Night And Day

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Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey Band

By | 2017-06-10T00:19:39+00:00 June 3rd, 2011|Categories: Articles|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“See the singer guy? One day I’ll be sitting where he’s sitting.” That is what Frank Sinatra told his wife Nancy, when they went to see Tommy Dorsey’s band in 1937.

In my post about Frank Sinatra and Harry James I had mentioned that in Chicago, Frank Sinatra was offered to be the vocal of Tommy Dorsey’s band, and left the band of Harry James in January 1940. But unlike the times he worked with Harry James, now he wasn’t the only vocal in the band. There were four other people, also known as “Pied Pipers”: Chucky Lowry, Billy Wilson, John Huddleston and Jo Stafford. In February 1, they recorded “The Sky Fell Down” and “Too Romantic”.

Tommy Dorsey

“I was almost entirely unfamiliar with him. In fact I never laid eyes on him until he actually walked on stage for the first time. We were sitting on the stage when Dorsey introduced him. And he came on and sang “Stardust” and it was quite an experience. You knew after eight bars that you were hearing something just absolutely new and unique” says Jo Stafford about Frank Sinatra.

It is widely accepted that Frank Sinatra learned a lot from Tommy Dorsey, especially the technique of breathing. Frank was watching Tommy Dorsey playing the trombone and trying to figure out the way he was breathing. Later he discovered that Tommy had a sneak pinhole in the corner of his mouth which he was covering with his trombone and decided to use this technique while singing. He ran and swam a lot to improve his breathing and finally was able to make it. He could take a breath without breaking the note.

Frank Sinatra Tommy Dorsey Orchestra

Another thing Sinatra learned from Tommy Dorsey was focusing on the words. Dorsey told Frank “All that matters to Bing Crosby is the words, and that’s the only thing that should matter to you.” Maybe this is why he sings the “saloon songs” perfectly, like “Angel Eyes” or “One For My Baby”.

The first real hit of Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey orchestra was “I’ll never smile again”, on 23 May 1940. This was also the first recording Frank did with Pied Pipers. In July the song hit No 1 on the charts and stayed there for 12 weeks. He recorded this song in 1959 and 1965 as well, in his albums “When No One Cares” and “A Man and His Music”. On January 1941 they recorded 2 very nice songs, “Stardust” and “Oh Look at Me Now”.

It was the year 1941 when Sinatra became a lot more and more popular. Girls were crazy about him and people were coming to performances to see Frank Sinatra now. He wasn’t just a vocal of Tommy Dorsey anymore, he was Frank Sinatra. And he was quite aware of this fact too. Sooner or later he was going to quit, just like the former vocal of the band did. Those years, it was the band leaders that were popular and known in the bands, and though he was very popular and making $400 a week, still he was in the shadow of Tommy and this was not for him since he had to achieve more. Being in a band was only a step on the way of being the greatest ever.

Frank Sinatra Tommy Dorsey Band Stage

In January 1942, Sinatra made his first step and recorded these songs with an orchestra conducted by Axel Stordahl, no Tommy Dorsey this time.

Night and Day
The Lamp Lighters Serenade
The Song Is You
The Night We Called A Day

Frank Sinatra: “When I went to leave, Tommy made it impossible. I remember that it was in the month of September, in Washington, Dc. I went into the dressing room and told Tommy that I wanted to leave the orchestra and he kind of smiled. What for? He said. You know you are doing great with the band we got a lot of arrangements for you. I said I understand that but I justto go out on my own. He said, I don’t think so. I said okay, but I’m going to leave. He said, you’ve got a contract. I said, I had a contract with Harry but Harry took the contract and tore it up and wished me luck. And I added, I’ll give you one year’s notice. This time next year I’m leaving.”

In 1942, Frank wanted to leave the band again but still the same obstacle, the contract Sinatra later named as “a ratty piece of paper.” In the contract, it was stated that if Frank Sinatra left the band, he would pay %43 of all the money he would earn throughout his career, to Tommy Dorsey and his agent. Dorsey first didn’t want to let Frank go. So Frank hired few lawyers and asked some friends to help him about this issue. Harry Jaffe threatened Tommy Dorsey about not broadcasting him on NBC.  After a while Tommy was persuaded and he accepted to take $75000.

Frank Sinatra: “Anyhow, that’s how I got out of Dorsey contract. No gangster called anyone. Sonofabitch, I’ve been with that thing for so many years..”

But this is not what Tommy Dorsey said, according to the book “Sinatra: The Life”. “Three guys from New York City by way of Boston and New Jersey approached me and said they would like to buy Sinatra’s contract. I said “Like hell you will”. And they pulled out a gun and said, “You wanna sign the contract?” And I did.” And before Tommy Dorsey died in 1956, he again said “I was visited by Willie Moretti and a couple of his boys. Willie fingered a gun and told me he was glad to hear that I was letting Frank out of my deal. I took the hint.”

In August 1943, Tommy Dorsey gave Sinatra his best wishes by saying “I hope you fall on your ass!” (not on the radio), and Frank finally owned himself.

When I think of Frank Sinatra’s years with Tommy Dorsey, I say thank god he was in that band. His voice was simply fascinating and he performed many nice songs. We can’t name the months of Sinatra with Harry James as rich, since they didn’t release many songs and we don’t have many recorded radio broadcasts survived till now. But Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey recorded lots of beautiful songs like “The Sky Fell Down, Too Romantic, I’ll Be Seeing You, Say It, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Fools Rush In, April Played the Fiddle, Imagination, I’ll Never Smile Again, Stardust, Oh Look At Me Now, Without a Song, I Think of You, The Song Is You” and many others.

If you would like to listen more songs of Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, you should definitely check “Frank Sinatra Tommy Dorsey Complete”, which consists of 5 CD’s. Lots of beautiful songs there…

Frank Sinatra and Harry James, All or Nothing At All

By | 2017-06-10T00:19:39+00:00 June 3rd, 2011|Categories: Articles|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A room at Lincoln Hotel. The radio is on. Harry James is sleeping, while his wife Louise Tobin is getting dressed. The voice on radio gets Louise’s attention, she wakes her husband and says “Harry, you might want to hear this kid on the radio. The boy singer on his show sounds pretty good.”

It was June, 1939 when this happened. Harry Haag James had left the orchestra of Benny Goodman, which was quite well known and successful those days, to form his own band.

Harry James

The next night he heard Frank on the radio, he went to Rustic Cabin. He asked the manager where he could find the singer and the manager told: “We don’t have a singer. But we have an emcee who sings a little bit.” Sinatra was the head waiter, chief bottler and sweep-up man in Rustic Cabin.

A singing waiter named Fred Travalena remembers Sinatra. “Frank hated the place, but he knew how to put a plate in front of somebody and he’d do anything to be able to sing” he said later during an interview.

And a young singer in Cabin, Lucielle Kirk, said: “One of the best I’ve ever heard. Every time he opened his mouth, the audience went quiet. He could take the control of an audience just by looking at them. There was a magic about him.”

When Sinatra heard that Harry James was there that night, he started to sing “Night and Day.” “As Frank sang Night and Day, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rising. I knew he was destined to be a great singer” said James about Frank years later.

That night, James asked Frank to join the auditions for his band. James had reputation, and Frank was very willing to join. Rustic Cabin was no good for him. James also asked Frank to change his name from Frank Sinatra to “Frankie Satin”, because he found the name too much Italian. Frank said “Change it? You kiddin?” Frank had already changed his name once years ago and after his mother Dolly’s reaction, this was not going to happen again.

Sinatra remembers that day. “When he left Benny Goodman and started his own band and came over to see me, I almost broke his arm so he wouldn’t get away ‘cause I was dying to get out of that place.”

Sinatra went to Lincoln Hotel for auditions later. Skeets Herfert explains as following: “Frank walked in with no arrangements. The other guys, who were auditioning for Harry, had charts and everything. But Frank just walked in, walked over the piano player, told him what he wanted to sing, what key he wanted in, and stood up and sang. He knocked everybody out. When the musicians heard Sinatra, that was it. There was no doubt about it.”

“Frank Sinatra” joined the band of Harry James as the vocalist in June 1939 and signed a 2 year contract. Frank Sinatra and Harry James Orchestra played at many places, the first being at Hippodrome in Baltimore on June 30 1939, and they even recorded 10 songs together. The songs were as following.

From The Bottom of My Heart
Melancholy Mood
My Buddy
It’s Funny to Everyone But Me
All or Nothing At All
Here Comes the Night
On a Little Street in Singapore
Who Told You I Cared
Ciribiribin (They’re So in Love)
Every Day of My Life

(All the songs were arranged by Andy Gibson)

Frank Sinatra Harry James 1939

Among the songs they recorded, there was a very special song. It was “All or Nothing At All.” Lyrics by Jack Lawrence, music by Arthur Altman. Though the song sold only around 8500 in 1939, 4 years later when it was released by Columbia Records again it was going to sell more than 1 million in a short time.

But things were not going as good as they expected in 1939. The records sold around 8000, being far away from being a hit, and they even played for very few people sometimes. Meaning? They were broke and unsuccessful.

Frank Sinatra Harry James Orchestra 1939

Once they were playing in Chicago’s Hotel Sherman and the great band leader Tommy Dorsey was also there. One day Frank found a note saying that Tommy Dorsey wanted to see him. Dorsey needed a vocal since the vocal of his band had left. He offered Frank $100 a week (some sources say $110.) Let’s hear the rest of the Frank Sinatra – Harry James story from Frank Sinatra’s words.

“Harry James was one of the finest men I’ve ever known in my life. To tell you the kind of man he was, I had signed a 2 year contract with him, and when I was offered a job within the Tommy Dorsey orchestra 6 months later, Harry took the contract and tore it up. All he said to me was be sure to get more money that I was able to pay you.”

Harry James later told: “Nancy was pregnant, and we weren’t even making enough money to pay Frank the $75 he was supposed to get. So he went with Tommy Dorsey and I said, well if we don’t do any better in the next six months or so, try to get me on too.”

Frank Sinatra remembers those days as “a wonderful six month experience” and Harry James as “a real nice guy with real know-how as a musician.”

When Harry Haag James died in 1983, Sinatra said to Nancy Jr: “He made it all possible for us…”

Frank continued till January 1940 with Harry James. After the last show, Harry James and the musicians left the town. “The bus pulled out with the rest of the guys” Sinatra remembered. “I’d say goodbye to them all, and it was snowing. There was nobody around, and I stood alone with my suitcase and watched the tail-lights disappear. Then the tears started… There was such spirit and enthusiasm in that band.”

Frank Sinatra Harry James Band 1939

It is very clear that Sinatra really loved Harry James, but he had to leave to achieve more. Though James seems older than Sinatra in pictures, he was 3 months younger than Sinatra and no doubt that he was a nice and modest guy. Considering that Dorsey caused a lot of trouble because of the contract later, Harry James was generous enough to tear his contract with Sinatra apart. He wasn’t selfish, and he wanted the best for Frank. And for Frank Sinatra, it was either all, or nothing at all…