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At The Royal Festival Hall / Sinatra In Japan (DVD)

Eagle Rock Entertainment EREDV1242

At The Royal Festival Hall

Introduction By Princess Grace Of Monaco

1. You Make Me Feel So Young

2. Pennies From Heaven

3. I've Got You Under My Skin

4. Something

5. The Lady Is A Tramp

6. I Get Along Without You Very Well

7. Didn't We

8. One For My Baby

9. I will Drink The Wine

10. I Have Dreamed

11. My Kind Of Town

12. My Way

Frank Sinatra - Vocals

Bill Miller - Pianist, Musical Director

Orchestra Members not specified

Sinatra In Japan

1. The Lady Is A Tramp

2. Fly Me To The Moon

3. My Way

4. I've Got You Under My Skin

5. Something

6. I Get A Kick Out Of You

7. My Kind Of Town

8. Someone To Watch Over Me

9. All Or Nothing At All

10. Mack The Knife

11. Luck Be A Lady

12. L.A. Is My Lady

13. Strangers In The Night

14. Come Rain Or Come Shine

15. Pennies From Heaven

16. One For My Baby

17. Theme From New York, New York

Joe Parnello - Pianist, Musical Director

Tony Mottola - Guitar

Bass - Don Baldwin

Drums - Irv Cottler

Lead Trumpet - Tony Gorruso

Lead Trombone - Bob Scannapieco

Lead Saxophone - Bob Pierson

Percussion - Mark Barnett

Was Francis Albert Sinatra a jazz singer? Well, not as such, notwithstanding the polls that classified him that way. Rather, he was the outstanding singer of popular songs of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, we can make certain claims about the man and his music that anchor him in the jazz world. The first of these was his sublime phrasing which was nurtured in his days with the Tommy Dorsey Band, early in his career. He was especially indebted to Dorsey's immaculate trombone technique. From the bandleader, too, he learned about breath control. Dorsey was a first-rate interpreter of ballads in his day and this was to become one of Sinatra's great strengths. There's no doubt that keeping company, vocally and otherwise, with the jazz musicians in the band also helped his development. Sinatra, of course, could swing with the best of them and during the years where he was in his musical prime (roughly, though not exclusively, the Capitol years from 1953 to 1962) he sang with conductor/arrangers such as Nelson Riddle and Billy May whose bands invariably provided appropriately jazz-inflected backings especially for the more up-tempo numbers. Consequently, musicians of the calibre of Harry 'Sweets' Edison on trumpet (usually muted) and Milt Bernhart on trombone contributed to memorable moments in the Sinatra canon. Sinatra had an instinctive feeling for jazz. Among his later collaborations, he was to record with the Count Basie band, producing a couple of albums, the first of which was critically acclaimed.

These two video recordings, part of a series entitled The Frank Sinatra Collection, are separated in time by almost fifteen years. The first of them dates from November 1970 and comes from the Royal Festival Hall in London. Princess Grace of Monaco who, as the actress Grace Kelly, starred with Sinatra and other luminaries in the film High Society, gives an anecdotal introduction to the performance. Sinatra then kicks off with You Make Me Feel So Young which he delivers with his usual style and swagger. In Pennies From Heaven, he improvises on the lyrics without self-consciousness, albeit forgetting the next line at one point, and seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself. There is some effective muted trumpet on this one. I'm afraid I've Got You Under My Skin falls short of Sinatra's Songs For Swingin' Lovers track, largely because, despite the classic Nelson Riddle arrangement, the two musicians who substitute for that superlative Milt Bernhart solo are anaemic by comparison. Elsewhere, there's some sharp humour on The Lady Is A Tramp. Sinatra is really in the groove, turning in a triumphant version of the Rodgers and Hart song. The audience are ecstatic in their response. A selection of what Sinatra calls 'Songs for Losers' follows. Jimmy Webb's Didn't We is mean and moody, that inimitable Sinatra flair for rueful lyrics to the fore. One For My Baby illustrates why Sinatra is held in awe as an interpreter of the so-called 'saloon ballad'. Truly nobody does it better. On the other hand, the introduction to the song goes on interminably. As for I Will Drink The Wine, written especially for Sinatra as a prospective showstopper by Paul Ryan, I think I'll stick to water! There's too much braggadocio evident, for my taste. My Kind Of Town is a different story altogether, an out-and-out swinger. On the whole, Sinatra was in fine voice for this London date.

By the time of the Tokyo concert, in April 1985, Sinatra was 69 years old. His voice is lacking power as compared with his prime or even as contrasted with fifteen years before, but his experience and innate sense of rhythm means he is still able to hold an audience. He seems much more conscious of his debt to those gifted arrangers who have enriched his music and gives them credit throughout the concert. The Tokyo performance began with a photo/film montage of Sinatra's career, complete with orchestral accompaniment. Sinatra brought with him a small cohort of American musicians to enhance and supplement the Japanese orchestra who accompanied him on this occasion. For whatever reason, the band, in my view, is superior to that which played for Sinatra in London. Despite that, there seems to be less atmosphere than at the previous concert, possibly because of the greater distance between audience and performer in a large auditorium.

The opener, The Lady Is A Tramp, is a remarkable vocal effort from the veteran, given the passage of years, and the orchestra packs plenty of punch. There's a lusty tenor solo of note on Fly Me To The Moon (a Quincy Jones arrangement). My Way is subdued, compared to the earlier Royal Festival Hall version. I've Got You Under My Skin, despite that sterling Nelson Riddle score, is again disappointing at the crucial point (see above). In addition, Sinatra's voice is losing some of its elasticity. Something is downright ropey. All Or Nothing At All, rescues a rather ordinary sequence of songs, by the standards of the great man, with a fine version of this early Sinatra favourite, backed by a swinging orchestra. Mack The Knife is a bravura performance by both singer and orchestra which clearly excites the audience. Sinatra also does well with Luck Be A Lady, except there's an unfortunate moment (attempted humour?) where he pronounces the title line as Ruck Be A Rady! Oh dear. The Theme From New York, New York brings the concert to a barn-storming finale.

In summary, the later concert is the proverbial 'curate's egg', good in parts. Scat singing was never Sinatra's strong suit and where it features here, as in Come Rain Or Come Shine, it was better not attempted. Pennies From Heaven suffers from a laboured attempt at improvised lyrics. In other words, attempts at spontaneity don't stand up so well on this particular occasion. Taken together, however, the two concerts give us enough pure gold on this DVD to make it a desirable purchase for many and an essential for those who revere the memory of the late, great Chairman of the Board.

James Poore

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