3/8/11 - precision

In today's excerpt - though his personal life was in what seemed like perpetual disarray, Frank Sinatra developed a very precise sense of his music, and worked with increasing confidence to convey that sense:

"When he let himself go, as he did in the three up-tempo numbers he recorded in a remarkable July session orchestrated by George Siravo and the great Sy Oliver ('It All Depends on You,' 'Bye Bye Baby,' and 'Don't Cry Joe'), the results were thrilling. Lacquer-disc safety copies of the Sunday-evening session (Sinatra always preferred recording at night—'The voice is better at night,' he was fond of saying), transcribed and analyzed by the Sinatra musicologist Charles L. Granata, have preserved Frank's obsessive pursuit of artistic perfection in exquisite detail:

The recording date is July 10, 1949. As the evening session gets underway at Columbia's cavernous 30th Street Studio, Sinatra, arranger Sy Oliver, and conductor Hugo Winterhalter are auditioning a second instrumental run-through of George Siravo's arrangement of 'It All Depends on You.' Tonight's date will be jazz-flavored, the orchestra really a big 'band'—no strings. Amid the chatter and bustle on the studio floor, the vocalist, listening intently to a passage by the brass section, feels that something is amiss ...

 'I'd like to hear the introduction, with the muted brass,' he instructs the conductor. The musicians comply, and the brief section is played for his approval. After hearing the passage, Sinatra carefully instructs both the musicians and the engineers: 'I'd like to get that as tight as we can. Trombones: you may have to turn around and face the microphone or something. I'd like to hear the six of you, as a unit,' he says. The engineer brings down a microphone with two sides, to help capture the precise tonal quality that Sinatra desires. The section played through again, the singer continues. 'Just once more, Hugo, and would you use less volume in the reeds, with the clarinet lead? And would you play it lightly, trumpets and trombones, if you don't mind? I mean softly," he emphasizes.

The trombone problem rectified, Sinatra, now in the booth, turns his attention to the rhythm section. He inquires of drummer Terry Snyder: 'You got enough pad on the bass drum? It booms a little bit.' Then, without the slightest hesitation, he turns to the studio prop men. 'Would you put in a small piece of carpet, enough to cover the entire bottom of the drum?' Satisfied, he addresses the pianist. 'Say, Johnny Guarneri, would you play something, a figure or something, and have the rhythm fall in? We'd like to get a small balance on it.' Guarneri begins an impromptu riff on the melody, as bassist Herman 'Trigger' Alpert, drummer Snyder, and guitarist Al Caiola join in. After a few moments, Sinatra's directions continue. 'Bass and guitar: Trig, can you move in about a foot or so, or you can pull the mike out if you wish. And the guitar—also move in a little closer. Just a shade—uh, uh, uh—that's enough.'

"This was no mere voice: this was a great artist in full command his powers and the means required to convey his art."


James Kaplan


Frank: The Voice


Anchor Books a division of Random House, Inc.


Copyright 2010 by James Kaplan


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment