20 years since Frank Sinatra

20 years since Frank Sinatra


norman lebrecht

May 14, 2018

The Voice died this day in 1998.


  • John Borstlap says:

    FS’s voice set new standards as to vulgarity in sheer terms of sound. It’s amazing to which extent this voice, simply the sound of the voice – quite apart from the words – could encapsulate a world of populist decadence.

    • Doug says:

      Another Boorslap

    • R Magri-Overend says:

      Sorry…don’t agree….you must be an Elvis fan

    • Sue says:

      I have to most strenuously disagree with this; Sinatra’s phrasing absolutely told us that he got it; he understood it; he’d been there. One of the great masterpieces of the 20th century popular music genre is Sinatra’s version of “One for my baby, and one for the road”. You just don’t get any better than that:


      Outstanding musicianship and storytelling. This song is as good as anything by Schubert!

      • John Borstlap says:

        That song is beautifully done, with the quasi-relaxed timing required by the subject, and intonation is just right: floating towards and from the pitch to the next one – but all in the context of entertainment music. In that territory the musical requirements, its performance style, its tradition and its accompaning perceptive mode, are very very different from classical music. Comparing this song with a Schubert Lied, is like comparing an excellent cola with an excellent Bordeaux wine, or the best possible advertizing poster with a brilliant Velasquez. 1)

        Entertainment music, however good, is for forgetting something; classical music is for being reminded of something.

        And my earlier comment was referring not to the song but to the quality and character of the voice, which is warm and ‘easy’ and ‘relaxed’, entirely unpretentious, and appropriately vulgar – that is why so many people can relate to it, such vocal sound quality is a reassuring confirmation of their own vulgarity and is thus a liberating experience. There is nothing wrong with this, life being as it is, but drawing-in Schubert is – with all due respect – totally crazy.

        1) Diego Velasquez was a Spanish painter (17th century).


        • Sue says:

          Don’t assume that most of us are so ignorant we don’t know about famous painters. You make a great mistake with your assumptions also; it takes a lot of musical understanding and knowledge (I’m trained as Musicologist) to realize and appreciate the importance of 20th century popular song. It IS the equivalent of Schubert and these forms both represent the “3 minute song”. Schubert’s were called “art songs”; Cole Porter’s were not. Schubert set other people’s word to music; Porter wrote his own – and sophisticated, clever, witty and ingenious they certainly were. Not to mention the superb melodic invention and wonderful paraphrases and re-alignments of the art music traditions he knew so well. Modulations and key-changes the average punter wouldn’t realize or understand. So, plenty for the discriminating listener.

          As were many in the genre loosely known as “Tin Pan Alley” and its modern equivalents. The masterful 3 minute popular song is something very few people could achieve; I mean the very very good ones. And in that lofty pantheon I include the Beatles’ wonderful “Eleanor Rigby”. Howard Goodall said exactly the same thing in his series “Twentieth Century Greats”, which I highly recommend. 30 years ago I told my horrified piano teacher than Porter et al were equivalent to Schubert with the 3 minute song. I was vindicated when I heard exactly the same thing come out of Goodall’s mouth.

          Your snobbishness disappoints me.

          • John Borstlap says:

            What happened to musicology that entertainment is confused with classical music, and simple genre distinctions (including their traditions) are not understood? The egalitarian world view considers expertise as snobbishness, something nobody in her right mind would project upon dentistry or surgeons. But it is a new tendency, born from irritation with a more informed past, hence the anger when the obvious is pointed-out. Ignorance has to be protected against reality.

            “Ignorance is a precious flower, touch it and the bloom is gone.” (Oscar Wilde)

    • Alan says:

      Another example of this gentleman’s total lack of taste and very poor judgement.

    • Dave says:

      We all know Sinatra. No one knows Borstlap. Enough said.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The discernment lies in the question, which people know the one and which the other.

        • Sue says:

          Your comment in reply to mine about the state of musicology is one I actually agree with. But I studied that discipline 30 years ago – long before it became fashionable to equate art music with popular music. My conclusions about the value of great 20th century songwriting with Schubert – the 3 minute song – were my own. These ideas have recently found acknowledgement from Howard Goodall in the series I mentioned. In labelling me as ‘ignorant’ you are doing exactly the same to him. I find I don’t have to call people names to make an argument; I prefer to stick to the substance of the argument. And you are dead wrong about 20th century songwriters; their music will live just as long as Schubert lieder for precisely the same reason – they are great. That is, a proportion of them are great; the vast majority will end up as landfill or its musical equivalent.

          The great lyricists of the 20th century – Lorenz “Larry” Hart, Alan Lerner, Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter – were all American, Jewish and each had the good fortune to have composers of the first rank (with the possible exception of Loewe). Certainly in the case of Porter – an exceptional composer!!!

          • John Borstlap says:

            But is it correct to expect the same things from a Schubert song and a Sinatra or Gershwin one? Is the context of aesthetic experience really the same? If that were true, than we should put both Schubert’s symphonies and chamber music in the same catagory as The Beatles and film music.

            Take Gershwin’s Rhapsody in blue, which is in the context of its genre (entertainment music) superb. Compare it with the 1st movement of Ravel’s piano concerto, which is, in its own context (classical concert music) as superb. Both pieces draw upon jazz elements, in different ways. But putting these two works on the same aesthetic, artistic level, does a disservice to both: listening to the Gershwin with classical ears, it is vulgar and flimsy; listening to Ravel’s piece with the expectation of entertainment music, it’s much too complex and distracting from my drink, asks too much of my attention. Ravel is infinitely more sophisticated on all levels and applying that standard to Gerhswin is distorting his achievement, he did not aim for classical concert piece. We don’t criticize a waltz for not being a tetralogy.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      I said something similar about The Beatles in a discussion forum about High Culture many years ago – people became completely irrational. How could you be critical of Old Blue Eyes, the man with the golden arm, yes The Voice? You have imprecated in the church, desecrated all the holly texts, and killed a holly cow – all simultaneously – you have no chance to be listened to, everything you say today is damn wrong – so just don’t mind and enjoy the culture crash.

      • Sue says:

        It must have been such an insult for some of the very best musicians, in the jazz field or anywhere, to have to lower their standards and accompany Sinatra in some of those big band arrangements!! Not to mention the bog standard Nelson Riddle or Count Basie. If only they had the classical discernment and sensibility what a better world it could have been! And George Martin, graduate of a prestigious London music academy, working as an arranger for the Beatles!! Imagine him suggesting something like a string quartet for “Eleanor Rigby”!! The man had no shame!! Why, he might even have been influenced by the equally shameless Bernard Herrmann (friend and champion of Charles Ives).

        • John Borstlap says:

          Using a string quartet for an in itself very good song does not suddenly make it classical music. It merely makes it a still better, more characteristic song.

  • william osborne says:

    Classical music fans might especially enjoy Sinatra’s recordings with the Hollywood String Quartet, which was one of the best string quartets that has ever existed. It was founded by the parents of Leonard Slatkin in 1939 during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Felix Slatkin was the first violin, and Leonard’s mother, Eleanor Aller, the cellist. Nelson Riddle did the wonderful arrangements. Listen here:


    • Elizabeth Owen says:

      Yes thanks for the reminder,it’s a great cd.

      Borstlap talks nonsense .

    • Jeffrey Biegel says:

      Gorgeous arrangement. Leonard’s parents did so much for music in those years. (This version of “Close To You” is by Jerry Livingston, Carl Lampl and Al Hoffman. In later years, Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote a “Close To You” but preceded it with (They Long To Be) Close To You. Just for the record.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Very well done, and gorgious for people who like such music. But also here, my comment as exposed above, counts.

    • Sue says:

      People seem to have forgotten all about the Paris Conservatoire-trained Conrad Salinger, who worked at the MGM Freed Unit during the golden age of musicals. Salinger knew all the avant garde personalities in Paris in the 1920s and he worked with Robert Russell Bennett on Broadway. You can hear the influence of Robert Russell Bennett on some of Salinger’s wonderful arrangements (which Adolf Deutsch criticized as being ‘over orchestrated’). And George Gershwin was a friend of Schoenberg; both admired each other’s music.

      What about this TOTAL masterpiece!! Go to 12:50 and hear THE most stunning trumpet section in the ballet “American in Paris”. This ballet sequence represented the highest level of artistry in the USA – classical music or otherwise and I’d fight to the death for it!! Watch the whole of this ballet to show classical musicians’ involvement: the music was arranged by Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green.


  • Robert Holmén says:

    Sinatra’s best days were before my time but I recall my college trombone teacher citing Sinatra as a model for tasteful phrasing and vibrato. He could sing beautifully… and sometimes he did.

    But the Sinatra who careened through life as the self-important-former-celebrity was the one most visible in my time.

    I recall the devastating “Doonesbury” strips that Garry Trudeau could do covering Sinatra’s hearty friendships with mob criminals and, in particular, a large Sunday strip where every panel was a different, on-the-record quote of him threatening to kill someone who had perturbed him.

    It was easy to admire Sinatra for his singing but you had to stop paying attention when he wasn’t.


  • Robert Roy says:

    I believe Felix Slatkin and Mr. Sinatra were good friends. Slatkin also conducted the Orchestra on a few of Mr. Sinatra’s studio sessions.

  • Bruce says:

    Sinatra’s voice was a marvel. To paraphrase Borstlap, he had a sound people could relate to: he sounds like a regular guy who is really good at singing. It’s a “this is what I daydream about sounding like when I sing in the shower” voice. (For men. For women, I suspect, it’s a “if my man could sing, I’d want him to sing to me like this” voice.)

    He uses the sound of his voice to express human emotions that everyone can relate to — tenderness, jubilation, nostalgia, regret — without the listener having to be a student of languages or of Romantic poetry. Like any good musician, his technique doesn’t call attention to itself (yes, I’m looking you, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau).

    (And he sings in tune! I know “The Summer Knows” (aka Summer of ’42) is considered a schlocky pop tune, but listen to him nail the tricky intervals in the bridge section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcB-NPuxddI )

    If all this set a new standard of vulgarity, then the world could use a little more vulgarity.

    • Sue says:

      Bravo. The previous comment about only admiring the singer and not the celebrity/individual is also true. The man had friends who were grubs, and worse. He was bad tempered, probably a law-breaker and he took rejection badly. But, by god, he could sing like nobody else. And he worked with musicians and composers who were absolutely at the top of their game!! This song is not only elegant, sophisticated and clever but it has a musical line once described by Linda Ronstadt as like a cotton reel unravelling: just try analysing it!! Wonders will be revealed:


    • John Borstlap says:

      I would say, if the world’s vulgarity could be a bit more ambitious and try to reach THIS level of vulgarity, the world would be a less bad place, because this man was truly musical. Still quite some length to go, alas.

      For the rest I fully agree with this well-formulated comment.

    • John Kelly says:

      Very very well put. Agree completely. There are recordings of Sinatra’s initial run throughs of songs with the Nelson Riddle orchestra where he’s singing a number for the first time and he’s perfectly in tune, in spite of tricky things to navigate. We should also mention that Mr Riddle’s arrangements are superb. Mr Bortslap with whom I often agree has gone off into a tedious “this isn’t classical” arena that is obvious to any listener.

      I will add to Sue’s comment about Schubert and Cole Porter by noting that Ned Rorem stated that “She’s Leaving Home” (Lennon/McCartney) was as good as any Schubert song.

  • Nana Q says:

    I grew up with Mr. Frank Sinatra’s singing, I may be old, but his voice still brings a melting sensation to my heart. He WAS and IS the greatest singer. I don’t care what Mr. Borstlap thinks and says.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I think that would be very wise. Don’t let your pleasure be spoiled! Everybody has the right on his/her own musical pleasure. I’m not asking anybody to scrutinize my own taste. And if I did, I would be sure the outcome would be wrong. Taste has been liberated!


  • Sue says:

    Another miracle by Cole Porter, sung by the one and only!!


  • Kenny Lucas says:

    I was Bjorn in 1957. So Sinatra was already in his 40’s, another generation, and yet I can honestly say Sinatra has been the soundtrack to my life.

  • Anthony Kershaw says:

    Frank and Ella. That’s it, really. I’ve read too much crap written about Sinatra by ‘trained’ musicians.

    If it’s so easy, why have so many trained, exquisite classical artists like Kiri, Freddy, and Renee prooduced such absolutely embarrassing duds?

    I’m happy I can love both Sinatra and Souzay.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Cultural pluralism is a good thing, confusion of genres and standards is something else. In fact, a true pluralism within a free cultural field is only possible if the various genres and standards are fully understood.

    • Bruce says:

      In my opinion — actually I read it somewhere a long time ago and can no longer remember whom to give credit for it — it’s because they don’t pay enough attention to the words. Or to put it another way, they pay attention to the melodic line (and their vocal technique) at the expense of the words: lingering on a high note with an overly exquisite diminuendo because they can, and never mind whether it works with the words and the music. (Puccini, to choose one of many examples, composed his music for singers to do exactly this; Lerner & Loewe did not.)

  • Rob says:

    Ol blue eyes famously conducted Nelson Riddle’s arrangements on Peggy Lee’s album, The Man I love.

    Here’s a standout track


  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I like his early Tommy Dorsey years, when he was singing with the Pied Pipers, which included Jo Stafford.

  • Nick2 says:

    I adore what we term classical music. It has basically been my life and career. That does not mean my appreciation is closed. I adore much of Frank Sinatra’s output, especially the earlier and middle period recordings which I listen to quite regularly. What he did, he did superbly. I cannot imagine him tackling Schubert or Schumann. But I suggest it might not have ended up as disastrously as Domingo, Carreras and most other classical artists’ forays into popular music!

  • R. Magri-Overend says:

    Oh my! This is a marathon. I love my classical music…I say ‘my’ because there is some I don’t find appealing….but I also love Sinatra. In fact I love all that Sinatra recorded. Listen to his Night and Day which he recorded after Dorsey gave him leave to record solo…pure Italian ‘filo di voce’. Listen to the same song but arranged by Nelson Riddle….completely different, yet still outstanding. My choice as the best he recorded are the Riddle arrangement of ‘I’ve got you under my skin ‘ and the Gordon Jenkins arrangement of ‘September of my years’. Best album……No One Cares. Cheers.

    • John Kelly says:

      I’m not sure “Dorsey gave him leave” is quite right………….more like Frank and some of his friends explained to Tommy that he was going off on his own, in breach of contract and that had better be OK with Tommy……………….

  • Sue says:

    There’s an anecdote in Charles Barber’s book about Carlos Kleiber, “Corresponding with Carlos” which tells of the famous conductor sitting in first class on a plane trip from Japan listening to Stephen Sondheim through headphones. He loved that music. And I loved Kleiber!! Polyglot, polymath and all round sophisticated and discerning cultural consumer.