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Sunday, April 10, 2011

An Inside Look At A 1965 Frank Sinatra Session

This video has made the rounds with my Facebook friends today (I'm not sure exactly where it started, but thank you to whomever is responsible) and when you give it a watch you'll know why. It's a 1965 Frank Sinatra live record date, complete with a full orchestra, of his hit "It Was A Very Good Year."

There's a lot to like in this video. Check out:
  • the small size of the audio console considering how large the orchestra. The recording was done at the famed United Western studio (now called EastWest), so the console was undoubtedly one custom-designed by the legendary Bill Putnam (that might be him at the console but can't tell for sure). The console is pictured on the left.
  • there was not a headphone in sight.
  • the good humor that Frank is in. None of his legendary surliness here.
  • the fact that he's playing to a small audience of friends. When was the last time you saw that during a session?
  • Walter Cronkite doing the voice-over. That's two legends on the same tape.
  • the fact that this is a live record. No overdubs here. It's over when Frank is satisfied, which happens relatively quickly as the man was known for few takes.
  • how many people are dressed formally with jackets and ties.
Recording sure has change in the last 46 years. I'm not sure it's gotten any better though.


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Gian Nicola said...

Really great!!
Thank you!!
Bobby, what about the fact he smokes cigarettes before and after the session? And what about that his lectern surely have some refllections on his voice? And what about the speaker? Wow...
Thank you again, really great!!

aLf said...

At least are a lots of today´s vocalists smart enough not to smoke or drink coffee before a take - that could ruin your voice at the end, or the ultimate vocaltake.

Martinsound said...

Yes, cigs!

And that mic? Was this the final take, that we know from the record?

And of course the studio is now EastWest, owned by Doug Rogers.

Bobby Owsinski said...

As far as cigs, it was once thought that they were actually good for a vocalists and helped to give them a huskier voice.

Re: the music stand/lectern - if the top of the lectern is softened or the mic is angled the right way, you don't have to worry about the reflections that much.

And yes, the studio is now EastWest, not OceanWay. My bad.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was fantastic, thanks Bobby.
It was great to see the conductor really watching Frank through the performance. It's not Frank performing to an orchestra, it's a real organic performance as one with Frank setting the pace. Just brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Build from this take; check out album "Sinatra at the Sands", live with Basie"s band". Current version on disk is superb! (Mix of best of 3 night stand w/ same play list.) Absolutely great performance.

sculley said...

I love the cigarette and coffee.

Dusty Wakeman said...

Just watched it with David Royer. I had guessed C-28 but he said Mr Sinatra had developed a fondness for the Beyer M-160 around that era.

Is this part of a longer piece?

Thanks for posting!

Gian Nicola said...

...I prefer cigar and red wine :-)

dB said...

If you haven’t read Chuck Granata’s book about recording Sinatra, you should, its’ well worth the read.

Anonymous said...

Came across this site via united audio's facebook page.
Just can't get the video out of my mind. You're right, recording sure has changed. This vid sure drives that point home too. A video such as this must surely be an extreme rarity? Also, seems to be the final take. His inflection on the "when I was thirty-five" verse matches the album. Could be wrong but as stated, he didn't do a lot of takes and all those folks cost a lot of money even back then I bet? Amazing to see a song I grew up with actually being made.
I love this stuff. Thanks for posting.
Jim P.

Steve said...

great post. I'm curious about the history though. Look at this link about EastWest studios. Could this be were this video was actually recorded?

pmjazz said...

One small point to correct about the article...the common myth that Frank was known for doing few takes. When it came to recording, in fact, Frank was a perfectionist and would record as many takes as necessary. The "One Take Frank" ONLY applied to his career as an actor. He had little patience for the process of filming a movie, and preferred to do as few takes as possible. Some directors, such as Frank Capra, agreed with Frank that his first take was best.

pmjazz said...

Great post!...but to help clear up a common myth regarding Frank, when it came to recording he did as many takes as he felt necessary...sometimes MANY! The belief of him being "one take Frank" was ONLY true when it referred to his career as an actor. He had little patience for the filming process, and believed, as several directors agreed, that his first take was best. However, as the recording logs show, he most often did many takes on any particular song.

Randy Fosburgh said...

Just a few notes here:
1)Related to the drinking and smoking thing...though I cannot cite the work(I've read over 20 biographies of the Man)once at a recording session where he sounded particularly muddy,Frank was heard to mutter "Drink,drink,drink,smoke, smoke,smoke."
2)Note the clock - 8:35(PM no doubt)Sinatra was known for evening sessions.Many singers'sessions were early afternoon,probably close to the time when Frank would be arising!
3)Though not an extentensive list,I went through the 36 Reprise Sinatra LPs that I own and see M.T.Putnam is credited as engineer on "Sinatra and Strings"(Reprise 1004)and none others that I noted.Engineering credit on "September of my years"(Reprise1014)with"It Was a Very Good Year"went to Lowell Frank,who Frank asks to watch the "popping Ps".Perhaps that was Mr.Putnam with him.Mr.Frank was also credited with "It Might As Well Be Spring"(Reprise 1012),"Moonlight Sinatra"(Reprise 1018)and he co-engineered "The Sinatra Family Christmas Album"(Reprise 1026)with Lee Hirschberg,who received solo enginneering credit on several more Sinatra LPs of the period.
4)If one listens closely, the longer "recording"take in this clip DIFFERS from the playback take they show Sinatra listening to,which is the third verse.Note "When I was 35,it was a very GOOD year" - though the longer "recording" take does sound like the take on the album.
5)Note Sonny Burke (producer)in the booth with Mr. Frank.Also note Bill Miller(Mr.Sinatra's pianist)observing the recording of this song with no part for him in this arrangement.Though personnel are not listed on the LP,he probably did the piano on "Don't Wait Too Long".

Randy Fosburgh said...

Oh yes,I forgot!To Dusty Wakeman.
This IS part of a larger piece.This is from CBS NEWS special aired in 1965 which devoted a full hour (minus commercials)to Frank.The NBC ENTERTAINMENT special "A Man and His Music"also aired that year.I think both specials were aired fairly close together and served to promote Sinatra's latest Reprise LP release the aforementioned "September of My Years".

Ted Knight said...

I have a VHS video entitled "Making of an Album" showing Sinatra in the studio with the Quincy Jones Orchestra to record the "LA Is My Lady" LP. The high point is "Mack the Knife," on which he famously mentions prominent sidemen present, giving each a short solo break after their names. ("We got the Brecker Brothers...George Benson...Hamp bringing up the rear...")

This would have been mid-80s? Or 20years down that long, long road from the TV special. The fidelity is pretty good even with the ol' Bose Acoustimass cranked way up.

Trivia: Sinatra did a re-take on "Mack the Knife" later, one of VERY few he ever did. He never liked his original performance and the second take is really much better, although diehard fans will love it anyway, warts and all.

musemike said...

The conductor gets it done, in spite of his terrible conducting pattern.

Bobby Owsinski said...

For a different look at Mr. Sinatra, check out this blog entry.

Paul Reynolds said...

How wonderful and professional. I wonder what he would think of today's rap and language. I am in 'radio' and recall Arthur Godfrey speaking to us at an NAB convention. He real chastized the announcers (industry) for no longer taking voice training, diction, annunciation etc. Which in his day, was REQUIRED before getting to a microphone.

Ed Lacinski said...

Yes, the engineer was the great Lowell Frank. Sinatra mentions Lowell in the piece. He wasn't one of the best known engineers of the era, but take a look on WB record album covers from 1960-70's. He worked with Petula Clark, Peter, Paul and Mary and many other WB/Reprise acts. And getting such a great sound with minimal mics on 3 and 4 track tape, amazing!

Roy said...

Roy Highley: I am a Karaoke singer and love the music of Frank Sinatra and other singers of that age. I'm 78 now so you can see that I grew up in an era when the songs they sang had some real meaning that you could relate to. When I sing Sinatrs's songs, I don't try to imitate his voice, no one could. He was one of a kind and an insp;iration to me. God Bless you all that love life as he did. Roy

Tom Pflimlin said...

So far, no one has mentioned his great conductor-arranger, Gordon Jenkins.


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