next
As the labels success snowballed, its artist four years, and its nurturing, familial atmosphere,
roster swelled, and by the end of the 1940s it would make Capitol a warm, inviting place for a
boasted some of the top names in the music busi- singer like Frank Sinatra to call home. They wel-
ness: Peggy Lee, Jo Stafford, Les Paul and Mary comed him with open arms.
Ford, Margaret Whiting, Benny Goodman, and
the undisputed king of the jazz world, Nat Cole.


T he transition from Columbia to Capitol,

between June 1952 and April 1953, involved
a complex series of creative and personal
changes for Sinatra, and culminated in a com-
plete revitalization. After shedding some personal
baggage and shifting his base of operation en-
tirely to the West Coast, the singer emerged with
a completely new look, attitude, and sound.
Gone were the floppy bow ties and slicked hair of
yesteryear; in were stylish cravats of the finest silk
and pattern, and a snap-brimmed hat that com-
municated a jaunty, sophisticated style. No mere
props, these tasteful choices breathed freshness
Sinatras transformation from the ballad singer of the into his image, and consequently, his work. A
1940s to the swinging sophisticate of the 1950s was
brand-new Sinatra had emerged, and every inch
effectively communicated through personal, musical, and
sartorial changes. of this transformation is reflected in his enthusi-
astic approach to the two main crafts he concen-
trated on: acting and singing.
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82 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Alan Livingston, then vice president of A&R derdeveloped. This influx was critical in later es-
at Capitol, was responsible for signing Sinatra to tablishing Hollywood as a haven for the artistic
the label. Sinatra had hit bottom, and I mean community.
bottom. He couldnt get a record contract, and Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s was
he literally, at that point, could not get a booking probably very similar, in terms of musical and
in a nightclub. It was that badhe was broke, and artistic feeling, to what Paris must have been like
in a terrible state of mind. I received a call from in the 1920s, observes conductor Leonard
Sam Weisbord, at the William Morris Agency, Slatkin, music director of the National Sym-
who told me that theyd signed Sinatra, and asked phony Orchestra. In the 1930s, you had a con-
if Id be interested in signing him. I said, Sure! vergence of artists who had come to California
His talent is still there . . . And thats how he for many reasons. You had composers: some of
came to Capitol. who came to California for health reasons, and
Eventually, the success would come; it was some who had come to escape various tyrannies.
not without painstaking effort, though. I an- Stravinsky was there, Rachmaninoff was there . . .
nounced that we [Capitol] had signed Sinatra at you found great artists and writers thereit was
our national convention in Colorado, remem- an incredible time. But unfortunately, at that
bers Livingston. There must have been a couple time the whole city never embraced the artistic
of hundred guys there . . . and the whole room culture; it was always felt to be very much on the
went, Unnhhoooo . . . My answer to them was fringe, and it was never taken seriously. Only the
. . . I only know talent, and Frank is the best film industry established itself as the main occu-
singer in the world. Theres nobody that can pation in L.A.
touch him. Where New York was the acknowledged
Thus in a short time Sinatra found himself home to the jazz scene, Hollywood attracted the
three thousand miles and a cultural world away more avant-garde and classical musicians, who
from Manhattan, comfortably ensconced in quickly found lucrative work in the studio or-
Capitols Melrose Avenue recording studios (the chestras at M-G-M, 20th Century Fox, Para-
former KHJ Radio studio), which from April 2, mount, and Warner Brothers. Because of the
1953, to January 16, 1956, would be the locale for volume of steady work on the West Coast, many
the recordings that marked one of the greatest musicians aspired to become part of the Holly-
comebacks in entertainment history. It was here wood studio system, and maintained their inter-
that he made some of the most appealing and rec- est in classical music as a sideline.
ognizable recordings of his career. Slatkin, whose parents, Eleanor and Felix,
While Sinatra demonstrated to Livingston were major contributors to both film and popu-
that he was still a viable artistic asset whose tal- lar music, recently commented on the correla-
ent would propel him to unparalleled heights in tion between classical and film music. I dont
the entertainment business, there were several find the juxtaposition of so-called concert [clas-
tangential factors that aided the vocalist in his vir- sical] music and film music at all at odds with
tually instantaneous rebirth. each other. I believe John Williams said that es-
In the early 1950s, the Hollywood music sentially, film music was to the second half of this
scene was about as far removed from the New century what opera had been to all the centuries
York scene as one could imagine. As the epicen- before. Film music almost took over that role:
ter of the film industry, Hollywood had seen a scripted music, moving a story along. Almost all
massive immigration of artists during the 1930s of the composers of the 1930s and 1940s who op-
and 1940s, when the region was still relatively un- erated in the big film studios came from serious
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 83

classical backgrounds: Korngold, Max Steiner,

Dimitri Tiomkin, Miklas Rozsa . . . they had im-
peccable credentials in terms of their composi-
tional backgrounds. They chose to use those skills
in the motion picture industry, because it was lu-
crative, and it was a very good outlet for these cre-
ative talents. And remember: we also had a
problem in that musical styles had changed dra-
matically in this century, and for the neo-ro-
mantics as it were, there was not so much a place
for them in concert life, and they became enam-
ored of expressing themselves through the mo-
tion picture industry.
The motion picture music system was firmly
rooted in tradition until the early 1950s, when,
concurrent with Sinatras move to Capitol, new
jazz forms were taking hold. Many of the jazz
musicians who had ridden out the end of the big
band era found work in the post-band groups
such as the Stan Kenton Orchestra, whose style
blended elements of both the big band and mod-
ern jazz idioms. In these top bands were some of
the most proficient young players to emerge in
years; not quite old enough for the era of Tommy
Milt Bernhart (right) with British bandleader Vic Lewis, late 1940s.
Dorsey and Glenn Miller (the early 1940s), but
certainly interested enough to adopt the feel,
if not the essence, of the big band stylemen
like Frank Rossolino, Conrad Gozzo, George which meant nothing out here in Hollywood. I
Roberts, and Milt Bernhart. had drawn a straw: should I go to New York, or
When the popularity of the post-band era L.A.? I had no real reason to go to either place
groups waned, the most logical place for these no roots there at all. It seemed to me that Los An-
superior improvisers was the Hollywood film geles was where television was going to start to
stdios. But in the beginning, the studio estab- develop, and I was looking for work. So I came to
lishment resisted accepting them into their ranks. Hollywood. For the first six or eight months, I did-
While these fabulous players were increasingly nt get a job. Then, I got a gig working at The
involved in their own recording dates and as key Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, with Howard
players on the sessions of pop vocalists such as Rumseys Lighthouse All-Stars. It was me, Shorty
Sinatra, it wasnt until 1954 that they began to Rogers, Shelly Manne, Bud Shank, Jimmy Giuf-
carve a niche for themselves in the film studio fre, Bud Cooper. . . . It was our only job for quite
market. a while, about a year. I dont think we were mak-
I had gotten off the road with Kentons or- ing a hundred a week! Studio work just wasnt
chestra in 1953, and a bunch of us were new in there.
town, recalls Milt Bernhart. Among us were An interesting twist of fate, and the 1954 in-
some very fine players who had a reputation, tervention of an unlikely supporter, Marlon
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84 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Brando, broke the dam that eventually forced the executivesto The Lighthouse, to check us out.
admission of the jazz players into the studio They came every night for a week, dressed like
orchestras. hippies, trying to fit in: these guys had their hair
Brando, who was working on the film The combed over their eyes . . . wearing tattered
Wild One, was sitting in a room at Columbia clothes . . . they looked ridiculous! But they
Pictures one day, when the discussion of music watched every move we made.
came up, Bernhart recounts. They asked him, Now, as luck would have it, we werent fak-
Who do you want to score the picture? Then, ing it at The Lighthouse. Shorty wrote things,
the producers offered the services of some very and he came in every night with new stuff, so
good people: Dimitri Tiomkin, George Duning, wed be kept interested. It was a big attraction
Victor Young. Marlon simply listened, and said, down thereit made West Coast jazz, and I felt
ListenI bought a record yesterday, a jazz very fortunate to have been there with those guys!
record, and I think this guy is great. You have to Finally, after a week of watching, the studio peo-
hear this stuff; I want him to do my score. Who ple were convinced that we were all right. They
is it? they asked. Brando snapped his fingers, and approached Shorty, told him who they were (as
said to an underling, Get the album. It turned if we didnt know), and we got the job. This was
out to be a Capitol album that Shorty Rogers had the first time for jazz musicians in a motion pic-
made: I was on it, Shelly [Manne] was on it . . . ture studio. It had a tremendous effect: Elmer
and Brando had bought it! He told them, This is Bernsteins score for the Sinatra picture The Man
what I want. With the Golden Arm came directly off of that.
Well, Columbia Pictures was scared to And the doors opened for me overnightI was
death! The music department, which was under in! Suddenly, I was getting calls like I couldnt
Morris Stoloff, was afraid of young jazz players. believe. Of course, it affected our record dates. It
The consensus was, Theyre all dope fiends. didnt occur to me until much later, but Stan
That was the legend. But they really had no rea- Kenton was very solid at Capitol, and Voyle
son not to believe in us. The old-fashioned New Gilmore, their A&R man, had been doing all of
Orleans Dixieland players certainly didnt read Kentons recording dates. Stan knew all of us;
much music, and there were a lot of drinkers in word had been passed down, and thats how we
that group, so they were convinced that these be- got started working at Capitol.
boppers were the same way. There were a lot of By 1952, Capitols recordings by the likes of
junkies among the be-bop musicians, but not Nat Cole, Margaret Whiting, Stan Kenton, Peggy
everyone was into drugs. There were a lot of good Lee, Jo Stafford, and Les Paul and Mary Ford
musicians theregood readers, too. We would- were making a deep impression on the pop mu-
nt have been with guys like Kenton if we could- sic industry. Although the ten-year-old company
nt read! And Kenton was also very particu- was enjoying an increasingly respectable reputa-
lar about how you behaved and looked on the tion, it was still the smallest of the major labels,
bandstand. and the only nationally competitive one based in
The studio people tried to dissuade Brando, Los Angeles. Yet, despite its youth, the company
telling him that The musicians are unreliable . . was attracting top-flight artists. From the bold
. they wont show up . . . they cant read music . . logo and gorgeous album covers to the unequaled
. theyll be out of their element. They used these richness of the sound of the records, Capitol was
arguments to try to keep us off the picture, but everything a record label strove to be: chic, cool,
Brando insisted on having us, the trombonist artsy, hip. As Milt Bernhart wryly observed, At
says. So, they dispatched some studio people that time, Capitol Records was Hollywood.
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 85

Soon, Sinatra would discover that going there was came into the picture. Who had heard of us?
the single greatest move of his career. Who was Nelson Riddle? As for Frank, there was-
nt any reason to believe that he could really han-
dle the jazz phrasing correctly, because most of
what hed been doing was so square. I wasnt con-
vinced that he was going to be able to sing jazz
style: I didnt know him that way at all! So I was
FRANK MEETS NELSON one of the most surprised people in the world.
Of course, his timing was impeccableall he
needed was the right place to do it.
Even though Nelson Riddle came with an
admirable list of recording credits (including

S inatra thrust himself into the Capitol era

with passionate energy. By 1954, with an
Academy Award for Best Supporting Ac-
tor in From Here to Eternity under his belt, he
was free to concentrate on revamping his image
Mona Lisa and Unforgettable for Cole) Sina-
tra was, at first, reluctant to work with him. Bill
Miller, the singers new pianist, heard Sinatras
criticisms. Frank had to be sold on Nelson. On
the first or second album, he said, Pshew, we
and re-establishing his position as the worlds pre- gotta be careful of him. Nelson, with his har-
miere pop vocalist. He used each opportunity to monics, had the polytones: G over A, A over G . . .
its best advantage, coming to the game prepared all that kind of stuff. I said, Hey, Frankits dif-
to play, knowing it had to be hard and fast. As with ferent. Its working . . . But Frank was unsure.
all things Sinatra, the hookup with Capitol Hed say, Well, thats good. Well see. Lets see
turned out to be downright electrifyinghalf the what happens next time. It developed, it really
current, in this case, supplied by the young, tal- developed.
ented arranger Nelson Riddle. We were going to do pop songs as they came
Riddle began his orchestrating career with in, recalls Alan Livingston. And I said, Do
lessons from the great jazz arranger Bill Finegan, yourself a favor. Work with Nelson Riddle. We
then worked as a trombonist and staff arranger for were all very high on Nelson, he was marvelous!
Charlie Spivak and Tommy Dorsey. Eventually He knew how to back a singer, and make them
he landed in California, where he studyied with sound great, and I wanted Frank to have the ben-
Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. efit of that. But Frank said, Oh, Alan . . . Ive
By 1950, he was the main house arranger at worked with Axel Stordahl for practically my
Capitol, ghosting uncredited Nat Cole charts for whole career. He insisted on Axel, and I said,
Les Baxter (among others). Fine. We made the first Capitol date with Axel,
It was Voyle [Gilmore], then laying out and nothing happenednor did I expect it to
Sinatras recordings, who undoubtedly suggested happen, Livingston remembers.
that there should be a couple of Jimmy Lunce- Im Walking Behind You, from the first
ford-type backgrounds made for him, says Bern- Capitol session of April 2, 1953, did not make the
hart. He thought that the Lunceford two-beat splash that everyone thought it would. Two other
style would be nice, since Sinatra hadnt done songs, Dont Make a Beggar of Me and a Billy
much of that at Columbia, where it was mostly May composition called Lean Baby (orches-
lush string arrangements. They [Capitol] wanted trated for Stordahl by Heinie Beau), were pleas-
to be sure that the arrangements were rightthat ant, but unremarkable. The most impressive tune
he could sing with them. Thats where Nelson from the session, Johnny Mercer and Rube
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86 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A


Recording Lean Baby with Stordahl at the first Capitol session, Melrose Avenue, KHJ Studio, April 2, 1953.

Blooms Day In, Day Out, remained, undocu- Got the World on a String and Dont Worry
mented and unreleased, in the Capitol vault for bout Me].
nearly thirty-five years. According to Capitol/EMI producer Alan
Twenty-eight days later, on April 30, the prin- Dell, everything jelled at the April 30 session.
cipals reconvened at the Melrose Avenue studio Frank came in, and saw a strange man on the
for their second outing. For this session, Liv- podium, and said, Whos this? I said, Hes just
ingston had done some fast behind-the-scenes conducting the bandweve got Billy Mays
work that was equal to the best sidewalk con game arrangements. They went into Ive Got the
in history. Instead of bringing Sinatra to Nelson, World on a String and he said, Hey, who wrote
he brought Nelson to Sinatra. I was determined that? and I said This guyNelson Riddle.
to get Frank together with Nelson Riddle, ex- Frank said Beautiful! and from that, the part-
plains Livingston. Riddle clearly remembered nership started, Dell recalled.
how things came together. I heard that they put It quickly became apparent that Riddle, of
Frank with Billy May, but that Billy was out of all the arrangers the singer had worked with,
town with his band, doing live dates down south. complemented Sinatras talents better than any-
So I went in, and did two sides like Billy May one else. While in the years to follow Sinatra
would do em [I Love You and South of the would rely on Stordahl and Gordon Jenkins for
Border], and two sides like I would do em [Ive pensive orchestrations that spoke tenderly of love
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and youth and spring, and on Billy May to sound

all the whistles and bells with his full-steam-
ahead tempo charts, it was Nelson Riddle and his
unflappable temperament that provided an even
With the bold cymbal splash and brass-sec-
tion stinger opening of the explosive Ive Got the
World on a String, the tone was set. It was obvi-
ous that the pair was of one musical mind, and
that their perspectives would quickly meld into
some incredibly tight, polished performances.
Riddle, a quiet, unassuming man, suddenly be-
came sought after by dozens of other vocalists,
eager to have him duplicate the Sinatra-Riddle
sound for their own recordingsperhaps the COURT ESY OF ROSEMARY RIDDLE- ACERRA

greatest endorsement of the success of their (Left to right) Bass trombonist George Roberts, Nelson Riddle, and
partnership. Christopher Riddle.

In planning Songs for Swingin Lovers,

Frank commented on sustained strings as part
of the background to be used, Riddle once
THE TEAM wrote. Perhaps unconsciously my ear recalled
some of the fine arrangements Sy Oliver had writ-
ten for Tommy Dorsey, using sustained strings,
but also employing rhythmic fills by brass and
saxes to generate excitement. The strings, by ob-

W hile Riddle had mainly stuck to

string-oriented arrangements for his
earliest work with Nat Cole (primarily
scoring his ballad sessions), he quickly expanded
his horizons and began to feature his own favored
serving crescendos in the right places, add to the
pace and tension of such writing without getting
in the way. It was a further embroidery on the
basic idea to add the bass trombone, plus the un-
mistakably insinuating fills of Sweetss Harmon-
instrument in his charts for Sinatra. Bass trom- muted trumpet.
bonist George Roberts recalls the birth of Rid- Riddle may have been attracted to Robertss
dles signature style. I was over his house an ideas because his own instrument had been the
awful lot, and we would talk about a lot of things. trombone. I always said that I felt bass trombone
He said he needed identification. I told him I was as melodic a horn as any horn there is, and it
thought he should use flute, Harmon mute trum- should be written as a melodic horn, Roberts
pet [tastefully provided by Harry Sweets Edi- says. I thought, Wouldnt it be neat to play bass
son], bass trombone and strings . . . and do trombone and pretend, within reason, that Im
something with that combination, which he did. Urbie Green playing down an octave, and play
And that was where his identification came pretty melodies and things like that? Thats the
from! way it started, really, because I liked Urbie so
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88 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

much. Urbie noticed it, and once said to me,

God, thats sensational! Youre the only guy that
plays that like a trombone. Nelson said to me,
You must have the heart of an elephant! but then
he wound up writing bass trombone melodically,
and Ill be damned if it didnt work for him. He
was the only one doing that at the time.
Robertss melodic solos on Makin
Whoopee (Songs for Swingin Lovers, 1956) and
How Deep Is the Ocean? (Nice n Easy, 1960)
persuasively demonstrate their thinking. The lit-
tle jazz piece in the middle of Makin Whoopee
Sketch of George Robertss bass trombone solo on
was the first time I had ever played a jazz thing How Deep Is the Ocean, from Nice n Easy, 1960.
like that, and I was petrified, because I was going
to be exposed in the middle of Franks record.
Nelson gave me the part, and I brought it home,
and my wife played the piano, and we went over days, I was reluctant to go into the studios because
and over it . . . I wanted it to be a really good thing! when you play studio music and jazz music, its
I was very nervous about that: anytime I had any a different ballgame. [With] jazz, youre on your
kind of exposure, especially with someone like own when youre out there playing . . . youre
Frank, I was paranoidyou know, very excited. playing what you were born to do. I wasnt
Frank so intimidated me, in the sense of style, and equipped to do studio work. My reading wasnt
the way he sang things, that it almost dictated that fast, Edison said.
what I wanted to do as far as playing on bass trom- When youre in the studio, your eyesight
bone, Roberts maintains. has to be good, you have to watch for direction,
On the touching ballad How Deep Is the you have to blend with other musicians. Theres
Ocean? the bass trombonist plays as though he so much you have to learn. The fellows [in the
were a second vocalist. I listened to Frank for so studios] were trained to play in studios: guys like
long, that I really did want to play my instrument Manny Klein, Mickey Mangano, Conrad Gozzo,
the way he sang, Roberts says. One of the most Conti Candoli, Ray Linn . . . those guys were
important things to me was, and still is to this day, trained musicians, and I owe a lot of my success
to make the bass trombone important; in a sense, in the studios to them because of the experience
being a vocalist on the horn. I want to have the I had playing with them. Nelson Riddle was the
same kind of charisma that Frank haswhat a most patient man Ive ever been with. I would get
style that is! Thats classy stuff. . . . to a date a half-hour before, and he took time to
In Harry Sweets Edison, Riddle found the show me how things would go. Id tell Manny
musical wit that, for his arrangements, would be Klein, Look, this is not One OClock Jump
the icing on the cake. Harry has a wonderful were playing. This is something that youre go-
sense of humor, both as a musician and as a per- ing to have to teach me to play. And they were
son, Riddle once commented. The humor, in absolutely fantastic. I had so much fun playing
a musical sense, is in his head. with Sinatra. It was a compliment to me for him
In an interview with Stanley Dance, Edison to request me all the time.
spoke of his work with Riddle and Sinatra. I met So comfortable was Riddle with Edison that
Nelson Riddle in the early 1950s, and in those he abstained from writing any musical parts out
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for him; rather, the trumpeter was set apart from has acknowledged were critical players on his
the horn section and given his own microphone, team. Much of the energy and propulsion of the
and free rein to enhance the mix, wherever and recordings from this period are generated by
whenever he felt it appropriate. While Edison Stoller and Irv Cottler, the two mainstays of the
provided textural support, functioning almost as Sinatra rhythm section from the early 1950s on-
a rhythm player, the actual rhythm section also ward. Both were strongly influenced by Buddy
helped in shaping the Riddle sound and giving it Rich.
dimension. It was an entirely different style, sort of a
Many times, there would be little tags at the Jimmy Lunceford two-beat thing, said Stoller,
end of songs, like little bass figures, or percussive describing his remarkably loose percussive ac-
accents. Those initially came from Joe Comfort companiment. Drum-wise, with Nelson, the
(bass), and Alvin Stoller (drums): they were their charts were not very exciting . . . there was no
own thoughts and contributions to what we were meat there. I took it upon myself to make it that
doing. They were very, very effective, and also wayI would use what was on the chart, and try
contributed to the overall humor of the records, to be creative with it. I like brushestheyve be-
Riddle said. come a lost art. And I used a regular drum set
Joe Comfort had a cuteness about him, re- as far as the 15 tom-toms and 18 cymbals [of today]
members guitarist Al Viola. After the sessions, go, they werent my bag. I used a good top cym-
theyd listen to the playbacks. I was so fascinated bal with a pair of hi-hats. Although they were set
by the beautiful harmonies that Nelson wrote that up, I probably never hit a tom-tom in my life! I
Id stick around. One night, we were listening to usually played on a fairly tight snare drum, to get
some playbacks, and Nelson looked at Comfort. a sharp sound, which is what those charts really
You know what, Little Joe? he said. I write some- require. I did everything I could when I worked
thing, and I dont have any idea for an ending, for FrankI played my heart out. I loved him,
and you do your own thing. Then he looked at and I wanted to make it come off the best it
me and Willie Schwartz, and said, He does it bet- could.
ter than me writing it! Nelson made sure Joe Irv Cottler began playing with Sinatra in late
Comfort did all the dates. 1955, on the first session for Songs for Swingin
Joe played that way anyway, with whoever Lovers. I sent Irv to sub for me when my Dad was
he played with, says reed player Buddy Collette. sick in New York, Alvin Stoller remembered.
Some bass players are pretty straightforward When I didnt travel, Irv jumped in because he
they play very basically. Joe kept doing those fills wanted the job. He was not a technician, but he
on these dates, and Nelson figured that if Joe was well studied. He had his own style. He liked
played that way, he could write that way. to say that we were the only two drummers of our
The bass and drum combination that Riddle kind around.
refers to is especially audible on the tails of the Where Stoller was noted for a looser, big-
songs on the 1960 album Sinatras Swingin Ses- band beat, Irv Cottlers playing was distinguished
sion!!! Comforts neat little bass licks, in concert by a rock-steady, solid beat that never flagged. Irv
with Stollers cymbal accents and afterbeats, lend kept that heavy beat that Frank wanted, and he
a whimsical touch to the already happy feel of the really set it downhe took charge, believes per-
arrangements. cussionist Frank Flynn. Boy, when he got be-
The Sinatra-Riddle and Sinatra-May dates hind a band, it was going his way!
owe a great deal to the spontaneity and rhythmic Irv had a metronomic mind as far as know-
accuracy of the bands drummers, who Sinatra ing where the beat was, says percussionist Emil
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90 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Richards, who recorded and toured with Sinatra tle way that he was able to weave his own personal
and Cottler. Frank always depended on him. style into that of Sinatra, are credits to this unas-
Frank would go into a song, and just bring his suming genius. Bill was the best pianist, says
hand down, and Irv would take up the tempo. Emil Richards. Theres no one that can play sa-
And Irv was right, every time! He would lock into loon piano like he does.
a tempo that he knew Frank wanted, and he Being so close to Sinatra put Miller in the di-
wouldnt let go. I dont think theres another rect line of fire when things werent going right.
drummer that could do what Irv did, as far as Bill took a lot of flak, always, from Frank,
knowing the tempo that was gonna make it re- Richards observes. But his way of getting Frank
ally cook for Frank. back would be if he asked for a key, and Miller
Cottler was an acerbic individual who had would hit just one note, Boop, and that would be
little patience for anyone who even hinted at ithe wouldnt give him any more. Hed just give
telling him what to play or how to play it. This him the dinkiest little note, as if he were saying,
caused dissension within Sinatras touring band Come on, b, find it! Youve had it over me all
of the 1970s and 1980s. We would do a live show, this time, now I got you!
and the dancers would come in and say, Faster! Though the singer had already had a pro-
faster! I want it faster! and Irv would say, You tell found impact upon the world of popular music,
me where you want it, and Ill put it there and Ill it took an inventive arranger like Nelson Riddle
keep it there, but dont tell me to play faster or to provide the musical support Sinatra needed to
slower, Richards remembers. carry him to a new level of performance. The
Binding the musical team together was pi- style that Riddle developed for Frank Sinatra
anist Bill Miller. Sinatra had discovered him play- went far beyond what he was doing for Nat Cole,
ing in the lounge of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas both conceptually and musically. While Riddles
in 1951 and had been impressed with his style. He orchestrations for Cole are beautiful, they are
hired him, and after Miller played the last few bland in comparison to the intricate textures and
Columbia Records dates and did nightclub ap- rhythms he created for Sinatra. But then Cole
pearances with Sinatra, he followed him to Capi- was far less involved in the minutiae of his record-
tol Records. ings and did not spark the arrangers imagination
In a sense, Miller became to Sinatra in the as Sinatra had. Frank undoubtedly brought out
fifties what Stordahl had been to him in the for- my best work, Riddle told Robin Douglas-
ties. Although Sinatra was relying more and more Home. Hes stimulating to work with. You have
on Riddle as his musical stenographer and to be right on mettle all the time. The man him-
arranger, the relationship wasnt exclusive, as the self somehow draws everything out of you.
Sinatra-Stordahl partnership had been. Instead, By December 1953, Sinatra had recorded a
Miller became the common thread, rehearsing surefire hit, Young at Heart, and the future that
with Sinatra and working as a close assistant on only a year before had made him virtually suici-
sessions, no matter who was arranging and dal was looking much better. The astonishing
conducting. richness of high fidelity tape and improved mi-
Miller, more than any other musical figure crophone design brought Sinatras razor sharp
in Sinatras life, understood him and the way he diction and fabled phrasing front and center for
worked. Except for a brief falling out in the late anyone and everyone to hear. The greater play-
1970s, Miller remained Sinatras pianist and mu- ing time and crystalline sound of the LP allowed
sical confidant from 1951 to the singers death in the singer, in partnership with Riddle, to fully re-
1998. The superiority of his playing, and the sub- alize his vision for the thematic concept album
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audibly clear in his first two Capitol 10-inchers,

Songs for Young Lovers and Swing Easy. Sinatra,
as well as his essential forum, had arrived.
While his Columbia years bespeak versatil-
ity, Sinatras peak years with Capitol Records re-
flect quality. Virtually every song the singer
recorded at Capitol is a model of perfection, and
nowhere is his deft hand more apparent than in
the meticulous care he lavished upon his indi-
vidually crafted theme albums.
Both Young Lovers (1953) and Swing Easy
(1954) were created with the intimacy of small
group settings in mind: the former featuring the
Hollywood String Quartet plus rhythm and two
saxophones performing arrangements by George
Siravo; the latter a stringless fourteen-piece brass-
Recording Ill Wind for the Wee Small Hours album,
and-wind band interpreting new Riddle charts. 1955.
Each exemplified the fresh sound that was fast
becoming associated with the new Sinatra; the
choice of songs was superb, the arrangements
sublime. bined to create one 12-inch album, and from that
Songs for Young Lovers, whose cover was the point on, 12-inchers were the rule.
first to feature Sinatra with his siganture lamp- This album was really the first concept al-
post, featured heartfelt ballads such as My bum to make a single persuasive statement: the
Funny Valentine, Little Girl Blue, The Girl program was extended, and the melancholy
Next Door, and Violets for Your FursI Get mood is completely exploited through small
a Kick Out of You was the records stand-out group arrangements of Ill Wind, Glad to Be
swinger. Although he went uncredited, the album Unhappy, Mood Indigo, I Get Along With-
actually relied on the stage arrangements that out You Very Well, and the evocative title track,
George Siravo had done for Sinatra. Of the eight In the Wee Small Small Hours of the Morning,
orchestrations, Riddle created only one. Clar- a new song written by Dave Mann and Bob
inetist Mahlon Clark vividly remembered the Hilliard.
recording session. The charts were the ones they Bob and I had written the song and hap-
had been using on the road, he said. They were pened to be in New York en route to visit a pub-
tattered . . . the only one that was new was Like lisher. As we were walking along the street, Bob
Someone in Love. said, Hey, theres Sinatra and Nelson Riddle.
Swing Easy, though, was Nelsons work and Sure enough, they were walking ahead of us, so
reflected his love for the jazz idiom. Many buoy- we called out to them, and showed them the song.
ant recordings that stayed with Sinatra for years Frank liked it, and asked, Is this published yet?
were born of this album, including All of Me Well use it on the album were doing right now,
and Just One of Those Things. Mann explained. Since the title begged for it,
Their next long-play effort, Wee Small Hours Capitol requisitioned an artists rendering of
(1955), was issued on two 10-inch discs (eight Sinatra, 3 a.m., slouched against . . . you guessed
songs each); shortly thereafter, they were com- it, a lamppost.
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92 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

This album may well represent Sinatras vo- anist, and find the proper key. Then I will meet
cal zenith. What Is This Thing Called Love? with the orchestrator, and give him my thoughts
for example, is imbued with the most expressive on what I feel the background should be, from ei-
vocal shading possible. If just one Sinatra ballad ther eight measures to eight measures, or four
album could define both him and an era, Id measures to four measures. Should we use wood-
choose this as the most likely candidate. winds, or brass, or strings behind the vocal? We
discuss it, then Ill ask, How wrong am I? More
than likely, hell say Youre about 60 percent all
right . . . but let me explain how I think it should
be done. Usually, we wind up doing it the way
the arranger feels it should be done, because he
A MUSIC AL MARRIAGE understands more than I do about it.
Miller, as the singers primary accompanist
and de facto music director, worked closely with
both Sinatra and the arranger to insure that the
singers ideas were expressed in the orchestration

W hen planning a recording, Sinatra

would sit down and make the tune se-
lections himself, then work out the or-
der of the program, carefully controlling its pac-
ing and flow. First, I decide on the mood for an
that awaited him on the day of recording. I
would say that Frank was very accurate in his mu-
sical ideas, says Miller of the planning sessions.
Once we picked the keys and sketched out the
ideas, it was then up to the arrangers to do their
album, and perhaps pick a title, Sinatra says, de- best, and most of them did.
scribing his routine. Or sometimes it might be Sinatra spent more time discussing ideas for
that I had the title, and then picked the mood to recording sessions with Nelson Riddle than with
fit it. But its most important that there should be anyone else. Riddle, because of his association
a strong creative idea for the whole package. Like
Only the Lonely, or No One Cares, for instance.
Then I get a short list of maybe sixty possible
songs, and out of these I pick twelve to record.
Next comes the pacing of the album, which is vi-
tally important. I put the titles of the songs on
twelve bits of paper, and juggle them around like
a jigsaw puzzle until the album is telling a com-
plete story, lyric-wise. For example, the album is
in the mood of No One Carestrack one. Why
does no one care? Because theres A Cottage
for Saletrack two. And so on, until the last
track . . . the end of the episode, Sinatra con-
Once the songs were chosen, Sinatra se-
lected the arranger best suited for the particular COURT ESY OF ARCHIVE PHOTOS

theme. Rehearsing with Bill Miller.

Once we choose the songs that will be in a
particular album, Ill sit with Bill Miller, my pi-
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 93

with Sinatra from the early years of the Capitol

era, was as much responsible for the development
of the concept album format as anyone.
His and Sinatras intense pre-studio plan-
ning shaped the character of each album as much
as the actual sessions themselves.
According to Sinatra, Nelson Riddle was the
ultimate musical secretary. Nelson is the great-
est arranger in the world, a very clever musician,
Sinatra told Robin Douglas-Home. Hes like a
tranquilizercalm, slightly aloof. Theres a great
depth somehow to the music he creates. And hes
got a sort of stenographers brain. If I say to him
at a planning meeting, Make the eighth bar
sound like Brahms, hell make a cryptic little
note on the side of some scrappy music sheet,
and, sure enough, when we come to the session,
the eighth bar will be Brahms. If I say, Make like
Puccini, Nelson will make exactly the same lit-
tle note, and that eighth bar will be Puccini all
right, and the roof will lift off!
Sinatras request for classical strains was a
natural extension of his fondness for the genre.
Among the composers he enjoyed most were Puc-
cini and the Impressionist masters. His all-time
Nelson Riddle.
favorite, though, was Ralph Vaughan Williams,
who he would often listen to late in the evening,
on his rare off hours. He was really interested in
good music, recalls Billy May. We went to the the library and open a Puccini score, because I
symphony a couple of times with him and his had studiously avoided operatic music . . . I found
wife, and he astounded me. One night, he was that what he meant by a Puccini sound was that
telling me how much he liked Glier, who is more the melody is doubled in octaves in the orches-
or less an obscure Russian composer who was a traand that is what he wanted.
contemporary of Rimsky-Korsakov. But Sinatra Frank and I both have, I think, the same
knew a lot about it. musical aim, Riddle once said. We know what
Riddle, in discussing Sinatras keen aware- were each doing with a songwhat we want the
ness of the classical figures he knew would be song to say. Frank would have very definite ideas
of value in particular settings, described to about the general treatment, particularly about
Douglas-Home how he fulfilled the singers the pace of the record. Hed sketch out something
wishes. Theres a song called To Love and Be brief, like Start with a bass figure, build up sec-
Loved, and [that was] one song he wanted a Puc- ond time through and then fade out at the end.
cini sound behind him on. Well, anybody with Thats possibly all he would say. Sometimes, hed
half a thorough musical knowledge would im- follow this up with a phone call at three in the
mediately know what that was. But I had to go to morning with some other extra little idea. But
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94 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

after that, he wouldnt hear my arrangements Christopher Riddle, Nelsons son and a fel-
until the recording session. low trombonist, recalls a heated argument be-
The strategizing could become tedious. tween his parents, in which his mother accused
Shortly before his death, Riddle spoke at great Nelson of having only two things on his mind:
length about the pre-session meetings with Sina- music and sex. The next day, I asked my father
tra. In those days, twelve or more songs com- about it. He looked at me with a twinkle in his
prised an album. Frank would start with the most eye, and said, After all, what else is there? Mu-
agonizingly specific comments on the first few sic and sex. That was like a window into the mans
tunes, often referring to classical compositions insidesthat was him.
for examples of what he expected to hear in the The quiet, dry-witted Riddle was occasion-
orchestration. This hot, precise, demanding pace ally plagued by a feeling of inadequacy. Even as
would continue for an hour or two, perhaps he enjoyed a reputation as one of the most sought-
through the first four or five songs. Then, as if he after arrangers in history, he privately stewed,
too were beginning to feel the strain, he would feeling hed been cheated out of true success.
start to slack off. The comments would grow less Nelson really thought that he should have ac-
specific, and perhaps a tune or so later, he would complished more on the order of Henry
say, simply, Do what you think is best. My Mancini, says Milt Bernhart. Nelson com-
headache would start to subside, my pulse return posed, but he didnt have the huge hits that
to normal, and another Sinatra-Riddle album Mancini had. I think that affected his outlook
would be launched. some.
Riddle once described his systematic ap- One of the driving forces motivating the
proach to scoring a Sinatra record: In working arranger in the early years was his first wife and
out arrangements for Frank, I suppose I stuck to mother of his children, Doreen. My Mom and
two main rules. First, find the peak of the song Dad were just a real powerful combination in
and build the whole arrangement to that peak, those early years, explains Rosemary Riddle-
pacing it as he paces himself vocally. Second, Acerra. I know that my Mom wanted so much
when hes moving, get the hell out of the way. for my Dad, and encouraged him to be certain
When hes doing nothing, move in fast and es- places, and make the connections that he did.
tablish something. After all, what arranger in the She was such a powerful part of that. After
world would try to fight against Sinatras voice? twenty-three years of marriage, though, the pair
Give the singer room to breathe. When the singer split. They really had such a strong relationship,
rests, then theres a chance to write a fill that and when you struggle so much for success to-
might be heard. gether, it unifies you. Then, when the success is
Most of our best numbers were in what I call reached, sometimes theres not a lot of glue to
the tempo of the heartbeat. Thats the tempo that keep the relationship stuck together when there
strikes people easiest because, without their are other things eating away at it.
knowing it, they are moving to that pace all their I think his music was a strong outlet for my
waking hours. Music to me is sexits all tied up Dads sense of humor. Julie Andrews used to call
somehow, and the rhythm of sex is the heartbeat. him Eeyore, because she always felt he had this
I usually try to avoid scoring a song with a climax sadness, this somberness about him. But his mu-
at the end. Better to build about two-thirds of the sic was a whimsical kind of way for him to com-
way through, and then fade to a surprise ending. municate his humor. He would almost hold back,
More subtle. I dont really like to finish by blow- in terms of dealing with people, and blowing his
ing and beating in top gear. own horn. But music was a safe outlet for all this,
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and it was where he felt safe. Through his music, Sometimes I sit at the piano to find what Im look-
he could communicate the freedom he didnt ing forsometimes I can hear it.
have in relationships, or in real life. The best things that you get are the ones you
Riddle worked quickly, and usually dont need to fiddle for. Sometimes you can fill
because of the demand for his work on records, them out by using the piano, but as far as
in films, and on televisionunder tremendous melodies or introductions are concerned, the
pressure. A beautiful, glass-enclosed gazebo of ones that you hear in your head seem to have the
Oriental design (located behind his home at 3853 most continuity and are the most appropriate for
Carbon Canyon Road) with a million-dollar view whatever youre doing. It all starts from there.
of the Malibu surf served as the setting for Rid- When youre stuck trying to find something on
dles painstaking orchestrations of the some of the the piano, its a lot of wasted time, and the dan-
best-loved recordings in the history of popular ger is that you wont have the fresh spontaneous
music. sound that it would jumping out of your head.
Dad was very businesslike about his work, But, I work from the piano, which is a form of a
says Chris Riddle. His pencils, Eberhard-Faber crutch. In truth, I can really hear the instruments
Blackwing #602s, were laid out, and he always in my head. I almost do as well if I have a table
had an electric pencil sharpener at hand. He was near the piano, where I can look at the keys. To
very organized. He had stacks of long score pa- look at them gives me the feel of it. And yes, you
per, which a special place over on Highland can hear the orchestra.
would make up for him, with his name printed at Although an arranger would be provided
the bottom. There was a Steinway out there, and with a lead sheet, or perhaps a demo recording
a record player. . . . He had this table that was like of a particular song, it was necessary to be re-
an artists table, that he liked to work at. The sourceful when orchestrating the instrumental
gazebo was a big room, enclosed with thick plate bed, especially if the song was popular and
glass windows, and the view of the ocean was had already taken on an identity for listeners.
framed by eucalyptus treesit was gorgeous! Riddle avoided repetition and familiar music
As a child, Rosemary would watch her father lines in favor of his own clever melodies and
work as she played in the garden. Thats a strong counter-melodies.
memory for me, she says. I would see him jot- I would do that for several reasons, he
ting down the notes on that long, yellow manu- explained. You have the first say in an arrange-
script paper. . . . He loved the Pacific Oceanhe ment, because most singers require an introduc-
was a daily swimmer for years there. The fact that tion, so you have the first say as far as setting the
the ocean was right there was an intense con- mood. If you can find something within that in-
nection for him, that kind of solitude was impor- troduction that has mileage in it, you can use it
tant for him. During the crazier times, when he in certain breaks in the melody later on. That
was really deadlining it, he would work late into keeps it interesting. Also, it gives the overall or-
the night. chestration a subtle cohesiveness which never-
My rather long-winded treatise of vocal theless is felt, so it seems to be a particular
lines and lyrics, and transposition all comes to life arrangement written especially for this song,
if I develop the habit of sketching before I score, whatever the song is. It keeps you occupied, it
Riddle noted. In the busy days at Capitol keeps you interested in what you do. Even so,
Records, I was hard-pressed to find time to write when you are writing under pressure and have to
the arrangement itself, let alone sketch first . . . I move fast for whatever reason, you tend to reach
considered it laborious, and, in a way, repetitive. toward tricks that are tried and true. They can
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96 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

either ruin your work because of the triteness, or come relief from five saxes and four trombones
they can add to your signature, he said. playing as a section.
Sinatra understood and appreciated Riddles A session of active listening, where the lis-
genius. Though Frank never really learned how tener tunes out the most apparent melodic/vocal
to read music, much less play an instrument, he line and focuses on the underlying sub-melodies
is a man attracted to all the arts, especially clas- and rhythms, helps to show how Riddle achieved
sical music. When writing arrangements for him, his musical surprises. Often he would fold con-
I could often indulge myself in flights of neo- trapuntal rhythms and snippets of the primary
classical imagery, especially in introductions and melody into the framework of the chart, which,
endings. If he feels I have caught the right mood when skillfully blended into the whole of the
in the introduction I have written, he is quick to arrangement, become almost invisible behind
acknowledge it. the vocalist and primary instrumental lines. In-
Riddle was a master at creating inspired mu- dividual instruments from within a particular sec-
sical fills that floated buoyantly atop a soft bed of tion (woodwinds, for example) are first voiced
feathery-light sustained strings, deftly arranged individually, their melodic phrases then repeated
to contrast with Sinatras vocal lines. His charts and stacked together to achieve a thick underly-
are packed with complex rhythms and subtle ing base that provides body and strength to the
melodic motifs which, bit by bit, create a strong overall melodic structure.
underpinning that expertly accentuates and sup- In a sense, arranging is a similar exercise to
ports a vocal line. Comfortable with nearly any Theme and Variation, Riddle said. The
tempo or style, Riddle had a knack for painting arranger is given the basic melody, and his inge-
backdrops that were richly layered in texture and nuity and skill combine to form an arrangement
tone, cushioned enough to allow plenty of room of the melody. He can slide any number of dif-
for Sinatra to toy with the rhythm of the lyric, yet ferent backgrounds and treatments under this
distinct enough melodically to stand on their original melody, as long as he does not hide it or
own. His orchestrations were infused with fine disfigure it with inappropriate or uncomfortable
gradations of color and strong, purposeful harmonies. Passing tones are used to give a feel-
instrumentation. ing of flowing motion; these passing tones should
Many of the effects and colors I used are be most active when the melody is least active.
obtained by superimposing one instrument on Two such accomplished musicians as Riddle
another, or one section over another section, and Sinatra needed a little time to adjust to each
Riddle wrote in his book on arranging. For ex- other. Milt Bernhart once recounted a record
ample, he often paired alto flute with English date shortly after Sinatra and Riddle began work-
horn. The effect achieved is quite unusual, since ing together. They were going to do an album,
it combines the honeyed roundness of the Eng- so we came into Capitol, and I remember clearly
lish horn with the velvety softness of the flute. that the first arrangement was for Wrap Your
He also favored the alto flute-muted horn com- Troubles in Dreams. It was just a jazz band: brass,
bination. Four alto flutes and four muted horns sax, rhythmno strings. Sinatra was at his lead
are an exquisite sound: soft, yet full, with the qual- sheetI dont think wed even made a take yet.
ity of cool, veiled mystery. Many of the swing He was running the song over, and suddenly
arrangements he made for Sinatra used a blend stoppedcold. And the band stopped. Frank
of four trombones against a baritone saxophone: said. Give them a break. He crooked his finger
It has a richness and appeal that provides wel- at Nelson, and they walked out of the studio. I rec-
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ognized that the arrangement hadnt gone over he had to be told to take it easy when writing for
at all. Most of the guys began to play poker; I dont a singer. And he was told! Frank was giving him
know why, but I followed them, and watched a lesson: a lesson in writing for a singer. A lesson
them in the smaller studio, from the hallway. in writing for Frank Sinatra.
Nelson was standing frozen, and Frank was Buddy Colette, one of Hollywoods finest
doing all the talking. His hands were moving, but reed and woodwind players, began working with
he was not angry . . . he seemed to be telling him Riddle at the same time Sinatra joined Capitol.
something of great importance. He was gesticu- Nelson really had the knack, he knew what Sina-
lating, his hands going up and down and side- tra wanted. He wrote differently for Frank than
ways. He was describing music, and singing! he did for Nat Cole. He found Franks groove.
When we came back, the date was over. And I was Nat could swing no matter what. Sinatra liked to
positive that I knew what Frank was telling him swing, but you could see that his body would
it was about the arrangement! I could tell it was need somethinghe needed a little kick. Hed
very busy. Too busy. There was no room for the be popping his fingers and asking, Can we get
singer. If they had taken away the singer, it would the brass to kick a little here? He was always look-
have made a great instrumental. The voicings for ing for that, and it was easy for Nels once he knew
saxophone were Duke Ellington. Everything what the swing patterns were, and as long as he
about the way the band played was like Duke just stayed out of the way and got those little fills.
Ellington, in fact. I was surprised, because at that A lot of people, depending upon how they sing,
point, I didnt know much about how Nelson Rid- may not need the fills. But Frank sometimes
dle wrote, but I could tell then who his idol was. clipped the words, and what Nelson was doing
Would you know that now, even? That he was in- with the band was perfect for that: he bounced
fluenced by Ellington? He stoppedhe may off of the phrases. Frank was a swinging type
have stopped right then, on the spot. At that point, singer, and this was a whole different artform that
Nelson had a lot of technique as an arranger, but they were creating.

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98 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

is prime Sinatra, playing fast and loose. The per-

formance is pure hard-driven swing.
DY N A M I C D U O The chart begins with a gentle but decisive
tempo, which it maintains throughout the first
part of the song. From chorus to chorus, though,
intensity builds as the brass section soars, cli-
maxing at so fierce a level that on the last chorus,

D uring the Capitol period Sinatra began

to take more noticeable liberties with
the rhythm and timing of his vocal lines.
Ive always believed that the written word is first,
always first, Sinatra once said. Not belittling the
the drummer sounds as if he is standing on the
balls of his feet, battering the skins of his kit,
punctuating every beat in exact 44 time, with de-
liberate, pounding force. By the songs end, Sina-
tra, sparring with the band, sounds like hes
music behind me, its really only a curtain . . . you lunging at the microphone, as if to shout in ad-
must look at the lyric, and understand it. Find out monishment, Yeaahhh . . . There. Take that! It
where you want to accent something, where you is one of the few times that the singer pushed his
want to use a soft tone. The word actually dictates microphone to its technical limit. The strain on
to you in a songit really tells you what it needs. the instrument is clearly audible at the end, when
I figure speech is the same way. Syncopation in he sings the line dont you start breaking my
music is important, of course, particularly if its heart/river, stay away from the door . . . amid the
a rhythm song. It cant be one-two-three- frenzied climax of the orchestra. (The singer was
four/one-two-three-four, because it becomes obviously taxing himself as well; his final em-
stodgy. So, syncopation enters the scene, and its phasis on the word heart, just before the out-cho-
one-two, then maybe a little delay, and then rus, sounds as though hes nearly run out of
three, and then another longer delay, and then breath.)
four. It all has to do with delivery. The listeners excitement and anticipation of
The heartbeat meter previously described a big, fat, wailing ending rises with the tempo,
by Riddle, in combination with Sinatras just- which seems to build and build. In fact, though,
ahead-of or just-behind-the-beat syncopation, is the pacing of the song hasnt changed a bit. While
the crux of their musicianship, and the most im- it appears as though the song has modulated from
portant element of the singers post-war signature. a medium-slow to a fast tempo, it never once wa-
The 1956 versions of Night and Day, Oh! Look vers from the prescribed heartbeat meter.
at Me Now, and From This Moment On Riddle crafts the musical dynamics so
(among dozens of other examples) reveal power- adroitly that the illusion of a change in tempo be-
ful sexual overtones, stunningly achieved comes an integral part of the performance. While
through the mounting tension and release of most of Sinatras tunes of the era climaxed two-
Sinatras beat-teasing vocal lines. thirds of the way through, the most dramatic im-
A recording that neatly demonstrates Rid- pact here occurs at the songs ending, when
dles skill as a crack tempo arranger and Sinatras Riddle suddenly drops the orchestra way down,
brilliance as a syncopational improviser is River, and then, in concert with Sinatras vocal, exe-
Stay Way From My Door, from April 1960. cutes a gradual, controlled crescendo, the or-
While the song itself lacks the sophistication and chestra quickly returning to full volume, and
urbanity of Ive Got You Under My Skin, it has holding it to the finish.
more raw firepower: where Skin cooks under The arranger, in his textbook Arranged by
the tightest of control, River is wide open. This Nelson Riddle, described the importance of
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building dynamics into the or-

chestration: Dynamic shadings
are a vital part of presenting mu-
sic effectively. Some of the most
effective crescendos I ever incor-
porated into my arrangements
were not achieved by writing dy-
namic markings or exhorting an
orchestra to observe my flailing
arm motions. They were accom-
plished by gradually adding or-
chestral weight until the desired
peak was reached. The same can
be said for diminuendo, in which
case the orchestra is progressively
thinned out until a ppp (very pi-
ano, or softly ) is accomplished.
True dynamics [changes in loud-
ness] in an orchestra are achieved
beautifully and naturally by a
combination of orchestral textures
and lines. When peaks and valleys occur under Sinatras sensitivity toward the musicians when
these conditions, they sound so logical and ef- it came to instrumental interpretation at record-
fortless as to appear perfectly natural, which they ing sessions. We were recording Last Night
are. Nothing makes an orchestration as attrac- When We Were Young for the In the Wee Small
tive as the contrasts achieved by close attention Hours album, Van Eps recalls. The coda was
to sensible dynamics. mainly strings and hornsvery low keyand
Frank accentuated my awareness of dy- there was a very short guitar solo in the mid-gui-
namics by exhibiting his own sensitivity in that tar range, which is the baritone range. The phrase
direction. Its one thing to indicate by dynamic was a total of six notes, written as quarter and
markings (p, mp, mf, and so forth), how you want eighth notes. We rehearsed the arrangement, and
to have the orchestra play your music. Its quite Frank sang along with it. When we were finished,
another to induce a group of blas, battle-scarred Frank noted that there was something wrong with
musicians to observe those markings and play ac- the coda. So he came over to me very slowly (he
cordingly. I would try, by word and gesture, to get had to carefully climb over other musicians), and
them to play correctly, but if, after a few times he just said Im gonna tell Nelson that the guitar
through, the orchestra still had not observed the solo should be played slower, but I wanted to tell
proper dynamics, Frank would suddenly turn you first so you can prepare for it. Then he went
and draw from them the most exquisite shadings, back to the podium, and told Nelson that hed like
using the most effective means yet discovered: the guitar solo to be played much slower. Frank
sheer intimidation! had respect for Nelsonhe didnt go over his
Jazz guitarist George Van Eps, inventor of head. He asked him first, but he warned me also,
the seven-string guitar, was one of the hundreds which is fair at both ends. So Nelson called over
of top-flight players who were impressed with to me, George, were going to slow the solo way
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100 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

down. You take your time with it, and then Ill correct it within the orchestration. Nelson had it
follow you. So I played the solo in half-time; it down pat, so that by the time of the session, it was
was much more relaxed, very laid back. That was completely worked out. He would have already
good musicianship, and it was Franks idea. Frank made arrangements that considered the techni-
was loaded with things like that. cal pitfalls of recording.
Last Night When We Were Young was a In his textbook, the arranger cautions stu-
particularly difficult recording, Nelson Riddle dents on the importance of understanding how
once told radio personality Jonathan Schwartz. various instruments will sound in different
I think we did about thirty takespartly my acoustic settings. The violin has a tendency to
fault. I learned a lot from Frank about conduct- thin out as it climbs, which means that the up-
ing for a vocalist . . . but I was still very much in per notes, to be effective, must be reserved for the
the learning process then. He was extremely pa- large string section. To write a C above high C
tient with me, and we went through it thirty for the violins of a six-violin section is quite fool-
times. Not all my fault, but at least half. And, in ish since the note, even if played in tune by all
those days, he had voice to burn, obviously. six, is thin and ineffective. Such heights should
With Nelsons arrangements, you wouldnt be reserved for sections including at least eight
need to use any amplification of the guitar at the violins, more if possible. If you are writing an
sessions, explains Van Eps. For Sinatra dates, I arrangement for a recording session, a skillful en-
used an Epiphone seven-string guitar. Its a bet- gineer can place the string mike in a position that
ter rhythm instrument, and rhythm doesnt will ensure a warm, intense C above high C, even
sound the same on an electric guitar. He also had though the violins may number as few as the eight
a different way of writing for guitar: I did two al- I mentioned.
bums with Axel Stordahl, and Axel used the gui- The situation changes when the perfor-
tar more as the primary instrument in the rhythm mance takes place in a less controlled environ-
section. The guitar didnt take the place of the ment (a TV studio or outdoors, for example), and
drumsbut it added a tonality or sonority to the in these instances, the appropriate adjustments
sound of the rhythm section where the guitar is to the orchestration would be made.
played gently. Nelson had the same respect for Sinatra too was mindful of such details. He
the sound of the rhythm section, except that very had learned that strings sound better when
often Nelson would double the guitar with the played in a sharp key, and thereafter insisted that
cello, which created a very subtle sound, because his string parts be scored accordingly. Strings
the cellos outnumbered the guitar. There were sound more brilliant in sharp keys, explains Bill
always two or three violoncellos in Nelsons or- Miller. If there was a choice between playing
chestra, and one guitar doesnt have a chance! strings in B-flat as opposed to B-natural, the B-
But it added a temper to the tone which was natural would be better sounding.
slightly different. That was the type of thing that While Sinatra was notorious for his opposi-
made Nelson very individual. tion to doing repeated takes on a movie set (he
John Palladino, the Capitol mixing engineer felt it robbed the scene of freshness and believ-
who worked all of Sinatras Melrose Avenue ability), in the recording studio, he would spend
dates, points out that an arranger who understood whatever time was necessary to arrive at what he
the technical side of recording could keep things felt was his finest effort. With Sinatra, it was un-
flowing smoothly on a record date. Nelson un- usual that he would have to go past four or five
derstood recording, so if you told him, I cant takes, says Milt Bernhart. But I remember he
control this . . . , he would know exactly how to was being careful, very careful, at that time. This
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man had instinct. He knew what was going to be

It took twenty-two takes of Cole Porters Ive
Got You Under My Skin to satisfy the singer.
Sublimely erotic, this recording is the turning
point in the Sinatra-Riddle epoch, the pivot on
which all future Sinatra efforts would hinge.
Ironically, it almost never came to pass, as it was
added to the list of tunes for the Songs for
Swingin Lovers album shortly before the session
at which it was recorded. In the forty-plus years
since its waxing, the recording has become one
of the most studied and admired Sinatra perfor-
mances of all time.
When we ran the arrangement down the
first time, the band played it like they had played
it many times before, and when they were
through, they applauded Nelson, probably be-
cause somebody knew that he wrote it in a hurry,
recalls Bill Miller. In speaking with Jonathan
Schwartz, Riddle recalled the circumstances. I
was living in Malibu, and it was apparently done
under pressure, because I had to stay up quite late
to finish it.
Sketch of Milt Bernharts trombone solo on Ive Got You Under My
To breathe new life into the tune, Riddle en- Skin from Songs for Swingin Lovers, 1956.
listed bass trombonist George Roberts to help
him devise an intriguing musical passage that
would lead up to the songs bridge, the instru-
mental middle of a song that all the tension builds As with many of Nelsons charts where there was
to before releasing. Nelson called me up, and room for a solo, there were chord symbols
said, Frank wants a long crescendo for the mid- sketched out in the chartbut nothing was writ-
dle of Skin. Do you know any Afro-Cuban ten out. Frank kept saying, Lets do another.
rhythmical patterns . . . ? And I said, Well, why This was unusual for Sinatra! I was about ready
dont you steal the rhythmic pattern out of Stan to collapseI was running out of gas! Then, to-
Kentons 23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West? ward the tenth take or so, someone in the booth
He said, How does it go? And I gave him the be- said, We didnt get enough bass . . . could we get
ginning trombone lines, the Afro-Cuban-sound- the trombone nearer to a microphone? I mean,
ing thing, which he developed into the bop- what had they been doing? There was a mike
bop/bom-bom/bom-bom-bom-ba-bop crescendo there for the brass, up on a very high riser. Can
that led up to the trombone solo. you get up to that one? they asked. And I said,
I left the best stuff I played on the first five Well, noIm not that tall. So they went look-
takes, believes Bernhart, the man responsible for ing for a box, and I dont know where he found
the blistering trombone solo that absolutely blew one, but none other than Frank Sinatra went and
the top off the record. It was a spontaneous solo. got a box, and brought it over for me to stand on!
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102 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

After the session, I was packing up, Frank Frank, to ten or fifteen years later, he was a dif-
stuck his head out of the booth, and said, Why ferent Sinatra in the way he approached a song.
dont you come in the booth and listen to it? So
I didand there was a chick in there, a pretty
blond, and she was positively beaming. He said
to me, Listen! That was special! You know, it
never really went past that. He never has been
much for slathering around empty praise. He just
doesnt throw it around very easily. If you werent
able to play like that, then why would they have IN TOWN
called you? You knew that you were therewe
all were thereat Franks behest. Rarely, if ever,
would he directly point something out in the
On one session, Bernhart recalls, French
horn player Vince DeRosa executed an ex-
tremely difficult musical passage. We came in
to do a date on the next night, and Frank said
something to the band like I wish you guys could
T he anticipation of Sinatras record dates
would often lead the top musicians in Hol-
lywood to cancel other film, television, and
recording engagements to accommodate his
schedule. Sometimes theyd even break the law
have heard Vince DeRosa last night, and then, to get there on time.
typically Sinatra, he added, I could have hit him Harry Edison showed up at a Sinatra date
in the mouth! We all knew what he meanthe once with a policeman on each arm, Nelson
had loved it! And believe me, he reserved com- Riddle remembered. Hed run several red lights,
ments like that only for special occasions. You and the cops nailed him. When they asked,
see, it was very hard for him to say, It was the Whats all the speed, Mr. Edison? he said, Im
greatest thing I ever heard . . . , But thats Sina- on my way to a Sinatra recording date. Sure you
tra. He could sing with the grace of a poet, but are. So Harry said, All right, come with me, and
when hes talking to you, its Jersey! Ill show you. And the three of them marched
Songs for Swingin Lovers and its follow-up, into the recording session, and there was Frank
A Swingin Affair! (both from 1956) brought the and everyone else. So they released him, laughed,
Sinatra-Riddle style to its zenith and remain the and walked away!
defining moments of the Capitol era. Replete As with many other highly creative individ-
with cream-of-the-crop standards, each retains uals, life in the recording studio with Frank Sina-
an irresistible swing feel. More importantly, they tra could at times be trying. Nelson Riddle once
solidify Sinatras image as a swinger, from both confided to George Roberts, Theres only one
a musical and visual standpoint. person in this world Im afraid of. Not physi-
Sinatra was influenced a lot by Sammy callybut afraid of nonetheless. Its Frank, be-
Davis, believes Buddy Collette. A lot! Sinatra cause you cant tell what hes going to do. One
was intrigued cause Sammy could swing any- minute hell be fine, but he can change very fast,
body to death. Sammy was very influential as far he said. Roberts vividly recalls their conversation.
as clipping the notes, popping the fingers, and Nelson told me the reason he was so paranoid
making sure the thing had a groove. I know that when we went to do a Sinatra date was because
from the early 1950s when I started working with he (Nelson) wanted a performance the first time.
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In the studio, Sinatra is like a caged rabbit, relentlessly pushing for perfection. Whether
adjusting the mike stand, directing the orchestra, or singing his heart out, he afforded
unprecedented attention to the proceedings at hand.
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104 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

He said, I want it rightnow. He didnt want to have to tear the studio down, and move every-
give Frank the chance to say, I dont like the thing over to the next room, and see if that would
chart. Nelson really did feel a lot of pressure. make him happy. They did everything they could
Publicly Riddle offered these observations. to make him happythey were kind of afraid of
At a Sinatra session, the air was usually loaded him. But hes like Tommy [Dorsey]very de-
with electricity. The thoughts that raced through manding. In a sense, he knew what would show
my head were hardly ones to calm the nerves. On him off best [musically], and they would tear
the contrary, questions such as Will he like the everything down and accommodate him. But he
arrangements? and Is the tempo comfortable for had proven himself to Capitol, and that had a lot
him? were soon answered. If he didnt make any to do with it.
reference to the arrangement, chances are it was Ray Breem, a Los Angeles radio talk-show
acceptable. And as far as the tempo was con- host and music enthusiast, was at the final session
cerned, he often set that with a crisp snap of for the Come Fly with Me album, in October of
his fingers, or a characteristic hunching of the 1957. Stereo was just coming into play for record-
shoulders. ing, he remembers. And Sinatra did a couple of
Frank contributed a lot to the orchestral part takes of the song Brazil. Now, after the second
of his own records, just by leveling a hostile stare take, he grabs his jacket, and starts to walk out the
at the musicians, with those magnetic blue eyes! door. But the engineers had a problempossibly
The point of this action was to make me, or any a balance problemand they told him from the
other conductor, feel at that exact moment as if booth that theyd like to get another take to be
he had two left feet, three ears, and one eye. But safe. And he refused! And they went back and
it was a positive factor that found its way into the forth for a few minutes, the producer, Sinatra and
record. And that, I ruefully admit, is what the engineers, and he finally sputtered and said
counts. Whatever youve got is all youre gonna get
We knew when the Old Man was pushing cause Im leaving! and he was out the door. They
us, says Al Viola. If we didnt play, hed look never got another take, as far as I know.
around and say, Push it! or hed make a state- Frank had the right attitude, says Buddy
ment like, Dont lay back. Collette. There were times when he couldnt
Alvin Stoller remembered one of the few stu- pull it off . . . maybe hed been hanging out too
dio sessions at which Sinatra became irritated as much. But he knew right away! He also knew
he struggled to create a musical sound for which when something was right. Sometimes hed be
he had a mental blueprint. We didnt quite hit doing two or three tunes on the date, and on the
it off, this one time, he recalled. Frank had an last tune hed do one take, and as soon as he fin-
ideahe wanted something [percussively] that I ished say, Good nightIll see ya! He had some-
didnt want to do, and I said, No, Im not gonna where to go. And wed be like, Should he hear
do that, its not meit doesnt fit. The rhythm the take? But you see, he didnt have to hear it:
section was too conflicting . . . one part was play- he knew that was the take, like a guy throwing a
ing it a certain way, kind of old-fashioned, and he basket with his back turned. There were times
wanted one microphone set up with the guitar, when he knew that he had it, and he didnt have
bass, and drums sitting all around it, to get a cer- to listen. Wed all be baffled, and we would have
tain soundand it wasnt working. He suddenly to listen . . . but if he said, Thats it, you would-
had this strange kick he was on . . . we could go nt hear a bad note in there.
in like we always did in Studio A at Capitol, and The critical and financial success of his
set up and record, and he didnt like it. So, wed Capitol recordings definitely afforded Sinatra
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certain luxuries. George Van Eps remembers an During the 1940s and 1950s, labels routinely
evening in February 1955, as the musicians and employed house producers: A&R men whose
technicians assembled for one of the In the Wee function was to direct the recording careers of the
Small Hours recording sessions. We were to artists signed to the label. Usually, the producer
record with a quartet that evening [Van Eps, gui- would find appropriate material for each of his
tar; Bill Miller, piano; Phil Stephens, bass; and artists and bring it to their attention. When a
Alvin Stoller, drums]. Now picture this: Sinatra recording date was scheduled, it was the pro-
comes in, and hes got a felt hat on the back of his ducers responsibility to coordinate and supervise
head, which was his trademark at the time. We the session: booking studio time, notifying the
were all set. Frank sang a few notes, stopped, then arranger, making sure the contractor had the re-
said, Good Night, fellas . . . Ill see you tomorrow quired musicians on call. At the session, he would
night. Walked out the door! We all got paid. Sina- direct the proceedings, working with the artist
tra left because he felt he didnt have the right and engineering staff to achieve the best recorded
sound, his voice was not good that night. He performance possible, making suggestions and
came back the next night, and it was perfect. He asking for retakes when necessary. Later, the pro-
was very picky about what he did. ducer would make reference cuts for artist re-
Few recording companies would bear the ex- view, and ultimately approve the final master.
pense of a full orchestral session that was thrown Unlike Sinatra, many artists relinquished cre-
away because the vocalist showed up and then de- ative control to their producer, whose word was
cided he wasnt up for the play. For Sinatra, how- considered gospel.
ever, they made an exception.
In 1956, the Los Angeles Musicians Local
247 scale was $41.25 for each musician for a three-
hour session, as well as for the contractor, who
was responsible for scheduling each of the play-
ers. The conductor earned $82.50 (double scale)
for a three-hour session, and an arranger on the
order of Nelson Riddle received approximately
$525 per orchestration. The copyist, who me-
thodically wrote out each individual instrumen-
tal part on score paper, was paid $303.70. If the
session went into overtime, the musicians re-
ceived double the union scale for the entire ses-
sion. Using these figures as a guide, an average
Frank Sinatra date in 1956 featuring a 35-piece
orchestra with no overtime would cost approxi-
mately $4,000 in musicians fees, plus whatever
costs the record company expended in overhead
such as producer salaries, studio time, materials,
engineering, securityat least another $1,500 per
night. (Sinatras advance in 1956 was 10 percent;
at $3,000 per song, the singer received a $300 ad-
With producer Voyle Gilmore, April 1953.
vance, of which $30 was taken by his agent as
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106 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Sinatra enjoyed the service of three staff pro- in awe of him. Maybe Sinatra feared that the old
ducers while at Capitol: Voyle Gilmore, Dave adage, Familiarity breeds contempt, might just
Cavanaugh, and Dave Dexter. These A&R men come back at some point to bite him. With few
had even less of a real hand in producing than exceptions, chumminess with his supporting
had Palitz, Higgins, Richards, and Sacks at players was usually limited to his graciousness
Columbia. and cordiality in the performance setting.
Gilmore, from all accounts a gentle and Once in a while, he did invite the musicians
knowledgeable recording director, basically just over to the Villa Capri restaurant after a record
helped keep things running smoothly. The pa- date. Even there he almost never made the
ternal producer worked well with Sinatra, yet he rounds of the room, staying at his table in the
was not the first choice when the singer joined back. We would approach him and say thanks,
the label in 1953. Originally, Dexter was slated, and hed beam, and that was that, remembers
but because he had written an unkind review of Milt Bernhart. Chris Riddle, then a youngster,
a Sinatra performance in a music publication remembers being with his dad and carousing
years before, the singer vetoed him. Sinatra and with Sinatra and friends after a studio session.
Dexter never saw eye to eye. Cavanaugh, who be- Sometimes, after the [Sinatra] dates were over,
gan to take over the direction of Sinatra sessions theyd pile into their cars, and run over to the
in the late 1950s, was a musician involved in all Villa Capri. If Patsy [DAmore, the owner] was
facets of the recording industry: player, arranger, in bed, Frank would call him and tell him, Go
producer. Although Sinatra still controlled the down and open the place up! Theyd have a
proceedings, he viewed Cavanaugh as a friendly party, to kind of celebrate the fact that theyd just
ally. done classic stuff, the likes of which would never
be recorded again, I suppose. One night, I got
Frank to give me a ride over [to the restaurant] in
his new car, a Dual Ghia.
On occasion, after a special session, Sinatra
might throw an in-studio party for the techni-
M Y B U D DY cians and the members of the orchestra. After he
finished A Jolly Christmas in July of 1957, he
threw a huge Christmas party for everyone, re-
calls Sinatra pal Frank Military. It was incredi-
blecatered food, drinks, everything. It was

W hile there is no doubt the singer held

the musicians who performed so de-
pendably for him in high esteem, he
rarely socialized with them outside of the studio
setting. Even though he seemed quite at ease
really something to seeChristmas in July!
Everyone appreciated it. . . .Those were very spe-
cial days. Frank had an office down the hall from
Danny Kaye, and every night, thered be some
sort of party going on thereSammy [Cahn] and
with them, Sinatras personal relationships with Jule [Styne] would drop by; all kinds of stars
musicians were complex. On the one hand, he would be coming in and out. It was absolutely
respected and appreciated their talents and un- amazing.
derstood their importance to his career. On the Milt Bernhart recollects a gathering of mu-
other hand, there must have been some subcon- sicians that took place in the mid 1950s at Sina-
scious desire on his part to keep them at arms tras home off Coldwater Canyon. We entered
length, perhaps to insure that they would remain the house, and sitting in the outer room were
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 107

three or four very important Hollywood people: my name. Later, Frank remarked to the other
Lauren Bacall, Adolph Green, Bill and Edie guys, Isnt it nice that Chris remembered me af-
Goetz. In the main living room were some mu- ter all these years?
sicians: me, Murray McEachern . . . about twenty Buddy Collette also enjoyed special recog-
of us. I felt a bit funny, because Frank spent sev- nition. Everybody would be waiting for him;
eral hours with us, completely ignoring his other hed come in to the session, and look around the
guests! And they were terribly aware of it, because room. He had this look where if he smiled, he
one by one, they left. But this was his day with would brighten up a room. Inevitably, hed hap-
us, and I got the feeling that he enjoyed itthat pen to see me. Now, I wouldnt be trying to wave
it gave him a kick, making them wait. Only Sina- or anything, and hed say Hi Bud! The other
tra would do that! At one point, we were on the guys would say, Why does he speak to you? I told
patio, and he was going from person to person, them I dont know! You see, I was one of those
asking them, What can I get you? And I said to guys that never tried to push my weight around,
him, I cant believe this is happening. I may wake or even say Hi Frank, remember me . . . Some-
up! He enjoyed that, and said, Why? Whats the times hed be having trouble with his voice, and
matter? Whaddya mean? Well, I said. You when he went into the booth to listen to the take,
didnt have to do any of this. He chuckled, and he would joke with me. Bud, hed say. I may
said, Dont tell me what I didnt have to do! need a reed, so get me one out! At the L.A. Is My
Buddy Collette remembers another evening Lady session [1984]. I said, Frank, if you need a
at Sinatras home, where the celebrity guests in- reed, I got plenty! He just smiled, Collette re-
cluded Robert Mitchum. I knew that Frank members.
liked me, because he had given an interview to Eleanor Slatkin, who, along with her hus-
Melody Maker magazine in London one time, band Felix, shared considerable social time with
and he named six jazz people he liked, and I was the singer, remembered Frank was an unbe-
one of them. . . . During dinner that night at his lievable host. We were having dinner at his home
home, he played my album Calm, Cool and Col- one evening, and he had a gallery of paintings
lette all during dinner. Another time, we were on facing the dining room tableit was like a hall-
a plane going somewhere, and Frank had a way. And I looked up, and said, Oh my God
portable record player with him. I was sitting be- that clown is absolutely incredible! I went
hind him, and he was playing a 45, which hap- bananas over this painting, which he had done
pened to be a song that I wrote called Monorail. himself. When we left, it was in my carhe gave
I heard it, and I looked over to see whose record it to me! I have loved it for over forty years. An-
it was. Frank said, I know what youre doing! and other night, Frank came to our house for dinner,
he picked the thing up and walked away. He had and I couldnt get my sons to go to bedyou
a good sense of humor. know, they were so excited. So Frank went up-
Sinatras keen memory for names and faces stairs, and sang to Leonard and Fred, and put
was legendary. Chris Griffin, one of the key brass them to sleep. And they have never, ever forgot-
players on many New York Columbia sessions, ten itthey simply adored Frank.
told Sinatra biographer Will Friedwald a funny Leonard Slatkin, then a youngster, recalls:
story about the singers recall, in which the singer As Frank began to work more and more with my
remembered him years after their last session to- parents, he began to develop a very striking
gether. He spotted me sitting there at a rehearsal friendship with them, and as a family, I remem-
one day, and said, Hi Chris! I couldnt believe ber several trips we took to Franks home in Palm
that he not only recognized me, but remembered Springs, just to spend weekends with him, and
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108 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

for our families to be together. It was very excit- thing I can do for you . . . but no matter what,
ing, but you know, as a young person, it just did- youre my cellist. And so he tried to bring her
nt seem to be that different. Sinatra had been back, as a form of therapy (not that my mother
over to our house several times, wed been over needed itshe was a very, very strong woman),
to his house . . . it never occurred to me that he but perhaps to make her realize that friends and
was a larger-than-life figure! He was just always colleagues supported you in both ways, that they
Frank, and I think sometimes even Uncle were not people who were going to abandon you,
Frank. although some did. But Sinatra didnt. For some
Frank Sinatra loved young people. He of them, all of a sudden my father wasnt there,
couldnt have been nicer to my parents, and to and my mother was just a cellist . . . but Frank
us, and all the people we saw him with. And, never felt that way. She was a friend first, who
yeswe had always heard that there were dark happened to be a cellist. I think he liked the idea
sides of Sinatra, but frankly, I never saw them. He that my mother would be a constant in his life as
was always gracious and generous. There were oc- well.
casions after my dad died where I wrote Frank Perhaps more lasting than the personal rela-
with the idea that perhaps we could collaborate tionships Sinatra struck up with his musicians
on a project in St. Louis, and he always answered was his support of their efforts to integrate the Los
himselfit never came through his attorneys. He Angeles musicians unions, which until the mid-
always answered them personally, and on a cou- 1950s were segregated: the black musicians
ple of occasions, he called just to chat, the con- union housed in the downtown area, the whites
ductor says. in Hollywood.
Sinatra was among the first to call at the When I first came to town, there werent
Slatkin home upon Felixs unexpected death in many black guys sitting with us, remembers Milt
1963, at age forty-seven. Bernhart. Certainly, in every nightclub and
I wasnt dealing with it well, Eleanor re- recording studio, the musicians were integrated.
called. Frank set up a session at Goldwyn, The But the Hollywood film and television industries
Concert Sinatra sessions. I wasnt really up to were very racist. People like Sinatra were very un-
playing, but he said, I wont play unless you agree happy about that, and when Frank had a record
to do the album. He was trying to get me back, date, he bent over backwards to try and find black
because I was nowhere. And finally, I said, Okay, musicians who could play the music. That was
and I broke down completely. He was responsi- the problemdemands were demands. Certain
ble for getting me back in the business. He had music required good players, the best players,
principle, and he stood for what he believed in, regardless of color. That was an uphill battle:
whether you liked it or not. If he was a friend, he there never were enough black players who could
was a friend. walk into a studio and sight-read the music and
Says Leonard, My father was an alcoholic, play it.
he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, and he Several exceptional African American musi-
was overweight. So he had three strikes against cians, though, fought to preserve the rights of all,
him. When he died, I was the one who tried to and began the groundswell that resulted in the
keep calm in the family. My mom, I think, was union merger. Buddy Collette, Benny Carter,
confused by my fathers deathshe didnt know and Red Callender were three of the top black
what to make of it. Theyd had a rocky marriage; players that demanded to be there, recalls Al
somehow, theyd always stayed together, but it Viola. They said, I can play it. Why shouldnt I
had its problems. And Sinatra kept saying, Any- be there? Buddy was an excellent musician. He
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 109

played flute and was a great reader. He broke the big, big . . . It was hard to get in, you had to be in-
barrier when Nelson Riddle hired him for Sina- vited. But theyd fill the damned place!
tra dates. Nelson was one of the first arrangers to One of the few songwriters to attend Sinatra
begin doing that. Some of us, Milt [Bernhart], sessions was close friend Sammy Cahn, who was
me and a bunch of other musicians that we called always considered part of the singers in crowd.
The Guild fought to get the black musicians into One night he was recording a song I wrote called
our union. Those guys were readily accepted by The Tender Trap, Cahn told me. KHJ Studios
us: as long as you had talent, no one looked at how . . . Melrose Avenue . . . Nelson Riddles arrange-
you dressed or how you walked or what the color ment . . . and Sinatra sings the song. And he gets
of your skin was. You were a musician! Thats all to the end, and sings, You fell in love and love .
that mattered. Frank was proud of the fact that he . . [sings the second love flat] . . . is the tender trap.
insisted on having an integrated orchestra . . . he Beautiful! Except the last line should have been
was all for that, and he was very happy when the sung You fell in love and luuuuuuvvvvve is the
unions came together. tender trap. The word love should have been way
up high. So I went over, and I said, Frank, why
didnt you sing it like this? Then, I demonstrate
it for him. He looks at me funny, and says, Thats
a high F. I looked back at him, and said, And
youre Frank Sinatra! He looked at me again,
T H E C A P I TO L S T U D I OS: called the orchestra back, and its on the record.
Now, this is the point of the whole story: Frank
5 515 M E L R O S E A V E N U E Sinatra would have sung that F even if he didnt
have it!
The surviving session outtakes show Sinatra
coaching for the reed and percussion sections. He

B y the mid-1950s, Sinatras recording ses-

sions were celebrated occasions among
Hollywoods elite. While few outsiders
had been admitted to Sinatras Columbia record-
ing sessions, the atmosphere was markedly re-
is very direct in telling them and producer Voyle
Gilmore what he expects to hear.
The take begins, and after a half minute of
playing, Sinatra cuts the band off with a sharp
clap of his hands.
laxed after his move to Hollywood and Capitol
Sinatra: Dont change the interpretation of
There was always a crowd at those Sinatra
it, but dont blow it so loud. The saxes
sessions on Melrose, says Bernhart. They
are thundering after that!
should have charged admission! Because the stu-
Gilmore: Is that right after the trombones?
dio had been a radio theater, it had an audito-
Sinatra: Yeah! Cant you hear em? I could
rium. And the place was packed to the back. You
hear em if I were over at NBC!
werent just playing a record date, you were play-
Gilmore: Yeah, theyre pretty good in there.
ing a performance. They took a great chance on
Sinatra: (Addressing drummer Max
the people applauding, because they could get
Albright) And Max, try to hide after you
caught up in the thing, and ruin a take . . . but be-
whack that bass drum. Whack! Whack
lieve me, they were sitting on the edge. And it was
the hell out of it!
an in crowd: movie stars, disc jockeys. It was
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110 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Sinatra choregraphed every note of every ses- material in the vinyl for their records, and they
sion he presided over; tightening here, cutting had the worst quality in the world.
there . . . it all contributed to the punch and Prior to 1949, Capitol leased session time at
sparkle of the final, polished take. several small studios in the Hollywood area,
Working with Frank was different than recording primarily at C. P. McGregor Studios
other artists, retired Capitol engineer John Pal- on Western Avenue and then Radio Recorders on
ladino remembers. He had the entire band un- Santa Monica Boulevard. In 1949, the company
der his control, and he was so completely bought the building that formerly housed KHJ
professional about his approach and his use of mi- Radio Studios, located at 5515 Melrose Avenue.
crophones, that it really amazed me. This structure was tucked away at the very end
As he had been at Columbia, Sinatra re- of the busy boulevard, just a stones throw from
mained very involved in the entire recording sys- the gate of the Paramount Pictures lot. Fronting
tem, and could only have admired the incredible the building was Nickodells bar (a favorite
sound that Capitols engineers were attaining. among the classical and jazz musicians who
The original tape masters vividly bring every vo- made their daily rounds through the studio
cal and instrumental nuance and texture to life. doors); across the street was Luceys restaurant,
We were the very first to go to tape, says Alan which Sinatra would occasionally visit after wrap-
Livingston, speaking of the transition from disc ping up a session.
to tape recording in the late 1940s. On top of According to John Palladino, a mixer whose
that, we prided ourselves on our sound, and in skills have been lauded by nearly all of his former
our use of pure vinyl for our pressings. I believe colleagues, the KHJ/Melrose studio had excel-
Decca was using sand, or some type of recycled lent acoustics. Studio A was on the upper story
and was the original radio theater with audience
and stage facilities. Downstairs there were two
smaller studios and the control room. For a long
time, Studio C was the key studio and was per-
fect for smaller groups. I distinctly remember
recording some of Sinatras albums, like In the
Wee Small Hours, in Studio C. The dance band
recordings with Nelson and Billy May were done
in Studio A, which was better suited for larger or-
While the three major labels (Columbia,
RCA Victor, and Decca) each perfected a signa-
ture sound for their recordings, it was the smaller
Capitol Records that bested them all, coming
closest to achieving true high fidelity. The
Capitol recordings of the era are, in a word,
sumptuous: the perfect balance of clear, sweet
treble and deep, rich bass, tempered with a char-
acteristically mellow set of mid-range tones. They
The Capitol studios (formerly KHJ Radio) at 5515 Melrose Avenue,
Los Angeles, circa 1949.
create warmly silken sound that, even on the ear-
liest monophonic recordings, is exceptionally
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The whole secret of Capitols sound, and Capitol was known to be a progressive com-
something that was given a great deal of atten- pany, and the manufacturers knew this, explains
tion, was the use of acoustic echo chambers, says Palladino. Wed get the newest and best micro-
Palladino. We were very, very lucky to have peo- phones, speakers, and tape machines, but the
ple that spent the time and money to develop the boards (mixing consoles) were really simple, ba-
chambers. In the early days of mixing, it was a sically one step up from a radio board! Capitol
hands off style: you had only a few microphones, designed the consoles, which were twelve posi-
and youd try to position the musicians in a room tion boards with rotary pots. There was basic EQ
that was acoustically good, like Liederkranz Hall. available on ten of the twelve channels, and I
But we wanted to have control over the sound in mean basictwo positions for high frequencies,
a physically limited situation, like a small studio. two for low. At that point, on Melrose, we were
The only way we could do that was to concentrate using the Ampex 200 tape machine, running at
on proper equalization, use of the best mikes, and 30 ips [inches per secondthe speed of the tape
developing the best echo chambers. passing through the machine. Faster speeds pro-
From the time that Capitol began recording duce greater sonic accuracy].
at Radio Recorders through the Melrose Avenue Everything was monophonic at Capitol un-
era, the chambers were placed on the roof of the til late 1957, when we began recording most
building. In order to create a realistic sonic por- things in stereo, although we were doing some
trait, the engineers manipulated the reverb and experimental stereo recording early in the game
controlled the amount that was used on each in- on Melrose, he recalls.
dividual microphone. The acetate-based (and later, polyester-
based) tape stock, which has held up remarkably
well in the intervening decades, was usually
Scotch 111 or a similar formulation manufactured
by Audiotape. So good were the setup and bal-
ance and the final tape recording, that it is hard
to believe the current CD remasters were made
from session tapes that are more than forty years
old. The tape at that time was not a high-output
type, so we were very careful about setting lev-
els, and riding the gain, so that we didnt get too
much noise. Those early tape machines could in-
troduce a lot of noise, so we tried to get the best
signal-to-noise ratio possible, to minimize it, the
engineer explains.
One of the outstanding characteristics of the
early Capitol recordings, when compared with
the Sinatra recordings on previous labels, is the
fullness of the singers voice. The timbre and tone
Control booth in the Melrose Avenue studio, circa 1949.
Note the early mixing board (left) and tape machine (right).
of Sinatras voice was captured with a fairly new,
Capitol was among the first companies to embrace the new ultra-sensitive condenser/tube microphone, the
tape-recording technology. Neumann U47, which almost immediately be-
came an essential part of any studios comple-
ment of microphones. The U47 was a good
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112 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

choice for a vocalist, because it had a fine cardioid tra, as any spillover of sound into his vocal mi-
(heart-shaped) pickup pattern, and gave nice crophone would be folded into the mix with no
direction, for isolation, Palladino explains. On unpleasant sonic results. When stereo and three-
Franks vocals, I would cut him off at 8 or 10 Khz, track recording came in, instrumental leakage
otherwise, wed have to deal with (high fre- into the vocal microphone required a separation
quency) sibilance, which the tape machines between the singer and the orchestra. Frank al-
didnt handle very well. ways preferred to be on the stage with the band,
Microphone expert Jim Webb, an engineer says Palladino. He wanted eye contact with
who worked on dozens of Hollywood films, feels everyone, he charged the musiciansthats what
the U47 had a unique sound. It was transparent, made his sessions so special. Usually, I kept him
but the microphone sound had some col- right there, with the band, but sometimes wed
orationa good coloration. For instance, there use a small isolation screen.
might be some slight darkening of the color in Frank always wanted to sing live with the
the woodwinds. But those are very subjective band, remembered Harry Edison. Nowadays,
opinions. you put the voice on tape, and the musicians
Palladino details his studio setup for a typi- come in and play . . . thats not the business to me.
cal Sinatra dance band session at the Melrose stu- The older singers want the band where they can
dio: At a session, every microphone would be hear it: where they can get with everybody, get
placed to its best advantage; each mike had a cer- the feeling. Theres a certain feeling you get from
tain characteristic, so we would utilize the proper the musicians when youre all together than when
mike to get the best sound. The RCA 44, with a youre sitting in the studio by yourself with ear-
bit of EQ, was a hard microphone to beat. . . . For phones on. I just dont know how a person can get
a typical mono session, Id use a 44 split on reeds, the feeling that way.
placed low (around 18 inches off the floor) to get Many factors dictated how the engineers pre-
that nice, fat sax sound. Then, off the side of this pared the studio and set about achieving optimal
mike, Id use another 44, or a Neumann U47 for recording balances. When we were recording
the trombones. Now, above the trombones were the Songs for Swingin Lovers album, we had so
the trumpets, which were picked up by the trom- many musicians on the stage in Studio A at KHJ
bone mike, but Id still give them their own mike that I put Frank down below on the floor, which
as well. The piano would be miked (I favored the is maybe four feet down from the main stage to
44 for piano); the drums would have one RCA get better isolation, and it worked out fine, Pal-
77 over the top of the kit, and for the acoustic bass, ladino explains. Some of the best recordings I
Id either use a 639, or an Altec contact mike that remember making were Billy Mays dance band
could be strapped to the bass. The guitar got its records, which we recorded the same way. I think
own mike as well. Miking strings along with so it was a matter of space, because that studio had
much rhythm and brass could be a problem, be- the stage, and you could blow the band over the
cause the sound of the strings just got over- top of the room, and the kickback wouldnt come
whelmed by the other instruments. Of course, at until a bit later. That simple process produced
that point, we couldnt record them separately great sound! It was much harder to accomplish
and cut them in later, so we just dealt with it. when we went up to Vine Street, because with-
As at his live concerts, Frank would be out in out the open space on top, the sound would just
front of the band, close to the rhythm section. For slap right back at you.
most of the monophonic sessions, it was unnec- In the control booth, tape machines whirred
essary to shield him from the rest of the orches- away. At the time, it was the standard operating
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 113


Engineer John Kraus operates a bank of Ampex 300 tape

machines in the recording room at the Capitol studios,
Los Angeles, circa mid-1950s. COURTESY OF MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES

Crouching in front of a studio monitor speaker,

Sinatra studies a playback.

procedure to run one tape machine as the mas-

ter recorder, and at least one machine as a
backup. When Capitol began experimenting Then Frank and his producer decided which
with stereo recording, at least one (and some- take would be used, and this was noted on the
times two) additional recorders would be run to control booth copy of the chart. Fred Grimes, a
tape the sessions in stereo. producer who supervised the tape editing de-
After what was deemed to be the best take partment, described how the original session
had been recorded, Sinatra would request a tapes were transformed into the album master
playback, at which time he issued his approval tape, commonly called the assembly master:
or disapproval of the selection as a final master. We receive a set of session reels and a copy
The playbacks were very important to Frank, of the booth chart that listed the takes selected for
engineer Hugh Davies explains. It gave him the inclusion on the album. We would then remove
chance to relax, and he got the admiration of the appropriate takes from the session reel, with
everyone around him. He listened very intently. the audible slates included [the producer an-
If we had some editing to do, wed do it right then, nouncing Master E17650, Take 2 etc.], and
after the playback, with him in the booth. make a reference disc for Voyle [Gilmore] or
Frank or whoever needed to hear it. Once we had
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114 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

the okay, we would cut out the identifying slate glaring error by a musician who should not have
announcements and make the album master made the mistake, then that might be saved aside.
tape in whatever order the songs were to be in. But it became a question of space. Where would
In most cases, it would be unusual not to do some you store all that stuff? We only made one as-
editing of different takes. Although in most cases, sembly master from one set of original session
Frank had probably decided, Okay, use Take reels. The rest were just held in case the first set
Four, there might be a small problem: someone was damaged in some way. Then the safeties were
dropping something in the studio, or a chair disposed of.
noise, for example. Thats when we might go in, Preliminary research at the Capitol vaults
when Frank didnt know about it, and just edit in indicates that Grimess recollections are accu-
the two bars that were needed to eliminate the rate: there are virtually no full session reels for
noise. I remember doing that on Moonlight in the mono sessions, and only some full session
Vermont. reels for the stereo sessions. In contrast, Lee
If the song was to be released as a single, it Herschberg at Warner/Reprise reports that their
would be cut off the session reel and added to label has all of the original session tapes, outtakes
what was called, in Capitol vernacular, a included, for most of their Sinatra recordings.
phonoreel, an amalgamated reel containing all One Reprise-era engineer, who has since passed
the labels singles (not just Sinatras), in sequen- away, would commonly make private reels of
tial recording order. the raw sessions for his own personal archive, and
Contrary to popular belief, it was unusual for it is copies of these tapes that have circulated
the engineers to let the tape machines roll for the among hardcore Sinatra enthusiasts for more
entire session: once the take was over, the than twenty years. Little extraneous session ma-
recorders were routinely stopped until the en- terial has ever leaked out of Capitol, and even less
semble was prepared to start the next attempt. from Columbia, where the lacquer discs contain
This didnt always happen, however, and extant far less session chatter than Sinatras later tape
tapes containing longer pieces of the chatter and masters.
rehearsals that occurred between takes have been
critical tools for historians studying an artists
working habits. Outtakes, including complete al-
ternate takes (like the first four or five takes of
Skin described earlier by Milt Bernhart), are
likely lost forevervictims of the cutting room THE CAPITOL STUDIOS:
floor. Once we cut the approved take from the
session reels, the outtakes were generally put in
the disposal bucket. They werent discarded un-
til we got the signal that the assembled master was
acceptable, and approved. Then the outtakes
were scrapped, Grimes says.
But what about the two or three backup reels
that existed as safety copies? They were held un-
til everything on the assembled master was ap-
proved and then they were scrapped too, he
B y 1954, Capitol Records was bursting its
seamsthe office space above Wallichss
Music City and the Melrose Avenue stu-
dio was just too small. So Capitol began plans to
build a new studio office complex, and in 1955,
explains. Of course, if something especially broke ground for what would be called the Capi-
funny happened in the studio, or if there was a tol Tower, strategically located at the corner of
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The Capitol Tower at Hollywood and Vine streets, Hollywood. Sinatra poses with Welton Becketts architectural model
of the Capitol Tower Studio/Office Building, circa 1954.

Hollywood and Vine Streets in Hollywood, just

steps away from Sunset Boulevard and the Hol- top composer-orchestrators, for an album simply
lywood Walk of Fame. titled Tone Poems of Color.
Designed by architect Welton Beckett, the Im really a frustrated conductor, Sinatra
Capitol buildings unique cylindrical shape repli- once told Nelson Riddle. For this special record-
cates a stack of records, complete with a needle ing, he engaged a series of top composers and
on top (the buildings spire, which contains a arrangers to orchestrate miniature tone poems
blinking red light that spells out Hollywood in that reflected specific colors. Not surprisingly,
Morse code). Especially striking when lit up at both the concept and the music are solid, as one
night, the structure remains one of the most rec- would expect with people like Nelson Riddle,
ognizable and historically unique landmarks in Andre Previn, Jeff Alexander, Victor Young, Gor-
Hollywood. Capitol had bought that lot, and we don Jenkins, Alec Wilder, and Elmer Bernstein
hired Beckett, remembers former Capitol Pres- involved.
ident Alan Livingston. He [Beckett] said, I have In addition to the full Tone Poems of Color
always wanted to build a round building, and this album, Capitol issued a special, narrated, 7-inch
is the time to do it. EP called The Capitol Record: A Souvenir of the
When the building was completed, an elab- Capitol Tower to commemorate the premiere ses-
orate inaugural was planned, and on February 22, sion and the new facility.
1956, Frank Sinatra, arguably Capitols most pop- The transition from Melrose Avenue to Vine
ular artist, was invited to preside over the very first Street was not without incident. While the new
recording session in the new studios. This time, Tower studios were designed to duplicate the
however, he traded his tonsils for a conductors acoustics of the Melrose studios, they couldnt
baton, leading a full symphony orchestra in a se- possibly be the same. The sound at Melrose was
ries of musical vignettes composed by the days so good, it took us about a year to work things out
so everyone was happy, including Sinatra, Pal-
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116 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

and the first sounds that we made were just ap-

palling, because the balance in the room was all
off, remembers Mitchell Lurie, principal clar-
inetist on the date. It was just terrible! All of the
different arrangers were standing there around
the room, and when we started playing, it was
like, THUD! It was just dead as helllike the
problems with Studio 8H in the Toscanini days.
The engineers fixed it on the board, so it sounded
okay on the recording . . . but in the room, it was
The engineering staff tinkered with the
acoustics within the room, adding splays and ex-
perimenting with different wall coverings. Most
of the adjustment, though, was made outside the
A view from the control room: Sinatra conducts a full orchestra for
the inauguration of Studio A in the new Capitol Tower, 1956.
As on Melrose Avenue, much of the sound
quality at the Capitol Tower was directly related
to reverberation. On Hollywood and Vine, the

ladino recalls. Nelson Riddle re-

marked, Most of our finest
Capitol records were not made
in the round buildingthey
were made at Melrose. They
had immense trouble with those
studios when they were first
built. We always joked, and said
that the building actually was a
hell of an office building, but
nowhere where one would want
to record music! Later on, they
more or less fixed it, but it was-
nt until millions of dollars later
that they got it right.
The sonic shortcomings of
the new studio were obvious
from the first official recording
A break in recording Tone Poems of Color. Cellist Eleanor Slatkin (right) once recalled the
session for Tone Poems. The exact moment this photo was taken: Frank asked me what I thought of the playback, and
problem was, these were the first I said, I think it sounds like sh ! As the word came out, I heard the click of the camera as
sounds made in the main the photographer snapped the picture. I could get away with ithe just laughed!
recording studio, Studio A, in
that building. We went in there,
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This promotional brochure from 1956 illustrates and explains the attributes of the new Vine Street facility, including the
echo chambers.

echo chambers are buried about fifteen feet be- For a long time, wed rent out time for peo-
low the ground, under the parking lot, Palladino ple to use the echo chambers, Davies remem-
says. They were carefully designedvery highly bers. People just wanted to come in to add our
developed. There are four wedge-shaped cham- special sound to the mix of their records. The
bers, made of hard cement, each eight to ten feet world-renowned echo chambers, still in use at
high. Humidity became a problem with the un- Capitol today, are especially helpful when the
derground chambers, so different epoxy paints studios engineers are remixing and restoring
were tried until the sound was perfected. The mi- multi-track tapes made at the facility more than
crophones used underground were the very best. forty years ago. (Sadly, the original tube micro-
Most of the time, wed print the reverb directly phones and speaker configuration have been
to tape at the sessions: for mono, wed use one changed, which has significantly diminished the
chamber. For stereo it would be two chambers characteristic warm Capitol sound).
and two mikes. Three studiosA, B, and Ccomprise the
Everything used by Capitol was judiciously bulk of the Towers ground floor. Studios A and
selected and hand built, including the speakers B played host to vocalists who dominated pop
installed inside the echo chambers: a pair of Al- music throughout the 1950s and early 1960s: Sina-
tec Voice Theater speakers, with selected L-85s tra, Nat Cole, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, and
on top, and JBL energizer amps and shelving cir- Peggy Lee were all signed to the label and
cuits. The microphones were Altec 21-B tube con- recorded there. The facility was also a prime jazz
denser mikestwo per chamber. recording venue, with Benny Goodman, Harry
James, and Duke Ellington embarking on up-
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118 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

dated hi-fi rerecordings, joining the undisputed

king of Capitol jazz, Stan Kenton, in the Capi-
tol catalog. Many of Norman Granzs Verve
recordings, including some classic jam sessions
and the early Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks, were
made there as well. (Studio C was used for
small-group sessions, jingles, voice-overs, com-
mercials, and some radio transcription recording
and editing.)
Studio A underwent major restoration in the
early 1990s: the room was stripped to the concrete
walls, and the control room was completely up-
dated with state-of-the-art digital equipment.
Many who knew the virtues of the original room
believe that the sound is inferior, and certainly
completely different.
The Hollywood String Quartet (left to right) Felix Slatkin, Paul C.
In Sinatras favorite room, Studio B, virtually Shure, Alvin Dinkin, and Eleanor Slatkin.
nothing has been touched since he left the label
in 1962. The striated, wood-paneled walls are the
very same, and the simple metal stools the singer
loved still dot the floor. Moreover, much of the MODEL OF PERFECTION:
original analog recording equipment is still in
place, offering a retro look, feel, and sound to C LO S E T O Y O U
new recording projects. The performance area
in Studio B has not been touched, explains cur-
rent Studio Director Michael Frondelli. Frank

is the Godfather around here. Other artists
come here to record because they understand the lose to You, the first vocal album Sinatra
studios history and want to be a part of it. Its like recorded in the Vine Street studio, is
the voodoo is in this place. a superb example of an albums evolu-
tion, and of how each element contributes to the
overall success of the final recording.
In early 1956, inspired by the semi-classical
overtones of Nelson Riddles ballad orchestra-
tions and the intimacy of the small group settings
hed crafted for In the Wee Small Hours, Sinatra
engaged Riddle to orchestrate a series of tunes to
be recorded with the Hollywood String Quartet
(HSQ), a superior group comprising four of his
most reliable session musicians: Felix Slatkin (vi-
olin), Paul C. Shure (violin), Alvin Dinkin (vi-
ola), and Eleanor Slatkin (cello). All were
Hollywood film studio players, who fulfilled their
passion for classical repertory by playing together
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in their offtime. In 1939, I became the first cel- talist was the flexibility that we had. We could
list at Warner Brothers, recalled Eleanor Slatkin. play all different styles of music, without having
Felix and I married, then formed the Quartet. to reach for it. Eleanor was a damned good com-
The original group was Felix, Joachim Chass- mercial playershe had a real sense for the style
man, Paul Robyn, and me. Then Felix went into of commercial music, Shure says. Curiously,
the army in 1941, and there went the Quartet! even though we were extremely active in the Hol-
When he came out of the service in 1945, Felix lywood scene, the name Hollywood String Quar-
continued as concertmaster at Twentieth Cen- tet had nothing to do with Hollywood music.
tury Fox, and we started the Quartet again. We all happened to be from Hollywood, and no
The 1945 group replaced Chassman with one ever had a quartet from there that made any-
Paul C. Shure (at that time assistant concert- thing of themselves. So, we said, Why not? In-
master at Fox, he is the sole surviving member of stead of The Los Angeles String Quartet, well
the Quartet). During the next nine years, the call ourselves The Hollywood String Quartet.
group gained widespread recognition. We were Listening to the quartets recordings of works
the most famous American quartetthe first by Ravel, Schubert, Beethoven, Borodin, and
ever, in fact, to be invited to the Edinburgh Fes- Schoenberg (among many others), one immedi-
tival, Shure recalled. We went at it hammer ately understands what attracted Sinatra, and
and tongs, and rehearsed almost every day, cre- why he found the notion of recording with the
ating a fine quartet that became world famous group so appealing. The four principals created
more on the strength of its recordings than any- a sound that had a luxuriant glow. In the Quar-
thing else. The original vinyl pressings of their tet, we made room for each other technically and
LPs are highly prized collectibles today. soloisticallybut the blend of sound was the
Far from a stuffy ensemble dedicated solely main thing. You either have it or you dont; its a
to longhair music, the four were busy session product of instinct and hard work50 percent of
musicians who contributed to every aspect of the each, really, Shure observes. We were like a
Hollywood music scene. We were affiliated with family for many years. Eleanor was a wonderful
Capitol and had an agreement to do all the com- playershe had the most beautifully rich, warm
mercial records to make money, because we cer- sound and absolutely perfect intonation. Felix
tainly didnt make money from the Quartet! had a great sense of timing and a sense for phras-
Eleanor maintains. Early rock-and-roll, jazz, ing a long phrase. In a quartet, all four people
and pop albums; TV and film scores . . . we did have to be of the same caliber, or it doesnt work.
it all, says Shure. . . . You draw the sound by your ability: the kind
The advantage of being a studio musician of vibrato you use, the way you apply pressure to
was that you were under contract, and like a sym- the bow . . . these are all very subtle techniques
phony orchestra musician, you worked approxi- in string playing. I have no guilt or false pride
mately twenty-two to twenty-four hours a week, when I say we had four wonderful players.
and had a great deal of free time to pursue other Leonard Slatkin explained the importance
interests. Hence, my parents were able to not only of similar music training, which differs from
have a decent living by working in the studios, country to country and ultimately affects the
but it provided them with a means to establish players technique and the resultant sound of the
one of the great quartets of our time, explains ensemble. I think when musicians get together,
Leonard Slatkin. many times the question of backgrounds never
Outside of the fact that each person in his comes up, and you have disparate kinds of cham-
own right was an extremely capable instrumen- ber music institutions: people from a French
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120 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

school mixed with someone from a Russian My parents would talk to Frank very often
school mixed with someone from a German about their own technique, said Leonard
school. With the Hollywood String Quartet, Slatkin. He asked them questions. What is that
you had four people who basically had the same when you take the bow and you just kind of move
kind of training, four people who were more or it up and play several notes at a time? How do you
less of the same age group and who approached do that? hed ask. He was fascinated by this, and
music in almost identical ways. The manner in my parents would say, But Frank, we want to be
which they played and practiced individually was able to imitate your voice! I think that was a part
quite different. My father, for instance, hardly of Sinatras relationship with his musicians: there
ever practiced. He could just pick up a violin af- was a give-and-take, and everyone was interested
ter three or four weeks off (if he had such a thing), in how each other produced what they did. Sina-
and produce an extraordinary Tchaikovsky con- tra was always asking for advice to improve his
certo. My mother always resented that he didnt singing, and they were always asking for advice
have to work so hard; she had to practice like a on how to improve their phrasing vis--vis being
dog, about four or five hours a day. more vocal in the way they played.
By 1954, the original violist, Paul Robyn, had The concertmaster was responsible for in-
left to pursue family interests, and his substitute stituting a mutuality of expression, explains vi-
was another Fox Studio colleague, Alvin Dinkin. olinist Marshall Sosson, a close friend of both
Throughout the groups various incarnations, Slatkin and Sinatra. The first chair violinist was
Felix Slatkin was the glue that held it together. the concertmaster, and he would set the bowing
Felix was a wonderful violinist, and probably, to and keep the entire section working together. It
some degree, a frustrated man. I think he would was more important in the symphonic world; less
have loved to have had a conducting career, re- so on these pop dates.
membered Shure. (Slatkin had in fact studied Slatkin was concertmaster for most of Sina-
conducting, under Fritz Reiner of the Chicago tras dates at Capitol and Reprise until his death
Symphony Orchestra. Apart from the Quartet, in 1963, providing many of the piercing roman-
Slatkin conducted numerous albums of orches- tic violin solos that add color and dimension to
tral music for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Sinatras finest ballads.
for Liberty Records.) Felix was always there for Frank, Eleanor
In Slatkin, Sinatra found a kindred spirit, as remembered. If he had a session elsewhere, he
the violinists immaculate playing paralleled would cancel it and go to Franks date. He really
what Sinatra sought to achieve with his voice; se- enjoyed Sinatrabut we all did. It was just sheer
rious listeners will note many similarities when pleasure. Frank did, on many occasions, look to
comparing Sinatras and Slatkins individual ap- Felix for [musical] approval. Other people may
proaches to musical interpretation. One hall- not have been aware of it, but I was. And Felix
mark of the HSQ was its long, smooth phrasing, loved it. He was flattered because he idolized the
which was accomplished through controlled man for what he was contributing. Sinatra was
bowing techniques; Sinatra utilized breath con- so excited by the way they played, the style, and
trol to realize the same effect. Likewise, where sense of improvisation that they brought to the
Felix would frequently add a slight upward por- music, and he began to form a friendship with
tamento to a critical note and neatly strike an them, said Leonard Slatkin. From that point
emotional chord, the singer would often inflect on, my father served as not just the leader [con-
a note upward or downward or seamlessly glide certmaster], but sometimes as contractor when
from one key to another. there were disputes with other musicians.
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Sinatras appreciation for the classical genre Out, Everything Happens to Me, Its Easy to
enhanced not only his understanding of music, Remember, Dont Like Goodbyes, With
but his personal relationships with its musicians. Every Breath I Take, Blame It on My Youth,
While both Slatkins had begun performing at It Could Happen to You, Ive Had My Mo-
Sinatra sessions during the Columbia era, it ments, I Couldnt Sleep a Wink Last Night,
wasnt until the Capitol period that their friend- and The End of a Love Affair.
ship blossomed. We became very close friends Like a three-act play, the album centered
and spent many weekends at his home in Palm around three main songs and themes. Scene one:
Springs, recalled Eleanor Slatkin. As you know, With Every Breath I Takethe confessional;
he has a tremendous collection of classical scene two: Blame It on My Youththe act of
records, and every time we were at his house, he contrition; and scene three: It Could Happen to
had classical music playing . . . and a lot of opera Youthe admonishment.
too. He is very knowledgeable, and of course, he Lasting a mere three minutes and forty-one
knew many of the artists. He fell in love with the seconds, Sinatras reading of the Leo Robin-
Quartet . . . we saw a lot of him in those days, be- Ralph Rainger gem With Every Breath I Take
tween recordings and socially, and he said, You is the epitome of finesse and should be required
know, I think it would be a terrific idea to do an listening for anyone aspiring to sing a note of pop-
album with a string quartet, . . . and so came ular music. Riddles elegiac touch provides first
Close to You. Everything you did with Frank was a trace of melodic support for the vocal, via Fe-
Franks idea. lixs violin and Julyes finely strummed harp. The
Although panned by critics upon its release, nakedness of the barely whispered vocal against
the albums magnificence was not lost on the mu- the simplicity of the orchestration brings each
sical cognoscenti. My wife and I have been mar- muted color into focus.
ried for fifty-five years, and she is a fine, classically These songs sound so natural within this de-
trained pianist, yet we have both been fans of mure setting that its nearly impossible to imag-
everything Frank ever did, says clarinetist ine them any other waya more grandiose
Mitchell Lurie, who accompanied the Quartet orchestral setting would destroy their bittersweet
on several tracks. Not many people believe that fragility. When sung by equally gifted vocalists,
as classical musicians, were interested in listen- the songs just dont seem to communicate the
ing to the other side. Thats just not true. We lis- same sincerity as Sinatras Close to You.
ten to this album often and we just wait for the The concept for this album was extremely
next tune, and the next one, and so onas if we progressive by the standards of its day. Where
were hearing it for the very first time. Lurie, like many operatic singers made successful transi-
Slatkin, studied at Curtis in Philadelphia, and tions to the commercial pop side of the business,
was a protg of conductor Fritz Reiner. He was it was rare for a vocalist as firmly rooted in pop
a principal clarinetist with both the Chicago and and jazz as Sinatra to venture over the classical.
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras, and occasion- Even more unusual was the willingness of a pop
ally with the Hollywood String Quartet. arranger to cross it.
From a thematic standpoint, of all the Sina- Its the most stunning thing that Nelson
tra LPs of his golden era, Close to You comes Riddle ever did, believes Paul Shure. Using the
closest to perfection. The twelve tracks, as they string sound as a basis rather than a pad or an en-
appeared on the original LP (Capitol W789) hancement really was a turnaround for Nelson.
poignantly convey the albums tale of lost love: String quartet writing is the hardest thing to do,
Close to You, P.S. I Love You, Love Locked because everything is so open. With a larger or-
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122 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

chestra, you have a big palette to work with, and a bushel of cactus needles exploiting the wonders
there are all kinds of things going on. You can use of those two treasures.
the orchestra to overcome melodic deficiencies, He talked about Ravel and Debussy at
by using riffs and doing things with the wood- home. He was so connected with the Impres-
winds or brass over a string pad and get away with sionists, says Rosemary Riddle-Acerra. I re-
it. When youre writing for four, six, or eight in- member going to the symphony with Dad, and
struments, its another story. he was so based in the classics. He was quite
I always like a big string section, Riddle friendly with Leonard Bernstein for a while, and
once told British music historian and writer Stan Bernstein wanted to work with him on his con-
Britt. Its been hard for me to get used to cham- ducting. He felt that he had a real sense of the
ber music and enjoy it. Not because of the or- music.
chestral colors, because theyre rather sparse in In describing the foundations of string writ-
chamber music; very often, chamber music is ing to Britt, Riddle made the following points: In
written for a string quartet. My original interest order to get the full sound of the strings, string
in writing arrangements came because of writing has to be developed from an almost clas-
orchestral colors. I became fascinated with the sical precept. To be able to balance X number of
harmonies and the various effects you could violins and violas, I believe that the rate is four
achieve with single instruments or groups of in- violins = three violas = two celli. Because natu-
struments of varying colors. Therefore, Im al- rally, as the instrument descends (as it gets lower
ways fascinated by large groups, and I find that in pitch), the sound is thicker and more pene-
small groups are more demanding in a way be- trating. You start with that. Then, you study string
cause you have less to work with. Now, Close to writing in general: what register the strings cut
You utilized a string quartet . . . [but] when youre through bestwhere they are effective, where
given an assignment, you dont sit there and quar- they are ineffective. All this evolves from listen-
rel about it. ing to music, from studying scores, from being at
As a young observer, Leonard Slatkin re- sessions and listening to picture scores, and so on.
members that Riddle visited the Slatkin home Or from talking to violinists. That all sounds very
many times during the planning of Close to You. calculated, and it was, and its how I approached
He was consulting with the Quartet day and string writing. Also, through the classics
night, just to make sure it was all done right. A through Debussy and Ravel. Ravel, of course, was
lot of the things you hear in the album itself, and a marvelous orchestrator, from top to bottom.
many other albums, is the result of input from Nelson was influenced by those composers,
other musicians, he said. Two classical com- and Villa-Lobos as well, maintains Paul Shure.
posers whose influence can be clearly heard in He delved into the work of the Impressionist
his orchestrations for this album are the Impres- composers and tried to draw from the qualities
sionists Debussy and Ravel. Riddles predilection and tonal palettes of that school of music, rather
for these composers began when he was a child. than from the Classical or Romantic school . . .
I received a gift of an old-fashioned windup Vic- it was quite a departure, and you can hear the
trola from my aunt Dorothy, he once recalled. early Impressionist composers in the feeling of
With it came a few recordings, among them a the voice with the intimate (yet very beautiful)
huge Victor Red Seal disc with Reflets dans writing he did for the small combinations on this
Leau on one side and La Cathedrale Engloutie record.
on the othertwo Debussy piano compositions A movement of nineteenth-century French
peformed by Jan Paderewski. I probably blunted painting dominated by artists such as Monet and
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Renoir, Impressionism also carried over to mu- Ravel, as well as Delius, Respighi, de Falla,
sic, where its primary proponent was Claude De- Milhaud, and Dukas. Ravel is particularly im-
bussy. The French composer was among the first portant, as he is considered to be the father of
to express mood and atmosphere through pure modern orchestration, which is probably why so
tonal color, as opposed to traditional melody and many arrangers look to his work for inspiration
harmony, in the process using new harmonies and guidance.
and scales that created room for new tonal possi- Close to You shows Impressionist influence,
bilities. Essentially, the Impressionist style is yet it is pure Riddle. Nelson had his own sound,
evocative, as vague and intangible as the chang- which was (even for the time) unusual because
ing lights of day, and the subtle noises of the rain he might put one chord against another, the way
and wind. Debussy was an influence upon that he does at the end of certain songs, or the

C O U R T E S Y O F T E R RY W O O D S O N , F R A N K S I N AT R A M U S I C L I B R A RY. U S E D BY P E R M I S S I O N , S H E F F I E L D E N T E R P R I S E S , I N C .

Nelson Riddles original score for Close to You, 1956.

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124 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

sound of the three or four flutes that he has going Julye: I didI played a couple of octaves.
on when the strings play. Theyre all typical Nel- Riddle: Just give me one note.
son Riddle gestures, explains Leonard Slatkin. Sinatra: Just be real definite on those
Harp, via one of his signature glissandos or as a downbeats.
more prominent accent instrument, is also char-
acteristic of a Nelson Riddle arrangement. While It is the loveliest arrangement of the entire
never lost in even the most raucous uptempo recording. Accenting the solo violin opening are
charts, harp creates an even more spectacular ef- the tightly controlled harp and vibe parts, which
fect in this, most intimate of settings. then give way to the vocal entrance and the full
Select accent instruments (clarinet, oboe, quartet, firmly supported by a gently plunked,
muted trumpet, flute), offset the formal sound of rich acoustic bass. The violins answer Sinatras
the Quartet without spoiling its integrity. My vocal lines in counterpoint, while in similar fash-
guess is that adding the individual instruments to ion the viola and cello pleadingly answer the vio-
the Quartet was Felixs idea, because he always lins. At the bridge, the string instruments play off
chose those of us that played with his group, says each other in a call-and-response manner. After
Mitchell Lurie. The supplemental instrumenta- a gently syncopated harp accent, the violins
tion adds texture, and emphasizes certain moods. sing the main part, while the viola and cello
On The End of a Love Affair, for example, the answer in the form of counter lines (in bold):
dark color of the oboe helps convey the loneliness
Sinatra sings of; on Its Easy to Remember, Violins: Close to you . . .
Luries clarinet provides an interesting contrast Viola and cello: Close to you, oh Im so
to the underlying string bed. A beguiling flute close to you . . .
solo by Harry Klee is heard on the charming Violins: I will always stay . . .
Wait Til You See Hera recording that was ex- Viola and cello: Close to you, Ill stay so
cluded from the original vinyl album. close to you . . .
Segments of the original session outtakes re- Violins: Cant you see . . .
veal the sensitive care lavished on the album. The
title track, Close to You, had been one of Sina- Then, as the pitch is taken up an octave:
tras favorite songs from the time he published it
with Ben Barton and introduced it in 1943 (it was Viola and cello: Close to you, oh Im so
his very first Columbia recording, done a cap- close to you . . .
pella with the Bobby Tucker Singers). Riddles Violins: Youre my happiness . . .
knack for writing lines against both the vocal and Viola and cello: Close to you, Ill stay so
the individual instruments is amply displayed close to you . . .
here. For this, the album opener, Sinatra wished
to create a subdued yet dramatic atmosphere, as The melody is constantly enhanced and re-
the following dialog between him, Riddle, and inforced not just by the vocalist, but by the indi-
harpist Kathryn Julye reveals: vidual instrumentalists as wellresulting in a
fine cohesion of harmony and melody that
Sinatra: The downbeats with the tremolo, strengthens the songs structure and increases its
the strings and the vibe: is that on the tension and drama.
same downbeat? Invaluable to the overall warmth of an or-
Riddle: The downbeat of seven, Kathryn. chestras musical sound is the quality of the in-
Are you playing octaves there? struments. Nowhere is this more apparent than
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 125

with string instruments, where lineage is as cru- bows just draw a better sound . . . their knowledge
cial as the players training and technique. A of balance and the way they cut the bow is a
great instrument, being played on and cared for, fine art.
will mellow and sound better as time goes on, For his Hollywood String Quartet perfor-
explains Paul Shure. The age of the instrument mances, Felix Slatkin played a Guadagnini
certainly affects what you hear, and thats the (1784) and a Guarnerius Del Gesu (circa 1730);
beauty of old Italian instruments. Keep in mind Paul Shure chose an Andreas Guarnerius (circa
that the wood [maple and spruce] these instru- 1691stolen from the violinist in 1957) and a
ments are made of was probably fifty or a hun- Vuillaume (1860); Eleanor Slatkins cello was
dred years old before the instrument was made. also a Andreas Guarnerius (1689); Alvin Dinkins
A good bow is even harder to find, and certainly viola was an Albani (1711). Felixs Guarnerius Del
affects the sound it draws. You can use two dif- Gesu was purchased from the estate of the late vi-
ferent bows on the same fiddle and get a com- olinist Albert Spalding; it was the exact model
pletely different sound. The great bow makers that Jascha Heifetz played for most of his life. It

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126 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

is the same caliber instrument as a Stradivarius, the labels were being run by marketing people
except it has a little more power, explains Mar- who rarely paid attention to the quality of the mu-
shall Sosson. sic they sponsored and promoted.
These rare instruments are as costly as the To prove the point, the singer selected the
finest works of art. In 1988, for example, a violin inane (and hysterically funny) Theres a Flaw in
made in 1743 by Joseph Guarnerius Del Gesu my Flue, written by James Van Heusen and
sold for $915,200; the highest price paid at Johnny Burke, and went to the trouble of having
auction for a violin was $1.7 million in 1990 for a Riddle score it with the same integrity as the rest
1720 Mendelssohn model Stradivarius. A of the songs on the Close to You LP. In the studio,
Stradivarius cello (circa 1698), known as The Sinatra and the quartet rehearsed and recorded
Cholmondeley, garnered $1.2 million at auction the tune, and at Sinatras behest, producer Voyle
in 1988. Gilmore included it on the test pressings of the
Close to You belongs among the most artis- album that were distributed to Capitol execu-
tic and most cherished recordings of the twenti- tives. One can only imagine what the group, sit-
eth century. My mother and father were about ting in their ivory tower, were thinking as, from
as proud of Close to You as they were of any of the shimmering strings, delicate harp, and mel-
the albums they made of Beethoven or Brahms, lifluous oboe, these lyrics emerged:
because here was the preeminent popular musi-
cian of the time, having faith and confidence in I used to sit by my fireplace
doing something different. It wasnt a big seller And dream about you
in terms of Sinatra albums, but it was one of the But now that wont do
most respected by everyone. I think my parents Theres a flaw in my flue
always felt that they had to do a good job and al- Your lovely face in my fireplace
ways be proud of it, because Sinatra went out on Was all that I saw
a limb for them, says Leonard Slatkin. But now it wont draw
It was a labor of love, concludes Paul Cause my flue has a flaw
Shure. It was a joy to record. Frank was ab- From every beautiful ember
solutely enthralled with the whole project, and A memory arose
what Nelson came up with just blew his mind! Now I try to remember
We had no idea what we were getting into in the And smoke gets in my nose
beginning . . . we just got together with these Its not as sweet by the unit heat
songs, and as one came to another and Frank To dream about you
started singing, we all got caught up in it, and by So darling, adieu
the time we were finished, we were celebrating. Theres a flaw in my flue
We knew that artistically, we had something very
good. We didnt know what was going to happen The joke almost backfired, as Sinatras
with it, but we sure knew there was something hunch that no one was listening was dead-on.
great there as far as the artistic endeavor was con- The powers approved the album, Flaw in my
cerned. It was very satisfying. Flue and all, and had the prankster himself not
There is a funny postscript to the creation of taken them to task, it might have ended up on the
Close to You. As early as 1956, with the acrimony commercial pressings. The song remained an
of the late Columbia period just four years behind oddity in the Sinatra discography until about fif-
him, Frank was once again disenchanted with the teen years later, when the story behind its cre-
bureaucracies of the record industry, feeling that
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ation was divulged and the song was then offi- hearing could be imitated by two separate (right
cially released. and left) microphones was first introduced by
Alan D. Blumlein, who theorized that stereo
sound would work because the brain compares
the intensities of incoming sounds and contrasts
the input received by each ear. The brain senses
and evaluates the arrival time from the right and
FROM MONO TO STEREO left sound sources, the reverberation, and the in-
tensity of the sound and can then determine the
direction and distance of the sound almost
As with the microphone, experimentation

U ntil mid- to late 1957, almost all of the

record industrys recording sessions were
monaural, or monophonic, transmitted by
a single channel. Listening to a monophonic
recording is somewhat like listening to a perfor-
with binaural sound came well before the in-
vention of the phonograph. It was Alexander Gra-
ham Bell who first used the term stereophonic
phenomena, around 1880.
The first transmission of a live performance
mance with just one ear. Monophonic recordings in stereo took place in France in 1881, when in-
lack a certain depth, as well as a clearly defined ventor Clement Ader placed ten transmitters (mi-
spatial perception. That does not mean, however, crophones) in pairs on the edge of the stage at the
that mono recordings are inferior: the thousands Paris Opera and linked them by wire to the Palais
of extremely fine recordings made prior to the in- de lIndustrie, site of the Electrical Exhibition. At
vention of stereo sound testify to the ultra-high the Exhibition, visitors could pick up two tele-
quality that could be achieved with mono record- phone receivers and enjoy the live performance.
ings. They can be as clear and as distinctive (and, So impressive was the demonstration that the De-
in some cases,superior) to a true stereo recording. cember 3, 1881, issue of Scientific American trans-
Comparing sound to sight, monophonic lated an article that appeared in the French
sound is like having no peripheral vision. With a publication, LElectricien. Everyone who has
monophonic recording, an engineer has a fairly been fortunate enough to hear the telephones at
narrow sonic soundstage to work with. Within the Palais de lIndustrie has remarked that, in lis-
that limited landscape, he must condense the tening with both ears at the two telephones, the
color and texture of every instrument of the or- sound takes on a special character of relief and
chestra, assuring that each sound is naturally bal- localization which a single receiver cannot
anced against the others. Since the instrumental produce. . . .
or spatial balance of a monophonic recording was In terms of application to sound recording,
set at the session, engineers were meticulous real work did not begin until the late 1920s, when
about how they miked the orchestra and paid W. Bartlett Jones patented his idea for putting dis-
close attention to the overall quality of sound. crete sound signals in either adjacent grooves of
Once multi-track stereo came into play, some en- a phonograph disc, or on the opposite sides of a
gineers became lax, adopting a we can fix it record. Synchronization of the two required styli
later mentality, which caused the quality of was a major problem, and the most impressive
some early stereo recordings to suffer. (and accidental) application of this general idea
Stereophonic sound approximates the way were two recordings made by Duke Ellington on
humans hear. The idea that binaural human February 3 and 9, 1932.
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128 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

The Ellington sessions (two medleys) took Exposition in Chicago, via stereo recordings
place at Victor Records New York studios, the en- made of Leopold Stokowski conducting the
gineers using two turntables to make separate Philadelphia Orchestra. Discs from both these
transcriptions of the session. The recording was early sessions survive, and the stereo imaging is
issued on 78 rpm disc. Years later, an astute surprisingly good.
Ellington historian noticed that a second press- The film industry, always progressive and
ing of the same record sounded different. When flush with cash, helped prove stereo sound feasi-
the two 78 pressings were synchronized, it be- ble. Walt Disneys Fantasia, recorded in 1939 by
came clear that while they were the very same RCA with seven separate channels, demonstrated
take, the discs had been struck from alternative the wonders of the stereophonic process. Within
masters. a short time, many film companies were record-
For this session, the recording engineers had ing on separate channels. Today realistically re-
set up a second set of microphones, their signal stored stereo CDs are routinely created for
being fed to a separate cutting lathe, which re- soundtracks of musicals of the 1940s and 1950s
sulted in a unique wax master (of the same per- by mixing individual channels (made from vary-
formance) being cut. Since the mike placement ing locations on the soundstage) that were miked
for the two cutting lathes differed, each micro- and recorded on separate session discs and tapes.
phone setup (and thus, the two records) offered (These discrete microphone setups around the
a different perspective of the orchestra, and when stage were called angles, indicating that
synched, sounded very much like a true stereo the separate recordings were made to capture
soundstage. Close audition of the recordings, the individual performers placement on the
now released in stereo on CD, reveals such skill- soundstage.)
ful instrument placement that one cant help but For the record industry, the problem of styli
believe that this was a successful stereo test. placement and a workable method of cutting sep-
In truth, the 1932 Ellington stereo sides are arate channels into the grooves of a traditional
as much serendipity as not. Apparently, RCA had disc master seemed to be the biggest problem
been using Western Electrics electrical record- with the stereo idea. After magnetic tape
ing process and disliked paying royalties to the recorders were introduced into the recording stu-
company. In an attempt to eliminate the Western dios, the idea was revived in earnest by a few of
Electric system, RCA began to develop its own the major record companies, primarily RCA Vic-
electrical recording process, and for these Elling- tor (in the United States) and Decca (in Europe),
ton recordings, one master was cut using the and was first used only for classical recording
Western Electric system, one with the new RCA sessions.
system. (The comparisons proved that the West- The late Jack Pfeiffer, the legendary pro-
ern Electric system was superior, and RCA con- ducer responsible for directing RCA Victors
tinued to refine its process, which supplanted the Living Stereo recording sessions, once de-
Western Electric process in 1934.) scribed, for journalist Susan Elliott, the tape
Using the Blumlein theory, which had been machines used for his earliest stereo recording:
patented in 1931, EMI made some experimental The RCA engineers had made their own tape
recordings at their Abbey Road Studios in Lon- machines . . . we now call them the Tinkertoys!
don in 1933. Research continued, and later in that They had small 7-inch reels, and they ran at 30
year, Arthur Charles Keller and a team of engi- ips, so you could only get seven and a half min-
neers from Bell Telephone Labs demonstrated utes per reel. Anything that went on for any
auditory perspective at the Century of Progress length of time had to be overlapped. We used to
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were designing a console to accept multiple in-

puts, he said. The engineers felt that three mi-
crophone input channels for each track were
sufficient and incorporated provisions for split-
ting a microphone signal between the two. I was
so enthusiastic that I pressed for every opportu-
nity to experiment with live orchestras. The first
was on October 6, 1953, with Leopold Stokowski
and his Symphony Orchestra in Webster Hall,
New York City. Nothing remains of the two-track
results of that session, but in December [1953],
Pierre Monteux with members of the Boston
Symphony Orchestra were in Manhattan Center
for recording of excerpts of Delibess Copplia.
The equipment was only partially set up, because
engineers were actively engaged in getting a
commercial monaural recording. But some takes
were recorded stereophonically with a two-mi-
crophone setup. It was so promising that I argued
Legendary RCA Red Seal producer Jack Pfeiffer directs
a stereo session, mid-1950s.
that all orchestral sessions should have a double
crew, one for commercial monaural recording
and the other for stereo experimentation.
The first full-fledged stereo recording session
do that on some of the early Toscanini recordings committed to tape was made by Pfeiffer on Feb-
and then had to splice them together. Generally, ruary 21 and 22, 1954, in Bostons Symphony Hall,
we ran two machines on everything. If a piece was and the producer had vivid recollections of the
more than seven and a half minutes long, we excitement generated by the performances and
would stop one machine, change the reel, start the recordings made of them. The first such
that up, then stop the other machine, change the setup was used for Charles Munch and the
reel, and then start that one up, and so on. Boston Symphonys recording of Berliozs
By 1950, we had machines [the RCA RT-11] Damnation of Faust. Since there were soloists,
with 16-inch reels, so we could record up to 130 we used three microphones, splitting the center
minutes of music at 30 ips. These were mostly one between the left and right tracks. The Ride
used for assembling LP masters and Toscanini to Hell section was so impressive, I used it on a
broadcasts. Then, around 52 or 53, Ampex came demonstration tape that I later played for every-
out with some good 15 ips machines: the heads one who would sit still for it. This demo tape was
were better, the electronics . . . even the me- lost, but a fragment of the famous Ride was
chanical aspects were better. Torque was more saved from another take.
consistent, there was little wow or flutter, and you Pfeiffer, along with engineer Leslie Chase,
could record a whole LP side (about twenty-three approached the initial stereo recording setups
minutes) with the 2,400-foot reels. very simply. On their earliest stereo sessions, they
RCA, under Pfeiffers urging, continued to used two widely spaced condenser mikes (Neu-
be the new formats greatest proponent. In 1953, mann M-50s). Stokowski had always been such
RCA had two-track professional equipment and a pioneer in sound experimentation, and we set
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130 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

up a double recording system for his sessions of its ubiquitous Model 300 to accommodate the
the Beethoven Pastorale on March 18, 1954, preferred half-inch tape and three separate
Pfeiffer recalled. Manhattan Center in New recording tracks. By 1956, Ampex was promoting
York City has a high ambient reverberation level, such a machine, and record companies began to
and to get more presence, we tried a third mi- re-design their mixing consoles to allow for more
crophone. But Stokowski had a strange orchestral input channels. Increasingly, the mixing engi-
setup: strings all on his left, woodwinds right, neers were abandoning monitoring in mono in
brass in back of the woodwinds, percussion cen- favor of stereophonic monitoring in the control
ter-rear. Even though the results were interest- rooms. The artists loved it, although some were
ing, the unconventional orchestral setup a little confused, Jack Pfeiffer remembered. I
precluded considering it later for a stereophonic set up a stereo playback for Vladimir Horowitz,
release. and he stared at the two speakers and com-
In time, the producer was able to convince plained, But . . . the piano comes from the cen-
RCA executives that stereo was worth the time ter where there is no speaker! And Heifetz called
and effort they were spending it. With the BSO, this new technology hystereo to register his con-
CSO, and Stokowski, we began to feel more tempt for it.
confident in our judgment concerning the ideal By the time Westrex developed the 45/45
ratio of direct to reverberant sound. To me, this head for cutting a stereo groove into an LP lac-
ratio was the determining factor in giving the lis- quer master, RCA Victor had a growing collec-
tener a sense of reality in a recording. But I felt tion of stereo recordings by the classical
that more different recording sessions were superstars of the day and began transferring them
needed to develop the proper technique, he to the new stereo format. Everyone involved sat
recalled. down, scratched their collective heads, and asked,
At roughly the same time, it became appar- What shall we call this new sound? Finally, our
ent that stereo was adaptable and desirable for public relations people took the hint from all of
popular recordings as well. Pfeiffer remembered us who were claiming that it represented a life-
the push to introduce stereo to the pop side of the like experience, and settled on living stereo,
business. [During the summer of 1954,] Arthur Pfeiffer concluded.
Fiedler and the Boston Pops had a series of ses- Over at Capitol, the records were dubbed
sions: some were recorded in stereo, some not. By full dimensional stereo, and the company em-
this time, the results we had obtained were im- phasized the concept of full-frequency repro-
pressing the pop producers, and pressure was on duction by redesigning its LP label, which now
the engineering department to work on popular sported a vivid ring containing every color in the
sessions. There was only a limited amount of spectrum around its edges, implying that Capi-
stereo equipment to go around, though. The pop tols records were ablaze with all of the tonal color
people felt, and rightly so, that stereo would get that the sonic spectrum had to offer. Indeed,
a great publicity push and larger internal support Capitol had much to be proud of, and the sym-
if it could be shown to be effective with popular bolism of the new label was reflected in the su-
music. The big band era was going strong, and perior sonics of the records themselves.
stereo was the logical medium to dramatize their While Capitols engineering department
sound. had experimented with stereo recording as early
Mercurys Bob Fine had been recording bin- as 1954 (at the Melrose Avenue studio), it wasnt
aurally with the Ampex model 350-2 tape embraced for pop recording until late in 1957.
recorder, and he sought to have Ampex modify Carson Taylor was one of the engineers who was
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responsible for transcribing the early stereo ses- eral triangle. That went on for a while, but it had
sions and recalls here the trepidation that ac- quite a few flaws in it. There was a lot of experi-
companied the transition to the new format: I mentation and struggling: some of it worked,
had gotten into doing the stereo recordings, be- some of it did not. Whatever was done, we had to
cause some of the fellows did not want to. One be careful of phase shifting, because it would af-
night, when Id just finished a stereo mix at the fect the mono mix, which at the time was still of
studio, a vice president of Capitol (whose name primary importance. If you split the vocal mike
I cant remember) backed me up against the wall equally to both sides, you ended up with part of
and lectured me for about thirty-five or forty min- it out of phase. I heard results at that time where
utes on the folly of wasting my time, because when you combined them to mono, the vocalist
stereo was just an idea, a fad . . . and that it would disappeared!
never work. Of course, it went in one ear and out John Palladino explains, The control rooms
the other with me, because I didnt believe that! were initially set up for mono, but for a time we
That was probably around 1956. There was a lot ran both stereo and mono recorders at the ses-
of opposition in the beginning, mostly from the sions. The big question was, How do you pro-
dyed-in-the-wool hard-core mono producers and duce your stereo records? Do you make a separate
mixers that did not want to change. . . . On the mono recording, or mix to mono right off the
other side were the more modern ones who were stereo? What is stereo? There was always an ar-
very interested in stereo, and believed it had a gument between the purist approach to stereo
future. and the practical approach. Stereo sound could
Taylor described his approach to the initial simply be sound coming out of two speakers, or
stereo recording sessions at Capitol. I ran a sep- it could be a true duplication of the sound of the
arate set of mikes for stereo, and I mixed them in room, in which case youd try for a fairly straight-
a different room than the mono mixer, because forward setup. It was up to the engineer to deter-
at that time, mono was still the king. But there mine the most effective use of microphone
were two separate boards, two separate rooms, placement and balance.
and two different mike setups. For the stereo set- When stereo began to gain momentum, Am-
ups, I used mostly Neumann U67s; then, we got pex followed the suggestion of a few engineers
some newer Neumann mikes, and I tried those. who had been conducting serious experiments
I was a great one for trying out the new mikes . . . with tape and stereo recording and, in the mid-
a lot of the fellas didnt want to depart from what 1950s, introduced a three-track tape machine.
they were used to, but I liked to use the new ones The three-track machine allowed for greater flex-
to see if they were any good. And in so many ibility in recording and mixing: the orchestra
cases, they became the standard microphones could easily be recorded on the first two tracks,
that we would use. The 67 has a peak up in the and the vocalist on the third. Each track was iso-
top end, and the newer Neumanns just sounded lated, and using the mixing console, mixing en-
warmer. gineers could blend and manipulate the three
To record the orchestra, we used three mi- channels in a variety of ways: they could make
crophones in a triangle, which was a metal trian- certain parts of the orchestra louder or softer, or
gle on which they were mounted and hung high they could even eliminate the vocal by turning
above the musicians. There was one mike on down the volume completely on the third track.
each corner in the rear, and the third microphone They could also drop the orchestra out altogether,
was in the front. The triangle itself was probably and listen to the vocal only. The three-track sys-
about three feet on each side; it was an equilat- tem made dubbing vocals to pre-recorded or-
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132 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

chestral parts a breezefar simpler and more WITH GORDON JENKINS

cost effective than it had been with lacquer disc
Years earlier, though, Les Paul had set out to
devise a way to squeeze more layers of music onto
magnetic recording tape by overdubbing the
same way he overdubbed with multiple lacquer
transcription discs. The audio advantages of tape
would give him an ultimately cleaner sounding
recording; he recorded a guitar solo on one tape
S inatra found a haunting melancholy in
the arrangements of Gordon Jenkins,
whose style, like the compositions and or-
chestrations of the film composer Bernard Her-
rmann, relied heavily on sheets of sound created
recorder, then played a new guitar part while si- almost solely from the string section of the or-
multaneously recording both parts on a second chestra. Where Herrmann preferred the darker
tape machine. tones of the lower strings (cello and double bass,
To eliminate the need for two separate Am- for example), Jenkins favored the higher, sweeter
pex machines, Paul approached Jack Mullin, and tones of the violin and viola. To this, he added the
within hours, the pair had come up with the idea barest whisper of minor-key woodwinds, horns
of adding a second playback head to the existing and soft (mallet) percussion, lending the songs
recorder. By re-recording and adding new mate- the poignant back-alley, late-night color of
rial to the basic tracks, Paul achieved his goal.
Adding a second recorder added even more flex-
ibility, as the tracks could be bounced back and
forth between each machine, allowing for infi-
nite layering.
In 1951, as most of the major record compa-
nies were just getting their feet wet with record-
ing tape, Paul was working feverishly in his home
studio, using his modified Ampex recorder to
overdub guitar and vocals an unprecedented
twelve times to record a hit version of How High
the Moon with wife Mary Ford. Later, further
refinements based upon Pauls idea led to the
four, eight, sixteen, twenty-four, and forty-eight
track recorders of the analog era, opening a whole
new world of technology to the artist and pro-
By April 1957, Capitol was making a firm
commitment to the stereo format, and Sinatras
first two stereo albumsWhere Are You?,
recorded in April and May; Come Fly with Me,
in Octoberfound him experimenting with two
great arrangers who would form the balance of
his core orchestrating team: Gordon Jenkins and
With Gordon Jenkins, 1957.
Billy May.
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Lonely Street. With Gordon Jenkins, its all so Jenkins once explained the care he lavished
beautifully simple that, to me, its like being back on an orchestration: I can make an arrangement
in the womb, Sinatra observed. in two-and-a-half or three hours if I had to, but I
He once told radio personality Sid Mark that prefer to have four days, because it gives me the
Gordon was a man who was always open to sug- chance to fool with it, and then go back and look
gestions, but he was one man that I felt I could al- at it again to change a note or chord if I think it
most leave alonejust let him work by himself. needs it. Just little things. I know nobodys going
I think he was probably the most sensitive man to notice it, but if you dont have them right, then
about orchestrations . . . you can hear it in his the whole thing isnt going to be right. An in-
music. strumental takes you much more time than the
I used to call him Lefty, because he had a vocal, because in the vocal your main goal is al-
very good left-handed [golf] swing. But also, it ready established: its gonna be the baritone, or
was confusing to me when I first started to work the girl, or whatever. But when you have to write
with him, because when youre used to looking a long instrumental with eight brass, and all the
at a conductor in front of you on a podium, wav- strings too, then it takes hours.
ing his right hand, and suddenly, youre looking In a radio special hosted by Wink Martin-
for the beat and hes on the other hand . . . it was dale, Jenkins said of Frank Sinatra: I dont know
confusing for the first couple of dates, but it him well at allI doubt if anybody does. I might
worked out in the end. be his favorite arranger for some things, for what
Jenkins and Sinatras first two albums, Where he calls wood songs. Songs like Laura or
Are You? (1957) and No One Cares (1959), both Lonely Town, where he wants to set up a feeling
have the silken texture of Jenkinss writing, yet like in the September of My Years album. Frank
they are as different as night and day. Where Are is withdrawn. Hes the charmer of all time when
You? has a sweeter sound, relying more heavily hes right . . . when he feels like being charming.
on the upper registers of the violins and violas to Nobody comes close to him. But, when he quit
create a pensive wistfulness. With No One Cares, laughing, youre not any closer to him than you
the mood is decidedly darker, for here the were before.
arranger has orchestrated the entire string en- The arranger obviously understood Sinatras
semble to emphasize the lower registers, and has drive for perfection. You talk about high stan-
added more percussion and deep woodwinds to dardshes the inventor, Jenkins said. The
accent the lyrics foreboding sorrow. scrapes hes gotten into, and the bad publicity hes
When Frank sang with Gordon, it was a gotten, is only because he expected more of peo-
whole different Sinatra, believes Buddy Col- ple than they ever delivered. If he hires you to do
lette. He could always pull it off, and it was good. something, he expects it to be the absolute worlds
As much as they were great, he didnt want to al- best. Whether its cutting the grass or playing the
ways do all Nelson things, so his work with Gor- piano, he never questions how much money you
don was a contrast. He thought he needed a want: he pays whatever you want, really, but he
different type of sound, and sometimes those al- expects it to be absolutely perfect. And it de-
bums go to different people. You still have your presses him when it isnt.
main fans, whod say, I like him better with Nel- Jenkins went on to compare the studio
son . . . , and you might say, Oh, but I love this methodology of several top artists, including
Gordon Jenkins thing . . . the material theyre us- Sinatra. I never heard Nat Cole make a record-
ing is so soft and bedroomish . . . Sinatra was in- ing that I thought he should have done over.
trigued by the way Gordon set up his chords. Frank might have been tired, or he had a date,
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134 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

and he didnt want to do one again. Id ask him to figure out where hes gonna start again, or
do it again, and hed say, No. With Judy [Gar- whether hes gonna start at the beginning. He
land], Id just lock the door of the studio, and generally might give you a little hint, but he
make her do it again. But if Frank wants to go might not: hed just assume youd be there!
home, he generally goes home. During record- On a personal note, Jenkins, like Nelson Rid-
ing sessions with Sinatra, a magic takes place . . . dle and Billy May, found that keeping a polite dis-
between Frank and myself. Its as close as youre tance was the best policy. We have never had a
gonna get without being opposite sexes! I like to cross word, he said. We never had any fights
have him right in front of me, and I just never ever. I stay away from him as much as I can when
take my eyes off him, so its kind of a hard thing were not working. Its a temptation to hang
to describe. But theres a definite mental con- around him, cause he has so much to offer, but
nection between the two of you when its going I figure that weve gotten along fine by not being
down well . . . he lets loosehes all over the buddies, so when we get through at night, if he
place when hes goinghe doesnt hold anything goes out the left door, I go out the right. I think
back. Its in his personal life that he holds back. its worked out fine.
The excitement of working with him is
following him, because he likes to wander
around . . . he doesnt necessarily do a song the
way he rehearsed it. So I never take my eyes off
of him, I wouldnt dare. You just never let up for
a minute. If you take your eyes off of him, or re-
lax, hell leave you. Hell stop in the middle of a
bar, and talk to somebody, and then you have to

ith Billy May, Sina-
tra rarely involved
himself with pre-ses-
Hes easy to work with, as far as
Im concerned, says May. All
we did was figure out the tunes.
We might get to a session, and
hed say Lets try this a little dif-
ferently, and then wed try it at
a completely different tempo,
and usually, it worked very
In his interview with
Robin Douglas-Home, Sinatra
spoke of his fondness for Mays
work. Recording with Billy
May is like having a cold
With Billy May, late 1950s.
shower, or a cold bucket of wa-
ter thrown in your face. Nelson
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will come to the session with all the arrangements Billy would try things, says Buddy Collette.
carefully and neatly worked out beforehand. But He might put in little songs, start a little melody
with Billy, you sometimes dont get the copies of and work that through the whole chorus, and
the next number until youve finished the one be- Frank would like that because it was different.
forehell have been scribbling away in some of- Billy May was very inventive . . . hed be putting
fice in the studio right up until the start of the the song into the background and voicing it,
session! Billy works best under pressure. He also which would work against the chords. He could
handles the band quite differently than Nelson or get away with it, where Nelson stuck to doing
Gordon: with Billy, there hell be in his old pants those little rhythmic things, like the tags that Joe
and a sweatshirt, and hell stop them and hell say, Comfort played.
Hey cats, this bar sixteen. While stories proliferate of Mays legendary
You gotta oompah-de-da-da-ch-Ow. OK? Lets go last minute mad dash into the studio, score paper
then . . . And the band will GO! Billy is driving, and pencil in hand, poised to complete the last
Sinatra emphasized. chart set for that evenings session, Eleanor
Billy wrote with meat, said Alvin Stoller. I Slatkin remembers that it never affected the qual-
dont think that Nelson really knew how to write ity of his work. Billy was the most meticulous of
for the drums . . . I would use what he had, and arrangers, and God knows, I saw enough scores!
try to be really creative and make it come off. He was certainly not a person who dressed to the
Billy was just the opposite. He had meat on it, and nines or anything like that . . . he was just care-
I knew automatically what I was gonna do. You free, very casual. But not when it came to music.
see, the figures just lay there for a drummer, and When you looked at one of his charts, it was if it
when theyre good figures and the chart is great, were printed. When it came to anything having
you automatically feel it, and play it. I love Billy, to do with music, he was a perfectionist.
himself and his writing. Hes never once in forty- Leonard Slatkin, a sharp sideline observer at
five years said one word to me in terms of play- the sessions, recalled that Billy was capable of
ing . . . never suggested anything, never said, making immediate adjustments, right at a ses-
leave that out. sion. He didnt have to think about ithe was so
Stoller, who worked his entire life as a band natural. Nelson had to work; with Billy, it just rat-
drummer, came from virtually the same school tled off the top of his head. He might say some-
as May, is a keen observer of all things cool, and thing like, Flutes, I made a mistake there. I need
might be considered a biased witness if called to the alto flute playing G-natural . . . here I need
testify on Mays behalf in the court of history. But this . . . , and so on. And its not as if he just looked
it was not just the jazz guys that dug what Sina- at the score and decided on the spot. It was as if
tra and May were doing with the high-test stuff: he were saying, This is what I really intended, so
even a seasoned classical professional like lets try it, fellas. He was just so natural about it.
Eleanor Slatkin could be hep to their jive. She In that respect, he was a little like Henry Mancini.
once said that May could inspire musicians in a I was always surprised that Sinatra never got to-
way that Riddle never could. Billy May, who to gether with Mancini. It would have made an
me is one of the greats of all time, had a way of ideal combination and would have been the log-
making an orchestra play . . . he inspired you. I ical step after he finished his work with Billy May.
liked all the sessions, whether they were ballads Billy is a very gregarious person, and when
or swing. I couldnt differentiate, because the you talk to him, you know that right awayhes
swing sessions were so incredibly orchestrated. right on, said Eleanor. With the orchestra, he
has a way of telling them how he wants some-
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136 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

thing played. One time in particular, he was try- sitting there, and I remember one musician jok-
ing to get something in the brass section, and he ing that Billy could down about a half of it be-
couldnt get it right. He was trying out some dif- tween the third and fourth beat, while he was
ferent things, and he says, Hey guys, I want it to conducting! Seemed not to affect him very
sound like this: hit it, and then let it cool. And much, and he was one of those musicians that was
they understood immediately from that expres- always consistent. He knew what he wanted, he
sion. Thats the way Billy was. He is a dream of a was well liked, and he seemed to be great friends
human being. with everybody. Nelson distanced himself a bit,
I recently asked Billy May where an arranger but Billy was much more outgoing and friendly
gets his musical ideas. He laughed and said, Its toward the musicians. (For the record, May quit
a good question, and one Ive often asked myself. drinking in 1964; he had seen his close friend
There are a lot of variables there, and you have and musical colleague Conrad Gozzo die from
to take them all into consideration. You can alcoholism.)
figure out what youre going to do, the plot of it, Frank was pretty hip about what was going
more or less. Some melodies suggest things to on with a band. He can look around in the band,
you, and for others, you just have to figure some- and pretty much tell if its a happy band, or if
thing out! Or, youll listen to it, and it will remind theres some bullst going on, May observed.
you of another tune, and that will remind you of When discussing the pure fun that most of the
a good record you heard of that tune, and then participants recall about their sessions with him
you can think along those lines. Its all derivative, and Sinatra, May said, I figured, What the hell.
I guess. If youre hired by Frank Sinatra, you If youre going to go in and do it, what the hell is
know youve got to do a passable job, and you the use of doing anything unless youre having
cant fluff it off. On the other hand, if youve got fun with it? I try to make it that way. I feel were
a far out idea, youd better talk it over with him lucky to be able to be musicians, and be profes-
before you go to the trouble of writing it all down. sional about it.
Thats happened a couple of times, and he The arrangers comment to me at the end of
bought it. one casual conversation probably sums up his
From his perspective as an arranger, May ob- feeling best: I feel privileged and fortunate to
served firsthand Sinatras insistence on using have worked with two of the greatest musicians
whatever instrumentation it took to accomplish in the world, people I truly admire: Glenn Miller
the results, regardless of cost. When you hired and Frank Sinatra.
the band, all the record companies used to say, Come Fly with Me is one of the jauntiest
Use as few men as possible, because they didnt Sinatra albums of the period, the Billy May fol-
want you to spend too much money. But with low-up to Riddles masterful Swingin Lovers and
Sinatra, youd ask How many strings shall we get, Swingin Affair! The title tune, written by Cahn
Frank? and hed say, Fill up the outfield! He and Van Heusen expressly for the project, is a
knew, as we all knew, the more the better, espe- lofty affair that is the perfect vehicle for Sinatras
cially with strings. languid, breathy vocals, so evocative of the feel-
Mays habit of imbibing at the sessions added ing of flight.
to the unconventional atmosphere. Like Nelson, Frank Flynn vividly remembers the after-
Billy was not a great conductor, recalls Leonard noon of October 8, 1957, just before the session
Slatkin. He had a habit which really did bother that yielded the title track. I was on staff at CBS,
people: he would drink while he was doing the and Billy and I were doing a half-hour radio show
sessions. He would have maybe a fifth of scotch with Stan Freeberg. On the afternoon of that ses-
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C O U R T E S Y T E R RY W O O D S O N , F R A N K S I N AT R A M U S I C L I B R A RY. U S E D BY P E R M I S S I O N , S H E F F I E L D E N T E R P R I S E S , I N C .

Frank Sinatras original vocal lead sheet for April in Paris from the Come Fly with Me sessions, 1957.

sion, we had a four oclock rehearsal for the radio ter the gong, we would just cut it there. He would-
show. Billy said, Geez, I still have to write two nt come back initd just be left hanging there.
arrangements for the date tonight. Remember: And it made sense, musicallyit worked just as
this was four in the afternoon, and the session is well as if wed gone on.
just a few hours away! Between four and eight o- In 1957, when Come Fly with Me was
clock, Billy wrote two charts, and one of them was recorded, Sinatra had been a major artist for
Come Fly with Me. He was an absolute genius. more than a decade. Those who worked with him
The percussionist also remembers Sinatras noted that his voice was showing new qualities.
contribution to the orchestration on one song, In a 1955 Time interview, Nelson Riddle
On the Road to Mandalay. Billy had written commented, His voice is more interesting now:
the arrangement so that when we got to the line he has separated his voice into different colors, in
that says, . . . And the dawn comes up like thun- different registers. Years ago, his voice was more
der, I would hit this huge gong as a punctuation. even, and now it is divided into at least three in-
Then the arrangement would continue for about teresting ranges: low, middle, and high. [Hes]
another half a chorus. Well, after the first run- probing more deeply into his songs than he used
through (which I dont believe was taped), we to. That may be due to the ten years hes put on,
were doing the take, and Frank decided that af- and the things hes gone through.
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138 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Two tunes from Come Fly with Me stand out The chorus demonstrates the singers breath
as examples of Sinatras breath control, legato- control, most apparent in the transitions that
style phrasing, and especially the vocal maturity take him from line to line. Between the first and
that Nelson Riddle spoke of: April in Paris and second lines of the chorus, he holds the word
Moonlight in Vermont. Both also highlight trees, seamlessly blending it into the word
Billy Mays rarely noted ability to write for strings. April with no audible trace of breath and the
In April in Paris, the arranger sets the tone most controlled vibrato imaginable.
with a sweeping instrumental introduction. A Again, note the crisp deliberateness of the
throbbing string crescendo opens the song, and endings on the s words, like Paris, chest-
with the first downbeatwhen the cymbal nuts, and tables. (On trees, he covers the s
crashes and the low woodwinds attacka sound a bit within the slide from word to word.)
counter-rhythm, working against the syncopation Sinatras voice blooms with color, especially on
of Sinatras vocal line, is established. the words and phrases he holds over like trees
Pay careful attention to the way the instru- and reprise. The latter word melds ever so
mental and vocal lines play off each other: the smoothly into the I in the following line. But
first orchestral downbeat comes just before Sina- this time, Sinatra adds a bit of melancholic in-
tras vocal line begins. The tension of the build- flection to the word reprise.
ing orchestra mounts, quickly climaxes, and half The fourth and fifth line of the chorus are re-
a beat later, Sinatras vocal comes in against a plete with lovely inflective tones. Sinatra em-
sweeping sea of suspended strings. Then the phatically ends the word embrace with a sharp,
strings, voiced melodically, begin building again, focused s, and then begins a smooth downward
heightening our anticipation of another climax. spiral on the word till, which he melds directly
In the next line, the reverse happens: the into the April of the final line of the song.
strings complete their syncopated crescendo and On Moonlight in Vermont, we hear the
resolve on a downbeat that comes half a beat be- same gradations of color and tone, and more of
fore Sinatras vocal ends. This technique is very Sinatras fluid legato style. On this tune, he
effective in maintaining a high level of drama. chooses an airy, relaxed approach, and Mays pic-
Listen closely to the precision with which turesque orchestration is sentimentally plush.
Sinatra opens and closes off his syllables, espe- Particularly noteworthy is the way Sinatra, using
cially those that come at the ends of lines. Note the harmonic changes in the orchestration to
the distinct enunciation of the ending of the word their best advantage, imparts a half-step key
face in the first line, as Sinatra holds the second change as he glides from the word lovely to the
face and pronounces the s sound in a way word evening in the second chorus. The transi-
thats sharp and articulate, but not overdone. tion is silky smooth, the simple maneuver height-
In the second line, the shading and color that ening the listeners anticipation at a critical point
others have spoken of is heard especially in his in- in the performance.
flection of heart, sing, warm, and em- The ballad orchestrations for Come Fly with
brace: Sinatras control throughout is exacting, Me leave us wishing that Sinatra and May had
his vocal; sharp, articulate, and clean. done more of this. They did, but unfortunately,
Behind the vocal, May follows Sinatra with not for twenty-two years.
similarly phrased instrumental lines that aug-
ment and support the lyric. The orchestration is
so simple that the singers every vocal character-
istic can be discerned.
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M E L A N C H O LY S E R E N A D E S: the darker colors of the album. And, I had also

lost a daughter three months earliera little girl.
O N LY T H E L O N E LY So, if I can attach events like that to music, per-
haps Only the Lonely was the result.
With so much tragedy surrounding the
arranger, it was amazing that he could even func-
tion, let alone consider scoring an album for

I n 1958, to complement the highbrow Close

to You, Sinatra and Nelson Riddle set out to
create what each would cite as the finest
example of their work, Only the Lonely.
While the orchestrations for Close to You ex-
Frank Sinatra. Id be painting the house during
the daytime, he said. I find its good therapy for
any arranger to paint his house because arrangers
work in small jerky motions to write notes, and
painting a house requires long, sweeping mo-
press the intimacy of a chamber-music setting, tions. For me, it was therapy.
for Only the Lonely the arranger chose to unfurl The sessions for Only the Lonely are re-
his musical canvas, painting aching portraits of markable in that instead of the album being
loneliness on an expansive landscape sparingly recorded over three successive nights (as was the
dotted with musical colors and textures. Against custom), there were four sessions spread over a
a somber backdrop of understated strings speak month and a half. A number of circumstances
judicious traces of instruments like French horn, forced this unusual arrangement. On May 5,
oboe, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and trombone, 1958, recording commenced in Studio A at the
and the barest wisp of a rhythm section. Semi- Capitol Tower. The date yielded three songs
classical in feel, each four-minute tune is a short slated for the final album: Guess Ill Hang My
story of gloom and despair transformed into a cry Tears Out to Dry, Ebb Tide, and Angel Eyes.
for sympathy. Unhappy with the results, Sinatra deemed the
As an arranger, it has always been a joy to recordings unacceptable. (The tunes would be
me to occasionally have the opportunity of shak- re-recorded at subsequent sessions.)
ing off the confines of a sax section and its deriv- Al Viola, Sinatras steady guitarist, was in the
ative doubles, and to contemplate the luxury of a studio and recalls that particular session. I got a
full woodwind section with all the misty, velvety call from Manie Klein, who was the contractor,
sounds that issue from such a group if properly to do all of the Only the Lonely dates. When I ar-
used, Riddle once wrote. In Only the Lonely, I rived on the first date, George Van Eps was also
had the advantage of such a group, within a larger there. George had a certain guitar style, and he
still combination of other instruments. Since that was called to play the verse onGuess Ill Hang My
time, I have, whenever appropriate, turned to this Tears Out to Dry. I was playing rhythm guitar.
setup to enrich and beautify an arrangement. The So we began to make a take. Nelson wrote
combination employs the classic series of pair- the chart in the key of B, and he had written a
ings: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, and two pedal point of low F-sharp for the guitar. Now,
bassoons. what happens when you have to reach for that low
A contributing factor to the mood of the al- F-sharp on the guitar is that it interferes with your
bum was the fact that my mother had died earlier movement to the other chord progressions . . .
that month, Riddle explained to disc jockey what makes it difficult is that you hear your fin-
Jonathan Schwartz. She was in Sinai Hospital gers moving. So, they went for a take on the song,
with terminal cancer. I think the somber cir- and there was silence after it was finished. Frank
cumstances of ones mother dying contributed to said, Thats fine.
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140 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Then, someone in the booth said, Frank, gin looking at the parts from Vern Yocum, the
we need another one, because of the verse. They copyist. And I see Guess Ill Hang My Tears Out
never played it back, and Frank just said, All to Dry. I call over to Bill [Miller]: Bill, is he
right. He was very sympathetic, knowing that gonna do this again? Bill says, Yeahdont
there was something wrong with the guitar in the worry about it. So you do it! Is it hard? And I ex-
verse, and that it wasnt him. So they did another plained to Bill about the F-sharp and all that . . .
take, and that was it. I myself was hearing some- its like stepping on eggs, because its just Frank
thing that wasnt quite right [in the guitar part] and the guitar there.
there were no mistakes there, but it was just hard Viola, a consummate professional, used his
for George to play as written, with that low ingenuity to get around the problem. I had some
F-sharp pedal point. training in classical guitar, and I could play fin-
The next scheduled session for the album ger styleno pick. This is how George Van Eps
was May 29. I was on another recording date in was playing, but he was using a rhythm guitar
the afternoon, and the Sinatra session was sup- I was using a gut string. So when I saw that F-
posed to start at 8:00 p.m., Viola recalls. sharp bustin my ass, I did what classical guitar
I got a call from the Kleins through my ser- players sometimes do: I raised the low E to an
vice. They want you to bring your gut string gui-
tar tonight. Now, I didnt have it with meand
its already 6:00 p.m., and I cant get home! But I
knew a salesman down at Music City on Sunset
and Vine, so I went down and borrowed the best
gut string they had. I get to the studio, and I be-


Frank Sinatra surveys the orchestra at the sessions for Only the Sketch of Al Violas gut-string guitar solo on Guess Ill Hang My
Lonely, May 1958. Guitarist Al Viola is at the far right. Tears Out to Dry from Only the Lonely (1958).
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F-sharp. This meant my right thumb could hit something that Nelson had messed up. Nelson
the F-sharp without me fingering the F-sharp, really didnt know too much about the guitar
which gave me the pedal point and the ability to he knew a lot about horns and strings. He called
move around on the guitar! And thats what you me to do the Julie Andrews Show, and when I
hear on the record: you hear an F-sharp, but its used to look at the guitar parts, hed have eight
open. And there is no F-sharp on the guitar! Its notes on a stem . . . and there are only six notes
always an E. On that tune, I raised it to an F-sharp on a guitar! So Id figure out what he meant
pedal point, and its ringing outit sustains what he wanted. But this particular song was very
because its not fingered. Thats how I got away touchy, yet it came out fine, Viola concludes.
with it. We did one take, and Frank looked at me When Viola redid Tears, Nelson Riddle
and said, Yeah, Dago! That was clean! It had wasnt even in the studio. I was booked to do a
been the F-sharp that was screwing everything tour of Canada with Nat Cole that summer and
upit was too hard to maneuver and achieve the had hoped that maybe we could finish the album
way Nelson had written it. I was scared shless, before I left, the arranger said. I wrote all of the
but I did it. arrangements, but Felix Slatkin conducted the
Nowadays, a guitar player would say, How session.
come this is in the key of B, the guitar is playing Eleanor Slatkin distinctly recalled the singer
an F-sharp, and its ringing out? And, you know, expressing his pleasure with Slatkins conducting
Frank hadnt said anything to Van Eps, because and the outcome of the session. We went out for
everybody loved him. George was trying to do a bite to eat afterwards, and Frank, right in front
of Felix, said, This is the marriage of a dream.
But then, Felix was a conductor. Thats the dif-
ferencehe turned every phrase to fit Frank. You
have to be a conductor to do thatthat the oth-
ers couldnt do.
Most arrangers, by default, lead the orches-
tra for their recording sessions. Since conducting
is a study unto itself, many orchestrators are not
truly accomplished conductors, although their
skill is sufficient to the needs of most pop record-
ings. Nelson had studied conducting with both
Slatkin and violinist Victor Bay, but he wasnt
a pro.
Warren Champ Webb, a fine woodwind
player and personal friend, describes Riddles
conducting method. Nelson was a superb con-
ductor in this sense: he looked awkwardhis
hand-eye coordination was not the greatest in the
worldbut he listened to us. Whether we were
doing a film or record date, wed say, Just give
us one in every barthats all we need. Then
hed become very relaxed, and hed be able to
Frank Sinatra sings while Felix Slatkin conducts Only the Lonely.
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142 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Pressured by the loss of the songs recorded at joke, exaggerating his mannerisms. Ooohh,
the May fifth session (this delayed finishing the yeah! Well, Ahhhhh . . . From the booth comes
album), Sinatra completed seven full songs at the the suggestion to put the song aside, and try
Slatkin-conducted session of May 29, more than Sleep Warm. Yeah, all righty now . . . , Sina-
double the normal yield for a standard three-hour tra continues. Put it aside for a minute, some-
session. An eighth song planned for inclusion on one (possibly Slatkin) says, and Sinatra
the album, the haunting Billy Strayhorn classic sarcastically retorts, Put it aside for about a year!
Lush Life, was attempted and ultimately left in- Moments later, Lush Life is forgotten, and
completepossibly owing to the fatigue of such Sinatra turns in a searingly plaintive version of
a long session. Willow Weep for Me.
While Lush Life is beautiful and well On Lush Life, Nelson Riddle commented,
suited to interpretation by a vocalist with the Its a rather complicated song, and I think Frank
dramatic flair of Frank Sinatra, it doesnt really would have been momentarily put off by all the
fit into the overall scheme of Only the Lonely. changes that had to go on. He could not have but
Part of the reason is an awkward, out-of-meter pi- admired the song, and thats why he included it
ano introduction that evokes images of a honky- in the list. But when he got down to singing it, it
tonk piano bar, blatantly out of character for the was another matter; not that he couldnt have
albums otherwise low-key atmosphere. The in- sung it with ease, and beautifully, if he had tried
tro lacks the finesse and subdued sophistication a couple more times. But it takes a lot of con-
so evident in the piano intro to One for My centration to do seven songs in one session, and
Baby, the records quintessential saloon song. by that time he might have gotten a little tired.
Extant session tapes shed some light on what tran- Warren Webbs graceful oboe and English
spired in the studio and why Sinatra abandoned horn playing provided much of the interesting
the song after three partial takes: textural color on the album. Those arrange-
From the booth: Master 19257, Take One. ments are the finest things that Nelson ever did,
Bill Miller begins the piano intro, and after ten Webb believes. He had unlimited resources
seconds, the take is halted. The tape is again almost sixty or seventy players. We had a com-
slated: Master 19257, Take Two. The piano in- plete symphonic woodwind section: two flutes,
troduction is completed, and a simple swell of two oboes, two clarinets, two bass clarinets, two
strings spiral down, giving way to a harp glissando bassoons, four horns, four trumpets, and four
and Sinatras entrance at the verse. I used to visit trombones. For this album, Nelson wrote the
all the very gay places/those come what may woodwinds exactly the same way that he would
places/where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel write for the strings; I had never heard thatit
of life. . . . was the first time hed done it. He had never had
Sinatra cuts the take. Once more, he asks, that big a section before! In the early days, Nel-
vocalizing through the first few lines off-mike to son would rely on me and Harry Klee, who would
get a sense of the timing. On the third take, which be the only two woodwinds on date after date. But
runs a little over two minutes, Sinatra gets Nelson would write in such a way that we
through the verse and tentatively approaches the sounded like a full woodwind section! Here, he
chorus. Life is lonely/again, and only last had a complete section, and he had wanted to
year/everything seemed. . . . have something like that for so long.
Hold it! he calls. Its not only tough Webb looks upon Whats New? recorded
enough with the way it is . . . but hes got some at the third session (June 24) as a prime example
slides in there! Mockingly, Sinatra begins to of the albums clever woodwind composition.
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Ray Simms plays the melody, and Tommy Ped- Two more gems followed Only the Lonely:
erson played the jazz figure underneath him. Ray the infectious, rip-roaring Come Dance with Me,
embellished the melody a little bit, and I won- another Billy May jumper (recorded in 1958); and
dered if Nelson wrote everything that he played, the ultra-melancholy No One Cares, with Jenk-
or if he just gave Tommy and Ray some indica- ins (waxed in 1959). Both extend the contrasting
tion on the chart. It was so unobtrusive, and it was attitudes begun with their predecessors, Where
unusual to have two trombones playing, with one Are You? and Come Fly with Me. Come Dance
accompanying the other with a little rhythmic with Me garnered tremendous critical attention.
figure underneath a sweeping ballad like that The album reached number two and maintained
particularly on a tune like this, he says. a place on the Billboard charts for 140 weeks. It
Also rehearsed at the June 24 session was the also brought home three Grammys: Album of the
Sinatra showstopper: One for My Baby, which Year, Best Male Vocal Performance, and Best
the singer had originally recorded for Columbia Arrangements.
in 1947. Unaware that the tape would be saved,
Sinatra made a take of the song with Bill Millers
piano accompaniment. Two days later, at the fi-
nal session for the album, the song would be re-
recorded as rehearsed, with the addition of the
full orchestra. When the forgotten rehearsal tape
was found in the Capitol vaults in 1990 and issued
on compact disc, it became clear that the song is SEASON OF DISCONTENT
most effective when performed most simply.
Sinatra once shared with author Robin Dou-
glas-Home the intimate atmosphere that perme-
ated the studio when he made the master
recording of One for My Baby. We ended
Only the Lonely with that song, and something
happened then that Ive never seen before or
since at a recording session. Id always sung that
song before in clubs with just my pianist Bill
Miller backing me, a single spotlight on my face
I n spring of 1960, Frank Sinatra and Nelson
Riddle began working on a collection of bal-
lads for an album that was tentatively titled
The Nearness of You. Far more optimistic in spirit
than Only the Lonely or No One Cares, the
and cigarette, and the rest of the room in com- selection of tunesall classic American pop-
plete darkness. At this session, the word had ular standardswas matchless, and especially
somehow got around, and there were about sixty noteworthy since each of the twelve were re-
or seventy people there: Capitol employees and recordings of songs the singer had sung at Co-
their friends, people off the street . . . anyone. lumbia in the 1940s and early 1950s.
Dave Cavanaugh was the A&R man, and he Realizing the importance of the songs and
knew how I sang it in clubs, and he switched out the value of Sinatras updated interpretations,
all the lightsbar the spot on me. The atmos- Riddle arranged many of the tunes to feature
phere in that studio was exactly like a club. Dave short instrumental solos. These simple vignettes
said, Roll em, there was one take, and that was brought freshness to the remakes and highlighted
that. The only time Ive known it to happen like the capabilities of some of Sinatras most cher-
that. ished musical friends: Bill Miller (pianoIve
Got a Crush on You), Plas Johnson (tenor sax
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144 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Nevertheless and That Old Feeling), Harry composers standing in the control room. Further
Klee (fluteFools Rush In), George Roberts on in the proceedings, when asked for another
(bass tromboneHow Deep Is the Ocean?), take, his response is humorous. You better
Carroll Lewis (trumpetShes Funny That get me while you can! he retorts, feigning
Way) and Felix Slatkin (violinTry a Little drunkenness.
Tenderness and Mamselle). Later, after a partial take is aborted, Cav-
Sessions for the album were held over three anaugh immediately rolls the tape, verbally slat-
nights in the first week of March. Sinatra was in ing the upcoming take. Sinatra, unsure of what
exquisite voice and completed four songs at each the problem was, interrupts.Whoa, whoa, wait
session. time! Whats the matter? Notes? Clams? When
In the days that followed, the decision was the producer affirms this, Sinatra defends his er-
made to drop The Nearness of You and replace rors: Whaddya expect, I dont know the song!
it with a snappier song that could succeed as both The takes progress, and after twelve tries, the
the title track and a commercially viable single. decision to combine the complete vocal perfor-
The substitute tune, Nice n Easy (written by mance from take eleven and the ending from take
Lew Spence, Marilyn Keith, and Alan Bergman) twelve is made.
was recorded one month later, and although its Sinatra, knowing that theyd have to hook
comparatively bright tempo upset the thematic the listener with a memorable close, paid careful
balance of the album, it served the purpose. So, attention to the ending. It was his idea to adopt
The Nearness of You became Nice n Easy. the one more time/one more once reprise from
Lew had a relationship with Sinatras pub- Count Basies famous recording of April in
lisher, who said he needed a title song for this al- Paris. The tag was a big surprise, and his doing
bum of ballads, so we came up with Nice n it twice delighted us, Bergman remembers. Es-
Easy, Bergman explained. Marilyn and I were pecially fascinating is how Sinatra works to find
in the control room when he recorded it, and the proper wording and rhythmic cadence for the
Frank really liked it. It was the first time we had half-spoken, half-sung tag.
met him, and we were really in awe of what was On the released record, the reprise and tag
going on. play out like this:
The session tapes for the song are among the
most interesting of all the singers outtakes. Sina- Nice n easy does it,
tras demeanor during this session is playful nice n easy does it,
occasionally bawdy. nice n easy does it every time
After the customary run-through, the first (spoken) like the man says one more
full take of Nice n Easy begins, and although time . . .
Sinatra falls into the gentle tempo with ease, the Nice n easy does it,
performance is marred by some flat notes and nice n easy does it,
tentative syncopation. When he reaches the end- nice n easy does it every time
ing, he stumbles over a word, throwing the tim-
ing off. Ah, ya dirty mother! he quips. That On the familiar record, the song then ends
quarter rest is murder! with a seven-note acoustic bass fill and one Sina-
Between attempts, Sinatra jokes with pro- tra finger snap on the last beat.
ducer Dave Cavanaugh and the songwriters in What happened to the reprise in the takes be-
the booth. The jury said one more, he an- fore the final master is another story! During the
nounces after one take, alluding to the awestruck first eight takes, Sinatra adds a second spoken tag
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to finish off the record. Here is a sampling of his and they would promote it through their power-
ribald alternate tags that didnt make it to the ful distribution system. His suggestion fell on deaf
final cut: ears.
Just put your hand on it, baby, thats all In late 1960, the singer issued an ultimatum
(take one), Slowly, baby (take eight), and Isnt to the companys executives. Capitol had loaned
that better, baby? (take nine). him $250,000 against future royalties, recalls
Though out of context on this soft, dim-the- Alan Livingston. It was no tremendous risk
lights-style album, Nice n Easy is a sprightly Frank paid it back very quickly, because he was
romp that emphasizes the carefree bacheloresque earning so much. When he had paid it back, he
image that Sinatra cultivated at this stage of his went to Glen Wallichs, and said, I want my own
life, and it remains one of his most memorable label, and heres the deal. . . . And it wasnt that
hits. The real prizesthe twelve ballads from the the deal was so terribleit was just totally con-
The Nearness of You sessionsare like a satchel trary to everything going on in the record busi-
of gold nuggets. ness then. So Glen said, If I give it to you, Frank,
Enhancing the appeal of the performances Ive got to give it to Nat Cole, and so-and-so . . .
is the albums superb sonics, perhaps the best of youre disrupting our whole business! So Glen
all Sinatras records. The expertly balanced stereo turned him down, and Frank went off in a huff
mix is full of well-defined textures and tones. The and said, Screw you. I wont record anymore
bass is deep, solid, and satisfying; the top end you cant make me sing. Sinatra
sweet and clear. The rich mellowness of the vo- didnt sing, avoiding the Capitol studios for seven
cals is enveloped in the warm bloom of the satiny- months (from September of 1960 until March of
smooth string section, a lustrous backdrop for the 1961).
contrasting soloists.
While he appeared to be
the master of congeniality on
the April 1960 session tapes for
Nice n Easy, Sinatra was
feeling an increasing disdain
for Capitol and the executives
on the top floor of the Tower.
For years (since the Flaw
in My Flue incident of 1956)
he had felt the label was focus-
ing more on the marketing and
less on the creative aspects of
making records. The execu-
tives controlled every move he
made. The adventurer in him
found this stifling. Using his
stature as one of the labels
most profitable artists as lever-
The highly-charged atmosphere is palpable in this studio overview from the Sinatras
age, he requested that Capitol Swingin Session!!! recording date.
create an imprint label for him:
he would control it creatively,
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146 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Before storming away on his self-imposed forts bass line tags and the small cymbal accents,
exile, Sinatra had recorded what is one of the are clean and clear, and Sinatras vocal is close,
shortest, yet probably the gassiest of all the warm, and sharp, especially in September in the
Sinatra-Riddle efforts, the gut pounding Sinatras Rain, I Concentrate on You, and My Blue
Swingin Session!!! Armed with a slew of stan- Heaven. On the latter, note the tight, close feel
dards (including My Blue Heaven, It All De- of the bass-drum kick and cymbal splash that
pends on You, Its Only a Paper Moon, and close the song.
Always), the singer entered Studio A, and with- Sinatras feud with Capitol lasted just over
out so much as a run-through, immediately re- half a year, focusing primarily on Alan Liv-
quested that Nelson increase the tempo on each ingston, the very man who had made Sinatras
of the arrangements. Whether he was thumbing comeback possible. I had left Capitol [during
his nose at the Capitol brass or whether he just Sinatras hiatus]; when I came back, he had not
wanted to finish the album in record time may made one record, says Livingston. I thought,
never be known, but it had a profound effect on Let me see what I can do. So I picked up the
the albums overall excitement. phone, and I called Frank, and said, FrankIm
Except for the beguiling September in the back at Capitol now. He said, I know. I said,
Rain and Blue Moon, most of the tunes are Well, why dont you and I sit down and see if we
taken at breakneck speed, adding mightily to the cant work things out? Now, I wont say the four
electricity that makes the barely thirty-minute letter words he used on me, but he said, Im go-
collection irresistible. Especially appealing are ing to tear down that Capitol Tower down . . . to
two outstanding sax solos by rhythm and blues hell with you!
legend Plas Johnson: on the driving My Blue Ultimately, the impasse was worked out and
Heaven he turns in a set of rollicking, gritty licks; a deal struck whereby Sinatra would record two
on Blue Moon the mood is bluesy and soulful. more albums and one single for Capitol, while
This album reveals how Riddle, when writing for concurrently recording and releasing albums and
Sinatra, assiduously avoided the stereotypical singles for his own newly formed label, Reprise
musical figures he relied on with other singers. Records.
The devilishly sexy I Concentrate on You, for
instance, is one of the few times he featured
bongo drums in the Sinatra rhythm section
something he did quite frequently when orches-
trating for Judy Garland.
Like Nice n Easy before it, Sinatras
Swingin Session!!! had excellent sound: the
stereo balance is perfect; the band, bold, bright COME SWING WITH ME
and snappy. The recordings most outstanding
sonic characteristic is its lifelike ambient sound,
preserved due to thoughtful microphone place-
ment and sensitive use of reverb.
Presence is the whole feel of a recording:
how close or distant it sounds, the balance and
contrast of the instruments, and how much of the
recording rooms natural acoustics have been re-
tained. Here, the smallest details, such as Com- W hile the control and ownership of
record and imprint labels by artists is
common today (and is, in fact, a point
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 147

of negotiation in contract discussions with the tactic he would repeat when he left Capitol to
worlds top recording artists), Frank Sinatra was form Reprise.
the first to insist on it. Though they were recorded under forced
According to Sinatra, he named the label contractual obligation, the two Capitol albums
Reprise Records (in music reprise means to re- Come Swing with Me and Point of No Return, of
capitulate or repeat the main theme) because March and September 1961, show no sign of this.
these would be records to play and play again. Come Swing with Me is a jubilant listening ex-
More likely, the name was a play on the word perience. Instrumentally, Mays band is in rare
reprisal, prompting some to call the imprint Re- form, fueled by the highest octane available. Of
venge Records. Reprise was a label where the ex- the singer, Nancy Sinatra once remarked that you
ecutives concerned themselves with the artistic can actually hear Frank smile on a record. If that
first, and the financial details second. It was the is true, on these sessions, he was grinning from
first to allow artists to maintain full creative con- ear to ear.
trol over their product, and to retain the financial For this, his third album with Sinatra, Billy
rights to them as well. Sinatra was now free to pur- May fashioned some of the most clever orches-
sue whatever musical whim caught his fancya trations ever to grace a vocal record. Instead of
luxury he extended to any artist willing to take a using his often-imitated sax section, May elimi-
risk and sign with a new label. nated it and opted for a big, bright brass band. I
However, the label floundered for a period got the feeling that the people at Capitol wanted
during its infancy, crippled by fiercely planned me to copy what Id done on an album prior to
competition from Capitol. Ultimately, Jack that called Billy Mays Big Fat Brass. Theyd
Warner stepped in and purchased the company liked that album, and thats where they got the
from Sinatra for three million dollars in 1963 idea of using the brass band, he recently said.
(Sinatra retained a one-third share in the new Because the stereo spread would be high-
Warner-Reprise). lighted, May approached the scoring of the al-
As soon as Frank started Reprise, we [Capi- bum differently than he would a standard big
tol] began to exploit our whole Sinatra catalog, band session. Around that time, they started talk-
because we werent going to have him anymore, ing about using the stereo ping-pong effect, so
said Livingston. We had so much Sinatra prod- thats why we divided the band in half, to try and
uct on the market that Reprise couldnt get off the accomplish that. But I couldnt use too much of
ground! After a couple of years, Reprise was prac- that in the band, because my primary purpose
tically out of business, and when Warner Broth- was backing Sinatra. We used two complete brass
ers bought it, they put Mo Ostin in charge, and sections with ten guys in each section, and set
they began to have some success. They did quite them up on two sides of the studio to deliberately
well as a Warner Brothers label. get that separation. What results is the most an-
This is a virtual repeat of what happened imated musical conversation imaginable.
when Sinatra left Columbia Records in 1952. At Devoid of the exaggerated tricks that were
that time, Columbia had hurriedly assembled a common on stereo showcase records of the day
group of uneven LP collections culled from the (the ultra-mod Stereo Action Esquivel records
1940s singles, in order to compete with Sinatras from RCA come to mind), the unique concept
new, snappier concept albums at Capitol. In re- and unusual instrumentation worked, primarily
taliation, Sinatra began to re-record many of his because of the care May had used when laying
best songs from the Columbia years at Capitol, a out the arrangements. Each of the individual
groups, set up to the right and left of the singer,
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148 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

comprised four trumpets, three trombones, two pertly layered to provide texture to the ebullient
French horns, and one bass trombone. Making a arrangement.
rare appearance on a Sinatra record, a tuba Kicking things off are two emphatic snare
rounded out the brass instruments. Folded into drum beats, which give way to the brass section
the mix was one standard rhythm section (piano, trading a few sharply attacked, slurred crescen-
bass, drums, and guitar), glockenspiel, and harp. dos. Under the brass fireworks, the tuba is voiced
Owing (in part) to the decisive placement of to play the same melody, while the French horns
the principal players on the studio floor, Come form a light bed, sustaining a simple, long-lined
Swing with Me is one of the few albums of its era countermelody against it. After Sinatras vocal en-
that demonstrates the dazzle of well-recorded trance, the joyously plucked bass and loosely ar-
stereo. The driving momentum of the perfor- ticulated cymbal accents keep the entire
mances simply adds to the happy topography of ensemble moving buoyantly along. Behind and
the album. around the vocal, sharp melodic punches con-
Of its twelve songs, seven are re-recordings tinue from the brass section.
of tunes Sinatra had recorded at Victor and Co- There are at least three different things go-
lumbia: Day by Day, Almost Like Being in ing on within the orchestration, explains com-
Love, Five Minutes More, On the Sunny poser-musician Joel Friedman. Obviously,
Side of the Street, That Old Black Magic, and theres the whole vocal part. Then, theres the
Lover. Of these, only Five Minutes More and rhythm section, with its little melodic ornaments.
Lover bear any resemblance to their forebears; But the most interesting part is the French horn
the balance enjoy fresh perspectives. New record- melody thats meandering through its own slow,
ings of Sentimental Journey (taken at a sensu- little world. The horn melody there is of its own
ous ballad tempo), Yes Indeed, Dont Take rhythm, and if you heard it alone, you would
Your Love from Me, Paper Doll, and Ive never assume that it would go in that kind of song.
Heard That Song Before round out the older It doesnt sound as it was written so much with
favorites. the original melody in mind; rather, it moves dif-
Assisting Billy May with the orchestrations ferently. It follows the melody in a way harmoni-
was arranger Heinie Beau, who charted five of cally, though: its in key, and follows the chord
the twelve songs on the record. Beau often changes. At some points, it even harmonizes the
worked closely with May, duplicating his style melody a little bit.
under the orchestrators close supervision. Friedman describes how notes within a
The top tune on the album happens to be the chord help to harmonize a melody: If youre
shortest, but Sinatra, May, and Beau prove that playing a note thats in a chord, and the melody
quality, not quantity is what counts, packing tons is also a note from that chord (but theyre two dif-
of witty music into the scant two minutes of ferent notes), then basically, youre harmonizing
Lerner and Lowes Almost Like Being in Love. that melody. Doing this definitely enhances the
Within these two ultra-rhythmic minutes, dozens melody . . . it moves with the melody, while at
of small but integral bits of melody fly by, the or- the same time preserving its own little form.
chestration built as carefully and intricately as a Strings will very often perform this function:
six-story house of cards. Body and richness is pro- therell be a string patch of a chord, and then it
vided by the tuba and dual bass trombones (both will change. As its approaching the next chord,
positioned solidly to the left side) and the rhythm it might do a little step up to it in some of the
section (confined to the right side of the sound- notes, to prepare you for the chord a little bit.
stage). Brass ensembles split the difference, ex-
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The driving musical accompaniment chal- That Sinatra still harbored a grudge against
lenges Sinatra to stay on his toes; toward the end, Stordahl was obvious from the tension in the stu-
he effortlessly glides into a quick key change dur- dio on these sessions. This was something that
ing the word way, taking it up a step to heighten Bernhart had learned about firsthand years be-
the interest. fore. It had occurred on the day that all the mu-
For Point of No Return, the mood in the stu- sicians were visiting his home, Bernhart says. I
dio was quite different from that for Come Swing had always loved the arrangement that Axel did
with Me. Aside from the vexing business prob- for Sinatras The Night We Called It a Day
lems with Capitol, Sinatra was forced to confront from 1942. When we were talking, I thought I
personal issues regarding his long-lost friendship would make a big hit with him, and I told him
with arranger Axel Stordahl, who was chosen to how much that recording had meant to me.
aid the singer on his last classic Capitol album. Frank just kind of looked at me, and asked, Have
Trombonist Milt Bernhart counts it among you heard the one I just made with Gordon Jenk-
his favorite Sinatra recordings, despite the diffi- ins? I hadnt, and he was very intent on having
culties that accompanied its creation. Dave Cav- me hear it, so we went to his big hi-fi setup, and
anaugh had thought it would be a nice touch to he played it for mehe stood and watched as I
have Stordahl do the last album. By this time, listened!
Sinatra was having some difficulties with the Musically, it wasnt the sameit was
record company, and the strain between them lemonade! I was never a big fan of Gordon Jen-
showed in the studio. Capitol didnt have a chip kins, and this didnt have nearly the same feeling
on their shoulder: Sinatra did. Capitol did every- as the Stordahl arrangement. I didnt say so to
thing possible to make him comfortable, but he Frank, but I am sure that he knew by my expres-
showed up an hour and a half late for each ses- sion. Hes very perceptive that way. But when he
sionsomething he never did before. It gave Axel looked at me, thats when I knew, and I knew it
some extra time to rehearse, though, and when right away. Something was up between him and
Frank came in, everything was ready to go. Axel. Bill Miller had told me that Frank had prac-
When he did come in, Sinatra was all busi- tically disowned him, after the Eddie Fisher TV
ness, Bernhart says. The usual audience was thing. Unfortunately, Axel turned his back on
there and he walked in with his entourage and him, and Frank never forgave him for that.
went right up to the microphone, and said, Robin Douglas-Home attended the sessions
Whats up? Didnt really even address Stordahl of September 11 and 12, 1961, the evenings on
[who was seriously ill at the time]. On most of the which the album was recorded. He viewed the
tunes, he did only one, maybe two takes, with no proceedings from a much different perspective
run-throughs. At one point, Dave Cavanaugh than Milt Bernhart. He wrote, The only mo-
(the producer) asked him for another take on a ment that the atmosphere got tense was when the
song, because something had gone wrong in the man in the control room said he wanted to re-
booth. Sinatra refused. The lead sheet was al- record an improvised passage on the piano by Bill
ready on the floor. He said, Nope. Next tune. Miller, put in at Sinatras suggestion. Why?
When Cavanaugh tried to cajole him into doing asked Sinatra. I dont like it, a voice boomed
another take, Sinatra just glared at him, picked through the speakers. Well, I do. Next tune, an-
up the lead sheet, and tore it into about twenty swered Sinatra. And that was that.
pieces. Didnt you hear me? he asked. Next Douglas-Home describes Sinatras final mo-
number! ments in Studio A, a place he would not revisit
for more than thirty years. At 11:45, the last play-
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150 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

back came to a final chord. There was a moment Rubbing salt in a sore wound, the company
of silence which, after the tremendous volume of insisted that Sinatra provide them with one ad-
noise, gave one the strange feeling of being left ditional single, as specified in their contract.
suspended in mid-air. Then, the orchestra started Averse to even setting foot in the Capitol studios,
clapping. Sinatra turned away, pretending to be Sinatra fulfilled his obligation by turning in a re-
unaware of the applause, and occupied himself mote, affect-less reading of the Harold Arlen-Ted
by busily buttoning his shirt and straightening his Koehler classic, I Got a Right to Sing the Blues,
tie. He eventually raised an arm and said, Thank recorded at the end of a Reprise session at United
you, fellers, and walked toward the door. There Recording on March 6, 1962. (The song selection
was a disorderly shout of, Night, Frank, then the was both ironic and contradictory: Sinatra had
scores were folded, the instruments packed away, good reason to sing anything but the blues with
and in no time at all, the studio was empty and this recording; he was finally free of Capitol and
quiet. able to immerse himself in his own two-year-old
Listening to the album song by song, and un- record company.)
derstanding the stressful conditions under which Sinatras petulance was plain to everyone in
it was recorded, one can easily distinguish be- the studio that night, and the cause not merely
tween the true Sinatra and the lackadaisical, Capitol Records. His anger over recording the
intractable singer that merely showed up because song was actually mitigated by the presence of
he had to. Albums are not usually sequenced in producer Dave Cavanaughone of the few peo-
the order in which the songs were recorded, and ple from his former label with whom he was still
the songs that Sinatra had invested real effort in friendly.
are mixed with the ones he might as well been But when the Capitol tune was dispensed
phoning in. with, Cavanaugh left, and Sinatra and May set
The moving When the World Was Young out to record two songs by Cahn and Van
is easily worth the price of the album. The sim- Heusen: The Boys Night Out and Cathy.
plicity of his whimsically musical narration, cou- When Jimmy Van Heusen showed up in the
pled with the poignancy of his singing, proves his control room, the singers already touchy mood
effectiveness as both an actor and storyteller. darkened.
Sprinkled in among the lesser renditions of A week earlier, Sinatra was to have played
September Song, A Million Dreams Ago, and host to President John F. Kennedy, who had
These Foolish Things are superb renditions of scheduled a visit to Sinatras Palm Springs com-
Memories of You, As Time Goes By, Ill Re- pound. The selection of his home as the unoffi-
member April, and There Will Never Be An- cal West Coast White House was an unspoken
other You. The remaining songs are perfunctory reward for Sinatras tremendous aid to Kennedy
run-throughs which, when compared to the flaw- during his presidential campaign. Sinatra cher-
lessness of his earlier Capitol recordings, fall far ished his friendship with the president and
short of the mark. One telltale sign is a couple of viewed it as a public affirmation of his stature. He
clearly audible edits, including a glaring one at believed that Kennedy owed much to him for the
the end of These Foolish Things, in which the success of his campaignfor reasons that ex-
final word, you in the line . . . these foolish tended well beyond his munificent fundraising
things remind me of you, is obviously cut in from efforts.
a different take. That these were allowed to slip Robert Kennedy, the presidents brother and
by indicates how fully Sinatra had divorced him- U.S. attorney general, felt otherwise. As Jack
self from Capitol. Kennedy sought the exciting aura that accompa-
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T H E C A P I T O L Y E A R S , 19 5 3 19 6 2 151

nied a relationship with one of Hollywoods elite, stead. Sinatra was furious. Worse, learning of the
Robert was making a valiant effort to distance the sudden change of plans, Sinatras close friend
president from Sinatra and the undesirable mob- Jimmy Van Heusen offered the president the use
sters he was believed to consort with. of his nearby home, in case additional rooms
Just prior to the presidents departing for Cal- were needed. Sinatra, smelling disloyalty, now
ifornia, and after Sinatra had gone to the expense became incensed.
of adding a new building and other amenities to There was a controversy between Sinatra
his property to accommodate the president and and Van Heusen in the studio that night, Billy
secret service, the White House, citing security May recalls. He was in a snit. We had done The
concerns, announced that the Kennedy en- Boys Night Out, and all during the recording,
tourage would not be staying at Sinatras home: Frank just glared at Jimmy in the control room.
they would encamp at Bing Crosbys estate in- Then, it came time to do the second song,
Cathy, which was a pretty songa waltz. Frank
did a rehearsal, and then looked over at Van
Heusen, and said Tell you what, Chester. Why
dont you get Jack Kennedy to record this fing
song, and then see how many records it sells?
With that, May continues, Sinatra tossed
the music on the floor, and refused to sing it. But
we made an orchestral track, and he stayed until
that was done, and then dismissed the band. I re-
member that we left before he didhe was still
talking to somebody. He never did overdub a vo-
cal on it.
The one Reprise song completed on the date,
The Boys Night Out, is a throwaway that
didnt see the light of day until 1995. And while
the Capitol single, I Got a Right to Sing the
Blues, is pleasant enough, it lacks the sparkle
Sinatra might have lavished upon it even a year
earlier. With a simple All right, thats all! at the
end of the final take, Sinatra bid adieu to Dave
Cavanaugh and the weight of the Capitol Tower.
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The Reprise
Billy May, and Sy Oliver and three superior

CHAIRMAN OF THE albums with Bill Count Basie (two studio

BOARD efforts in 1962 and 1964, followed by a kickin,

high-gear live set from the Sands Hotel in Las

T aking full advantage of his parting with

Capitol, Sinatra broke free of the Riddle,

May, and Jenkins triumvirate that had domi-

Vegas in 1966). Among the other unusual

projects he completed were a collection of four

albums titled the Reprise Repertory Theater

nated the last nine years of his recording life series (1963), in which Frank and fellow label

and, although he continued to utilize their tal- mates Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis, and Dean

ents on appropriate projects, began to produce Martin joined a host of other celebrity vocalists

a string of progressive, diverse recordings. for Rat Pack-esque versions of Guys and Dolls,

Between 1960 and 1967, there were full- Kiss Me Kate, South Pacific, and Finians Rain-

blown swing outings with Johnny Mandel, bow. While the concept was interesting, the
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154 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

results were uneven, the Sinatra solo and duet personal setbacks, was ecstaticbut fate stepped
recordings outshining the rest by a mile. On the in and dealt him a cruel hand before his work
easier side, there were ballad sessions with Jen- even started.
kins, a gorgeous album of concert-style Broadway In a posthumous letter of tribute to the en-
standards with Nelson Riddle, and a handful of gineer, songwriter Alec Wilder described the
albums and singles with Don Costa. The mid- high regard Sinatra had for him and reflected on
1960s marked a foray into the snarly blues-rock the sadness of his tragic demise. Sinatra had fi-
scene with Thats Life, charted by Ernie Free- nally decided to open up a recording company,
man. Two superb pairings with Antonio Carlos and you were his favorite recording man, Wilder
Jobim and Duke Ellington came in 1967; as the wrote. I remember your making a trip to Los An-
decade ended, Sinatra found himself experi- geles to discuss the details with him. Everything
menting with Four Seasons producer Charles was happily settled, and you came back to New
Callello and poet Rod McKuen in order to ap- York to wait for the job to start. Then that heart
peal to a more contemporary audience. weakness grabbed you and totally unexpectedly,
While still under contract to Capitol, Sina- you died. Damn it, damn it, damn it! What a ball
tra had recorded five full albums for Reprise: it would have been for you, working for Frank,
Ring-A-Ding-Ding!, I Remember Tommy, Swing who so truly respected and loved you! After all
Along with Me (later retitled Sinatra Swings! af- that long rejection and miserable series of disap-
ter yet another legal battle with Capitol, this time pointments, to get precisely what youd always
over Reprises use of similar thematic album ti- wantedand then, death! Thank you for all you
tles), Sinatra and Strings, and All Alone. Sprin- did for me and for all that glorious laughter!
kled among the LP recordings was a handful of Palitzs death sent Sinatra scrambling. His
pop-oriented singles, including three songs con- search led him to the finest independent engi-
ducted by Felix Slatkin.
Sinatra had offered Slatkin the musical di-
rectorship of Reprise Records as soon as he
formed the company. My father was to be the
chief A&R man, as well as Sinatras producer and
arranger, remembers Leonard Slatkin. He
stayed with Sinatra for a little while and then got
an offer to go over to Liberty Records with a man
named Simon Waronker. Liberty Records pro-
vided my father with a little more flexibility, and
the chance to do more producing and conduct-
ing, plus, he retained part ownership in the com-
pany. Even during that time, though my fathers
focus had shifted to a different entity, Sinatra re-
mained faithful. The bright young arranger
Neal Hefti filled in for Slatkin when he left Sina-
tras employ.
Reprise didnt maintain its own studios, as
Nat Cole with engineer Bill Putnam in the control room at United
the major labels did, so Sinatra called upon ex- Recording, Los Angeles.
Columbia engineer Morty Palitz to direct its
recording division. Palitz, who had suffered some
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T H E R E P R I S E Y E A R S 155

neer in Los Angeles, Bill Put-

nam, who owned and operated
two studios: United and West-
ern Recording, on Sunset
Boulevard. The pair quickly
became friends, and for a while
the Reprise offices were oper-
ated from the United Record-
ing building.
So confident was Sinatra
of Putnams abilities that, when
circumstances forced him to
relocate for a session, his dis-
comfort was sure to be reflected
in his attitude on the date.
Arranger Marty Paich, who
recorded two songs with Sina-
United Recordings custom-built Studio A.
tra in 1963, recalls their meeting
at the RCA Victor studios in
Hollywood. He really wouldnt
do a session without Bill, until
he had to do our record. There was no studio banks soundstage, which had been built around
available at United, so we brought him over to 1900, Sides explains.
RCA Victor, and I got the feeling at the time that Bill designed both of the original United
he was a little perturbed about it. Because Frank, rooms, Studios A and B, contained in that build-
at that time, pretty much got his own way, and it ing. What was different was that he presented a
just felt to me that maybe he would rather have whole different type of studio: his rooms were
been over at United, with Bill Putnam. much more dramatic . . . much more interesting
Bill Putnam had a great reputation, because than Radio Recorders, which was built in the
he had recorded a lot of the classic Basie and 1940s, and looked like they hadnt changed.
Ellington records in the 1930s and 1940s, says There was no comparison: the two studios that
Allen Sides, the current owner of Ocean Way Bill built were astonishingly goodI mean un-
Studios (formerly United Recording). He had believably good. His concept of a recording room
built Universal Studios in Chicago first, and was was that it should enhance the instruments
doing a lot of the Basie and Ellington recordings within it, kind of like a concert hall. They were
out there. As the music business moved west in large rooms, and the biggest thing he would do
the 1950s, he picked up and began United in those two studios was maybe seventy-five
Recording, which next to Radio Recorders, was pieces. The orchestra just sounded amazing in
the second largest independent recording studio the room; the players could hear each other so
in L.A. well that it really helped them play well.
Putnam opened the original United Record- At approximately the same time that Sinatra
ing studio, located on the corner of the Colum- began Reprise records, Putnam took over a sec-
bia-Screen Gems lot at 6050 Sunset Boulevard, ond building on Sunset, just four hundred feet
around 1952. The building was the Douglas Fair- from the United studio. A 1920s edifice that had
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156 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

formerly been a radio theater, the Western build- the greatest leader of the big-band style of record-
ing was promptly renamed Western Recording, ing, and having Franks voice sound the way it
and soon became home to three more Putnam did. The sound is immaculate! His work taught
recording rooms: Studios 1, 2, and 3. Although the me a lesson about what immediacy is.
United and Western studios were located in dif-
ferent buildings, the new company became
known as United-Western recording. Most of
Sinatras Reprise sessions took place in Uniteds
Studio A; on occasion, he would venture down
the street to use Westerns Studio 1.
R I N G - A -D I N G -D I N G ! A N D
These studios were just incredible, Sides S I N AT R A A N D S T R I N G S
says. They had big, live custom echo chambers
that Bill designed himself. In fact, the one in Stu-
dio A is so good, my friend Bobby McFerrin
would come up and just sit in the echo chamber
and sing, because it is just so great sounding.
While he was known in the recording com-
munity as one of the most sensitive mixers in the
business, Putnam was far more than a recording
engineer. Bill was a record producer (who
T he ultra-relaxed atmosphere of the early
Reprise years is evident from the looseness
of Sinatras premiere album for his label,
Ring-a-Ding-Ding!, orchestrated by Johnny
Mandel. The title track, written for the album by
worked on something like fifty gold records), he Cahn and Van Heusen, played off one of Sina-
was an inventor who owned and operated UREI tras favorite phrases, Ring-a-Ding-Ding,
(which manufactured a lot of great gear that he roughly translated as Look out, well be having
developed). Bill tuned his own pianos . . . he did one mothery gasser of a time! His unusual
it all, says Sides. choice of arranger led to what is likely the jazzi-
Bill Putnam also invented the concept of est of all the commercial Sinatra albums.
what we think of as a control room, Sides points He [Frank] was a big admirer of David Al-
out. Before he built his control room in Uniteds lyn, Mandel says. I think that may have been
Studio A, they used to call them booths, because part of it, of course. I did a lot of club acts, and
they really were booths: little 10 by 12 rooms with one of them was Vic Damone. Vic used to come
a speaker in the corner! Bills control room was and play the Sands, and we had a real dynamite
quite a departure; he actually had room for a pro- act at the timeId written a lot of hard swinging
ducer and A&R people . . . a few other people things. And Sinatra came in and heard it, and he
could actually be in the control room. came up to Vic and asked him, Who did those?
Phil Ramone, who would later establish Jesus Christ. . . And Vic told him . . . I think thats
himself as one of the most respected engineers where he got the idea for [me to do] the swingin
and producers in contemporary pop music, best things.
known for his outstanding work with Billy Joel, As with his previous arrangers, Sinatra met
was already hanging around United-Western in with Mandel to discuss the fresh sound he was
the early 1960s. My favorite engineer in the seeking. I remember he was shooting The Devil
world was Bill Putnam, he says. I wasnt sup- at Four OClock on the Columbia Pictures ranch,
posed to be in the studioBill hid me in the back and Bill Miller brought me out there, Mandel
room, and let me be a tape operator so I could explains. Id known Bill for quite a long time.
watch him work. He was, for all of us, probably Frank started telling me about how he was fin-
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T H E R E P R I S E Y E A R S 157

ished with Capitol, and he was starting this new get an idea of what were doing. Then well do a
label, and the records were going to be colored test . . . run a test to see what we got.
vinyl . . . all that sort of thing. He had a lot of ideas, As the musicians finish tuning up, Sinatra
and I remember just watching his eyes as he was prepares for the recording test on the title track.
talking about the company, you know, and they To the soundtrack of Irv Cottler adjusting his
were sparkling. It was like he was very proud of snare drum and hi-hat cymbals, Sinatra begins
this thing. He had the most striking kind of blue singing and snapping his fingers sharply, trying
eyes. Man, they drilled right through you! There to feel the groove that works best for the record.
were things here and there, like in Ring-a Ding-
Ding, where he said, Id like to hear some bell
Life is dull . . . its nothin but one big
sounds in that. I said, OK, and I wrote some bell
lull . . . and presto you do a skull . . . ba-da-
sounds. Tubular chimesyou can hear them in
ba-da-ba-bop . . . ba-da-ba-da-ba-beep . . .
there. In fact, I used them quite a bit in the al-
do-do-do-dee-do-doo . . . .do-de-do-do-do-
bum; not all the time, but just enough to make it
de-do-do . . . do-de-do-do . . . do-de-do . . .
sound a little different.
[speaking] should be right . . . SNAP! . . .
Unedited tapes reveal a remarkably jovial
about . . . .SNAP! . . . in . . . SNAP! . . .
tone for these sessions. In the studio, there is elec-
there . . . SNAP! . . .
tricity in the air; the atmosphere is light and fun.
The musicians are warming up, joking, and
laughing, as though the event werent so much a The tempo now set, Sinatra continues to
recording session, but a real fun evening out with snap his fingers decisively, and Mandel, after tak-
the guys. One of the womenEleanor Slatkin, ing a moment to match the pacing Sinatra has
or Sinatras secretary, perhapsis heard greeting delineated, counts off to cue the band. One,
a guest with a warm, sincere twinkle in her voice. two, three, four! The rollicking sound of one
Thank you dear, thank you ever so much for great big band blares forth. After the test take, it
coming . . . I certainly do appreciate it! The con- is clear that Sinatra has a winner on his hands,
viviality is palpableeven infectious. Happy and the rhythm section breaks into a celebratory
sounds come from the piano, the horns, the per- jazz-club style improvisation of the song.
cussion, as they find their pitches. As happy as he was with the title track, Sina-
Shuffling lead sheets at his music stand, tra had problems with two tunes scheduled for
Sinatra, anticipating one hell of a swingin the album: Zing Went the Strings of My Heart
evening, addresses Mandel. Ill tell you what we and Have You Met Miss Jones? Neither made
do, Johnny . . . lets do the title song, huh? Yeah, it to the final record.
lets get into the mood with it! I loved the song Have You Met Miss Jones?
Ring-a-Ding-Ding, Mandel calls out. but it was a ballad, and it didnt seem to fit in the
Thats the name of the album, so lets get in the album, Mandel remembers. It could have been
mood, Sinatra says, walking among the band, done fast, but he wanted to do it as a ballad. It was
priming the musicians. He checks in with Felix one of those things that could have come off, but
Slatkin, who is producing from the booth. didnt. And there were a lot of copying mistakes
Feel . . . ? in that, for some reason. You know, you dont
Slatkins voice comes back over the talkback have a chance to figure out why [certain things
system. Ring-a-Ding? dont work] at the time. In those days, unlike to-
Get everybody in the mood . . . , Frank says. day, you used to do three or four sides in three
Lets do about sixteen bars for balance, so we can hours. Thats how we did em.
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158 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

Have You Met Miss Jones? is a pretty song: lead sheet, is being thrown by the number of mis-
soft and light in the hands of Johnny Mandel. takes in the chart. Are there A-flats in fifty-six?
Even as the orchestral run-through of the song Thats what it sounds like to me. Felix? Should-
begins, though, problems crop up. Musicians, nt there be A-flats in bar fifty-six? It sounds a lit-
confused about what keys their parts have been tle crazy. Mandel takes the orchestra from bar
written in, start to compare notes. Weve got B- fifty-three and resolves the problem.
flat. We have A-flat. Should there be a G in After some more tinkering, Slatkin asks if
bar fifteen, or an F? It should be a G instead of they should drop the tune. Uh, whaddya think
an F. about this? What about this tune on the album?
All this ado prompts Sinatra to start making Sinatra: Well try it and see what happens.
wisecracks. You guys are in a lot of trouble Slatkin: Its a lot different . . . unless we can pick
tonight . . . A lot of trouble tonight. I think the up the tempo, he suggests. Sinatra: Well run it
copyist is drunk! Does Vern Yocum drink? Jesus! down first and see what happens . . .
he says. In the end, it didnt happen. After a full vo-
One of the musicians, offering an opinion, cal run-through in which the tempo was in-
confirms that Yocum is a teetotaler. Another guy creased to medium, it was obvious that the beauty
in the band, clearly joking, quips back, Well of the chart as originally written was marred; af-
then hes a junkie! Maybe you got the wrong ter finding some additional problems with in-
arrangement. You got the right arrangement up? correctly transcribed notes, Sinatra simply calls
Sinatra jokes. for the next tune. Ive Got My Love to Keep Me
More notes are corrected, and moments Warm, he requests. Pass this. (He must have
later, Mandel counts off for another try at the admired the tune, because five months later, in
tune. May 1961, he made a striking recording of it with
The introduction is celestial: the winsome Billy May for Swing Along with Me.)
tones of Bud Shanks flute (Mandels signature Mandel, pressed for time, had engaged the
woodwind sound) are nestled among the soft services of two other arrangers to help complete
sheen of a light bed of strings, to which both harp the orchestrations. I was a little rushed for time
and bass have been discreetly added. After mere on a couple of them, and I may have taken more
seconds, Sinatra comments on the difference of time on some of the arrangements than I should
the arrangements feel, as compared to the bal- have. When youre writing a whole album, theres
ance of the charts. This sounds like a different a lot of music to write, and Im painfully slow. Im
album. still, to this day, slow. Im sweatin right now! And
After another minute or so, the instrumen- thats how I work. If I could be fast, Id be fast. I
tal rehearsal breaks off, and more corrections are can write fast, but its gonna sound like I did, you
discussed. Sinatras voice is not angry, but delib- know? Dick Reynolds wrote part of Easy to Love,
erate: you can sense that he is becoming impa- and he might have worked on When I Take My
tient. Jesus Christ, this is brutal, he says. He Sugar to Tea. What I would do when I was in a
calls to an aide. Eddie Shaw: call up Vern hurry is write the intros and the ending, and
Yocum, and tell him that from here on in . . . from theyd write the things in the middle. Skip Mar-
this minute, whatever hes copying, for Christs tin did one completely, Be Careful, Its My
sake to get the notes right! Jesus, this is murder! Heart. I did not write that arrangement. Doesnt
Slatkin, sensing Sinatras concern, reassures even sound like me.
him. Well run this down, Frank. Wanna put it A tune that is definitely Mandels is a cookin
on tape and listen to it? The singer, perusing his version of Gershwins A Foggy Day. Sinatra
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T H E R E P R I S E Y E A R S 159

likes the bells, which set the stage for his Lon- Having sharpened his rhythmic sense with Rid-
donderry excursion. During the rehearsal, he dle and May at Capitol, he could now take bold
jauntily hums along, at one point during the control, easily communicating what he believed
bridge calling across the studio to Mandel, to be the appropriate, in-the-pocket groove to
Good tempo, John. those responsible for executing it.
When the run-through is complete, he offers For example, as the group is about to begin
some musical suggestions, both about the bells a run-through of Lets Face the Music and
and some brass accents, to both Mandel and Dance, we find him characteristically hum-
Slatkin. Those brass notes youve got from fifty- ming, singing, and snapping, suggesting a tempo
one on . . . try not to rush those, it sounds like its to the musicians. In the first chorus, gentlemen,
rushed. Dont jump at em . . . dont jump at em. think of this thing in a fat two. Just think of it that
Pop, pop, pop, pop . . . very relaxed. As the band way. The rhythms gonna play in a big, broad
plays through the particular section where the two. Lets try it. The recording is made, a play-
notes crop up, Sinatra points them out to Man- back listened to.
del. Whoa . . . those notes . . . okay! Take one of the song, master M-104, is taken
Then, addressing Slatkin, he discusses the at a brighter tempo than subsequent takes. In the
instrumental bridge: Felix, beginning in bar studio, Sinatra realized that maybe it was a bit too
fifty-five, I want to get a feeling of a concerted fast, and made the call to adjust the tempo. I
crescendo all the way up through sixty-five, sixty- think its gonna come down a little more, he says,
six, sixty-seven, sixty-eight, sixty-nine, boom! humming the tune. His finger snaps begin to
the cut-off. Slatkin agrees. Yeah, thats great, slow. Weve got another change. Irv, its coming
Frank, but I tell ya, if they would do it out there, down a little more. Yeah, yeah . . . try it at this
it would help a great deal, Slatkin says confi- tempo, he instructs. His assessment of the proper
dently. Thats what Im talking about . . . but I tempo is uncanny; his judgment, right on the
want you to listen to it . . . , Sinatra tells him. money.
Slatkin clarifies who will be responsible for ac- He made one change which was a very good
complishing the desired effect. We wont build change, and that was at the end of the verse of
it in here too much: well hold it, and let you build Lets Fall in Love, Mandel recalls. He stuck an
it out there. Sinatra agrees. No, no, no, no empty bar in there before he went into the line,
not you, he says. Lets . . . [pause] fall in love . . . That was his
Mandel leads the band in a run-through, and idea. Right on the date. But thats not a hard type
at the end, Sinatra asks, All right? Yeah, good! of change to do.
Slatkin announces. Really whack those chimes The one-bar rest is very effective, sharpen-
when we get in there, Sinatra tells percussionist ing the tension right at the top of the song. You
Emil Richards, who nods. Right. wonder, Whats coming next? Cause nobodys
All right, lets try it, huh? the singer says. heard this verse before. It had never been done.
Slatkin gets things underway. Ready to go, John? As a result, nobody knew what was coming, so
We are rolling . . . this is M-103, Take Two. putting that bar in gave it extra dramatic impact,
Appropriately punchy, chimes thoroughly Mandel says.
whacked in exactly the right spots, the perfor- As the band prepares to record the song,
mance emerges as one of the best of the lot. The Sinatra, planning his attack, makes an inquiry
conversations heard on these particular sessions about the introduction. Ive got seven beats tacit,
underscore how Sinatra has honed his command John? he asks Mandel, singing the end of the
of rhythm and musical nuance to perfection. verse. Why be shy . . . two, three, four, one, two,
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160 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

three, four . . . he counts. After the last beat, he ceptions, long planning sessions with his orches-
pauses, then practices, anticipating the rest be- trators became a thing of the past. The routine
tween verse and chorus. Since his vocal would be of working tirelessly, and outlining every idea
coming in cold, he was concerned about whether stayed the same in the earlier years, but in later
hed find the note easily. Whats the price I blow years, Frank took less of a hand in it, recalls Bill
the first note? he jokes. Ill run it down once Miller. Hed say, Just have somebody write it.
for ya, he tells Slatkin. They know what theyre doing.
The band starts, and the verse flows along Unfortunately, this casual attitude also ex-
well. After the one-bar rest, Sinata indeed blows tended to the post-production mixing that would
the first note, coming in flat. His self-deprecating result in the final records. As a result, when com-
humor takes over, and he laughs. When I tune pared to the astonishingly beautiful and consis-
up, I gonna be great with that note! he jokes, us- tent sound quality of the Capitol recordings,
ing his well-practiced Amos n Andy accent for many of Sinatras Reprise efforts pale. The
effect. The balance of the take is fine, and after biggest problem with the singers recordings from
a minor adjustment of the vibraphone micro- this period is their uneven sound quality: one al-
phone, Sinatra proclaims the chart to be bum might be marred by mild distortion, excess
cuckoo, and they go for the master takes. reverb, an abundance of tape hiss, uneven mix-
Bill Putnam, running the technical side of ing and balance; the next could be an audio de-
the session in the control room, is cool, calm, and light. This first album, Ring-a-Ding-Ding!, was
collected. On these sessions, he seems concerned also the first weak link in a chain. The recent dis-
with making sure that the sound of the bells and covery of copies of master tapes, missing from the
chimes are reproduced properly, and sets about Reprise vaults for years, reveals some clues re-
checking and re-checking their assigned micro- garding the less than perfect sonics of this land-
phones. Not wanting the soft, mellow sound of mark recording, and underscores the importance
the vibraphone on Easy to Love to be drowned of meticulous mixing and mastering.
out, Putnam double-checks the balance. Larry, Since its initial release in March 1961, Ring-
can I hear the vibes, please, just for a second? a-Ding-Ding! has been plagued by a brittle, hissy,
he asks. echoey sound. For many years, Sinatra aficiona-
Quietly addressing Putnam from the studio dos believed that the original recordings were in-
floor, Sinatra makes a request, almost as an af- ferior, as these problems were noticeable in the
terthought. On the playbacks tonight, will you first pressings of the album (both mono and
knock off a little of the gain when you play em stereo). A study of the aforementioned session
back in here? About this much, he asks, demon- tapes, however, contradicts this theory. (To date,
strating with his fingers. two stereo compact disc versions have been re-
The looseness of these sessions shows that leased: the first, now out of print, retained the
Sinatra was definitely enjoying being the head of sonic deficiencies described above. The 20-bit
his own record company. But while the new digitally remastered version issued in 1998 is a
recording outlet enabled him to maintain more marked improvement, but still lacks the crispness
artistic control and freedom than he had ever en- of the mono tapes in circulation.)
joyed before, Sinatra seems, at this point, to have While the lost tape copies are mono, and
begun losing interest in personally supervising therefore prevent any evaluation of the stereo
the nitty-gritty details. As time wore on, he spent mix, they are startlingly clear: essentially dry (no
less and less time concerning himself with the reverb), with very distinct separation among the
particulars of the arrangements. With several ex- instruments of the orchestra, and a remarkable
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T H E R E P R I S E Y E A R S 161

presence or liveness that is noticeably absent Putnam told Sides about a late-night call that
on the original issues, indicating that all of the in- was the last straw for the engineer.
ferior sound arose during post-production mix-
ing, after the original recordings were made.
Sinatra: Bill?
Of all the Reprise recordings, few sounded
Putnam: Yeah. Whos this?
great, concurs Allen Sides. The ones that sound
Sinatra: Frank.
the best are those that were mixed directly to two-
Putnam: Frank who? (Then hangs up.)
track, like the original Robin and the Seven
Hoods soundtrack album and Strangers in the
Night. But if you go back to the original three Frank called him back the next day . . . if
tracks, they sound so good it can scare you! A lot youre his friend, youre his friend. He can take
of the problems did come with the mixdowns, and thathe can appreciate where youre coming
I know this because I have heard some of these from. They stayed friends for a long time.
three-tracks, and they are amazing. Sinatra depended on Putnam because the
How this occurred, and on Sinatras own engineer was a discerning mixer who appreciated
watch, is anyones guess, but such inconsistencies and understood his style and method of record-
were part and parcel of Sinatras years at Reprise. ing. The Olympic goal in being a great engineer,
Some explanation, and a sense that Sinatra was and then a great producer, is to find the imme-
concerned about the sonic deficiencies of the diacy. With Sinatra, theres no reason for a lot of
final mixdowns, can be gleaned from a conver- takes past the second or third. Once you under-
sation that Bill Putnam had with Sides. stand that, it puts you in another league, says
Bill told me that he became so busy pro- Phil Ramone.
ducing his own records for other artists that Sina- Ramone, probably more than any other pro-
tra couldnt get him, and Frank was really stressed ducer who made his mark in the rock music era,
out, because he sensed that there had been some can understand and make comparisons between
sessions that werent too happening. So Sinatra the Sinatra method of recording (three tunes
went to Bill, and said, Would you be willing to per session, an album completed in four days),
let me put you on a retainer? They agreed on a and what has developed into an industry standard
figure of $200,000, which had no relation to what (albums taking months, even years, to be
Bill would actually get paid for the sessions: he recorded and mastered), because he broke into
would get paid separately for the sessions. This the studios at a time when live recording was
retainer insured that if Frank needed Bill, he still the accepted practice.
would be available to work on a session. As a producer, I started great relationships
He set Frank up with a little studio in the with Paul Simon and Billy Joel and those people,
Palm Springs house, where he could play back because I constantly rolled tape. With subtle
all the tapes and listen to stuff, and it got to the editing, sometimes youd find the combination
point where Sinatra would call him at all hours of a great take from a whole days work, which was
of the night. He would be listening to a take, and the total opposite of what I learned in the previ-
call Bill and say, Hey Bill, what do you think ous ten years of engineering: that if you werent
about take four? Bill was more than an engineer, good enough to do four songs in three hours, you
he was a producer, and they were friendsso were an amateur. The key is, you have to under-
they relied on each other. But it finally got to the stand the artist. Some people are very determined
point where Bill couldnt do it anymore . . . he and slow, and thats okay, he says. With Sinatra,
was burning the candle at both ends. its so special. No matter how good you are, from
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162 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

a production and engineering point of view, its evening. Turn in your W-4 forms, were not
the playerand the players play ten times better recording tonight. Come back tomorrow night at
when he walks in the room than they did ten min- eight. Pushed the whole album session back one
utes before. Its a totally different uplifttheres day! Slatkin was not well, and he was not going
nothing like it. to record without his concertmaster. Paid every-
The immediacy that a thoughtful produc- body off and sent them home. Got to do it right.
tion team strives to achieve is brilliantly portrayed Don Costa, like Johnny Mandel and Sy
on Sinatras first recording with arranger Don Oliver, was originally part of Frank Sinatras plan
Costa, Sinatra and Strings. For this master, the to diversify during the 1960s. Some, like Mandel
producer and mixing engineer chose to enhance and Oliver, never worked on another album with
the flat session tapes with just the right shower of him. Except for two singles sessions (in 1963 and
reverberation, resulting in an appealingly glossy, 1964), Sinatra did not call on Costa again until
wet sound that perfectly underscores the plain- 1968, for the Cycles album; these charts were as
tive feel of Sinatra classics like Come Rain or far removed from Sinatra and Strings as one
Come Shine, Yesterdays, Prisoner of Love, could get.
and Thats All. Costa was a great pinch hitter. He was the
This combination of virtuoso performance guy you called in when you needed someone
and thoughtfully crafted sound expresses the late- elses sound, but that someone else wasnt
night club ambiance that is the essence of Frank available. Don Costa was a musicians musician;
Sinatra. The album so moved its arranger that in an arrangers arranger, says arranger-songwriter
the 1970s, he told British music historian and Mickey Leonard. He was among the most
writer Stan Britt that Sinatra and Strings was, emotional writers, and his orchestrations are
and always will be, the hallmark of my existence. very theatrical. He wrote with a great sense of
Commenting on the recording in 1985 for his drama.
sister Nancys first biography of her father, Frank Although only two songs he orchestrated for
Sinatra, My Father, Frank Sinatra, Jr., said Sina- Sinatra in the 1970s (What Are You Doing the
tra and Strings opened up a whole new era. The Rest of Your Life? and Summer Me, Winter
orchestras were getting bigger, and Pop wanted Me) come anywhere near the beauty of the
that lush string sound. arrangements for Sinatra and Strings, Costa is
Sinatras son also recalled the very first ses- almost single-handedly responsible for the di-
sion for the album. They assembled the huge rection that Sinatras post-retirement recording
orchestra . . . and the old man walked in that night career took, often serving as arranger and pro-
for the first take, Hey, hey: ring-a-ding-ding! And ducer for the singers recording dates.
he was playing with his hat and everything, and What is remarkable is that Don didnt play
he saw the concertmaster, Felix Slatkin, slumped piano, as most arrangers did, says Leonard. His
over in his chair. Felix had his violin still in its instrument was guitar, and that is what he used
case, across his lap. He was sweating. He looked to work out his orchestrationsvery unusual. He
up and said, Frank, I dont feel good. My old was anything but a formula writer: he never over-
man turned around and looked at Costa with all powered a song; he always delved deeper into the
the music, and the fifty musicians. But the con- music. I would put him in the same league as the
certmaster didnt feel well. So Dad turned to very best arrangers that ever lived, including Nel-
Hank Sanicola and he said, Hank, pay everybody son Riddle, Eddie Sauter, Billy May, Ralph
off. And he got up on the conductors podium, Burns, and Billy Byers. He had a good feel for the
[tapped on the stand] and said, Everybody, good commercial sound, too.
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T H E R E P R I S E Y E A R S 163

L O N D O N S E S S I O N S , 19 6 2

D espite an occasional technical miscue,

the performances of the Reprise years
were rarely dull-even in the unusual
event the singer wasnt up to vocal par, as was the
case when, in June of 1962, he arrived in England,
weary from the rigors of a massive world tour,
but determined to complete a scheduled record-
ing date with admired British arranger Robert
Interviews with Farnon (conducted by the
author) and with the producer, the late Alan A.
Freeman (courtesy of British music historian and
writer Stan Britt) as well as unissued studio ses-
sion outtakes allow us to paint a realistic picture
of the events that occurred in a British studio over
three nights in June of 1962.
The idea for the album was Sinatras entirely. sessions. When word of the planned album hit
Word had come from his office in Los Angeles six the press, producer Alan A. Freeman found him-
months previously that he would be wrapping up self swamped with requests from songwriters to
an extensive charity tour in June and thought it include their songs. Eric Maschwitz, who wrote
might be nice to record an album in England. A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, called
The specifications were simple: all the songs must me up and drove me mad! said Freeman. He
be of British origin, with Robert Farnon creating insisted that this would be the most important
the arrangements. The dates were scheduled for thing that could happen to his song, and career.
June 12, 13, and 14; the recording venue would be And I said, I think it would stand a great chance
the CTS Bayswater Studios in London. The al- [of being included], and I sent it along to Frank.
bum (Sinatras first and only studio album to be Personally, I think thats the song that came out
recorded outside the United States) would be ti- best on the album.
tled Great Songs from Great Britain. Frank picked out Well Meet Again, Ill
Those six months were hectic for Sinatras Follow My Secret Heart, and Garden in the
British collaborators. Among their tasks was work- Rain, I believe. He also adored London by
ing with the singer to select dozens of appropri- Night, which was written by Carroll Coates, an
ate tunes, which would eventually be narrowed Englishman who was living in the States, Free-
down to the twelve that would be taped at the man remembers. One song chosen personally by
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164 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

the singer, the lovely Now Is the Hour, almost ence for the singers rousing midnight show at
wasnt included, because it was not a British song. Royal Festival Hall, Freeman understood that the
Its near enough British! Sinatra said, and the famed voice was under a tremendous amount of
song remained. stress. It was, in fact, nearly worn out. In addition
Don Costa, who was working closely with to the many benefit concerts the world tour de-
Sinatra, was a big champion of my work, re- manded, he was doing nightly club dates at the
members the records orchestrater Robert Mesmer Hall. The producer thought about this,
Farnon, whose sweeping style is reminiscent of as the call came that Sinatra was en route from
Stordahls. Perhaps it was Don, more than any- his suite at the Savoy Hotel. I just wanted to be
one, that suggested I arrange the album. I was able to talk to him alone, to have two minutes to
sent the songs, and the keys by Franks pianist, Bill sell myself to him, before we actually got into the
Miller. And he just told me, Go ahead and write studio, said Freeman.
whatever you like, which I did. They gave me Twenty minutes after we got the call, he ar-
carte blanche! It was a delight to work that way . rived, in the chocolate-brown Rolls hed bor-
. . to have that freedom. I met with Frank at the rowed from Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. I was at the
Savoy Hotel before the sessions, just to say hello door, and I was really shaking . . . petrified! When
and check the keys. Bill Miller was there to assist he walked up, I was introduced to him, and he
us as well. shook my hand and said, Hi, my boy, glad to
A week before the sessions, Bill Putnam, know you. And the way he said it, with a twinkle
Sinatras engineer from Los Angeles, made a sur- in his eye, led me to believe he knew the tremen-
prise visit to the studio, which was a relief to Alan dous strain I was under. I said something like,
Freeman. I knew Bill was in Paris, and he Obviously, Frank, this is the greatest thrill that
phoned me, and said, I appreciate the state ever happened to me, as it would be any producer
youve been inIve been there! I told Bill, It working with you . . . , to which he responded,
would be a godsend if you could get over to the Well, its nice to be here. As we entered the stu-
studio and do a once-over, and give us some dio, all the musicians and guests started ap-
hints. He came in, looked around, and said, This plauding, and I felt very proud walking in there
should be fine, hell like this. Get him a screen, with him
and surround him with rhythm, Putnam told The first tune-up that evening was a favorite
me, and thats exactly what we did. of Sinatra, If I Had You, which he had recorded
Several hours before the first recording ses- twice before, in 1947 (Stordahl) and 1956 (Rid-
sion, Freeman was visibly nervous. Hed been at dle). Freeman started the proceedings from the
the studio for hours to allow himself some time booth. Take One, If I Had You. Then, Okay,
to relax and get the feel of the place. He was con- Bob, as Farnon counted off, cueing the orches-
cerned about whether hed have the luxury of a tra. One, two and three . . . With the down-
few minutes alone to acquaint himself with beat came immediate understanding of why
Frank. Freemans function over the next three Sinatra admired Robert Farnon. After tentatively
nights was to run the technical business and negotiating himself through a series of hoarse,
make sure the singer was comfortable in this raspy lines, at three minutes and fifty-seconds
strange environment. He refrained from impos- into the first attempt, Sinatra aborted the take.
ing or enforcing his ideas on the vocalist. Sinatra, All right, hold itcut it, he directed.
he knew, produced for himself. The orchestra worked out a few minor bugs,
Sinatra, nearing the end of a grueling world then played a few sections to give Sinatra a bet-
tour, was exhausted. Having been in the audi- ter sense of the timing of the melodic line. He
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T H E R E P R I S E Y E A R S 165

had great difficulty figuring out where to come

in at the beginning of the song, because it had
such a long intro, and he had no idea what the in-
tro was, recalls Farnon. This affected the pac-
ing of the rest of his vocal, which Sinatra was
approaching with a bit of trepidation. Frank is
only human . . . this intro would have thrown
any artist.
Then, Take Two. This time, twenty-seven
seconds in, another vocal scrape, this time on the
word glad. One more, please, Frank requested.
Takes Three and Four are broken down before
the vocal begins, and remain incomplete false
starts. Take Five is complete, but a bit rough vo-
cally. Then, after a few more incomplete takes, a
near calamity: The most disastrous thing hap-
pened in the middle of recording this number
the piano broke down! The action on the piano
went, and this had never happened to me before,
and it never happened to me again. And the guy
had been nursing that concert grand all day
tuning and retuning it. Well, can you imagine
this on a Sinatra session, the first night, the first
title . . . ? None of us were particularly at ease
then, and I dont suppose Frank was either. He
was in a strange studio; he had never recorded
outside of the States before. He didnt know what
the hell we were all about. So the piano breaks
down, and he says, Have you got another piano?
We didnt, so I said, No, Frank . . . , and he said What have you got? So I said, This, slapping it
Okay, well do it on celeste. I thought, Oh, on the table. And he looked at me right in the
thank God . . . you know, I thought we were go- eyes, and said, Youve been doing your home-
ing to have a tantrum there, first time out, says work, havent you? So Frank had a drink, and
Freeman. For the eleventh and twelfth takes, asked me, Have you ever tried this stuff? I said,
pianist Bill Miller plinked on celeste, an unex- No. He said, Would you like one? I responded,
pected and picturesque twist that added im- Love one. Have you got a glass? he asks. No, I
measurably to the album. havent got one here. Frank says, All right, share
Patience tested and tension broken, the ses- mine. And Harold Davison took me aside, and
sion continued. said, You must be in, if he shared a glass with
After the second title, The Very Thought of you . . . And from that moment on, I couldnt go
You, we had a break, remembers Freeman. I wrong. I felt great!
knew that Frank liked Jack Daniels, so I had three I was impressed with his musicality, says
bottles of it waiting in the studio. As we broke, I Farnon. There was a bearded chap, a trombone
asked, Would you like a drink, Frank? He said, player, that made one or two fluffs on one of the
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166 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

numbers. Sinatra, of course, caught it, and number of onlookers, estimates that 120 people
walked over during the orchestral interlude, and were jammed into the studio, in addition to the
whispered to him, Im afraid you got a little bit orchestra! And thirty of those people were in the
of whisker in there, mate. That broke the or- control room. Among the visitors was Nelson
chestra up, and we had to stop playing. It was so Riddle. On one occasion, Frank went over
lovely, because he heard this note even though to Nelson, and said, Listen to that woodwind
the orchestra was playing. And it wasnt the first writing . . . thats what I like! and of course,
trombonist, it was Ray Primo, the bass trombon- my tail started to wag, cause it was quite a nice
ist! Sinatra, who couldnt read a note of music, compliment.
had neatly demonstrated his unerring facility for Technically, this may have been the most
detecting a clam (his term) from within the well-covered Sinatra session ever. It was recorded
deepest recess of the orchestra. simultaneously on four different tape machines,
Throughout the taping, Sinatra constantly a task that engineer Eric Tomlinson handled
coughs and attempts to clear his throat, and the beautifully. At the time, Reprise in the United
frayed edges cropping up on the ends of many States was recording all masters at 30 ips, and the
notes remind one of the fragility of his instru- CTS Studios were set up to record at 15 ips. Since
ment. Sinatra always had a self-deprecating way Reprise had specifically requested that the mas-
of joking about his vocal shortcomings on a ters be run at the superior 30 ips, an additional
record date. I think I swallowed a shot glass, or two tape machines were brought in. One Ampex
I got a busted reed, or That was a Chesterfield, and one Philips machine transcribed the tapes
from oh, about 1947 were all typical tension- at 15 ips; a second Ampex and a second Philips
breakers, following blown notes or flubbed lines. operated at the required 30 ips. This plethora of
In London, it was, at first, simply, One more, tapes may account for the numerous alternate
please, or Once more, Bobfor me. After feel- takes that have shown up on various commercial
ing out the British contingency, he loosened up. releases of the album through the years. Oddly
Then, after a coughing spell, he wisecracked, enough, Great Songs from Great Britain was not
Man, we gotta sleep indoors! eliciting laughs released in the United States until nearly thirty
from the assembly. Freeman recalled that during years after its creation. Originally available only
one problematic song, Sinatra stopped the or- in England, the first British pressings are still
chestra, looked up at the ceiling, and pleaded, among the most collectible Sinatra items on the
Dont just stand there, come down and help market. (Today, the album is available domesti-
me! cally on compact disc.)
As in Hollywood, the sessions were an On the second night everyone, including
eventthe venue filled to capacity, much to the Sinatra, was more at ease. The orchestra had
consternation of the British recording team. been pared (the four trumpets werent needed)
There were so many people in the studio that and everything ran smoothly. Then, during Sina-
had nothing to do with the recording, Farnon tras performance of The Gypsy, Freeman de-
recollects. There were people sitting on my tected something unusual and began to worry.
podium, under the piano, on the piano, all He was doing some funny things in the middle.
around usthe studio was absolutely crammed And Nelson Riddle was in the control room, so I
with people: the press, musicians, and fans who said, Nelson, what hes doing is rather funny, is-
were privileged to gain admission. Frank loved nt it? And he replied, Well, this is a song that
ithe didnt mind at all. Freeman, who claims he doesnt know all that well. The phrases arent
to have been a bit frightened by the unusual quite right. Would you like to tell him? I ask.
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T H E R E P R I S E Y E A R S 167

Nelson said, No, youre the director of the ses- and intercut (spliced) into the master take in the
sionyou tell him. Well, I cant tell him the appropriate place.
phrase is wrong!, I reply. Yes, you can, he said. With A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley
So, during the playback, we came up to the trou- Square, there were only two takes, recalls Free-
blesome part, and I comment, Sounds like some- man. And thats the one we did an edit on, be-
things wrong with the phrasing there, Frank. He cause Frank loved Harry Roches trombone solo.
tells me, Im trying to put a little syncopation in The session tapes reveal Sinatras instructions for
there. I think its wrong, I say. And he said, Well, making the cuts. Intercut, using bar fifty-two on
I like it . . . He gave me one of those smiles, with out for me . . . the trombone solo is excellent, so
a glint in his eye, and I replied, Okay! . . . thats lets save that, he directed.
fair enoughyoure the boss. And that little sec- This was the first time in the two nights
tion worries me to this day! Freeman noted. work that Frank actually came into the control
While it was unusual for Sinatra to follow the room during the session, Freeman remembered.
accepted practice of editing multiple takes to- He came in to tell the engineer to make the
gether to create a composite master (he remained splice right there, on the spot . . . very frighten-
insistent on performing each take live, as he al- ing! And he stood over him while he did it. The
ways had, well into the tape era), he would oc- guy was trembling, and I was having a thousand
casionally allow an intercut to be made. If there fits . . . what if the blade were to slip? The engi-
were minor problems with a small section of a neer making the cut was only nineteen years old,
recording, the short passage would be rerecorded and I think this was his first multi-track session.
Frank watched him do it, and it worked. We all
breathed a sigh of relief!
The true rarity to emerge from the London
sessions was a song that Sinatra historian and
author Will Friedwald cites as his personal
favorite, the lovely Roses of Picardy. Dropped
from the final album, its obscurity became a topic
of debate among Sinatra enthusiasts, and while
the intervening decades have finally seen its
official release, the story behind its exclusion
bears repeating.
On the last night, we were in the control
room, having a drink and listening to all the play-
backs, said Freeman. Frank said, Scrub Roses
of Picardy, I dont like it. I told him I thought it
was rather nice, and he insisted, No, I didnt like
it. I tried to reason with him. I thought it was a
beautiful Bob Farnon arrangement, and he put
so much emotion into it; he sang it with tremen-
dous feeling. I asked him, Is there anything we
can do to get it right? and he just said, No, no . . .
just forget it, well go with eleven tracks. He was
With Alan Freeman and Robert Farnon.
quite definite about it. He was putting a lot of
wisecracks in, as if maybe hed already made up
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168 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A

his mind he didnt want itas if he was going have been one oclock in the morning before I
through the motions of recording it, but not tak- left that studio. I didnt want to leave it, because
ing it seriously. (On the session out-takes, Sina- it was all over. It was gone.
tra can be heard, after muffing a take, I dont
think Im gonna make the rest of that mother, Ill
tell ya right now! Later, obviously tired, he says,
My old man warned me about nights like
these . . . but he was a drinking man! What did
he know?)
After the sessions were completed and play-
backs run on the third and final night, Sinatra ( S I N AT R A A N D BA S I E )
seemed pleased with what he heard. He was very
happy with the musicians. He said, You know, I
love the British stringstheres no strings in the
world to touch them. Summing up the experi-
ence, Freeman described the atmosphere after
Sinatra had gone: I got my mother and father in
on the last night, because they were dying to meet
him, and I couldnt leave the studio when it was
over. I just sat in that huge studio on my own,
B ack in the States, Sinatra commenced a
project that was the fulfillment of a life
long dream: to record with Bill Count
Basie. Mickey Scrima, Sinatras old roommate
during the Harry James period, remembered that
with my mother and father in the control room. the singer always had an affinity for the Basie
I said, Just leave me alone, and I sat and listened band. Frank always said he wanted to be a singer
to the whole bloody lot of master takes. It must with Count Basie. He just loved that bandhe
couldnt stop listening to them,
and talking about them.
Twenty-three years later,
his wish came true, when in
October 1962 he recorded his
first of three albums with
Basies swingin aggregation.
This album, scored by Neal
Hefti, was rooted in the tradi-
tional 44 time that was a hall-
mark of Basies style.
As Hefti recalled, he com-
pleted the charts with no input
from Sinatra. I dont know
how these ideas were shot back
and forth . . . all I know is they
said, This is what youre going
COURTESY OF MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES to do next week. I dont know
Recording with Count Basie, United Studio A, October 1962. who put it together . . . whose
idea it was, who picked the
tunes, or when they picked the
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T H E R E P R I S E Y E A R S 169

keys or any of those kind of things. I got a list of there. He very seldom would ask to do something
tunes and a list of keys, and a pile of sheet music more than two or three times, unless there was an
with the key marked in pencil. I realized I could obvious breakdown someplace.
go up a half a tone or down a half a tone if I had Heftis observation illustrates how Sinatra
any kind of an idea . . . . was becoming less interested and involved with
I was always a reluctant writer; I dont really the details that he once supervised like a hawk. I
like to write, I never did. Or at least to write like very seldom had anything to do with him on these
that. I didnt mind writing a couple of tunes a year projects, Hefti says, offering the typical conver-
when I was with Woody Hermans band, when I sation that would occur:
could take six months to figure something out.
But, if youre gonna say, Do this and have it to- Sinatra: Did you get the songs the other
morrow, and thats that, to me its like an order. day?
You will do this. I never liked that process, and Hefti: Yeah.
I never wrote for another singer since that Basie- Sinatra: You understand everything?
Sinatra album, Hefti said. Hefti: Yeah.
But that wasnt his [Franks] problemhe Sinatra: You have any choices or anything?
was very easy to work with. I would say he was the Hefti: No.
only guy I worked with who didnt squawk about Sinatra: Okay, next Friday, okay?
anything that went on in the studio. I dont know Hefti: Okay.
what happened in his life outside of the studio, Sinatra: You need anything, heres my
because I was never privileged to be part of that. number.
But from a musical [standpoint], from the mo-
ment he walked in the studio to the moment he When it was pointed out to him that Sinatra
walked out, he just didnt do anything but sing. was noted for his scrupulous pre-session plan-
Hefti was in a position to observe the overall ning, Hefti seemed surprised. I dont know that
picture, because in addition to arranging, he was he ever acted any differently with anybody else,
then working as the head A&R man at Reprise. because I certainly wasnt getting any special
Emil Richards, the percussionist on many Sina- treatment, he said.
tra dates, recalls Heftis enthusiasm. Franks vo- Why Sinatra distanced himself from Hefti
cal booth was right next to the percussion section, is somewhat perplexing, very different from his
and on one session, Frank had invited a bunch of approach with Quincy Jones, who orchestrated
people to watch. So Neal sticks his head out of the second Sinatra-Basie album, It Might as Well
the booth, and says, Frankcome on in, youre Be Swing, in 1964. The two had first met in 1958,
gonna cream in your pants when you hear this when Jones conducted a Sinatra concert in
one! And Frank looks at me, and says, Do you Monte Carlo.
believe this guy, talkin like that in front of all The next time I talked to him, he called
these people? He was digging it! from Hawaii and asked me to do an album with
To Hefti, Sinatra seemed to be a bit dis- him. That was Basies album, Jones remem-
tracted. It is entirely possible that the stress of the bered. This was right after he almost drowned,
world tour, combined with the demands of the remember that? I went over there and he had a
many other projects he was working on, were flag up over his bungalow in Hawaii. He was di-
fatiguing the singer. Its almost as if they were recting None But the Brave, and he had a flag up
telling him what to do, and he couldnt wait for with his bottle of Jack Daniels on it. Huge flag!
it to be over with, so he could get the hell out of Instead of an American flag, he had a Jack
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170 S E S S I O N S WI T H S I N AT R A


Quincy Jones, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, 1964.

Daniels flag. And thats when we first got to know me about the arrangements-he just kind of let me
each other. He had one of the most complex per- loose on that. Wed talk about a tempo and a key.
sonalities imaginable. We had a great, great And, because he was still busy with his picture,
chemistry. we came back to the States after Hawaii, and I
Where Heftis Sinatra-Basie album retained moved in at Warner Brothers, into Dean Martins
much of the legendary Basie sound, the record dressing room. Frank was next door doing the pic-
Jones scored had a much different feelmainly ture every day, shooting interiors and editing and
tighter and jazzier. It also included more con- so forth. So, I used to stay there. Id stayed straight
temporary tunes than the first album, including through almost one weekend; I got locked in
Fly Me to the Moon. As Sinatra sings in I Be- there and I stayed in the room and just kept writ-
lieve in You, this one really does have the slam, ing and then fell asleep. On Monday morning, I
bang, tang reminiscent of gin and vermouth. looked up and theres Frank in a military outfit,
We started to talk about the tunes. And its asking me how I wanted my eggs. He was cook-
very funny the way songs come up. Id suggest ing breakfast!
one, and hed suggest a couple, and you keep Later, after wed finished the album, we
thinking them up and you just come up with a