Writings About Music
Breakfast With Frank
The closest I ever came to Frank Sinatra was a story related by Tom White on Christmas Day in Lahaina some years ago. Tom had owned restaurants in New York, and one evening he took a date to Jilly's Saloon for drinks before dinner where they were greeted by proprietor Jilly Rizzo who was Sinatra's best friend. Tom and his date were relaxing at the bar when Frank Sinatra himself burst in, whereupon Jilly introduced them. After a few drinks, Jilly suggested to Frank that he take Tom and his date along for a night on the town. Sinatra agreed, and the trio proceeded outside where his limousine was waiting. What ensued was a dizzyingly glamorous night of gallivanting around Manhattan to an array of suave nightspots. They ended up at a private club where Sinatra sang at length with solo piano accompaniment for a chosen few. Tom said this was by far the most sublime musical performance of his life. Afterwards, they left to drop Tom and his date off at their respective homes. Stopping by the date's apartment first, she unexpectedly asked Sinatra if he would like to have breakfast. The saloon singer – that’s what he called himself - was delighted by the idea, and she then prepared breakfast for three in her kitchen as dawn broke and the sun began to rise outside. Tom said Sinatra was the warmest, friendliest person he ever met.
Here are the Frank Sinatra recordings that have engaged me most recently.
One more thing: I introduced myself to Lou Levy after he performed outside at LACMA one evening, and was thrilled by his comments about Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee and others. When Lou brought up Frank Sinatra, I mentioned how both Miles Davis and Lee Konitz regarded Sinatra as the greatest jazz singer. Lou immediately topped me by exclaiming that Frank Sinatra was the greatest jazz musician ever period.
Unfortunately, I was largely ignorant of Lou’s astounding musical accomplishments when I met him that one time. This was before the net, and I wasn’t able to easily research his remarkable career and collection of recordings. In lieu of that, here’s an indication of how great a jazz pianist he was, including articulation and focused energy rarely heard on that instrument. Note how Lou drops out after the melody is stated, thus building dramatic tension leading to the textural and harmonic richness of his reentry. This exquisite instinct shows why Lou was a favorite accompanist for the finest instrumentalists and vocalists of his time. Indeed, Sarah Vaughan herself used to sneak the underage Levy into a small club in Chicago to accompany her while he was still in high school.
Lou also told perhaps the funniest jazz story in history. Bill Evans was staying at a hotel in Beverly Hills while gigging, and had lunch with Lou one day. Evans had just composed a new piece, and wished to play it for his colleague. First, he asked permission from the manager to use the piano, and then went upstairs to retrieve his notations. While waiting, Lou was approached by the apprehensive manager asking: “Is he any good?” For more details on this story, the previous mention of Lou Levy and Sarah Vaughan, and a slew of other gems, I enthusiastically refer you to They Call Me Stein on Vine by Gary Chen.
- Michael Robinson, April 2016, Los Angeles
© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer.