Notes by Ralph J. Gleason, 1959
The great Spanish guitarist, Carlos Montoya, can walk out on a bare stage, sit down alone and without speaking a word or striking a note, dominate the audience. David Oistrakh can do this. So can John Gielgud and Carl Sandburg.
It is the mark of that degree of personal magnetism discernable only in artists who have risen as far above the ordinary that they are able to do automatically what many good artists can do only occasionally.
Frank Sinatra can do this. His very appearance on a stage, the sound of his voice on a record, has that electric quality that instantaneously establishes him as a great artist.
Take, for instance, his ability to bring pathos to a song. In this album, he sings I Can’t Get Started with the same underlying sadness that marked Bunny Berigan’s classic performance. It is as though, in the words of this album’s title, “No One Cares.”
For me, in recent years, the world has been neatly divided into two groups of people: those who dig Sinatra and those who do not. There is, on the subject of singing, an impenetrable curtain between them. To me, it is as certain a truth that Frank Sinatra is the greatest ballad singer of his generation as that Charlie Parker was a musical genius, Frank Lloyd Wright an architectural poet and Joe DiMaggio, hitting the ball, a thing of classic beauty.
If you dig ballads – and there are musicians and fans who are famous for having “a head for tunes” – the way Frank Sinatra obviously digs ballads, they begin to be something much more than the casual popular songs of the day. Granted that Sinatra has the gift for tempo and the unerring taste in selection of a Tommy Dorsey or a Count Basie, it still remains a fact that he can take a song which, in the hands of a lesser artist, would be banal and make it beautiful. He does this partly by magic, that special magic of the timbre of his sound, the accent of his voice and the way in which it brings him personally across to the listener, and partly by his inspired phrasing and his ability to understand and communicate the lyric.
“I love you” is surely the most hackneyed phrase in language, yet it has served perpetually as the conduit for great emotion. Sinatra can take lyrics that are in themselves and of themselves banal, lyrics that are trite and sometimes even slight enough to be silly, and yet he can make them live and breathe and communicate emotion.
This is the great creative force of a real artist: to make something live. The jazz player can do it with his horn, the painter with his brush, the composer with his pen. Sinatra does it with his voice and personality. Note, for instance, the way in which he singes the verse to a song. Verses never have the impact that the chorus has. Yet, when he sings them, they take on new life, set the stage for the mood and the message of the song.
There are many elements in Sinatra’s singing that mark him from the crowd, make his imitators, of whom there have been many, appear weak and tepid alongside him. It is worth noting that his style, like Louis Armstrong’s on trumpet and Erroll Garner’s on piano, is sufficiently vital in concept and structure to allow many of these imitators to carve out successful careers merely by trying to sing like him. Frank Sinatra is the great singing influence today. Scratch any singer and you find a Sinatra fan.
The Sinatra style is a natural one. You cannot contrive something as real as that. He sings his songs as if he were telling you a story and not as though the words were merely pegs on which to hang notes. When he sings a lyric it sounds just as you would like to sound if you could sing it yourself. It sounds natural and it sounds logical, so logical and inevitable that you wonder if there is any other way to sing it. This is so strong that when young singers deliberately try not to sound like Sinatra on songs he has sung, they frequently end up sounding merely grotesque, haunted by the sound of his voice in their own performance.
For me, Sinatra has improved through the years since he was a slender, rakish kid from New Jersey singing with Tommy Dorsey. His voice has grown fuller (listen to him on Stormy Weather), his sound mellower. But now he has the confidence that he can do anything he wants and with this, he can afford to throw away a line, make an aside, give an unexpectedly true accent (as in “don’t you remember? I was always your clown” in Why Try To Change Me Now). In order to do this, the performer has to be dealing from a position of strong personal confidence. One slight moment of doubt here and disaster is immediate.
For all our gaiety and brass, this is a country with an element of sadness running through its soul. The Italians and the Irish, the Jews and yes, even the English, have a melancholy side to their nature and thus we have a great appetite for the song of unrequited love, the lament of love grown cold or hopeless. This underlying note of tragedy is imbedded in most American art, as it is in American life. It is one of the reasons Frank Sinatra can sing the sad songs in this album so well. Those bitter-sweet, late night, sad songs of days that used to be require an interpreter who can be sad without being maudlin, who can, in short, be man enough to cry a little and with the tears gain dignity.
For dignity is what Frank Sinatra has brought to the whole field of ballad singing. Dignity and a great sense of music, of love and of beauty. We don’t think of him, usually, as a jazz singer. But he is, in his most lyric, un-rhythmic number which moves those to whom jazz is a mysterious world, Frank Sinatra is a jazz singer because he brings to his every performance the total commitment of the jazz artist to give all that is in him.
If I had my way (and the Comstock Lode to pay the bill), I would have Frank Sinatra record every song I have ever liked. I wouldn’t care how he did it, with what accompaniment, with what interpolations or changes in tempo. I know I would like it. The fact that Capitol is gradually, through its series of Sinatra recordings, accomplishing this for me, I count as one of the greatest blessings of the decade.