Sinatra and Jazz


Sinatra and Jazz

This will be my first year as part of the PDX Jazz Festival. Thank you! I’m very honored. They made only one request: don’t sing. I’ll be joining the Sinatra Jazz Panel Conversation: Portland Swings Sinatra with Doug Ramsey, Dave Barduin, John Gilmore, Michael Jackson & Yours Truly. I’m honored to share the stage with these talented men, and I’m sure they too are looking forward to me not singing. We’re going to be discussing the influence of Sinatra on Jazz.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the discussion: http://bit.ly/1a6k1OS

If Frank Sinatra were alive today, he’d turn 100 years old this December 12. (We would also be living in a culture espousing the health benefits of Jack Daniels, unfiltered Camels and randomly shouting at people who are only trying to help you.) Once Sinatra left the big bands of Tommy Dorsey and Harry James and joined Capitol records as a solo performer, his true artistry blossomed. Sinatra, along with Voyle Gilmore (whose son John will be joining the panel,) created the concept album. Prior to this, albums were just collections of singles. Such titles as Songs For Swinging’ Lovers, In The Wee Small Hours, Come Dance With Me, all had a theme that unified the tracks, like songs about travel or exotic places in the case of Come Fly With Me. These albums are where Sinatra began to explore and employ many of the conventions of jazz. He broke free of phrasing in a very metered manner (the technical term for this is called singing white,) and began pushing and pulling his phrasing more in the way an instrumentalist might phrase a melody. Often he would state the melody as written the first time through, then he’d riff and create variations on the second chorus and final verse. He began to put his stamp on things.

Thankfully he didn’t scat. I think it’s called “scat” because whenever I hear someone scatting it’s like I’m confronting a rabid raccoon on my back porch that’s going through my garbage, and I say “Scat! Get on outta here! SCAT!” I’m not saying no one should ever scat, I’m saying that one should be licensed. One ought to be trained in a safe environment where no one can hear them. Then, after they’re certified, they are allowed to operate in public. We don’t allow electricians to just willy-nilly wire your sweet new hot tub without training. You wouldn’t let someone remove your spleen if they hadn’t attended medical school. Scat permits are simply a public safety issue. In fact, they should be bonded too, so venues are covered from the irreparable damage that can be caused by an open mic scat gone wrong. The audience can never un-hear a misplaced “be-yah, be-boo-bah, dah-yah, scooby-do-do-yah-dah-dah.” But I digress.

Sinatra, like Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins and many of the other great jazz soloists, came up through the big bands and show bands, playing in multiple shows a day, multiple times a week. This process made these players so familiar with the music they could play it backwards while asleep (sounds like contemporary jazz.) Though many jazz artists were composers, much of their performing repertoire is interpreting the standards, songs that were written 20 or more years earlier. Singing these songs a vocalist can really allow their jazz sensibilities to shine through.

Sinatra sang with a unique combination of deep emotion, swagger and vulnerability. We may loathe drama in daily life from those close to us, but it is essential to art. We can all enjoy listening to Chet Baker, Charlie Parker and Frank Sinatra because we never had to try to get them to put their dishes into the dishwasher. As far as men go, Frank Sinatra is the most confident, yet vulnerable voice I’ve ever heard. I can’t think of another vocalist who can come across so cocksure one moment, then laid bare and open the next. He also clearly annunciated the lyrics. Rare is the Sinatra moment where you think, “What’d he just say?” That was out of respect to the lyricist. Eventually he even began changing lyrics, adding his style and inserting his own lingo, like “gasser” (a fun time), “bird” (a wiener) or “ring-a-ding ding (can I get a “hell yeah?’)” By this point in Sinatra’s career, the lyricists had memorized this little phrase, “Sounds great Frank!” This is because they were strongly opposed to being beaten to death with a nine iron. I’m kidding. It was usually a clean shot to the back of the head from Jilly Rizzo.

Here are some Sinatra YouTube moments for you to enjoy.

Exhibit A
All the tricks of jazz are here. He changes the melody, plays with the phrasing, and he sings variations on both the chorus and bridge. Have you ever seen a vocalist this confident and in control? Not even a heckling Dean Martin can pull him off the track. He is at the height of his prowess here in the early 1960’s. His performance is as much about restraint as expansion.

“You Make Me Feel So Young” – Frank Sinatra

Exhibit B
Sinatra was a gifted actor and there is a fair share of theater in his delivery. But I say no more than the theater of the Miles Davis space suit, the puffy cheeks of Dizzy, or the stomping foot of Monk. It’s just emoting along with the music.

“Angel Eyes” – Frank Sinatra

Exhibit C
If you want to know if Sinatra was respected among his peers as a jazz singer, look no further than Ella Fitzgerald. There’s no doubt about Ella’s credentials and she adored Sinatra and singing with him.

“The Lady Is A Tramp” – Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald

Come hear me sing Sinatra!

Saturday March 14
Sinatra by Starlight with the Matt Tabor Septet
Tony Starlight Showroom

Friday April 10
Sinatra by Request with John Gilmore
Tony Starlight Showroom

Come hear me speak about Sinatra and Jazz

Sat Feb 21
Art Bar 4:15 pm

Twitter: @TonyStarlights
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