Writings about Music

The Summer Kisses

Witness Frank Sinatra's Process

Found this rare Frank Sinatra performance embedded within a Tonight Show hosted by Joey Bishop. This performance reminded me how Lee Konitz nearly knocked me off my chair when during a lesson I asked him who he listened to for inspiration, expecting to hear names like Lester Young or Benny Goodman, but instead he replied: "Frank Sinatra". At the time, I was unfamiliar with Sinatra's music, and how lyrics are an essential component of jazz history, bringing the music to life through the inner consciousness of instrumentalists. Only after he was gone did I learn how Lee simply believed the way Sinatra sings standards is the best way for musicians to get into those songs.

The next five paragraphs were added August 2022.

Witness Frank Sinatra's process in the above video, how he enters into a movie of his own design when beginning to sing Angel Eyes on the Tonight Show hosted by Joey Bishop, the sequence beginning at 18:08 on April 10, 1965. Doing so was one of Frank Sinatra's secrets for illuminating the unique essence of a song for eternity.

Vincent Guarino, responding to the above writes, "You caught it. He had that ability to go into character or characters at will. Not that he didn’t bring singing talent, knowledge of the emotions expressed in poetry and lyrics and acting talent honed by years of watching, listening, experimenting and getting live feedback. He was a genius. You can see that moment when the “saloon singer” enters."

For Sinatra, it seems like singing was his place of relaxation and release at once, a place where he was free from the hurly-burly of life, and could focus in on his intellectual, emotive and spiritual passions through the art of music existing uniquely inbetween the physical and metaphysical worlds.

From an alternate musical universe, another singer of note, Bob Dylan, has articulated a related concept, namely living life as if you're in a dream, the difference being you're in control while remaining cognizant of the ground rules.

Then again, in yet another alternate musical universe, while not having recorded Angel Eyes, a song with a similar if unique rasa, My Foolish Heart, appears on the new Another World piano improvisation album. Green Garnets is the new meruvina composition and performance, described as "like the best kind of garden" with "the bright beat of drum brushes."

The next paragraph is from May 2019.

I didn’t find any words from the lyrics of Angel Eyes, written by Earl Bent with music by Matt Dennis, fitting for the title of this essay, so I turned to other lyrics, those for Autumn Leaves. Here is Sinatra singing that ineffable song.

The next two paragraphs were added August 2022.

One month after writing the original version of this essay in May 2019, while having dinner with Lee Konitz at a French restaurant in Manhattan, our waitress spontaneously sang Autumn Leaves for us in French upon learning we were musicians.

Johnny Mercer wrote the English lyrics for Autumn Leaves, with music by Joseph Kosma, and original French lyrics by Jacques Prévert.

The rest of this essay is from May 2019, as is the opening paragraph at the top of this page.

Last week, out for a walk, I met a neighbor after commenting about her adorable dog. As it turns out, she grew up in Atlantic City, and owned a talent agency there managing female models, working frequently with the 500 Club owned by Paul "Skinny" D’Amato, a close friend of Frank Sinatra. Many of the leading entertainers of the time, including Sinatra, performed at the club, also known as The Five, open from the thirties to the early seventies. Her name is Karen McGuire, and she said the cuisine wasn't particularly memorable, but the music was out of this world as you can imagine.

My favorite recording of Autumn Leaves growing up was by Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Either Ammons or Stitt at their best is as good as jazz gets.

Gene Ammons (right) and Sonny Stitt (left) represent two original pinnacles of jazz saxophone artistry echoing into eternity.

There are myriad great recordings of Autumn Leaves, of course. Here’s a terrific version by a duo of Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson. Dizzy’s playing continues to rise for myself. I recall when discussing Charlie Parker with Mel Powell, he stated that while he admired Parker, he enjoyed Gillespie even more. Most recently, Dizzy has become the jazz artist I listen to the most. His incredibly musical usage of the trumpet’s upper register; his stunningly bold expressive exclamations; his sublimely slippery melodic lines rhythmically as fluid as a Himalayan stream, all amaze like brand new epiphanies. The origins of Dizzy’s oriental strain remain mysterious, but I suppose I will eventually find out where it stems from. No doubt, that’s where John Coltrane was exposed, playing with Gillespie during his formative years.

This pairing of Gillespie and Peterson yielded an especially potent brew.

Caravan is my favorite track from the album, composed by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington with lyrics by Irving Mills.

Ending with some welcome Hasya Rasa, here is Frank Sinatra performing Autumn Leaves with Bob Hope on piano.

The title of this writing, again from the lyrics of Autumn Leaves, exemplifies Shringara Rasa, regarded as the primary motivation behind music itself.

- Michael Robinson, May 2019 & August 2022, Los Angeles


© 2019 and 2022 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 177 albums include 151 albums for meruvina and 26 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University.