Sinatra also instinctively solved a problem that confounded most males. When singing songs of love or heartbreak, they tended towards sobbing affectation, teen-like angst, a feminine falsetto or an emotional vacuum. Frank tapped into an inner truth that exuded a specifically male sexuality, and by 1959 he was the biggest drawcard on earth. He had married and divorced Ava (who, coincidentally or otherwise, was simultaneously in Melbourne filming On the Beach), shot pool with JFK, and turned Las Vegas from a dustbowl into a destination.
More importantly his voice had begun to deepen and darken, and he was constantly playing a game of profound sophistication with rhythm, pitch and timbre; flirting with the words; teasing them and pinching them; sometimes bouncing off the band like a kid off a trampoline.
Forget the fuzzy opening instrumental, and listen to I Get a Kick Out of You, I’ve Got You Under My Skin and his improvising of both words and melody during The Lady is a Tramp. A local horn section joins for three tunes, including On the Road to Mandalay, which Rudyard Kipling’s sister had decreed was a distortion of her brother’s intentions, and vetoed its inclusion on the 1958 album Come Fly with Me (Chicago being added, instead.) With that frustration spurring him on, he carves up what was to become one of his classics. Finally Norvo’s airy vibraphone introduction to Night and Day induces such a free-flowing interaction with Frank as makes for an exceptional version of the song he performed most often.
Although he loved the rocket ride atop a big band, those orchestral arrangements didn’t allow this devil-may-care freedom of dialogue with the other players. Besides, sometimes the string arrangements for Frank’s ballads were laboured, and here you hear him without that weight – although the band sounds like it’s trying to cover for the lack of that usual lushness on Willow Weep for Me, which he probably should have sung just against Bill Miller’s piano, like the gorgeous Angel Eyes.
It’s strange to think that in the 1930s, when “Sinatra” didn’t seem cool, he tried out being “Frankie Trent”. His mother, Dolly, went ballistic: “There is no finer name, none more musical, than Sinatra!” she bawled. Frankie Trent relented. It seems we should all listen to our mothers.