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Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer's Art

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Sinatra! The Song Is You is the first full-length work to document the musical life of Frank Sinatra. Drawing upon recent interviews with Sinatra collaborators, arrangers, and musicians - as well as previously unpublished conversations with "The Voice" himself - author Will Friedwald chronicles this five-decade career, tracing the evolution of his vocal style from such early influences as Harry James (the bandleader who in the late thirties "discovered" Sinatra in New Jersey's Rustic Cabin), Tommy Dorsey, and ...
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1995 Hard cover NEW, Hardcover edition as pictured. ISBN 068419368X New in new dust jacket. NEW, Hardcover edition as pictured. ISBN 068419368X Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. ... 560 p. Audience: General/trade. NEW, Hardcover edition as pictured. ISBN 068419368X Read more Show Less

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Overview

Sinatra! The Song Is You is the first full-length work to document the musical life of Frank Sinatra. Drawing upon recent interviews with Sinatra collaborators, arrangers, and musicians - as well as previously unpublished conversations with "The Voice" himself - author Will Friedwald chronicles this five-decade career, tracing the evolution of his vocal style from such early influences as Harry James (the bandleader who in the late thirties "discovered" Sinatra in New Jersey's Rustic Cabin), Tommy Dorsey, and Axel Stordahl, with whom Sinatra recorded his first string of solo hits. With the orchestrations of Nelson Riddle in the fifties came a more hard-swinging, uptempo Sinatra; the creation of his own label, Reprise Records, in the sixties gave him the venue to experiment with such unexpected forms as soft rock and psychedelia. Friedwald argues that Sinatra's recordings in the two decades following his 1971 to 1973 retirement weren't as prolific or as consistent as his earlier work, despite a startling comeback that culminated in the 1990s with the platinum-selling Duets discs.

This splendid musical biography is the first book to document Frank Sinatra's musical legacy through seven decades, revealing the man through his music. Friedwald examines what has made Sinatra such an enduring influence on American pop culture, and draws upon interviews with the musicians, performers, arrangers, and songwriters with whom Sinatra has worked. 16 pages of photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This admiring account of Frank Sinatra's career provides only sporadic glimpses of the singer's personal life, focusing instead on the music. Friedwald (Jazz Singing) portrays Sinatra as an artistic rebel in the 1940s who campaigned for style and class against mediocrity and a bottom-line mentality. The crooner from blue-collar Hoboken, New Jersey, spent 20 years in an ultimately triumphant struggle to own and control what he produced, yet by the 1960s, market forces compelled him to work with material alien to his personal taste. Nevertheless, observes Friedwald, whose generally perceptive criticism is laden with superlatives, Sinatra expanded his musical palette while remaining true to his heritage. The colorful, prodigiously researched narrative focuses on Sinatra's collaborations with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, musical arrangers Axel Stordahl, Nelson Riddle and Billy May and songwriter/orchestrator Gordon Jenkins. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Frank Sinatra is a 20th-century icon-a singer, actor, and celebrity whose career stretches from boy singer with Tommy Dorsey in the Forties to creater of two bestselling discs of duets in the Nineties. In this musical biography, names like Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and Gordon Jenkins (some of Sinatra's most significant arrangers) dominate, while Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow get but passing mention. Despite the serious intent, Friedwald writes in a loosely casual writing style (as in his earlier Jazz Singing, LJ 5/1/90) that tends to wear thin after a while. Also, a few examples with musical notation would have been welcome. Still, the level of detail in which his singing and recordings are discussed in over 500 pages is sure to delight true Sinatra fans, even if more casual readers may lose interest. Recommended for larger popular music collections.-Michael Colby, Univ. of California, Davis
Gordon Flagg
In the twilight of his career, Frank Sinatra has received many accolades. None is more appropriate than this critical but loving overview. Other volumes on "the Voice" have concentrated on Sinatra the celebrity--on his Rat Pack image and stormy personal life--at the expense of his brilliant music. But Friedwald wrote the book on pop vocalists--"Jazz Singers" (1990)--and he details Sinatra's musical legacy, from his start as a big band vocalist and his early Columbia recordings, through his Capitol Records triumphs of the 1950s and his not always successful 1960s and 1970s experiments on the Reprise label, to his commercial pinnacle but aesthetic nadir, the recent "Duets". With acumen and enthusiasm, Friedwald lavishes fitting praise on Sinatra's many masterpieces, drawing on interviews with the arrangers and musicians who contributed to Sinatra's success, yet he's not reluctant to slam Sinatra's occasional miscues. Other performers go out of style eventually, but Sinatra's music seems genuinely timeless. So Friedwald's astute, illuminating study should enjoy a richly deserved long life on library shelves.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684193687
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 8/30/1995
  • Pages: 559
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 1.50 (d)

First Chapter

Chapter 1

"NIGHT AND DAY": THE SINATRA STYLE

An artist must create a personal cosmos, a verdant world in continuity with tradition, further fulfilling man's awareness, his degree of consciousness, and bringing new subtilization, vision, and beauty to the elements of experience. It is in this way that Idea, powered by conviction and necessity, will create its own style and the singular, momentous structure capable of realizing its intent.
Leon Kirchner
(American composer, born 1919)

"Why is it," one late-night comic recently asked, "that when either Frank Sinatra or the President is in New York, all the hookers suddenly get better looking?" The hubbub regarding a visit from the chief executive can be easily understood. But how can we account for the disruptive power of this swinging septuagenarian, especially in the city that's seen it all? Sinatra is undeniably a dinosaur. But like those two-hundred-million-year-old brontosauri that are let loose in twentieth-century Manhattan in all those 1950s B-movies, he still has the power to trample the city beneath his feet.

The era that spawned Sinatra "is no more," as P. G. Wodehouse wrote of his youth. "It is gone with the wind, it is one with Ninevah and Tyre." If mankind has been around for only a few minutes in the calendar of the cosmos, then the Sinatra epoch flourished and then was finished in a brief, shining microsecond. The concept of something like quality in what we call American popular culture doesn't even amount to a momentary aberration. The idea that music could have substance as well as mass-marketability came into being at the end of World War I. It reached aclimax during World War II and slowly fizzled out during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

The dinosaur metaphor falls apart at this point, because Sinatra can't be compared to a lumbering behemoth who flattened the earth for eons, but rather to some magnificent beast whose entire existence occurred in the twinkling of an eye. Sinatra further represents a unique case where the greatest example of a breed happens to be the one to weather the decades as if in his own personal time capsule -- one with hot and cold running babes, a private stock of Jack Daniel's, and no photographers.

The mom-and-pop store that was the music industry in Sinatra's heyday has long since been demolished to make room for the superhighway of lowest-common-denominator culture. Still, Sinatra has dominated the last ten years -- the age of digital music software -- perhaps even more completely than he has any previous period. (To start with, a search through a database of CDs in print in 1994 yields 283 Sinatra entries.) This trend was apparent long before the recent platinum-selling release of Duets, Sinatra's economic zenith, technological masterpiece, and artistic nadir. In the de-ozoned, greenhouse-warmed winter of 1990-91, while the grandchildren of Sinatra's first audience, the World War II generation, prepared for yet another conflict, Sinatra product continued to move in quantities which the music industry traditionally describes in terms of precious metals.

In the early 1990s, Sinatra was not only active but still an irresistible force in pop music: multidisc "historical" packages, normally resistant to big sales, were selling because they were his. Reluctant as Sinatra was to record, it was inevitable that freshly minted Sinatra product would do even better. What was remarkable about the sales of such retrospectives as The Voice on Columbia, The Capitol Years, and The Reprise Collection (as opposed to the exclusively monetary success of Duets) was that artistry was once again making enough money to compete with products manufactured solely for economic gain.

Equally remarkable, the success of Sinatra product in the digital decade owes nothing to nostalgia -- especially in the early days of the disc format when few survivors of Buddy Holly's generation, let alone Sinatra's, even owned a compact disc player. Now, as he has throughout his career, Sinatra continues to flout convention. The '80s and '90s may be remembered as a period of meaningless technology; we care far more about the recording and marketing of music than we do about its content. When the recordable CD is perfected, thirteen-year-olds will theoretically be able to overwrite the disc containing last year's punk rock with next year's gangster rap (like Roman women who bring the same jars back to the market each week for a refill of honey or jam).

With the release of Duets in late 1993, the newspapers were awash in Sinatra "sensitivity pieces." Most of them were by veteran fifty- and sixty-something celebrity journalists, and they almost always followed the same pattern: a reminiscence of their younger days (not necessarily reckless youth but early married life and child-rearing years) interwoven with etched-in-stone memories of Sinatra songs. First, they make plain how much Sinatra has meant to them all their lives, through thirty, forty, or fifty years of listening; then, if they can, they detail the one or two times they had the opportunity to meet the man in the flesh, which they tend to equate with saying howdy to Moses on the mountain. Next, the writer talks about Duets, occasionally decrying it as a blasphemously shallow effort from the man who invented depth, but foremostly celebrating the album for its only virtue: a new Sinatra product that is a rip-roaring hit.

So much of our lives has been lived to the soundtrack of Sinatra music, it's hard to tell where our actual experiences end and those we've felt vicariously through Sinatra lyrics begin. Once we reach our thirties, we've long since lost the ability to distinguish whether something really happened to us or we just felt it through the way Sinatra sings, for instance, "It Was a Very Good Year." The Sinatra-inspired "memories" amount to a collective stock-footage library of shared experiences. Most of us can feel the small-town episode of "Very Good Year" amazingly vividly even if we've never been in a village more rural than Greenwich.

The late Gordon Jenkins once explained: "Frank does one word in 'Send in the Clowns,' which is my favorite of the songs we did together, and it's the damndest thing I've ever heard. He just sings the word farce, and your whole life comes up in front of you. He puts so much in that phrase that it just takes a hold of you." Where other singers, at best, work with lyrics and melodies, Sinatra deals in mental images and pure feelings that he seems to summon up almost without the intervention of composers, arrangers, and musicians, as vital as their contributions are. In fact, Sinatra is so sure of his relationship with his audience that he gladly acknowledges orchestrators and songwriters in his spoken introductions to each number. How could it take away from what he does to mention the men who put the notes and words on paper when it's he who gives them all meaning?

Sinatra is often larger than life, projecting heightened emotions through intensified vocal gestures. At other times Sinatra is whisperingly intimate, underplaying every note and every emotion to extract the most believability out of a text. At still other times Sinatra is dead-on, having reached a point where we can no longer discern between the part of him that is engaged in what is ultimately a theatrical performance and the real-life man himself. In many numbers -- such as "Without a Song," recorded in 1961 -- Sinatra is all three at different points.

There are times when Sinatra acts as if the lyric doesn't mean anything to him at all, as with a new novelty number (such as "The Hucklebuck") or an archaic throwaway revived as a "rhythm song" (such as "My Blue Heaven") that he just wants to have fun with and not have to take seriously. When Sinatra ti

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2002

    The Ultimate Sinatra Book

    Sinatra is a category of one, and this is a biography of his career. It does not go into his women, his brawls, his philanthropy, or his connections; they have little to do with his music, and this book has everything to do with it. It is clear, witty, intelligent, and much more interesting and involving than you can imagine. It capturews the spirit of the man and puts him on the page. Friedwald takes you right into the world of the musicians and the recording studios¿the world that mattered most to Sinatra¿until you feel you know these guys and how they felt about each other and their music. you will stop in the middle of a passage and look through your CDs for the songs he mentions, while others will play in your head as you read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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