October 13th, 1999

Sinatra at the Sands

by Warren Wilansky • in Music

sinatra at the sandsI understood the attitude. But until I heard “Sinatra at the Sands”, I didn’t understand the entertainer.

I’d heard all the hype (”he’s the entertainer of the century”, etc.), and I hadn’t cared. I didn’t get it. I got the swagger of Sinatra with Sammy and Dean, but when it came to performing, all I saw was, to be blunt, a washed up old-timer. I don’t think it helped that I saw Sinatra as “parent music”.

Okay, so the kids got big on the swing, which meant that people I respect got big on the swing. I trusted them, I believed in them. And when they said, “Warren, you’ve gotta give Frank a chance”, I had to give Frank a chance. So I went out, bought a few of his studio sessions, and they bored me. It was all too slick, too polished. I didn’t enjoy any of it.

Ahh, but then it happened. I got one. I found THE CD. As though out of nowhere came the voice, the voice that I’d wanted to hear, that I wanted to associate with the title, “entertainer of the century”. And the CD was Sinatra
at the Sands

It finally showed me what was important about Sinatra: that, at his best, he can rock the house with anyone. His voice is strong and confident, and blares sex. He’s rude, crude and crass. The 10 minutes of yammering of the “Tea Break” goes on a wee bit too long, and loses its appeal after numerous listens. But the track still gives you a taste of what this period must have been like, what Las Vegas was like, and what Sinatra, Chairman of the Board, meant to it at the time.

Funny side note about “The Tea Break”: although I wasn’t completely aware of the Rat Pack schtick, my friend Carl informed me that this “Tea Break” is, in fact, a classic. Tea Break is indeed a complete Rat Pack act, but here, Frank plays all the roles. Listening to the song again armed with that knowledge gave me a whole new appreciation of why the piece wears thin: it wasn’t meant for just Frank! And, alone, he does seem to struggle through the bit.

But all the standards are in this concert package. And even if you aren’t a Sinatra fan, take a look at the accompanying musicians. You’ll quickly see why this is an important concert to wrap your ears around. Very simply: Orchestra, Count Basie. Conductor, Quincy Jones. Need I say more?

The hottest tracks on the CD stand out to me because they really capture a mood, a feeling. “Another One For The Road” conjures exactly the image it intends to: a smoky piano bar right before closing. “My Kinda Town: Chicago” is as hot and swinging as you can imagine, and “Luck be a Lady” screams sex! Sex! SEX!

Even the Basie instrumental version of “Making Whoopie” is great. Funny story: I always viewed this song as some kind of joke or parody, having only heard as a kid the Eddie Cantor version on an old 78rpm. But the group here breathes life and feeling into it. It’s just great.

So, like Frank or not, I think you’ll love this CD. If you simply love music, you need it. If you want to discover Frank, it’s a must. And if you are a big fan and have never heard it, I think this has got to be one of his best.

Enjoy, and join me in understanding Sinatra. Finally.


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