The Complete Reprise Recording Sessions by Count Basie and Frank Sinatra

September 23, 2011

The Concord Music Group, in conjunction with Frank SinatraEnterprises, has been reissuing the Frank Sinatra Reprise label catalogue. Their latest release gives you two albums for the price of one. Both of his albums with Count Basie, 1962’s Sinatra – Basie: An Historic Musical First and 1964’s It Might As Well Be Swing have been combined onto one CD release. Frank Sinatra & Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings was released September 13, 2011.

When Sinatra and Basie went into the recording studio together, they were already giants of the music industry. Basie’s career began during the mid-1920s, and by the mid-1930s he had assembled his first band. At the time of his death during 1984, Basie had become one of the respected and legendary band and orchestra leaders in American music history. Sinatra became a music idol as the lead singer with the Harry James Orchestra (1939-1940) and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (1940-1942). His solo career lasted from 1942 until near his death in 1998. He sold millions of singles and albums and was recognized as an American icon.

Count Basie and Frank Sinatra were a perfect match, as the band leader and the singer complimented each other in style, sound, and professionalism. Sinatra easily fit into the singing style of Basie’s band, as the majority of the material is presented in a relaxed and swinging tempo.

Both artists were masters of phrasing and tempos but from different viewpoints. Basie was accomplished and wise enough not to intrude on Sinatra’s vocals. His band filled in the gaps and provided the intros and escapes. Their material achieved a balance of power that was rare for two musical superstars.

Basie was one of a very few artists who matched Sinatra’s flexibility. Sinatra had a style that could not be imitated and many times interpreted songs by feel, rather than any formalized advance planning. Basie and his band were able to adapt as they went along.

The material was typical of most Sinatra albums as songs from the Great American Songbook shared the limelight with those from films and a few modern favorites. Songs such as “Pennies From Heaven,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter,” “Fly Me To The Moon,” “The Good Life,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and others all succumbed to the unique Basie/Sinatra combination. Sinatra had recorded some of the songs previously but here they took on new dimensions and textures.

The sound is crisp and clear, which enhances the listening experience from previous reissues of this material. Bill Dahl wrote an essay of the history of the music, which is included in the accompanying booklet. An informative interview with Quincy Jones, who provided the arrangements for the It Might As Well Be Swing music, is also included.

Frank Sinatraand Count Basie will not pass this way again and so we are left with these two albums worth of music. Frank Sinatra & Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings is a fitting tribute to one of the better duet projects of the era.

Article first published as Music Review: Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – Frank Sinatra & Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings on Blogcritics.

Ring-a Ding-Ding by Frank Sinatra

June 8, 2011

Frank Sinatra became a mega-star during the 1940s both as a solo artist and as the featured singer of the Tommy Dorsey and Harry James big bands. He solidified his popularity during the 1950s with a series of studio albums, which sold tens of millions of copies, for the Capital label. As the 1960s dawned, he tried to purchase the Verve label. Rebuffed in his efforts, he decided to start his own label, and thus Reprise Records was born. It would be his music home for the rest of his career.

The Concord Music Group has been issuing his Reprise catalogue, complete with bonus tracks. The latest entry is his first release for the label, Ring-a-Ding-Ding, which was issued in March of 1961. It would continue his commercial popularity by reaching number four on the Billboard Pop Album Chart.

The original idea was to issue an album without ballads, which was very close to the concept that Capital had used to put together Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session, which they had issued two months previous, after he had left the label.

The music comes very close to returning Sinatra to the big band idiom of the 1940s. It is finger snapping light jazz, with a beat. While Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn wrote the title song specifically for the album, Sinatra mainly recorded older songs from the Great American Songbook.

Even though “Ring-a-Ding-Ding” was the newest song, the blaring horns and the upbeat rhythms set the tone for the rest of the album.

Most of the material was taken from the 1930s. Ira and George Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day” was originally written for the Broadway play, A Damsel In Distress.Here Sinatra resurrects the song as a light jazz classic. The song would appear on five of his albums down through the years. Listening to his interpretation of “Let’s Fall In Love,” one can immediately discern why he was considered a master of diction. “You and the Night and the Music” was from a failed Broadway show, but it would become a jazz standard. Sinatra gives a relaxed and informal performance. The best track is the old Cole Porter tune, “In the Still of the Night.” It was a Tommy Dorsey standard, and here Sinatra performs it in the big band tradition, complete with brass and heavy percussion.

Ring-a-Ding-Ding was a fine debut for Sinatra’s fledgling label. He would go on to use Reprise to explore a variety of styles and issue creative duets projects across a number musical styles. Here, it is the swinging Sinatra at his best.

Article first published as Music Review: Frank Sinatra – Ring-a-Ding-Ding on Blogcritics.