Big Band singer, ballad crooner, and jazz stylist. Frank Sinatra’s singing is labeled as all of these. Although countless biographies have been written about him, few know what occurred behind the closed doors during his recording sessions. Tony Amante Schepers takes a closer look at the musicality of Frank Sinatra, and what really happened inside the studio, and away the public.
A recording session with Frank Sinatra was a professional affair. Top quality was the goal when the recording light flashed on and the music made. The musicians were top of the line. And experts say Sinatra treated players with respect and strong appreciation. Sinatra’s intuitive sense of musicality, coupled with exceptional players, resulted in a recording session with Frank Sinatra with quality heard throughout.
To say Frank Sinatra recorded a song once and called it "good" is unjust. With his professionalism and desire for only the best, Sinatra would do ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty cuts of one song before he gave it the "OK".
Chuck Granata, Sinatra historian, music producer, and author of the book, Sessions with Sinatra: Frank Sinatra and the Art of Recording, has studied the recordings of the man for many years. As Granata says, the songs Sinatra is best known for during his tenure at Columbia and Capitol Records were recorded and rerecorded countless times.
In Granata’s book, he says Sinatra is different than from other recording artists. He is present every step of the way. Even before Sinatra would enter the studio to sing, he would slave over notes with the song writer. And Sinatra chose the best of the best. Men like Axel Stordahl, Billy May, Gordon Jenkins, and Nelson Riddle worked along side him.
After checking microphone levels and sound quality, the orchestra would play a song while Sinatra stood back humming his notes out loud or singing the piece to himself. Sinatra then gave suggestions to the orchestra and they would tweak a note or two. Then, with a nod of confidence, Sinatra would casually say "Let’s try one," and off they went making history.
Sinatra, although never formally trained in music, had an ear for it. Western Michigan University jazz professor of vocal music, Professor Diana Spradling, studies the crooners of the 20th Century. She says Sinatra was different than from other jazz singers she has heard. She says Sinatra was forceful and robust for one measure of music, yet seductively calm in the next. Singers rarely are able to do this so smoothly as Sinatra did.
Growing up with an Italian mother, I grew up with Frank Sinatra as well. His records and tapes played while my mom and I cooked in the kitchen. But it wasn’t until the end of high school when I chose to listen to Frank on my own. It was the passion and sense of life in his voice which caught me. At a young age I could tell the quality he put into each song.
Sinatraphiles, as the Frank Sinatra experts are called, often refer to a period of time during his career as sounding the best-better than any other time in his life. Granata narrows the span down to one year-the recordings from 1955 to 1956. During those recordings for Capital Records, Granata says Sinatra’s voice was at his best and the songs he sang were music to the ears.
As time went on and he spent fewer hours in the recording studio, Sinatra hit the tour circuit again at the age of sixty-four, well past when most singers would have retired. The generation growing up with Frank Sinatra stayed faithful, though. The bobbysoxers, girls who followed Sinatra from the 1940’s onward, were still his biggest fan. When their husbands were off at war, Sinatra was crooning to these swooning young women.
One of them was Lillian Nyhuis of Hudsonville. Growing up listening to "the man with the voice," is part of her life she wouldn’t trade for the world. Nyhuis says the climax of her devotion came in 1979. She recalls the concert in Buffalo, New York twenty-six years ago, when, from up in her seat in the balcony, she felt ?the voice’ sing to her. And she was in heaven.
And the legend lives on. I listen to Sinatra so much it has worn onto my friends. A car full of twenty-one year-old guys cruising down the street with Sinatra singing his only recorded version of That’s Life can be heard from time to time. And it always gets the girls.
Frank Sinatra would have been ninety-five this year. If he were alive today, there is no doubt he would be belting out songs his audience enjoyed half a century ago, the songs we cherish today, and the ones we’ll still be listening to in the future. The reason his music will continue to live on is because of the attention to detail during his recording sessions.
From National Public Radio, WMUK