JazzLegends.com visitors may have heard this story before, but it bears re-telling:
Some seasons ago, we pulled the famed “The Drums By Jones” CD from our list of available products. Hudson Music and I had been in negotiations with the original producers of the project to issue it worldwide in a deluxe edition. Sadly, the folks who claimed to have the rights to the material were asking for more money for the rights than we would have recouped in a lifetime, so the deal fell through.
Shortly after, we received a strongly-worded document from those who said they were legally representing the owners of the material. We were asked, among other things, and in no uncertain terms, to remove “The Drums By Jo Jones” from our website. We did.
Since that time, we have heard absolutely nothing about what was supposed to be planned as a deluxe–there’s that word again–two CD set with booklet, unreleased photographs, and more. Try as we might, we cannot find any existence of this by the company who said they were releasing it (there is an English outfit by the name of Carter International who may or not be offering this, but we have little or no information about the company or the product).
In our quest to make these essential pieces of history available to our visitors, we are again offering “The Drums By Jo Jones” on CD…until we are told to do otherwise. It is essential and a must-have.
Presumably, everyone has already noticed that we have the entire 1948 film, “Smart Politics” available. Thanks to Robert Bierman to letting us offer this gem that features Gene and the crew in “Young Man with a Beat,” sung by the inimitable Freddie Stewart.
Look for two, upcoming magazine features of interest–I hope–by yours truly. One, in the next issue of the eagerly-awaited “Traps” magazine is a piece of major-league length on the history of the drum battles, complete with some graphics that you probably have never seen. We are told that this should be on the news stands on or about April 21st. This, as far as can be determined, is the only feature piece dedicated to the guilty pleasure of percussionists near and far, the drum battle. For subscription info, log onto www.TrapsMagazine.com
“Classic Drummer Magazine” bills itself as “the fastest growing drum magazine on the planet.” It may be, and since their inception, they have devoted themselves to covering players and subjects that the other publications don’t. As just one example, they have recently done a feature on the one and only Donny Osborne, perhaps the only real “Buddy Rich protege who ever existed. I was interviewed recently and extensively about my participation in the “Classic Rock Drum Solos” DVD. Writer Bob Girouard was incredibly knowledgeable about the DVD, about my work, and about the world of rare and vintage film in general, and that’s rare. For more info on this fine publication and for details on how to subscribe, visit www.ClassicDrummer.com
Even those of you who know me personally may not be aware that I’ve been a fan of Frank Sinatra, Jr. since 1967, when I first became aware that there was a Frank Sinatra, Jr. Those who continually try to compare Frankie to anyone are in the wrong ballpark. The fact is, Frankie is out there with a crack, 20-piece orchestra, singing songs and presenting orchestrations that are timeless. I had the great opportunity to interview Frank Sinatra, Jr.–and later review the show–for the “Naples Daily News” (a Scripps-Howard publication). We are reprinting it in its entirety and urge everyone to see Frank, Jr.’s show whenever he’s booked in your area.
SINATRA SINGS SINATRA
Frank Sinatra Jr. could have taken the easy way out and chosen not to sing for a living.
But comparisons to his illustrious father have never stood in the way of his passion for the music of Americaâ€™s finest composers and orchestrators and his quest to have it heard.
Singing the 45 years before youngsters like Harry Connick and Michael BublÃ© offered their take on his father, Sinatra Jr. has worked harder than most to carve out a solid career as a vocalist, bandleader, conductor, composer and actor.
(Sinatra played the Philharmonic Center for the Arts on Monday, March 31).
No, there havenâ€™t been any hit records, television or stage shows, but he works quite a bit, even though his â€œSinatra Sings Sinatraâ€ show is an expensive one to mount.
Frank Sinatra, Jr., born in 1944, is the middle child of of three and the only boy. Nancy was in the limelight as a hit-making recording artist and film star, â€œ and Tina did well as a film producer and managing products with the Sinatra name. The younger Sinatra is the only sibling who maintains a constant stage presence. He was married for a while, is single now. A son, Mike, from another relationship, is a student at University of Califorina.
The music seemed to consume him from an early age.
â€œWhen I started as a kid I wanted to be a piano player and a songwriter, â€œ he told Will Haygood of the Washington Post. â€œI only became a singer by accident. I was in college, playing in a little band. The lead singer got tanked one night. A guy in the band pointed at me and said, â€˜You sing.â€™ I said, â€˜Me? Why me?â€™ He said, â€˜Youâ€™re a Sinatra arenâ€™t you? Sing!â€™â€
As for his father, he also told the Post, â€œHe was unreachable. He was traveling, or off making some movie. When I began in this business, with Sam Donahueâ€™s band in 1963, â€œit was only on rare occasions when we saw each other.â€
That would change decades later.
Itâ€™s taken years, though, for Sinatra to finally be satisfied with the sound of his own voice, he said in a phone interview
â€œI have become a better singer,â€ he said, â€œin the sense that I have gotten closer to the sound that I always wanted to hear my voice make inside my head. … I am now so much more comfortable working. Itâ€™s taken a lot of years for me to finally arrive at that attitude, vocally.â€
The younger Sinatra studied his fatherâ€™s style carefully through the years and when and if he wants to, he can sound eerily and uncannily like his dad. A good example of this can be heard on the 1996 album â€œAs I Remember It,â€ a heartfelt musical and spoken tribute to Frank Sinatra.
â€œYes,â€ he says a bit reluctantly, â€œthat was a good record.â€
That recording and his â€œSinatra Sings Sinatraâ€ program, where he sings many of the songs made famous by his father, stand as the exceptions through the years. After his fatherâ€™s death, he says, â€œthe audience wants me to sing those songs.â€
Frank Jr. has long had his own eclectic repertoire (some recorded for his recent Reprise release, â€œThat Faceâ€), which dates back to one of his first studio efforts, â€œSpice.â€ The title song and a dark number called â€œBlack Nightâ€ were written by the younger Sinatra.
â€œNelson Riddle knew exactly what he wanted to do with the song â€˜Black Night,â€™ â€ Sinatra explained. â€œOn the night that was recorded, that was March 29, 1971 â€” it was my first album with Nelson Riddle â€” something very, very difficult happened. We were in the recording studio here in Los Angeles, and Sinatra came walking in, because he heard I was recording that night. He came into the studio that night and he sat there and said, â€˜What an arrangement!â€™ Nelson just blew him away. It was a very exciting evening.â€
As hard as it may sometimes have been for the singer to carve out a niche for himself as a performer on his own terms, there have been many, many moments through the decades that he fondly remembers.
â€œI was the opening act in Vegas for three years for comic Phil Harris and the legendary bandleader trumpeter Harry James,â€ said Sinatra. â€œPhil Harris was one of the funniest people I ever knew. He could do more with less than anyone. He was incredible, the consummate stage performer who was also one hell of a musician. He was just brilliant.â€ (Contemporary audiences will know Harris as the voice of Baloo in the 1967 Walt Disney film, â€œThe Jungle Book.â€)
A thoroughly studied musician, Sinatra continues to be fascinated by the orchestrations â€” many featured in the â€œSinatra Sings Sinatraâ€ program â€” that made the music of Frank Sinatra timeless.
How is it that those arrangements â€” by craftsmen like Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May, Don Costa, Billy Byers and the rest â€” sound as if they were written yesterday?
Sinatraâ€™s explanation is that â€œthey knew how to orchestrate. They knew how to make best use of the musical instruments. They knew how to write counterpoint in music. They knew how to make the instruments sound as they wanted them to sound.â€
Listeners at the Phil will hear many of these songs and arrangements as the arrangers wanted them to sound, played by a 20-piece orchestra under the direction of Terry Woodson. And this orchestra is as fine as any group of its kind, past or present.
In 1988, while leading, conducting and singing with his own band at downtown Las Vegasâ€™ Four Queens Casino and Hotel, Frank Sinatra Jr. received a telephone call that would put his years of study, listening, learning and performing to the ultimate test.
â€œI had been conducting for myself,â€ he explained. â€œAnd the reason why I had been doing that is because we were working on such a small stage that there was no room for a conductor. So I ended up conducting for myself. When Sinatra came in one night, he said, â€˜My God, the kid conducts!â€™ In his eyes, all of a sudden I was Eugene Ormandy, you know what I mean?
â€œHe called me in early 1988. I was in my hotel room in Atlantic City and I was discussing the show that we were doing with my trumpeter, Buddy Childers, and my drummer, Bob Chmel. The phone rang and my father was on the phone, which surprised me, and he said to me, â€˜Why donâ€™t you come out and conduct for me?â€™
â€œSo when my friends revived me with the smelling salts, I said, â€˜What in the world is going on?â€™ He said, â€˜I need somebody to conduct for me.â€™ I said, â€˜Whatâ€™s the matter with the guy youâ€™ve got?â€™ Then I had to hold the phone away because he was yelling. He said, â€˜These people donâ€™t have the slightest idea of what Iâ€™m doing!â€™ Then he said to me, â€˜Maybe another singer would understand what a singer is trying to do.â€™ And that was a pretty revolutionary thing to do. You never go to a show to hear a singer and see that the show is being conducted by another singer.
â€œHe brought me in, and I began to learn him. I knew the music. I had to learn him. I was with him the last seven years that he worked. It was a wonderful experience and I miss it like you canâ€™t imagine. It was a learning experience, and it was probably the greatest compliment that he ever gave me. And he didnâ€™t give out compliments easily.â€
After his fatherâ€™s death in 1998, Frank Sinatra Jr. again hit the road with his own band. And one of the key members of the band was the pianist and sometimes conductor of his fatherâ€™s orchestra, Bill Miller.
Miller, best known for being the pianist on the elder Sinatraâ€™s famed â€œOne for My Baby (and One More for the Road)â€ was the original lounge pianist at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas in 1951.
â€œMy father was playing at the Desert Inn that year,â€ Sinatra recalled, â€œand I believe it was the first year that he ever played Las Vegas. â€œHe met Bill Miller and loved his touch and the way he played. Bill Miller joined Sinatra in 1951. In 1951, I was seven. Bill would come to our home and rehearse with my father. I was taking piano lessons already, but I listened to a professional, and I tried to get the touch on the piano that Bill Miller had.
â€œAs the years went by, whenever there was a Sinatra recording session and I could go to it, I would make it my business to be there and listen to the arrangements. But I would always find myself standing by the piano, listening to what Bill Miller was doing. Without knowing it, he was my teacher.
â€œBill was with my father for almost 45 years. After my father died, Bill had been in retirement. In October of 1998, I went to Atlantic City to work and I was surprised to learn that the hotel who had booked us was the final hotel Sinatra performed in when he was still working. So I got an idea in my head.
â€œI told my people I wanted the big orchestra and that I was going to call Bill Miller to see I could convince him to come out of retirement. Bill Miller came to Atlantic City, and with very low, ethereal music playing, he was sneaked onto the stage and started to play his famous â€˜One More For my Baby.â€™ And when the lights came up on him, people recognized him and they gasped.
â€œI was sitting there in the darkness, and the older I get, the more I look like Sinatra. When I was sitting there in a dark blue light, in my tuxedo, the resemblance was a little striking. The people were dead silent, and it really moved them, so much so, that they had tears in their eyes. Bill Miller worked with me until July, 2006, when he had a heart attack and died. He played right up until the end. His daughter came up to me after his death, telling me, â€˜You gave my father another eight years of life.â€™ But Bill died never knowing what he taught me about music. I miss him every day.â€
Of the new breed of singers who have followed in his fatherâ€™s footsteps, Sinatra is â€œjust glad theyâ€™re doing better music. That also goes for Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton, who are both friends of mine. The fact that theyâ€™re singing better music pleases me a great deal. Theyâ€™re going to educate a generation.â€
As for the future, Sinatra will continue to take work, when the gig is right, with nothing less than a full orchestra, playing the great songs and the great arrangements. There may be more film and television roles down the line per his guest spots on â€œThe Sopranos,â€ and he has just completed a second appearance on â€œThe Family Guy.â€
Musically? In a 2001 essay entitled â€œFrank Sinatra is Alive and Well and Singing in Europe,â€ poet and Sinatra family friend Rod McKuen, hit the nail on the head when he commented, â€œFrank Sinatra Jr. is his own man, and while heâ€™s proud to be â€˜the keeper of the flameâ€™ at this point in time, there is absolutely no doubt that he will be creating his own standards as a singer and writer in the near â€” not distant â€” future.â€ Or, as no less than the Washington Post put it in 2006, Frank Sinatra Jr. is â€œuniquely gifted in his own right.â€
The following week, Tony Bennett was in town at the same venue, and he absolutely killed. The 82-year-old legend was onstage for an astounding 90 minutes and sounded better than he did 40 years ago. Special credit must be given to pianist Lee Musiker and drummer Harold Jones. Jones, playing a wonderfully sounding DW set of drums, demonstrated why he was, as Bennett said, “Count Basie’s favorite drummer.”
There should be, we hope, some major announcements on the DVD and CD fronts, in terms of getting things out commercially, properly and internationally. Stay tuned.
We are headed up north for a series of shows, but will return to Naples, FL in early June. Not only am I playing at least three nights down here, I am contributing regularly to The “Naples Daily News,” “Naples Sun Times” and “ETC.” I am in the fortunate position of covering the great jazz scene regularly…while getting to–literally–play a part in it as well.
God bless and keep swingin’
— Bruce Klauber, April, 2008.