Slide Show - Images (mostly) from The Illustrated History of Painting


Monday, August 8, 2011

Rebirth of Wonder

Some songs displace familiarity with and prior knowledge of singing and songs. Enabling attentive listeners to slip blessedly free of supposition about what the act of singing is. Or isn’t.

Given the right vehicle great artists, such as Sinatra, can trip one’s reset button – dumping all dulling foreknowledge of a particular form and inducing (to paraphrase Beatnik forefather Lawrence Ferlinghetti) a ‘rebirth of wonder’.

As a kid I was vaguely aware of Sinatra the controversial celebrity, but was abjectly ignorant of what he'd done to and for male vocals - moving the form from standard-issue big band legato crooning to a heartbeat inflected and poetic conversational style.

It took the 1960's and the emergence of independent FM radio programming to hip me to what his voice could do - given the right material, arrangements and accompanists.

I first heard Sinatra - in a receptive frame of mind - one late evening while listening to Lights Out with Vacco. Vacco was a Hispanic sounding hipster who played an incredibly eclectic mix of sounds to a mostly stoned radio audience.

One night this particular music programmer prefaced something he was about to play with a cautionary warning about 'dismissal, prior to investigation'...and then proceeded to spin a smart selection of Frank Sinatra tunes from the singer's peerless Capitol years.

The few scattered groans in that night's room of long-haired listeners - when Sinatra's name was unexpectedly announced by the DJ - were soon silenced by a sound no one present had heretofore really heard.

I ran out the next day and bought the album Only the Lonely, for its title track. I've been listening ever since.

Only the Lonely

written by Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen

Frank Sinatra, Capital Records 1958

Change Partners (a gem written by Irving Berlin) performed with Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Here Sinatra's voice has begun to thicken with age and lose some of its 'ping'. But he's so masterfully in command of his instrument as to make that fact irrelevant.