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World on a String: Sinatra @100

Deconstructing the unstoppable legacy of America’s greatest singer

Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett on the 1977 ABC TV special "Sinatra and Friends"
Frank Sinatra, recording for Columbia Records in 1947 in NYC
Frank Sinatra and Count Basie

“Cent’anni.” Frank Sinatra’s favorite toast. “May you live 100 years.” Sinatra, born Dec. 12, 1915, only made it to 82. But, in this, the year of his centenary, his music remains as vital and influential as ever. As early as the 1940s, major jazz artists began recognizing him as a touchstone and teacher. According to author and critic Nat Hentoff, Lester Young “never played a ballad without first learning the lyrics. I asked him his source for the lyrics. Pointing to a stack of recordings near his chair, he said, ‘Frank Sinatra.'” Miles Davis, adds Hentoff, “told me the same thing. He learned to get inside the ballads from Frank Sinatra.” In a 1956 survey conducted by Leonard Feather for that year’s edition of the Encyclopedia Yearbook of Jazz, nearly half of the 120 musicians polled named Sinatra as their all-time favorite vocalist-players including Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Gerry Mulligan, Horace Silver, Cal Tjader and, again, Young and Davis.

Kurt Elling, currently touring with the finely tailored homage “Elling Swings Sinatra,” is usually more strongly linked to Mark Murphy. But, he says, “I have certainly studied and adopted certain habits of his craft. I’d be a fool not to. Sinatra sets a great example both in stagecraft and in the natural and emotional delivery of American song.” John Pizzarelli, who paid album-length tribute with Dear Mr. Sinatra in 2006, recalls growing up in New Jersey to the “ubiquitous sound of Sinatra in our house. When I was in my 20s, I’d go back to my apartment at night and put on In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning and think, ‘What is it about this record?’ Every time you put it on you find something new.”

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