Then came the following private email from Ed Fleishman, the director of piano studies at 5 Towns College, adjunct professor of education at Hofstra University and Queens College, and obviously someone who knows a little something about music. I've reprinted the contents of that email with his permission, and cleaned up the grammar a bit to make it easier to read. In it he provides his take on Sinatra. If you're a fan of the Chairman of the Board, you might be better off to stop reading now.
"I have been a professional musician for over 75 years in NYC. I have two advanced degrees in music history and education. I've worked the ships, the clubs, the toilets....the works.The above email illustrates something that's been going on between musicians probably from the beginning of time. In every era there are artists who take their music extremely serious, and those that are very successful who appear not to. Today you'll find the same controversy surrounding the music of Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perrry, to name a few. When The Beatles first broke, they were considered in the same light-weight category by the "serious" musicians of the day. I wonder who Beethoven considered a wanker?
I cannot believe the adulation accorded to Sinatra by people who should know better. "Scooby dooby do" is not phrasing. Adding notes and additional words other than those of the composer or lyricist does not make one an innovator. Clipping whole notes and shortening phrases for lack of breath does not make one a musical genius. Perverting artistic content in the name of a higher power [himself] does not augur well for a well-remembered future.
The young Sinatra was wonderful, but not the old one. Do his adorers need a hero so badly as to extol talent that no longer existed in the name of hipness? It's like the Metheny/Kenny G. thing.
A 90 year old Artie Shaw was being interviewed by Mark Simone on WINS. After a heated discussion on Sinatra's merits [much criciticised by Artie], Simone finally yelled..."Well, who do YOU think is a good musician?" Artie said "Beethoven's not bad." Simone became almost apoplectic. Great moment in radio. I was driving home from a gig and flipped out.
I will end this diatribe with the following: Playing piano in a Greenwich Village loft some years ago for a fund raiser. The teenage daughter of the hostess asked me to play something classical. "Who is your favorite classical composer?", I asked. "Frank Sinatra," came the reply.
Same gig about an hour later: Beautiful blonde sits down next to me on the bench. I don't remember what tune I was playing. She says "I was Paul Desmond's mistress." I, the master of wit and repartee answered, "That's nice."
The reason why I liked this email so much was because there's a sort of rarefied atmosphere around Frank Sinatra, and Ed Fleishman was willing to pierce that and give us another perspective. Thanks, Ed!