Frank Sinatra: Speaking Through Music
Life is complicated. From the things we do, experiences we learn from, to the people we meet: all contribute to create the great complicated mess of life. As human beings, when we navigate our way through life, we find comfort in knowing that people other than ourselves have experienced what we are going through. Music is able to provide that bond between people. Of the many musicians hailed for their ability to transform their experiences and emotions into music,Frank Sinatra, nicknamed “The Voice”, reigns over them all.
Sinatra channeled his emotions, derived from his experiences, into his music and, in a time where self-expression and individualism were not largely practiced, he flew to amazing heights of popularity creating music pleasing to the masses as well as impacting the world of music as a whole with his unique expression. His ability to adapt to the world around him yet keep his classic style is another testament to his ability as a musician. Having led a complicated life, Sinatra was able to truly portray a huge range of real emotions in his music, allowing many listeners to find that shared connection of experiences in his voice. In 1963 Sinatra comments on this ability by saying: “I guess the audience feels it along with me. They can not help it.
Sentimentality, after all, is an emotion common to all humanity.” (Sinatra, Frank). Loneliness was a major influence in Sinatra’s life and music. Bill Zehme, a journalist from Esquire who interviewed Sinatra, and people close to him, wrote that, even as an adult, Sinatra hated being alone (Zehme 67). Ironically, it was Sinatra’s familiarity with loneliness that drew people to his music. Growing up an only child in a neighborhood where many had several children was a lonely experience for young Sinatra.
Without siblings to confide in Sinatra freed his emotions through singing. Nancy Sinatra, Sinatra’s daughter, said that as a high schooler Sinatra sang for his school and, as “…he tried out his voice and people responded…”, he found that, “.
..he liked the feeling and the applause” (Sinatra, Nancy 20). Through music Sinatra found an outlet in which he could express himself. He had gotten a taste of the attention he could achieve through music and he wanted more. In an article for the USA TODAY magazine, music historian Michael Feinstein said that, “The rock-bottom basis of Sinatra’s fame was his extraordinary interpretive talent, his way of connecting with a lyric…” (Gardner, par.
9). Sinatra’s inner voice is heard clearly through his music, expressing himself, allowing listeners to instantly connect with the man behind the music. He was able to deeply touch his audience with his honest emotions and in response receive the attention and love of his ever growing audience. For Sinatra, this was a win-win situation. The depth found in Sinatra’s voice that makes his music so powerful developed from not only the happy experiences of his life but also the lonely, sad periods of his life.
These experiences gave his music an added depth that his audience could not get enough of. Michael Nelson, writing for the Virginia Quarterly Review, explained that, “Just as the athlete who crouches the lowest can jump the highest, so could the singer who sank most deeply into despair express the exhilaration of temporary release…” (Nelson, “Frank Sinatra” par.
3). In experiencing moments of sadness and loneliness in his life, Sinatra was able to truly express sadness in his music and it made the moments of happiness and joy in his music all the more brighter. One of the factors that made Sinatra so impactful, that even today’s musicians look up to him, was his ability to successfully adapt his music to changing times. Born on December 12th, 1914,in Hoboken, New Jersey, Sinatra was to live through some of the greatest times of change in American history (Sinatra, Nancy 11). In his lifetime he would live through most of World War I and all of World War II, experiencing the post-war changes caused by the great wars,the Great Depression, and even all of the Cold War.
It is a testament to his musicianship that, despite the turbulent times, he was able to stay above these events, even riding the waves of this change, adapting his music to fit the changing times. When World War II ended, Sinatra, along with many other musicians, had to change his style of music to fit the new post World War II audience (Sinatra, Nancy 75).Richard Harrington, a writer for the Washington Post, wrote that when Sinatra began his recording career with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, he was able to listen to Dorsey’s long, smooth solos, learn from that style of music, and adapt his singing style, developing “…legato phrasing, elegant articulation and impeccable pitch” using Dorsey’s solos as inspiration (Harrington, par.
4). Previously, singing solo, Sinatra had accustomed himself to singing a certain way. However, in joining the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, he realized that in order to keep up with the changing world of music he had to change his style of singing. Sinatra’s son, Frank Jr., remembers asking Sinatra, “Why don’t you make albums like Only The Lonely anymore?” and Sinatra answered, “It was a different world then.” (Sinatra, Frank Jr.
6:17 min.). Throughout his life Sinatra learned to not let the changing of the world around him pull him down. He learned to take what he could from changing times, carefully shape his music to fit the new era, yet still keep the qualities that made him unique. What made Sinatra special was his ability to personalize his music. In an tribute article written for JazzTimes magazine, journalist Bret Primack interviewed musicians and asked them what they thought made Sinatra so important to the world of jazz.
Mike Smith, a musician who played with Frank Sinatra, said that while performing with him, “You really had to be on your toes because he was changing lyrics… He’d change up his phrasing, sometimes he’d go ahead, sometimes, he’d pull way back. He’d want tempos to be different.” (Primack, par. 55). When Sinatra sang, he owned his music. He would take the melody and make it his, personalizing it in a way only he could.
In this way Sinatra would make the audience feel connected to him in a way that no other musician had done before. Bob Dylan, an acclaimed musician, said that, “Frank sang to you — not at you.” (Dylan, par. 8). In a way, Sinatra held music, and the way it was performed, sacred. It was the moment of connection between the performer and the audience.
Josh Groban, a popular baritone singer considers Sinatra “the ultimate song stylist… No one has sounded like him before or since, and that’s something every young artist would want to strive for.” (Gardner, par. 11).When asked why Sinatra was and is so popular, Sinatra’s old band leader and friend Tony Bennett, said that, “He just knew how to do it…
” (Bennet, 2:40 min.). By placing a little piece of himself in his music, Sinatra allowed his audience a glimpse into his being, forever changing the way people would percept music in the years that would follow him. As the currents of time pass by, countless musicians, so popular when alive, are forgotten in its passing. However, for a small handful of musicians, time has no effect on their music, rather, it serves to further cement their musical legacy in the hearts and minds of music lovers in every generation.
Sinatra is one of those musicians. Sinatra was hugely popular during his lifetime and time has only served to further spread his influence in the world of music. Amy Winehouse, another influential musician, praised Sinatra saying, “Frank Sinatra is an all-timer, the true definition of class and style…” (Gardner, par.
4). According to Chaka Reid, creator of the Winehouse Magazine, Winehouse even named her first album, Frank, in a nod of respect towards one of the world’s greatest singers (Reid, par. 7). Bono, lead singer of popular rock and roll band U2, said that, “rock and roll people love Frank Sinatra because Frank Sinatra has got what we want—swagger and attitude.” (Nelson, “New Sinatra” par.
2). In an interview with Larry King, Jon Bon Jovi, another rock and roll hero, admits his only regret in his career is that he didn’t meet Frank Sinatra, saying that Sinatra was,”My hero, role model, numero uno.” (Bon Jovi, par. 183) Radio personality Jonathan Schwartz insists, “Sinatra hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s still profoundly alive.
” Sinatra’s music is constantly played on Schwartz’s PROGRAMS, simulcast on New York’s WNYC, and played on XM Satellite Radio (Gardner, par. 28). Sinatra not only lives on in his music, still played on radios around the world, but also through the new generations of musicians that seek to emulate Sinatra’s style of personalizing his music, pulling his listeners in with his strong, soulful voice and never letting them go. Today, 15 years after Sinatra’s death, when listening to the radio, it is not surprising to hear Sinatra’s voice singing through the speakers: an impressive feat considering the fact that modern popstars gain and lose popularity in the blink of an eye. There is just something about the way he can speak to his audience through music that makes his music timeless and essential.
Everybody needs connections and whether you find that connection through personal relationships, social activities, reading, writing, or listening to music, connections are still a necessary part of every being’s life. In the world of music, Sinatra provides that connection. Having experienced the ups and downs of life, Sinatra knew how to express a large variety of emotions in his music allowing many of his audience to relate with his music. Although there have been generations of talented musicians that have come and gone since Sinatra’s passing, none can replace Frank Sinatra. As Bob Dylan said, “There is no more Frank. There wasn’t before him or after.
And he never went away. All those other things that we thought were here to stay, they did go away. But he never did.” Through his music and influence Sinatra lives on in each new generation of music lovers. Music connects people together and Frank Sinatra was a great influence on the world of music. Many people use music as a way to feel connected to the world, to feel that they are not alone in the great journey of life.
For life is complicated. Simple decisions can have lasting impacts on a person’s life and what may have started out as a single moment, a single note on the musical score of life, can unexpectedly turn into a symphony of moments that become the theme of an individual’s life. However, no matter how complicated the journey of life can be, with the right music, and the right attitude, you can enjoy the ride.