A year or two ago I got a request to play a song recorded by Frank Sinatra as the recessional for a funeral. (I’ll approve almost anything musical at a funeral, and have always been glad I did.) The family provided the music. But as a classically trained musician I was still at sea with this pop style – even though Sinatra is my absolute favorite pop singer, so far above the rest.
My dear wife had a couple of recordings of The Man himself, and found the requested song on the Web. Hearing him sing it was a revelation.
While I’d greatly admired his singing before (without knowing quite why), this time I knew that I had now begun an encounter with a truly great and unique musician.
I was not aware of what a breath of fresh air, even revolutionary, he was c. 1940 – the era when Bing Crosby was No. 1 – and his daring in leaving Tommy Dorsey’s band and going solo.
Check out the October 2010 issue of Vanity Fair for a wonderful article on Sinatra, http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/10/frank-sinatra-201010. It’s got a lot about self-discipline, cleverness in self-marketing, setting deadlines for himself, nervousness and gaffes, the serendipity in his career (Harry James’ wife heard him on the radio, and woke up her husband to hear him…what a great break for anyone to get).
So what does a classical musician get out of all this? Well, singer Jo Stafford, whose vocal group the Pied Pipers performed with Sinatra in the Dorsey band just before World War II, said:
“When you sing with a group, it takes a certain amount of discipline, and Frank was excellent at it. You can’t wander off into your own phrasing. You’ve all got to do exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. Very few solo singers can do that. He could. When he sang with us, he was a Piper, and he liked it and did it well. I don’t know any other solo singer, solo male singer especially, that can do that.”.
Yup. That’s it right there. Stand out when you need to, blend in when you need to.