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Sinatra at the Century Mark

by Steve Thorn

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Francis Albert Sinatra’s 100th birthday won’t officially occur until December 12, but when you had a career as lengthy and diverse as the Hoboken, New Jersey native, it’s a good idea to start the festivities early.

Where to begin? Obviously, his music career reigns over everything else, from the smooth-as-silk vocalizing from early days as the boy singer in the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands and his solo discs on the Columbia label. Few artists in the ’50s made better usage of the then-pioneering long-playing record format than Sinatra, and joining him on the maiden voyage of technology were arranger heavyweights Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and Gordon Jenkins. The older Sinatra had a few more surprises before facing “‘the final curtain,”‘ and the best record which exemplifies the latter phase was 1965’s, Grammy Award-winning September of My Years, an album which preceded Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper, The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, and other celebrated concept albums of the rock era.

The LA Jazz Institute will salute Sinatra’s legacy with a five-day celebration titled “Big Band Concepts: A Jazz Tribute to Frank Sinatra.” It will be held from October 28 through November 1 at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at LAX. The coordinator for the tribute is the LA Jazz Institute’s Ken Poston, who is also program director for Jazz 88 FM at San Diego City College. “Big Band Concepts is a Jazz celebration of Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday year featuring an array of concerts, film showings, panel discussions, and special presentations,” said Poston. “The focus is centered around instrumental jazz interpretations of classic songs and albums associated with Frank Sinatra.”

Poston adds, “The festival is designed to feature three primary elements: [First] concerts of the Sinatra arrangers and sidemen performing their own music. This includes living masters such as Johnny Mandel and Patrick Williams as well as concerts featuring the music of Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and more; [Second] concerts featuring the original arrangements from Sinatra’s jazz collaborations with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and the small jazz combos; [Third] new interpretations of the Sinatra concept albums. In the 1950s, Frank Sinatra began recording albums that had a single unifying theme which not only resulted in an amazing body of work but also set the standard for others to follow. We’re celebrating Sinatra’s concepts by featuring different bands and arrangers doing new arrangements of songs from various concepts albums. Each band will present the music from a specific album.”‘

Among the Sinatra concept albums being brought to life through live sets are:

Songs for Swingin’ Lovers – The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra perform one of Frank’s most vibrant LPs.

Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely – Carl Saunders Be Bop Big Band perform the torch ballads from Sinatra’s most melancholy album.

Come Fly With Me – The Sinatra guide to exotic places, performed by the Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra, featuring soloists Bill Watrous (trombone), Pete Christlieb (saxophone), and Carl Saunders (trumpet).

Francis A. and Edward K – The Sinatra-Ellington collaboration. An all-star band will be backing
Ken Peplowski (clarinet and saxophone)..! !

For Sinatra aficionados, audio and visual rarities will abound at the LA event. Highlights will include:

* “The 1959 Australian Tour with Red Norvo.” A legendary tour that found Sinatra backed by vibraphonist Red Norvo’s small jazz combo.

* “The 1962 World Tour” – Poston will host a look at a tour, which was a success artistically and
philanthropically.

* “The Count Basie Collaboration” – Sinatra archivist Chuck Granata will discuss the sessions,
featuring the Chairman of the Board and the Count.

“The Sinatra Arrangers” – Granata will lead a panel discussion featuring Patrick Williams,
Johnny Mandel, and Bryant Byers.! !

The celebration has the makings of a Ring-a-Ding Ding good time, don’t you think? “Big Band Concepts: A Jazz Salute to Frank Sinatra” will be held from October 28 through November 1” at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel” at LAX. Tickets may be purchased for the full schedule or individual events at www.lajazzinstitute.org.

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