Last night we watched an old Sinatra concert on PBS, Concert for the Americas in Guatemala in 1982 with fourth wife Barbara in attendance (first Nancy, then Ava Gardner, then Mia Farrow). It was wonderful although shortened from the original so the PBS hucksters could get in their annoying plugs to get us to donate to the network or buy overpriced cd’s and dvd’s. I’m a huge Sinatra fan, almost compulsively so. For example, I own 63 albums with over a thousand tracks (not counting the many different versions of one song on various cd’s). I even put together a booklet listing alphabetically all the songs, listing all the albums with dates and orchestras and arrangers. He was 67 when he did this concert in Guatemala, just past his vocal prime but still very very good. His voice changed over the years. When he was with Dorsey and a bobbysoxer sensation in the Forties, his voice was reedy, good but not as good as it would become. There were a bunch of silly musical films until he dropped out of sight for a while. Then along came From Here to Eternity in 1953 when he played Pvt. Angelo Maggio, a role for which he won the Oscar for best supporting actor. Lots of films followed, most notably The Man with the Golden Arm, The Manchurian Candidate, and Guys and Dolls. I remember him most vividly when I was in New York in 1955 and went to see him star opposite Doris Day in Young at Heart. There he was, this skinny, hollow-cheeked singer, making me a believer with “One More for the Road.” As with a bunch of movies, I saw Young at Heart at least three times, watched him sing for the road three times, watched him try to kill himself in a car wreck three times. Compulsive, you say? I guess.
Sinatra’s career as actor and singer took off again, only this time with a no longer reedy-thin voice. The booze and cigarettes and advancing years deepened it, enriched it. He made a string of successful albums with Capitol Records before going on his own in 1961 with Reprise Records. He was probably best from about 1954 to 1975. After that the cigarettes did their thing and his voice rattled a bit. But the style and the timing were still there. No other singer I can think of has such impeccable timing. He might take a phrase and draw it out and then catch up with the orchestra. The band for other singers who try this stalling device, either deliberately or not deliberately, have to slow down to wait for the singer. Not with Sinatra. He always knows where the band is. He knows every orchestral nuance of every arrangement. Barbra might be the only other one who can do what he does. Maybe that’s why these two are my favorite singers of all time.