This is a precious piece of jazz history, all the more so for being recorded in pre-corporate Las Vegas, which was fertile ground that helped good musicians become great.
Sometimes the perfect response is not what is said, but what is sung. Music is the great analogue to speech. And it seems that we often experience pleasure in a perfect match-up of words and music set alight by especially gifted musicians.
I always think of Nick Hornby’s feral but passionate clerks in High Fidelity. They shake off their mid-morning torpor when challenged by the owner to name the” top five” of any genre: autobiographies of musicians, blues recordings, songs about death, angry songs about women, songs to take on a desert island. In the novel and the even better film Barry and Dick may appear to be adrift and underemployed. But they are also connoisseurs, reminding us that we are all critics, and that ecstasy can even come in the transient moments of a musical phrase.
I’ve come to think of a particular song in this way. The music comes from a live recording made in 1966 and recognized by Rolling Stone, among others, as one of the best live recordings ever made. Track 18 is an especially precious slice of jazz history, all the more so for being recorded in pre-corporate Las Vegas, which was fertile ground that helped good musicians become great. The album is Sinatra at the Sands, made at time when the former “kid” from Hoboken was feeling the heat of the British pop invasion, and a declining interest in the Great American Songbook.
Everything comes together to make the music a perfect miniature of the brassy and confident music of its time. In the crowded Copa Room there’s the legendary Count Basie Band. Fronting it is a young but effective Quincy Jones, who has arranged the charts to show off the the legendary group assembled long ago by another “kid:” this one from Red Bank.
And then there’s the song, a once-placid ballad written thirty years earlier by Rogers and Hart, but reborn to become the perfect vehicle for a singer in complete control. Frank Sinatra’s musical instincts were never better: a mixture of Rat Pack swagger and his total mastery of the tricky mechanics of jazz phrasing. At times ahead of drummer Sonny Payne’s rock solid beat and at times behind, it all adds up to a moment capturing musicians at the top of their game.
And it’s all over in less than three minutes.
What fun it would have been to be in that room.