Frank Sinatra & Count Basie: Sinatra-Basie

Sinatra, Basie and Hefti collaboration with some of the singer's most jazz-inflected singing for years is combined with Sinatra And Swinging Brass

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Most critics agree that Sinatra’s first studio collaboration with the Basie orchestra in 1962 is one of the best of his Reprise albums. With carefully-crafted arrangements by Neil Hefti, the friendship and mutual admiration of Frank and the Count, and the wholehearted and dynamic support of the “New Testament” band, nothing could (or did) go wrong apart from Hefti’s dislike of having to write to order, and disappointment at not having his picture and name included on the album cover. (One wag suggested an alternative title for the LP: Hefti Meets The Thin One). In the event, Hefti decided not to work for Sinatra or any other singer in the future.

Sinatra was mainly in good voice (despite having yelled himself hoarse at all the Brooklyn Dodgers games in the World Series) and obviously relished the occasion. Yet Alec Wilder recalled that “his throat really wasn’t in any condition to make the album”. I Won’t Dance required several takes because of what Sinatra called a “frog” in his throat, but the remainder of the titles presented no obvious problems.

At the initial recording session (attended by such devotees as Jo Jones, Benny Carter, Dinah Shore and Sammy Davis, Jr) Sinatra declared: “I’ve waited twenty years for this moment.” He obligingly produced some of his most nuanced and jazz-inflected singing for many years. Will Friedwald writes that on I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter the vocalist “transforms the whole ensemble into a colossal rhythm section behind soloist Sinatra, beating out a pattern that suggest a hip Native American rain dance”.

Throughout the session, the band explodes and murmurs at appropriately scored points, while Basie offers his minimalist (but profound) contributions, although reportedly he does not appear on all the titles, including Pennies From Heaven, when Bill Miller occupied the piano stool. A jaunty My Kind Of Girl adds some humour to an already heady mix, with tongue-in-cheek support from Basie and Sonny Payne.

The accompanying and well-illustrated booklet includes “An Appreciation” by Brian Morton, who suggests that the album “remains a collaboration of great strength and naturalness”, and the original (and appreciative) liner notes by Sinatra’s friend and biographer Robin Douglas-Home.

Released a year earlier than Sinatra-Basie, the bonus album here, Sinatra And Swinging Brass, is not as immediately satisfying. Sinatra, as Chris Ingham suggests, was “in only middling voice, and proving once again that his spontaneous reworking of a melody was never as reliable or secure as overt jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald or Mel Tormé”. But he romps through a well-chosen selection of popular standards, including Goody Goody, I’m Beginning To See The Light and Love Is Just Around The Corner. On the last title, he announces: “You’re cuter than Venus / What’s more you’ve got arms.” But the second time around he emotes: “You gotta de arms.” Similarly, on I Get A Kick Out Of You, he substitutes the line “bop-type refrain” for “perfume from Spain”.

Curiously, the original and informative liner notes by Lawrence D. Stewart are only partially reproduced in an otherwise lavish booklet. The five remaining “bonus” tracks are a mixed bag and hardly essential listening. Everybody’s Twisting has Sinatra trying (unsuccessfully) to inject some spirit into the banal lyrics. Nothing But The Best is slightly, better but nothing to write home about. Pennies From Heaven (with added strings and conducted by Nelson Riddle) bears favourable comparison with the Sinatra-Basie version. On Nice Work and I Won’t Dance, Sinatra reprises (no pun intended) his Capitol era versions. Sinatra-Basie sounds as fresh today as when it was made; the bonus material is getting slightly stale.

Discography
(1) Pennies From Heaven; Please Be Kind; (Love Is) The Tender Trap; Looking At The World Thru Rose Coloured Glasses; My Kind Of Girl; I Only Have Eyes For You; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Learnin’ The Blues; I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter; I Won’t Dance; (2) Goody Goody; They Can’t Take That Away From Me; At Long Last Love; I’m Beginning To See The Light; Don’t Cha Go ‘Way Mad; I Get A Kick Out Of You; Tangerine; Love Is Just Around The Corner; Ain’t She Sweet; Serenade In Blue; I Love You; Pick Yourself Up; (3) Everybody’s Twistin’; Nothing But The Best. (4) Pennies From Heaven; Nice Work If You Can Get It; I Won’t Dance (70.37)
(1) Sinatra (v): Basie, Bill Miller (p); Al Aarons, Sonny Cohn, Thad Jones, Al Porcino; Fortunatus “Fip” Ricard (t); Henry Coker, Benny Powell, Rufus Wagner (tb); Marshal Royal (cl, as); Frank Wes (as, ts, f); Eric Dixon (ts, f); Frank Foster (ts); Charlie Fowlkes (bar); Freddie Green (g); Buddy Catlettt (b); Sonny Payne (d). Arrangements by Neal Hefti. Los Angeles, October 1962. Originally issued as Sinatra-Basie – An Historic Musical First
(2) Sinatra (v) with orchestra arranged and conducted by Neal Hefti, including Ben Webster (ts); Joe Maini (as); Conte Candoli (t); Bill Miller (p); Earl Palmer (d). Originally issued as Sinatra And Swinging Brass.
(3) Sinatra (v) with orchestra conducted and arranged by Neal Hefti. Los Angeles, 27 February 1962.
(4) Sinatra (v) with orchestra conducted and arranged by Nelson Riddle. Hollywood, 10 January, 15 & 20 November, 1956. Originally issued on Reprise 45rpm 0063.
20th Century Masterworks 170049