Welcome to From Basin St. to Birdland

by mikeconklinmusic


Frank Sinatra

The 1940s were rife with musical explorations: Duke Ellington premiered  Black, Brown and Beige in 1943 at Carnegie Hall, Charlie Parker recorded “Koko” with Dizzy Gillespie in 1945, Louis Armstrong was beginning his journey with his All-Stars in 1946, and then there was…Sinatra.

There has been much debate as to what makes a jazz singer: does he or she swing? can he or she improvise? is there a sense of the blues in the performance? So, for many…Sinatra was simply a pop singer. He didn’t improvise or scat, and he certainly didn’t employ a whole lot of blues in his performances (either the blues form for the sensibility of the blues). But…he certainly could swing!

Sinatra got his start in 1939 with the burgeoning Harry James Orchestra. Here’s an example of a tune called “Melancholy Mood” that he did with James’s orchestra:

This arrangement was typical of the sweet, sentimentality of James Orchestra. Sinatra, although grateful for the opportunity to sing with the band, moved on to a more popular and well established aggregate, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1940.

Tommy Dorsey, the self-proclaimed ” Sentimental Gentleman of Swing,” led a band that was popular with (slow)  fox-trotters; these were slow romantic dances, as opposed to the more up-tempo dances that would truly represent the Swing Era (e.g. the jitterbug).  After two years with the Dorsey band, Sinatra went out on his own; but not before being exposed to the long, lyrical phrasing of the trombonist and thousands of adoring fans.

Here’s author Will Friedwald, an authority on jazz vocalists, discussing the reaction to Sinatra going out on his own in 1942:

Sinatra had the privilege of being signed by Columbia records from 1943 to 1952. In the next example, “All of Me,” you’ll notice a more mature presence — possibly more confident– that truly interprets the tune rather than simply singing it.

Around 1949, Sinatra realized that his audiences were dwindling and that they were perhaps tiring of his romantic crooning. Consequently, his recording contracts would ultimately not be renewed and he would lose his film contracts as well. His career hit bottom, but he would make an astounding comeback, which I’ll cover in tomorrow’s post!

Until then, keep swingin’