He came into the room quietly. So unobtrusively, in fact, that the guy
who'd been hanging around the coffee and Danish, talking with the musicians,
taking up color for liner notes, did not even know that Frank Sinatra
was in the studio until someone with an 18-hole tan and a blue baseball
jacket that had an American flag on the left shoulder, COACH across the
back and U.S.A. DRINKING TEAM on a badge over the heart, said, "Boy,
it sure is early!" Then the evening officially began.
Sinatra took out a pack of Lucky Regulars and tossed his coaching jacket
over a stool beside the mike. Tonight he would work in an orange sweatshirt/sweater
and blue slacks, poised atop black boots with Western heels. "Is
there a little tea handy?" he asked, clearing his throat, warming
up a little. He looked good.
He probably felt good, too. The past few weeks had been big ones - eight
cities, 13 dates on a sellout tour that got raves. Even Rolling Stone,
which has been known to pole-ax a nonguitarish type here and there, enthused:
"It is almost as if this haunting, beautiful voice coming to us from
the stage has a life of its own ... he truly can be called the Chairman
of the Board."
Which ain't bad for a guy who on 5/22 at 5:22 in the post meridiem would
become granddaddy to a certain 8lb., 14oz. Angela Jennifer Lambert.
Following warm-ups, things settled into an evening of contrasts: little
incongruities nuzzling up to each other. Although the album would be mostly
up-tempo, tonight The People's Choice - as Gordon Jenkins refers to his
star baritone - would do a couple of ballads. And he would sing delicate,
lovely lyrics in Warners' Burbank Studio #1, a former soundstage with
a cinemascope screen across its backside for scoring movies, a place with
all the intimacy of Dodger Stadium. His onlookers would include the usual
musicians who have come to watch, a few clusters of pinky-ring guys, some
soft, pretty ladies and three Jesuit priests in basic black maybe 10 feet
from he man doing ballads in a barn in the orange sweatshirt/sweater up
front. An evening of contrasts. And music.
When you listen to "The Summer Knows", know that you are listening
to an 18th take. "The most I can recall since we took 17 shots at
'September of My Years'," reflected Sonny Burke in the booth afterward.
For Sinatra a concert performance may be an evening, but a recording is
forever. He is a man of many, many takes in search of perfection. He is
also warmly human. Just when he was starting to feel comfortable with
"The Summer Knows," the beautiful French horn lead-in began
to falter. After a few broken starts, Sinatra made a move toward Vince
DeRosa and his horn: "How dare you!" he began, a frown lapsing
into laughter. The next take was clean, the one after that even truer.
During a break Sinatra kidded with musicians who have been backing him
for years. "Hello, Hesh," to a violinist in the second row,
"you look nice." He sipped more tea and explained to someone
that this album would consist of songs he simply liked and wanted to lay
down now. A few were on the agenda some years back; others have
come along since he'd been on leave.
Any singer hates to see a good one get away. A great singer doesn't let
"If" came easily, and on the first take - the evening's final
contrast. Sinatra had tucked it into his repertoire on tour, and it showed.
He went into the booth for playback and smoked a Lucky Regular. He stood
there in the semi-darkness, eyes closed, rocking back and forth a little
bit while the song filled the room. "It's got some sand in it,"
he said as it ebbed. "Not enough to sell to a gravel dealer, but
I think we need another."
The second take of "If" was a song beautifully realized. "Why
don't we listen to it?" said Sonny from the booth. "Listen
to it?" said Sinatra. "Let's drink to it!" He
laughed and reached for his COACH of the U.S.A. DRINKING TEAM jacket,
then stopped as playback drifted over, and smiled when it was done. There
The evening, which had begun three hours and two songs ago, when, boy,
it was early was now officially over. Frank Sinatra was going
home. He said goodnight to some of the soft, pretty ladies, and to Father
O'Connell and his friends in basic black. "Say a couple of small
prayers for my Nancy, OK?" said the singer. "I'm gonna be a
granddad, you know." Then he was gone.
In the room a few people were picking up sheet music and overcoats and
Styrofoam cups once used for sipping tea. But, of Sinatra, only the music
remained. And it is here. Hear.
Some Nice Things I've Missed (1974)
You Turned My World Around
The Summer Knows
I'm Gonna Make It All The Way
Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree
Satisfy Me One More Time
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
Nice Things I've Missed from Amazon.co.uk.