"One minute you're up, the next you're down … that's life", so says the singer Frank Sinatra in the song, That's Life.
Life is funny that way in experiences with music too. Sometimes we think that we’d never be interested or could relate to a certain artist or style of music. Frank Sinatra fell into that category for me. For many years, the man and his music just didn’t click with my musical soul. I mean Dylan is a fan of Sinatra, and I’m a fan of Dylan, so I should be a Sinatra fan too, right? It’s not like I never enjoyed jazz vocalists or crooners.
One of my mother’s favorite singers was Dean Martin. I can still remember his variety show that my mother faithfully watched with a certain look in her eyes – haha. Most likely his singing seeped into my subconscious catalogue of voices that I later liked, because I now have all those wonderful “bear box sets” that I’ve enjoyed for years.
Bing Crosby was another voice that more strongly stuck with me due to the resonance of the older Bing's vocals. I never knew the young Crosby sound then. Nor was it easy to find any records of the younger Bing Crosby singing – yet he stuck with me. My dad favoring him in looks probably had a big influence of endearing Bing Crosby to me also.
Later I became completely taken with Billie Holiday. Just addicted to her phrasing, unusual style and the way she could touch deep inside your soul. She was an influence on my later acceptance of Frank Sinatra and his phrasing, yet I didn’t realize it at the time. As far as male singers of the style and time period go, I was more taken with Tony Bennett. A favorite of Frank Sinatra's also, I believe.
For some reason though the greatest voice of our time never came into my radar much.
I’m afraid, like the many, I was biased by Saturday Night Live (SNL) Joe Piscipo skits and the songs, My Way, Chicago and New York New York. Frank struck me as kind of mean to be honest. I never understood the appeal. Yet the man was influenced by and/or influenced all of the singers that I mentioned above. A singers’ thread of notes ran through history and a key player was no doubt Mr. Frank Sinatra.
What changed my mind and ear were certain circumstances that all came together …
My girlfriend at the time and I purchased a home. It was an older home from the 40's. Had real wood flooring, original fireplace and just a certain feeling of transportation to another time. I worked nights at the time. And stayed up on my days off. A nice little cottage where time seemed to stand still for a while. The mood was set to accept a new music encounter, I just didn’t realize it before I finally "heard" the voice.
Many a night I’d cook a good steak, sweet potato and asparagus while creaking around on that old wooden floor in my house shoes and night coat. I was in my 30's. That time a man has done all the stupid things of youth and has a sense of a stronger self. During this time period while the house was quiet and thoughts of a straighter calm are able to come is when I discovered the language of Frank Sinatra.
Years before on a whim I had purchased a few Sinatra albums from a thrift shop. For some reason one day I decided to play one. I had no idea what was the best sounding – originals or reissues? And I didn’t know a thing about the echo and non-echo versions either.
This one that I picked randomly from the small stack that night was, September of My Years, and then something unexpected happened.
In the very still of the night, I started to realize that Frank Sinatra was much more than what I had realized.
The way he hung on to a phrase, sang one song to make you feel autumn and another to feel age. As I listened through the other albums, I became captivated by the way he could sing a story. He seemed to be the man in every story he told. And at the same time was able to do a unique thing – reveal to the man listening what it is to live as a man in this world. Manhood is a difficult subject to pull off in a song and remain in balance of tenderness and strength. I had not heard a singer able to do that in a genuine way. Frank Sinatra is a master at this ability.
Learning about grey labels and those non-echoey "dry" recordings set me on a course of having "The Voice" sitting right in that wooden floored living room with scented embers and a candle or two. If you haven’t heard dry vocal Frank Sinatra late at night, oh my, it’s quite a feeling of having him seemingly singing in the same room with you. As a singer myself, Mr. Sinatra was literally giving a masterclass of vocal control and declaration of storytelling in a way I hadn’t understood before.
One special night, my girlfriend fell asleep laying across my lap as Frank sang in the wee small hours and I half smiled. That was my Frank Sinatra time. Beautiful moments that I cherish where autumn leaves fall, small crunches of ice and snow sound and warm comforts of yester years seem to peak through to gently say hello.
That cottage, like the one Frank sang about in, A Cottage for Sale, is no longer a part of my life, but the time still stands as one of the moments my musical experience was given a new breath of feeling and emotion.
As I think back to what makes a Frank Sinatra vocal and approach so special, and I’ve concluded this much:
A man to another man, learning to be a man, and that man singing and saying it’s ok to be a man.
That’s Frank Sinatra's voice.
A different kind of romantic that I’m glad I had a window into for a while. I wish everyone could look through that little cottage window at least once in their life and listen to Mr. Sinatra sing a song.