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All Or Nothing At All:
A Life of Frank Sinatra

Chapter 3

As Mr and Mrs Frank Sinatra settled into a three-room flat in Jersey City, Frank's pay at the roadhouse had been raised and Nancy worked as a secretary, so their combined monthly income was about $200. This was not bad for the time; the nation had not recovered fully from the Depression and there were nearly ten million people unemployed. Frank spent a lot of money on clothes, but Nancy was a good housekeeper, and she knew that Frank had to look sharp. He still hadn't made the big time, and his principal objection to marriage had been that having somebody around his neck might impede his rise to stardom; Nancy had promised not to get in his way, and did everything she could to encourage him and keep his spirits up.

Meanwhile the music business had changed considerably since Frank Sinatra had started singing. Ballroom dancing had been nationally popular since before he was born, and when Paul Whiteman had hired vocalist Morton Downey way back in 1919, everybody thought he was crazy: what did a bandleader need with a singer? But from 1935, the year that Frank toured with Major Bowes, the jazz-oriented dance band was at the center of American music. The Swing Era, or Big Band Era, had got underway with the sudden huge success of Benny Goodman, who was billed as the King of Swing. Bing Crosby was still the biggest name in show business, but he was virtually the only solo singer: the way to fame as a vocalist was to sing with one of the swing bands, and new ones were forming all the time.

The band at the Rustic Cabin was being led by a trombonist called Bill Henri in mid-1939, according to Burt Hall, who played sax in the band (then known as Harry Zinquist). He remembered hanging around with other musicians in a small club in Bayonne a few years earlier, using the rehearsal room; Sinatra would show up to listen and sing a couple of songs. As John Rockwell has pointed out, the club scene in the 1930s was not much different 'to that faced by Bruce Springsteen in the Sixties and Jersey rock bar-bands to this day: fairly active, but rarely leading anywhere beyond itself -- the distance across the Hudson sometimes seemed infinite.' The young men in the band at the Rustic Cabin probably all hoped to go on to bigger things; on their nights off they would go visit other, similar bands where their friends were playing: in those days quite a few hotels and restaurants had live music for dancing. But the band at the Rustic Cabin had song-pluggers bringing them tunes and probably even free arrangements, because they broadcast from 11:30 to midnight on WNEW's 'Dance Parade' program.

By now Sinatra was better known, and his singing was reaching a certain professional plateau: if he wasn't the singer he would become, musicians could hear what he was trying to do. It was only a matter of time before somebody hired him away from the New Jersey roadhouse. There was a rumor that trombonist Jack Miles wanted to leave Guy Lombardo and start his own band, and was interested in Sinatra. Tommy Dorsey, one of the most successful of all bandleaders, was setting up as a contractor, running other bands as well as his own; he was behind the Bob Chester band, which was intended to compete directly with Glenn Miller: Sinatra actually rehearsed with the Chester band and may have made demo records with it which were subsequently lost.

Among the people who used the George Washington Bridge on their way in and out of New York were bandleader Red Norvo and his wife, singer Mildred Bailey, who were also known as 'Mr & Mrs Swing'. Mildred's brother, singer and songwriter Al Rinker, had been an original member with Crosby of the Rhythm Boys, and it was on their way home from a visit to Rinker one Sunday evening that they stopped at the Rustic Cabin. Mildred was a considerable talent scout: when she first heard Billie Holiday, she said, 'That's gal's got it!' And when she heard Frank Sinatra, she told her husband, 'That kid can sing!' Norvo later said, 'There were so many great songs coming out at that time and we needed a male singer to help Mildred out.' They called him in July 1939, but they were too late. Harry James had beat them to it.

A few months younger than Sinatra, Harry James had begun playing trumpet professionally at the age of nine, in a circus band led by his father. As a teenager he joined Ben Pollack, a bandleader who had hired Jack Teagarden, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and many others. In March 1937 James joined Goodman, and became one of the stars of that band. By January 1939, he told George T. Simon, he could not play his solo on Goodman's 'Sing, Sing, Sing' any more; the arrangement made him a nervous wreck. He left to form his own band with Goodman's blessing and his backing. 'At least with my own band, I could play the tunes that I wanted to play.' Eventually he became one of the most successful leaders of the 1940s, but success was not automatic. He had made a few records under his own name, but although lots of jazz fans could name the soloists in a band like Goodman's, Harry James had no recognition factor as a bandleader, and his group would have to find its own identity and its own audience. So the new Harry James band was struggling in 1939, but the world was younger then: it didn't cost so much just to live in those days, and the band was getting arrangements from Andy Gibson, a good writer; it had started to record for Brunswick in February, the future looked bright enough, and the band needed a boy singer.

In June 1939 James's wife was Louise Tobin, a good singer who for most of that year worked for Goodman, who could pay her a lot more than her husband could. In their hotel room in New York, Louise remembered many years later, she was packing to leave for a gig the next morning when she heard the band playing over the radio from the Rustic Cabin, and woke up Harry because she thought the singer, whoever he was, was pretty good. However it happened, Harry was impressed, but hadn't caught the singer's name, so the next night after his own last set he drove across the George Washington Bridge to visit the roadhouse.

Some said that by June 1939 the kid from Hoboken had long since graduated from waiting on tables; James joked that when he inquired about the singer somebody told him, 'We don't have a singer, but we have an emcee who sings a little.' In any case, as we know with our hindsight, Sinatra was not going to be stuck in the roadhouse much longer, but he didn't know that then. Jack Miles hadn't left Lombardo after all, Bob Chester had decided to save money by having a saxophone player double as a vocalist, and Red Norvo hadn't called yet. Sinatra was so anxious to leave his roadhouse days behind him, he said later, that he grabbed James by the arm and wasn't going to let him leave. James offered him $75 a week, and Frank Sinatra opened with the Harry James band the same month, first at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, and then at the Paramount in New York. At first Harry thought Frank should change his name: he had once billed himself briefly as Frankie Trent, playing somewhere in New Jersey (Trenton, no doubt), and Dolly had blown her stack; that was one thing she was right about. He told Harry that he had a cousin called Ray Sinatra who was a successful musician, and the name would be good enough for Frank, too.

Harry James and Frank Sinatra became and remained friends for the rest of their lives. They were both young and ambitious, they were both skinny (somebody said that together they looked like a pair of scissors) and they were both very confident: Louise said that Harry, like Frank, never doubted that he would be successful. But Harry James was the more experienced musician by far, and it was now that Sinatra began to learn the lessons that would make him the greatest of all the singers in the era to come. During the Swing Era the bands were divided into 'hot' bands like Goodman's, very much jazz oriented, and 'sweet' bands like Lombardo's, with little or no apparent jazz content; but by 1939 some of the bands were touching both bases in order to please the largest number of customers. And nobody knew better than Harry James both how to play jazz -- trumpet players in his native Texas were said to tremble at the sound of his name -- and also that there was nothing wrong with sentimentality, if it was honestly felt.

Furthermore, James knew what Sinatra was trying to do, and encouraged him. Another thing that was changing in the late '30s was the role of the vocalist, who had been an extra added attraction, singing a chorus and then sitting down and smiling while the band played on; but on Frank's demo record in early 1939, the arrangement of 'Our Love' allowed him to sing the song all the way through, and then gave him another half-chorus at the end, as though to remind us whose record it was. That arrangement was unusually long, but more remarkably, Frank's first recording with Harry James, 'From The Bottom Of My Heart', does the same thing. Between July and November Frank made ten sides with the James band, and nearly all of them sound like they were designed to feature the vocalist.

When Harry James finally found his own formula, his own combination of his horn, the band's vocalists, and the right mixture of jazz and warm ballads, his first big hit was 'I Don't Want To Walk Without You' in early 1942, which he recorded because he loved the way Judy Garland sang it, but the singer on Harry's record was Helen Forrest, widely regarded as one of the best band singers of the era. She had been discovered by Artie Shaw, and in the Shaw band had the advantage of working alongside Billie Holiday for a few months; she'd also worked for Benny Goodman. James was still struggling and couldn't really afford Forrest in 1942, but he wanted a girl singer, and the guys in the band voted her in. She told George T. Simon,

I'll always remain grateful to Artie and Benny. But they had been featuring me more like they did a member of the band, almost like another instrumental soloist. Harry, though, gave me just the right sort of arrangement and setting that fit a singer. It wasn't just a matter of my getting up, singing a chorus, and sitting down again.

Talking to Sheila Tracy, Forrest was more specific:

Harry James was wonderful. When I joined him I said, 'There's only one condition: I don't care how much you pay me, I don't care about arrangements. The one thing I want is to start a chorus and finish it. I want to do verses, so don't put me up for a chorus in the middle of an instrumental.' He said, 'You got it,' and that was it.

Some of the bandleaders understood almost as soon as the Swing Era began that jazz-influenced music had never been at the center of American pop before, and that the fans not only liked the jazz, they also liked to dance and they liked the vocalists. The seeds of the following era, the era of the pop singer, were already germinating; hadn't the Casa Loma Band, keeping the flame of jazz alive on college campuses since the beginning, also had hits with smooth vocals by Kenny Sargent as early as 1933 ('Under A Blanket Of Blue', 'It's The Talk Of The Town')? Another of Harry James's big numbers, in 1945, was 'I'm Beginning To See The Light', a Duke Ellington tune with words by Don George, with yet another singer: Kitty Kallen. In 1971 James said, 'When Frank joined the band, he was always thinking of the lyrics. The melody was secondary. If it was a delicate or a pretty word, he would try to phrase it with a prettier softer type of voice. The feeling he has for words is just beautiful.' So James encouraged him. James never got enough credit for knowing how to choose singers and what to do with them; he built his band around his vocalists and his own horn, and his list of over 70 hit records in 15 years is evidence that he knew what he was doing. And he started doing it in 1939, with Frank Sinatra.

A beginning bandleader, however, did not get the pick of all the songs that were being published. Of the ten tunes James and Sinatra recorded together, 'Ciribiribin' was a vocal version of James's signature tune, written in Italy in 1898, and 'My Buddy' was a 17-year-old song by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson, while the other eight were new pop tunes of the time. 'From The Bottom Of My Heart' and 'Here Comes The Night' are such obvious titles that they've been used more than once; 'On A Little Street In Singapore' is an example of what has been called the 'unlucky mulatto' genre, along with 'Poor Butterfly' and other songs about a certain kind of doomed love. Three of the songs were written or co-written by Jack Lawrence, a skilled Tin Pan Alley hack who did a number of memorable things: his 'If I Didn't Care' was a huge hit by the Ink Spots in 1939, and remained their most famous number; ten years later Lawrence wrote 'Linda' for his lawyer's baby daughter, another big hit, by Ray Noble's band with Buddy Clark singing. (Linda Eastman grew up to marry Paul McCartney, and later promoted vegetarian dogfood.) Lawrence was a dab hand at writing words for instrumentals and foreign songs in an era that is gone forever: the words didn't have to be very good, but enabled publishers to sell more copies of the tune, and Dinah Shore to have one of several hits with 'Delicado' in 1952, for example. He wrote English words about gondoliers for 'Ciribiribin'. He co-wrote 'All Or Nothing At All' with Arthur Altman (the middle eight sounds like it was borrowed from Cole Porter's 'Begin The Beguine').

But Sinatra sounds marvelous. On 'From The Bottom Of My Heart' and 'Melancholy Mood' his phrasing is immediately unique: he is indubitably singing, not chanting or talking the words, yet the rhythm of the words is easy and conversational; my guess is that he had already learned more from listening to jazz-oriented music than Crosby ever did. (On 'Melancholy Mood' James plays a fine muted, growling trumpet in the style of Duke Ellington's Cootie Williams.) A couple of the tunes have a mushy beat, suitable only for romantic dancing; 'My Buddy' is pleasantly light-hearted; 'All Or Nothing At All' ends on a bravura high note, which is a little corny, but my favorite of the lot is 'It's Funny To Everyone But Me', which is heartfelt love-lorn: completely believable and looking forward to some of Sinatra's best records of the next decade, while the band humming along and interjecting comments ('It's the talk of the town!') adds to the charm.

None of the records were hits when they were new. I don't know what the original 78s sounded like; in reissues they usually sounded like they were recorded in a gloomy echo chamber, but Columbia finally made very good transfers for CD in 1995, revealing that they were very good recordings after all. But 'All Or Nothing At All', for example, did not get its first release until 1940, when there was an ASCAP strike against the broadcasters: Lawrence's songs, and for that matter virtually all the tunes Harry James was playing, would have been published through the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and thus would not have been played on the radio during the strike. Maybe the reason not many people bought the record is because not many people heard it.

Meanwhile, before any of the studio recordings were made there were broadcasts from the Roseland Ballroom, some of which were recorded off the air. PeeWee Monte had been a road manager for Benny Goodman's band, and came along to work for Harry James when James left Goodman; PeeWee and various members of his family worked for James until James died in 1983 (and nobody ever had a contract: that's the kind of loyalty that James inspired). The Montes recorded about 1200 tunes off the air on transcription disks over the years, and seven airchecks with Sinatra have transferred nicely to CD (on Columbia, but also on a 3-CD set on the Hindsight label, celebrating a decade of Harry James's career and featuring eight vocalists). That first band plays very well, and young Frank Sinatra sounds good on several numbers recorded in July and August. The first Sinatra vocal is 'Stardust': the band had been playing the tune as an instrumental before Frank joined, and they probably just tacked the vocal on to the front of the arrangement, making it nearly four minutes long. Sinatra sounds like he's enjoying himself singing in a famous ballroom instead of a New Jersey roadhouse; the word 'inspiration' becomes 'inspeeration', which might be a jokey reference to the way some other vocalists pronounced it. (The rest of the James arrangement of 'Stardust' includes some tricky writing for the reed section, and sounds as though it might have been inspired by Coleman Hawkins's classic 'Body And Soul' of the same period.)

Other tunes Sinatra was singing with James included 'If I Didn't Care' (one wonders if Jack Lawrence didn't own a piece of the band), 'My Love For You' (with an impressively accurate falsetto on the word 'you' at the very end), 'Moon Love', adapted from Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, and 'The Lamp Is Low', from Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante défunte. The last is really fun: he does fine with Ravel's lovely tune, but the song's introduction is definitely not Ravel: it is hackwork by Mitchell Parish (who also wrote the words for 'Stardust') and his co-writers; Sinatra is accompanied here by a piano that sounds like it's out of tune, and it is all so dumb that on the word 'my' in the phrase 'Let my heart softly tell you' he sounds as though he can hardly keep from laughing.

Frank Sinatra's first praise in the press came about when the band's manager, Jerry Barrett, asked George T. Simon to give the kid a good writeup. Simon liked the band anyway, so he wrote in Metronome magazine about Sinatra's 'very pleasing vocals' and his 'easy phrasing'. But not long after that, Billboard criticised him, saying that 'he touches the songs with a little too much pash,' the traditionally corny Billboard prose matching the traditional way in which show-biz publications never quite know what is going on, and Sinatra was furious. On another occasion, when somebody asked Harry James about his kid singer, Harry supposedly said, 'Not so loud! The kid's name is Sinatra ... No one ever heard of him, he's never had a hit record, he looks like a wet rag, but he says he's the greatest. If he hears you compliment him, he'll demand a raise tonight.' This is a famous story and a good one, but it was probably a sendup: Harry James was just as young, ambitious and confident as the kid from Hoboken, he also looked like a wet rag, and Sinatra knew there wasn't any money for a raise anyway.

Although Sinatra's voice was still on the light side, he sang the words as though they meant something, which was new and modern. The way Bing Crosby delivered a lyric, we were convinced that we could sing as well as that; Bing was a regular fellow who wanted to be a boyfriend, but if the girl didn't invite him in it wouldn't quite be the end of the world. To Frank Sinatra, however, the invitation was very important: he wanted to be a lover, not a boyfriend. The passion that came through in his singing was understated; you couldn't put your finger on it, but it was the passion in his life transmuted into music. He had married his teenage sweetheart, perhaps against his better judgement; he feared and probably disapproved of his mother if he could have admitted it, while he wanted to admire his father but perhaps could not; he himself was badly educated, and his confidence had the kind of brashness that was protecting something. His passions had a lot of constraints on them, but there was another kind of confidence that was genuine: he had the understanding of an artist which allowed him to transmute his frustrations into his work, so that, like Billie Holiday, he could make a song seem to be a better song than it was.

But Frank Sinatra wasn't hitting the big time fast enough. The critics liked the James band, but it didn't set the world on fire at the Paramount in June, or at the Roseland in July; its famous gig was at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in August, and it also played Roseland again and the 1939 World's Fair. At least the band could eat Nancy's cooking if they didn't have any money. Then they headed west on tour, and Nancy came along. In Chicago and Denver business was lukewarm, and everybody was looking forward to the Palomar in Los Angeles, where Benny Goodman himself had suddenly hit four years earlier, but the Palomar burned down on 4 October. (Charlie Barnet's band lost all its arrangements and instruments in the fire, but Barnet typically said, 'Hell, it's better than having bombs dropping on your head.' Poland was being invaded at the time.) The James band got an emergency booking in a restaurant in Beverly Hills, and it was a disaster: it was the wrong kind of place, too small for a big band, and the management hated them. James had discovered a girl singer from Georgia, Yvonne Marie Jamais, and renamed her Connie Haines; it was contemporary wisdom that the girl singer was more important to the band's success than the boy, but when business was so bad that he couldn't keep both of them, James let Haines go rather than Sinatra. Nancy remembered years later that she once cooked a meal for four people with a dollar: spinach, hamburger and mashed potatoes. Then the band headed back east.

In Chicago there was an annual Christmas benefit for the musicians' union at the Hotel Sherman, and the local union boss was James Caesar Petrillo, soon to be elected national leader of the American Federation of Musicians: any bands in the area had to make their appearance at Petrillo's benefit. Among the other bandleaders taking part was Tommy Dorsey, whose boy singer, the likeable Jack Leonard, quit while they were in Chicago. Dorsey had long been aware of Frank Sinatra. In fact Sinatra had once had a chance to sing for Dorsey, but dried up: he opened his mouth and nothing came out. But in Chicago Dorsey offered Frank $125 a week. Stardom was just a matter of months away for both The Voice and The Horn, but The Voice's wife was pregnant, and The Horn (Harry James) could hardly afford the $75 a week Frank was getting. The James band was about to be demoted from the full-price Columbia to the budget Varsity label during 1940, while Tommy Dorsey was one of the biggest names in show business.

The Dorsey brothers, trombonist Tommy and alto saxist Jimmy, had co-led the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra from 1928 until 1935, when they could not get along any longer. They were each successful separately, but by the end of 1939 Tommy had had three times as many hits as Jimmy. The American record business of the late 1930s was tiny compared to later decades; it had not yet recovered from competition with radio in the 1920s and the Great Depression in the 1930s. There was not much money in records, and there were only three major labels, selling most of their output to the juke-box industry. In these circumstances, ninety or so Dorsey hits in four years is very impressive indeed. Estimates of the sales of the The Frank Sinatra/ Harry James record of 'All Or Nothing At All' in 1940 range up to 16,000 copies, and that was enough for a record to break even in those days; but Tommy Dorsey's prolifically-recorded band was so popular that virtually all its records did that well, and some of them were among the biggest hits of the whole era. Sinatra knew that with Dorsey's band he would get more attention from the record labels, from the critics, from the fans -- from everybody.

The difficulty was leaving James. Sinatra said later that opening a vein would have been easier. Harry and Frank had struggled together and supported each other for six months; they not only believed in themselves, but in each other, while Frank had learned a lot from Harry. Furthermore, Frank's contract with James had several months to run, but the break had to be made. Frank went to Harry's hotel room and paced up and down until Harry finally asked him what was up. When Harry found out what was at stake, the story goes, he called for Frank's contract and tore it into small pieces; and when he parted with the James band, Sinatra said many years later, tears came to his eyes, and as the bus pulled away without him, he had to suppress the urge to run after it. For the rest of James's life, Sinatra called him 'Boss', and joked about coming back to fulfill the rest of his contract.

Sinatra recommended young Dick Haymes to replace him in the James band, and helped to break him in; the sudden change in the Monte-James broadcast recordings from Sinatra to Haymes is instructive. Haymes was a good singer, and would also be very successful in the 1940s, but in the early years Haymes sings absolutely straight compared to Sinatra, as though he is still afraid to express himself: Sinatra was less than year older than Haymes, but already a considerable stylist as pop singers went in 1939. Yet when Sinatra made his debut with the Dorsey band (accounts differ: January 1940? Minneapolis? Rockford, Illinois?) he was just 24 years old, and he encountered the most important teacher he ever had.

While Harry James was relatively easy to get along with, Tommy Dorsey was a volatile boss and a tough businessman. Every successful bandleader was plagued by song-pluggers and publishers anxious to make deals, but Dorsey knew his music business backwards and forwards. When he split up with his brother Jimmy and began recording for Victor in September 1935, he had taken over the Joe Haymes band, and the new ensemble had to do some shaking down before it acquired the Dorsey stamp; one of the first hits the new band had was 'Take Me Back To My Boots And Saddle', a song which had been introduced by Gene Autry that year (the 'singing cowboy' was then a new sensation). Arranger Paul Weston had stayed with Tommy when the Dorsey brothers split, and left him just before Sinatra arrived:

Jonie Taps was with Shapiro Bernstein, and they published dreck, you know, like 'Take Me Back To My Boots and Saddle' and 'I'm Headin' For The Last Roundup' and stuff like that, which Tommy -- he refused to play most of 'em, but once in a while he'd play one for Jonie. Now, Jonie would come in to the Astor Hotel, and walk down to his table, and order dinner ... and as he would appear, even if Tommy was in the middle of a ballad, Tommy'd put the horn down and go 'worf! worf! worf!' at him. For publishing dogs. And the people in the Astor Hotel, they thought, 'What is this? Tommy's stopped playing ...! And now he's barking at this little man!

In George T. Simon's book The Big Bands there is a marvelous photograph taken in 1939 of Tommy Dorsey surrounded by music publishers and songwriters, from Johnny Green (author of 'Body And Soul') and Jack Mills (who manipulated Duke Ellington for many years) to Jonie Taps and a dozen others. The photo is a sendup: everybody is grinning like hyenas at a kill except Dorsey, who has his head in his hands. But few people ever got the best of Dorsey. He would sometimes lose his temper and fire his whole band, only to hire them back the next day. When bassist Sid Weiss worked up the courage to ask Dorsey for a raise one evening, Dorsey chased him around the ballroom on the Astor Roof in New York, threatening to kill him. Dorsey didn't mind firing people, but he didn't like them to quit: when the Swing Era was over, in the early 1950s, Dorsey was still getting the best dance-band gigs in the country, and another bassist, Billy Cronk, tried to leave:

I quit the band once and he got so mad at me he chased me three blocks, grabbed me and put me up against a wall (he was much bigger than me) and said, 'Nobody quits the band, I fire them.' So I took back my notice and he threatened to fire me! 'We're not married -- you can get lost any time you want!' said Tommy. So, of course, I stayed.

Trombonist and arranger Billy VerPlanck joined in 1956, when the end was near; Dorsey was still giving the music business everything he had, and expected the same of everybody else:

When I joined the band he said, 'All I want is 110 per cent.' I said, 'Jesus, Tommy, there's only 100 per cent in a man. Where's the other ten per cent?' 'I don't know, baby, but if you don't give it to me you're fired!' This guy put the fear of God into you.

It was during a gig at the Palmer House, apparently in December 1939, that vocalist Jack Leonard quit. He'd been with Dorsey four years, longer than most people lasted; Dorsey called a rehearsal after a performance when nobody had had anything to eat all day, and blew his top because a trumpeter friend of Leonard's sneaked out to get a sandwich. Leonard could take no more, but Dorsey already had his eye on 'that skinny kid with James'.

Dorsey had no intention of sitting on his enormous success in 1935-9. The competition was hotting up at the peak of the Swing Era: Dorsey probably admired Harry James's musicianship, and Harry's wasn't the only new band entering the lists. By the end of 1939, Glenn Miller's was a huge success, having hit even bigger than Benny Goodman had in 1935 when he touched off the whole thing. And bands like James's and Miller's were trodding on Dorsey's turf: Miller in particular was incredibly good at playing sentimental smoochers for slow dancers on the one hand, and uptempo arrangements to keep the jazz fans happy on the other, so that he won honors in both the sweet and jazz categories. So Dorsey was updating and modernising his image, and Frank Sinatra was not the only new face in the band in 1940.

Dorsey had hired a group called the Pied Pipers to sing on his radio show for several weeks in 1939; they were an octet, seven guys plus Jo Stafford, and they sounded like a whole band. A little later they weren't getting much work when Stafford got a phone call from Dorsey: he wanted to hire the Pipers as part of the band, but not all of them; he only wanted a quartet. 'Funny you should ask,' she said. 'Some of the guys have dropped out.' So four Pipers joined Dorsey, two weeks before Sinatra did, and became an integral part of the new Dorsey sound. Their kind of cool 'modern' close-harmony singing was soon taken for granted by the fans during the Swing Era, but it is very impressive technically, and well beyond most of today's vocalists, who all want to be soloists. The other members of the original quartet lineup were Chuck Lowry, John Huddleston and Clark Yocum, who also played some rhythm guitar in the band; Stafford herself sang so in tune that she may as well have had perfect pitch, and later became one of the finest pop singers of a new era.

The first time Sinatra rehearsed with the band she noticed how skinny he was, but as soon as he opened his mouth she knew that he was special: the band had just finished the gig at the Palmer House and went to Minneapolis on the train; the Pipers already knew their routine, but Sinatra had to rehearse.

The first time I ever saw him, or heard him, was that night when Tommy introduced him as the new vocalist, and he walked on to do his stint. About eight bars into the song I thought, 'Boy, this is something else' ... Most boy singers in those days sounded like Bing Crosby. Crosby was the big thing. But this kid didn't sound like Crosby. He didn't sound like anybody I'd ever heard before. And he was sensational.

The public agreed. In May 1940 when Sinatra appeared at the Astor Hotel in New York with Dorsey for the first time, he stopped the show, which rarely if ever happened to a band singer, and the crowd wanted encores, but there weren't enough Sinatra features in the band's book yet, so Sinatra and pianist Joey Bushkin had to improvise a duet spot.

Another asset added to the band in Chicago was the new drummer. Buddy Rich was a seasoned pro, a prodigy who had been playing in vaudeville since the age of four as Baby Traps, The Drum Wonder, and had been playing first-class jazz from a very early age. Trumpeter Bunny Berigan had played on some of the biggest hits of the era, first with Goodman and then with Dorsey; when Berigan formed his own band he was one of the first to hire Rich. Artie Shaw, like Goodman, had been one of the most successful freelance clarinetists in popular music, and formed his own band in early '38; Rich soon joined Shaw, his technique, energy and sheer power helping to kick that band from nowhere to $25,000 a week by the end of the year. Then in November 1939, Shaw, who hated the music business, walked away, leaving the band high and dry while he took a vacation in Mexico. Bassist Sid Weiss, powerful trumpeter Chuck Peterson and Buddy Rich all joined Tommy Dorsey.

But Buddy Rich was fussy about his music and was not so easy to hire. Rich's sister Marge was a dancer, touring in an act with her husband, and they were staying in the same hotel:

We all left the hotel at the same time. He went to hear Dorsey; we went to do our show. [Later] we started to walk down Dearborn Street, and we bumped into Brother.

'Where are you going?' we asked him.

'Dorsey's not playing my kind of music. I'm going back to New York.'

Rich wanted to play jazz, and Dorsey's music sounded stodgy to him, but Dorsey had one more ace up his sleeve, perhaps the most important of all: he had hired a new arranger. Sy Oliver had been writing for the Jimmie Lunceford band for many years, and had set the character of one of the most successful of all the black bands. Jazz (and therefore dance music) was being smoothed out from a two-beat to a four-beat music: each bar has four beats in it, but the legacy of New Orleans jazz (or marching-band music) was a strong accent on two and four, while 'modern jazz' and 'bebop' were just around the corner, and rhythm sections were moving towards four equal accents in a bar: indeed, the whole rhythmic nature of popular music would change. (In fact, it split. Rhythm and blues and then rock'n'roll would preserve two-beat by putting even more weight on 2 and 4: a backbeat.)

But Sy Oliver had the knack of writing a two-beat style with an irresistible lilt which was perfect for the transition period of the 1930s and '40s, because it neither intimidated dancers nor offended jazz fans. A good arranger was also effectively a composer, and Oliver had the technical skill to take a dopey tune like 'Organ Grinder's Swing' and turn it into one of Lunceford's biggest hits. Lunceford's was a superb show band, which could do anything any other band could do, but it was a black band, and the cruel fact was that Dorsey could afford to offer Oliver several times what Lunceford was paying him.

Rich certainly knew who Sy Oliver was, and before he left town the next day Dorsey talked him into coming to an afternoon rehearsal to hear a couple of new charts by Oliver. He liked what he heard, Dorsey promised to have some drum features written for him, and Rich joined the Dorsey band on the spot. But if Dorsey could be hard to get along with, he also knew what he was letting himself in for. In 1987, interviewed by Mel Tormé for his marvelous book about Buddy Rich, Sinatra recalled being introduced to Rich: Dorsey said, 'I want you to meet another pain in the ass.'

That's what we were in the band. Between Buddy complaining that the tempos were not quite proper and my saying there weren't enough ballads in the library, we drove the old man crazy. But with all of that, he loved both of us. We really were the pets of the band.

And they were: they got away with murder. They were both young, ambitious, extremely talented and attractive to the opposite sex; they were both arrogant, and lacked the instinctive class of a Harry James. At first they got along like lovers. When Sinatra got on the bus to travel with Dorsey to a one night stand, the seat next to Rich was empty, so he sat there; and the seat you chose on the band bus was your seat forever. Later Sinatra asked somebody, 'How come that seat was empty?' and somebody said, 'Because he's a pain in the ass. Nobody wants to sit with him!' But Rich had already said to Sinatra, 'I like the way you sing.' So they told each other their life stories, and they shared a room on the road. Many years later Rich said that what started the trouble was Sinatra clipping his toenails in bed; what Sinatra remembered was reading in bed, the lamp keeping Rich awake. The truth was that Rich's jazz drums and Sinatra's ballad singing were supremely compatible, but only when Dorsey was laying down the law: at any other time they each wanted to be the star of the band. The fans loved both of them: 'Hawaiian War Chant' had been a popular Dorsey number since 1936, but Rich on his tom-toms and Ziggy Elman on trumpet made it a new showpiece, while one of Oliver's arrangements for Rich was 'Quiet Please' as early as July 1940, and Rich was invited to shine on any number of uptempo items. But it drove him crazy when Sinatra got his name on a poster, and Rich would drive Sinatra crazy by eschewing subtlety and playing 'boom-chick, boom-chick' behind his vocals, or by pushing the tempo. It came to a head in August 1940, backstage in New York's Astor Hotel. Jo Stafford told the famous story:

They were yelling at each other, about what I don't know. I wasn't even listening. Suddenly, out of the side of my eye, I saw Frank pick up one of those pitchers [of ice water] and hurl it at Buddy. It crashed into the wall right over my head. For years after that, when we played the Astor, one of the Pipers, Chuck Lowry, used to write little things around the pieces of glass embedded in the wall.

Then they were going at it with fists and had to be pulled apart, and Dorsey sent Sinatra home, saying 'I can live without a singer tonight, but I need a drummer.' Sinatra had lost face by being sent home; he got even in a way that illustrated the depth and danger in his personality. A few nights later, on his way to work, Rich was jumped and beaten up by two hoodlums, so that that night he sat behind the drums with bruises on him; the incident was written up in down beat in December 1941. Rich thought he knew what had happened, and 18 months later, when Sinatra was leaving Dorsey, he called Sinatra on it. Rich told Mel Tormé that Sinatra admitted to Rich that he had hired a couple of pals from Hoboken to beat him up.

Rich and Sinatra recognised and respected each other's talent; it was just that they were both brats and borderline hoodlums. Rich's parents had been making a living in vaudeville when his talent had suddenly overwhelmed the act; when he was a very small (probably hyperactive) child he dominated their lives and came between his mother and father. Jo Stafford knew him well in those years, yet she knew she did not know him at all:

Buddy liked me. We never had any problems, but there wasn't an obvious humanness, a closeness. We talked to each other along the way, of course, and I could talk a lot about him -- except for really knowing him, the person ... Only way I can explain it -- when he played a long solo -- he played the melody. I knew where he was every minute. But he was remote.

Constantly on the verge of behaving like monsters; compulsive, sometimes cruel practical jokers; few could get close, few could know them; the vulnerability came out only in the music. Rich and Sinatra were too much alike.

Connie Haines had worked freelance for a while after leaving Harry James, and then joined the Dorsey band in April 1940, not long after Sinatra; she had a little-girl voice that was an acquired taste, but she was a popular entertainer with a lot of personality on stage, and Frank resented her. She said many years later that Sinatra, the northen urbanite, thought he was superior to her, a southerner from Savannah. When they sang duets, if Frank was giving her a hard time, she could upstage him: she would make eyes at a guy in the audience, or step away from the mike between choruses and dance a little. Frank would say, 'Do your thing, cornball.' Finally Frank demanded that Tommy fire her, but Dorsey fired Frank instead. For two weeks the band worked with Milburn Stone (who later played Doc on TV's Gunsmoke) until Frank apologized.

Trumpeter Bunny Berigan had failed as a bandleader because he was a poor businessman, and his band recorded too many second-rate pop songs; he rejoined Dorsey, his old boss. Berigan was a serious alcoholic who soon would soon be unable to play his own most famous solos, and he died in June 1942, less than 34 years old. But in early 1940 he was still playing well, and Dorsey loved him, keeping his chair open just as Paul Whiteman had done a decade earlier for Bix Beiderbecke. Other Dorsey sidemen were also among the best in the business: it was with Dorsey that Sinatra met tenor saxist Heinie Beau, for example, who would work with him many times. Nobody was more arrogant than Sinatra, but it is also true that nobody was more willing to learn from people who knew more than he did. And it was Tommy Dorsey himself who was the greatest teacher. Like all the best bandleaders, he was a great talent scout, and he knew that Sinatra was becoming a very fine singer. He could hear that one of the things that set Frank apart was his phrasing, and as an ace horn player he knew that the ability to phrase as one pleased was about legato: the ability to make phrases as long as one wished.

The most talented people, no matter how arrogant they are, are nearly always willing to acknowledge talent in others. Buddy Rich admired Don Lamond and Dave Tough among white drummers, and Chick Webb, Jo Jones and Sid Catlett among the blacks. Sinatra has been generous with his praise over the years for Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Billie Holiday and other singers. As for Dorsey, in 1936 RCA Victor had sold a few 78s by releasing back-to-back recordings of Hoagy Carmichael's 'Star Dust' by Goodman and Dorsey. (Originally it was two words; Kids loved the song, one of the most popular ever written; if they didn't know the name of it, they'd come up to the bandstand and request 'Sometimes I Wonder', from the lyrics by Mitchell Parish.) In 1941 Artie Shaw had come back from temporary retirement, formed a new band and went back to the top of the charts with 'Frenesi', a tune he'd discovered in Mexico; then RCA A&R man Harry Myerson wanted to repeat the 'Star Dust' gimmick, this time with back-to-back versions by Shaw and Dorsey. Dorsey made a fine new recording with a Sinatra vocal, but meanwhile he had heard Shaw's instrumental version, with a superb trombone solo by Jack Jenney, and refused to go on the back of it. Both records were top ten hits in the then-new Billboard chart, but 15 years later, in 1956, just as rock'n'roll was sweeping it all away, Shaw's classic version was voted their all-time favorite record by America's disk jockeys. Dorsey knew a great record when he heard it, even if it was somebody else's.

Dorsey also played trumpet, and some say he played better jazz on that instrument; but as a jazz trombonist, Dorsey (like Glenn Miller) knew that he was hopelessly outclassed by Jack Teagarden, whose Texas style was the ultimate in making the difficult sound easy. At an all-star recording session in early 1939, a record producer wanted Dorsey to play the blues (on an arrangement called 'The Blues'), but he flatly refused, saying 'You've got Jack here.' The classic, gorgeous solution was to introduce the arrangement with Dorsey playing twelve bars of legato melody while Teagarden improvised an obbligato around it. For no one could play a prettier, smoother legato than Tommy Dorsey. Sy Oliver also gave Sinatra pointers, teaching him to allow the beat to carry him along rather than pushing it, as many young singers try to do. Sinatra was also a Billie Holiday fan, photographed at ringside listening to her in clubs ('Bending those notes,' she said later: 'That's all I helped Frankie with.') And Sinatra also heard the long lines he wanted to sing in the violin playing of Jascha Heifitz. But for a singer the horn player's legato was more to the point, and Dorsey was the biggest influence of all.

The technique called circular breathing that some horn players use has to do with closing the epiglottis (the passage to the lungs) and playing the horn using the air in your cheeks while you are drawing air into your lungs through your nose. (I have heard Chico Freeman play exquisitely long lines on a big wooden bass clarinet at Ronnie Scott's in London, appearing not to breathe for what seemed like minutes at a time.) Some writers have assumed that this is what Dorsey did, and that this is what Sinatra learned from him, which is absurd: the sound of singing is the sound of air passing the vocal cords, which are in the larynx, well below the epiglottis; it is impossible to sing and inhale at the same time. In any case, circular breathing was not Dorsey's secret. Sinatra sat on the bandstand and watched Dorsey, trying to figure out when he breathed, and apparently Dorsey could feel the kid's eyes on the back of his jacket: finally he turned around one night and said, 'Haven't you seen it yet?' Then he shared his secret, and Sinatra explained it years later: with the trombone mouthpiece to his lips Dorsey would inhale between phrases through a tiny airhole in one corner of his mouth (Sinatra called it a 'pinhole'). The breaths were so small and short that the listener did not perceive them. This kind of skill takes so much practice, such dedication to craft, that only musicians and athletes can understand it: the rest of us, by comparison, spend our lives bumping into things. And this was one of the most important stages in the development of Frank Sinatra.

Billy May was keeping an eye on all this. A trumpet player and arranger who played with Charlie Barnet in 1939, May first met Sinatra on the West Coast around the time the Palomar ballroom burned down, and later made albums with Sinatra in the 1960s and 1970s. Sinatra was so arrogant, May said, that he was regarded at first by the men in the James band and later in the Dorsey band as a wise guy, but the men soon came around, because Sinatra ultimately had the talent: like other wise guys in the history of music -- Jelly Roll Morton comes to mind, as well as Rich -- Sinatra could back up his mouth with his performance. Before long he had promoted himself to a sort of strawboss, leading the band at rehearsals when Dorsey was late; as a singer he was not playing in the band and could stand in front and beat time. When Dorsey turned up, muttering apologies, Sinatra would give his boss a dirty look. But it was the records that Frank Sinatra made with Tommy Dorsey in 1940-42 that virtually defined that era of pop music, and in retrospect were the beginning of a new era, that of the dominance of the pop singer.

Frank Sinatra recorded about ninety songs with Dorsey between February 1940 and July 1942. A bandleader as successful as Dorsey had his pick of what he wanted to record; first there were the publishers and the song-pluggers to contend with, and the record producers at Victor in those days were underpaid and not averse to pushing a song in exchange for a piece of it, but nobody told Dorsey, Shaw, Goodman or Duke Ellington what to do. Even so, some of the songs have been forgotten, but as I never tire of pointing out, they were all current pop songs, and nobody knew which ones were going to be hits, let alone which would become standards. The remarkable thing is the number of good songs there were.

In February and March 1940 Sinatra recorded thirteen tunes at six recording sessions: 'The Sky Fell Down', 'Moments In The Moonlight', 'The Fable Of The Rose' and several others aren't up to much; 'Yours Is My Heart Alone' is by Franz Lehar, from a 1929 operetta, and sounds it; 'Hear My Song Violetta' was a stiff German import; and the arrangement of 'I'll Be Seeing You', surprisingly, is a bit too bombastic. But already on the first recording session, Sinatra's second side with Dorsey seems to mark something new. 'Too Romantic' (by Johnny Burke and James Monaco) has a nice tune and clever words: 'You know you're much too near and I'm too romantic/ Wouldn't I be a sight on a bended knee!' sends up and celebrates the romantic conventions at once; but it is the way the tune and the words go together that make this sort of craftsmanship work, and Sinatra's sweetness also has a kind of deadpan insouciance. Dorsey was telling Sinatra to listen to Bing Crosby, and how important the words were, as though Sinatra hadn't been listening to Crosby for years; 'Too Romantic' was introduced by Crosby himself in the film Road To Singapore in 1940: if Crosby hadn't noticed Sinatra until then, he must have known when he heard this track that the competition was getting serious. (Crosby later said, 'A singer like Frank Sinatra comes along once in a lifetime. Why did it have to be my lifetime?')

From the second recording session, 'Shake Down The Stars' doesn't quite make it, but it is co-written by one Chester Babcock, who had renamed himself Jimmy Van Heusen, and who would become one of Sinatra's closest friends for many years; in fact, someone said, the only man Sinatra actually wanted to be. From the third session, 'Say It' isn't quite first rate (although it's by Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh), but it is interesting for the way Sinatra delivers the first two words: 'Say it' has to be sung on one note as though it were one word, and there are few singers who could have pulled that off as well as he does. But the other song from that third session is another masterpiece: Burke and Van Heusen had got together and produced 'Polka Dots And Moonbeams', one of the all-time great smoochie/ cabaret songs, another combination of words and melody that works wonderfully well: 'The music started and was I the perplexed one/ I held my breath and said, May I have the next one ...' It's a story song, almost harking back to the Tin Pan Alley of the turn of the century (which everyone still remembered in 1940), yet the way Sinatra both sings the song and tells the story, every pause, accent and phrase exactly right, is indubitably modern, while it is a story we have already heard many times, and can never tire of.

'Too Romantic' (with Johnny Mince's superb clarinet rising out of the ensemble) and 'Polka Dots And Moonbeams' (with a fine tenor solo, probably by Babe Russin) were fairly slow. The arrangement of 'Imagination' (another Burke-Van Heusen song) is a little too busy, although it remained associated with Sinatra. 'East Of The Sun' is a delight, by The Sentimentalists, a nonet from within the band: the tempo here is an amiable lope, and the cool group chants behind Sinatra ('...We'll build a dreamhouse [A righteous pad!] of love, dear [Where you can really lay it on me!] ...') so that the hepcats in the audience could be sentimental without embarrassment. Meanwhile, on 23 April, the band had unsuccessfully recorded one of the slowest hits of all time. One of Jack Leonard's two big mistakes, he said, was that he had not put up with Dorsey's temper just a little longer:

We played the Canadian National Exhibition and I was lying on my bed in the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. My roommate in those days was Carmen Mastren, the guitar player. The telephone rings, and there's this girl on the line who I think is a fan, and she says, 'Hi, is Carmen there? I have a song for him.' We had a lot of girls in those days, and I'm thinking, 'Yeah, right, you have a song for Carmen.' Well, it turns out that she gives Carmen the song, and it's a knockout ... We finally nail Tommy, sit him down and play him the song, and he says, 'Jack, as soon as we get off the road, this song is for you.' It was shortly after that, maybe two or three months, that we wind up in Chicago and I quit. Had I stayed, 'I'll Never Smile Again' would have been mine, not Frank's.

Another story is that it had won a song-writing contest. At any rate, 'I'll Never Smile Again' had been written by pianist Ruth Lowe, a native of Toronto, who played on the radio in Canada and then in the American all-girl band of Ina Ray Hutton; she wrote it supposedly after the death of her husband, though that story seems to have been a piece of press-agentry. The song had been played by Percy Faith on the radio in Canada and a demo made, but there is evidence that Dorsey wasn't all that enthusiastic about it (he allowed Glenn Miller to record it first). It was so slow and so simple, almost lugubrious, that Dorsey's arrangement didn't work, not even with the Pied Pipers backing Sinatra to make a lovely vocal mix. (There were too many ballads anyway to suit Buddy Rich, but he reserved a special depth of dislike for 'I'll Never Smile Again'.) A month later, though, on 23 May, the band tried again, there was a celesta in the studio, and maybe it was on that second attempt that somebody had the bright idea of using pianist Joe Bushkin on the celesta, to introduce and decorate the arrangement. The result was a number one hit in the USA for 12 weeks.

'I'll Never Smile Again' was number one when I was born, and my mother never forgot it. It was probably the record that made her a Sinatra fan; she didn't particularly want to be having a baby at the age of 21, married barely a year, and was fed up with being pregnant by the time I appeared, so the record probably fitted her mood perfectly. 'It was all you heard', she said of the song, and she meant on the radio. But that was during the ASCAP strike, when most current American songs were not being heard on the radio: this is one reason why so many out-of-copyright classical tunes were being fitted with words and recorded by all the dance bands. But if 'I'll Never Smile Again' was first published in Canada, it may have evaded the ban on ASCAP copyrights being played on the radio; or perhaps Dorsey published it himself in the USA through a BMI company, and maybe that's why he recorded it. In any case, it went a long way to make Sinatra nationally famous. In those days the vocalists often didn't even get their names on the record labels, but by now everybody knew what the kid from Hoboken sounded like, his name began to become common currency, and it is also clear in retrospect that he was reaching his first maturity as an artist.

Good as Harry James's first band was, Tommy Dorsey's was the best in the business when it came to presenting the ordinary pop songs of the era. Some of Glenn Miller's hits sound dreadfully lumpy today, and listening to a large number of the Dorsey/Sinatra tracks in chronological order is not something one would often do: who wants to hear 'The Call Of The Canyon' again? But on the bandstand Dorsey would have known how to call the tunes, varying the fare, and even in a straight Sinatra compilation, it is remarkable what good popular music this was: there is no editing here, no electronic gimmicks; these people played these arrangements every night on the bandstand, so that playing them in the recording studio was a piece of cake. Those of us who were jazz fans, growing up in the 1940s and 1950s and pawing through stacks of old 78s, discovered Dorsey's hits of the 1930s: Irving Berlin's 'Marie', with its straight, sweet, innocently swinging vocal by Jack Leonard, and the band chanting hip paraphrases behind him; 'Song Of India' from Rimsky-Korsakoff, 'Boogie Woogie' from Pinetop Smith, 'Hawaiian War Chant' from heaven knows where: all with famous hot solos by Bunny Berigan and Bud Freeman. But in the 1940s the nation and the record business were recovering at last from the Depression, and much of the music was for dancers, or for sweethearts holding hands, or wishing they had someone to hold hands with; and what keeps most of these sides from the early 1940s from palling is that the arrangements are clever, and the band is always swinging. It is very difficult to swing at the slowest tempi (Al Klink, Glenn Miller's tenor saxophonist, said years later, 'We were too scared to swing'), but the pulse of the Dorsey band never plodded.

There was often a two-beat feeling on ballads, and on 'Where Do You Keep Your Heart', for example, when Sinatra's vocal is over and the band is taking it out, Rich's emphasis on the backbeat reminds us that rock'n'roll is just around the corner. (Rich would not like us making that connection, but it was his double bass-drum set-up that helped Oliver's two-beat feeling to work so well; and the band was seeing to it that both romantics and dancers were served before the record was over: the song itself was one of the dumber ones.) 'Whispering' (with the Pipers) revives a 20-year-old song and gives it a fully modern (and very hip) four-beat treatment; then on 'Trade Winds' we are firmly back in two-beat territory: this has romantically inane words, but both the arrangement and Sinatra's navigation of the unusual tune are noteworthy, and it is fully Sinatra's vehicle; he sings it right to the end so that there's nothing left to take out (it was a top ten hit, and sent up in a Warner Brothers cartoon). 'The One I Love (Belongs To Somebody Else)' is a Sy Oliver masterpiece. Dorsey had recorded an older arrangement of the tune with Jack Leonard in '38, but the '40 version was a bigger hit, and remained associated with Sinatra; the band has a ball with Oliver's chart for fully two minutes before he gets a chance to sing it, backed by the Pipers.

Nearly all the tunes are introduced by Dorsey's unmistakeable trombone, either open or muted; but the main thing is that the band's beat never failed to lilt. The quality of the arrangements and the playing of the band, especially the rhythm section, beats Glenn Miller for sweetness with integrity, even if half the songs are forgettable. There are ironies here: these are mostly sentimental and romantic ballads, yet wise-guy Buddy Rich as the backbone of the rhythm section deserves much of the credit (along with Weiss on bass), while Dorsey, billed as 'The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing', was usually about as sentimental as Attila the Hun. It is hard to remember that before the Second World War even the most hard-boiled were still trying to believe in the possibility of living happily ever after. And who was more hard-boiled than Mr Sinatra himself? '(I found your lips tonight but) Where Do You Keep Your Heart' indeed: he could sing a song like that and almost make us believe it over fifty years later, because he believed it. 'I could make you care/ If only you'd let me/ I could make you care/ You'd never forget me': the very pretty arrangement does not even state the tune, it is left to Sinatra to come along with the unadorned melody, serving it up like a gem in a perfect setting; and as for the lyrics, how many yearning lovers have not wallowed in just such self-serving tautology? (And maybe they still do, only nowadays they're not supposed to admit it.) Sinatra was revealing something in his music that he could not reveal in any other way, and his audience was beginning to respond in a way that would soon make headlines and inaugurate a new era in popular music.

In November, while 'I'll Never Smile Again' was still selling, the new recording of 'Star Dust' completed the Dorsey-Sinatra recordings for 1940, the arrangement introduced by Bushkin on the celesta to remind the fans of one of their favorite records of the year; and if Shaw's version of 'Star Dust' was still the deejays' favorite record 15 years later, the version with Dorsey, Sinatra and the Pied Pipers was also in their top 30 all-time favorites. (His pronounciation of 'inspeeration' had mellowed somewhat.) The great records continued in the new year: on 6 January 1941, 'Oh, Look At Me Now' was a duet with Connie Haines, backed by the Pied Pipers, and one of the biggest hits in the country for several weeks (Haines sang better on the other side, because she was allowed to sing lower; it was another duet called 'You Might Have Belonged To Another', a lesser song). 'You Lucky People You' and 'It's Always You' are both by Burke and Van Heusen, the former nicely upbeat, and if they are not masterpieces, they're not bad either; that team was almost incapable of writing a clinker. 'I Tried' is so-so; 'Dolores', co-written by Frank Loesser, was a huge hit, and it's hard to dislike, but all these years later the song and its treatment seem to touch too many bases: the melody memorable on purpose, the Pipers humming too much all the way through it.

At his third recording session of the new year came an unusual Dorsey record, featuring two of his vocalists in the way they deserved, and to heck with commercial considerations. Dorsey was too good a musician not to notice how good a singer Jo Stafford was; the reference books all say that her first solo was on another tune the following month, but on 20 January 1941 Dorsey made two 12" sides featuring Jo on one and Frank on the other, reaching back a decade for two fine songs. He recorded Jo on 'For You', by Al Dubin and Joe Burke, a song already well known in a version by Kenny Sargent with the Casa Loma Band; and Sinatra on Vincent Youmans' 'Without A Song'. Oliver's arrangement, Dorsey's trombone and Sinatra's singing made a memorable record, nearly four and a half minutes long, at a medium tempo which, given one of Oliver's best two-beat treatments, is neither fast nor slow, but timeless. Dorsey just plays the melody in Oliver's setting, except for an occasional jazz accent, as though the spirit of hope behind the song is trying to burst out; then the vocal starts halfway through, introduced by a celesta. Sinatra sings lower than usual and does a fine job, when suddenly, twice, on the words 'I'll never know', he tweaks the tune or bends a note, and puts the cap on the whole thing: it is a great and still a legendary piece of pop music. The record was not much of a hit at the time, because 12" 78s did not sell well in the pop market (and they weren't found on juke boxes either); but in those days records stayed in print and could do well in the long run, because people liked them: the accountants at the record companies took orders instead of giving them.

And at the next recording session something even better happened. Four tunes were recorded, the two Sinatras both being hits. 'Do I Worry?' is an okay ballad, but the record reminds us that it wasn't Sinatra singing 'do be do be do' in those days. The Pipers did all that doo de dooing and humming better than anybody else, but perhaps sometimes it was overdone. This had Jo's solo on the other side on a song called 'Little Man With A Candy Cigar', and a vehicle for the Pipers called 'Watcha Know, Joe?' was backed by a Sinatra solo on one of the best records he ever made, 'Everything Happens To Me'. Matt Dennis was nearly two years older than Sinatra, working for Dorsey and his publishing company; he had written the music for 'Little Man', which remained obscure, but he also worked with lyricists such as Bob Russell, Sammy Cahn and his partner on 'Everything', Tom Adair. As for Sinatra, he was an emotional mess. It was a 25-year-old with a lot of unsatisfied longings who recorded 'Everything Happens To Me', one of those perfect marriages of words, music, arrangement and singer.

His first child, his beloved daughter Nancy, had been born in June of the previous year (Dorsey was Little Nancy's godfather), and his marriage would last most of the decade, but he was never really husband material. There were always plenty of women, but sex could satisfy his longings only temporarily. He was hitting the big time at last; in May 1941 Billboard named him top male band singer, and by the end of the year he had pushed Crosby out of the top spot in the down beat poll. But it was still somebody else's name on the record label: he had become the Dorsey band's biggest asset, and Dorsey was aware of it. There were whispers that Jimmy Dorsey's Bob Eberly (a much better singer than his brother, Glenn Miller's Ray Eberle) was thinking about going solo. There were still virtually no other solo singing stars, certainly none of Bing Crosby's stature, but there were scads of good young boy singers coming up: Eddy Howard would leave Dick Jurgens to lead his own band in 1940; Jack Leonard had gone solo (he turned down an offer from Glenn Miller, another mistake upon leaving Dorsey); Dick Haymes was clearly going to be good enough sooner or later, and Perry Como with Ted Weems had been tugging earlobes for some time. Crosby had been around for nearly a decade, his crown was going to be up for grabs, and Sinatra wanted to be one of the first contenders. He knew that Dorsey hated people to quit, so he began preparing his ground. He didn't know how he was going to get out of his contract, but it was customary to give two weeks' or a month's notice for an ordinary sideman. So in September 1941 he gave Dorsey a year's notice. Dorsey ignored him.

Sinatra already had an entourage: Nick Sevano was a pal from Hoboken who had started by helping Sinatra pick out his clothes; Hank Sanicola was a pianist turned bodyguard, and the one person who didn't take any nonsense from Sinatra (or anybody else). Both would be shed when the time came, but meanwhile they were the ones who made excuses to Nancy when her husband didn't come home. He couldn't get along with Buddy Rich or Connie Haines because he perceived them as lacking class, while he himself hardly knew which fork to use, and still had a deeply unfashionable New Jersey accent when he wasn't singing; but while his entourage thought he was crazy to want to go solo, for all his problems and shortcomings his absolute confidence in his talent swept everyone along. The fact was that the kid electrified audiences, and even Dorsey was astonished by it. Somebody described him as looking like a debauched faun, but girls were actually starting to swoon, and Dorsey was so amazed at first, standing on the bandstand with his horn, that he would almost forget to take his solo. The band was amused: as a prank they would take their horns out of their mouths and make an 'Oooohhhh!' sound. 'Remember,' said Dorsey, 'he was no matinee idol. He was a skinny kid with big ears. And yet what he did to women was something awful.' But for all Sinatra's confidence and success, he still wanted to know: When will it be my name on the record label?

While I have been writing this, my wife came into the room and sat down while 'Everything Happens To Me' was playing. When it was over, she sighed and said, 'My father really loved that record.' In April 1941, when it hit the USA top ten, her beloved father was an ordinary young fellow from Milwaukee, not quite 25 years old, tall, not bad looking, still single and attending business college. He loved baseball and big band jazz, and he was probably wondering what would become of him. There aren't that many jobs going, the world is plunging into war, and who wants to go to the movies with me? And what he heard on the radio in 1941 was a mere four bars of intro -- Black cats creep across my path until I'm almost mad/ I must have roused the Devil's wrath, 'cause all my luck is bad -- and then:

I make a date for golf, and you can bet your life it rains.
I try to give a party, but the guy upstairs complains.
I guess I'll go through life just catchin' colds and missing trains;
Ev'rything happens to me.

I never miss a thing, I've had the measles and the mumps.
And every time I play an ace my partner always trumps.
I guess I'm just a fool who never looks before he jumps;
Ev'rything happens to me.

At first my heart thought you could break this jinx for me,
That love would turn the trick to end despair.
But now I just can't fool this head that thinks for me,
So I've mortgaged all my castles in the air.

I've telegraphed and phoned, sent an airmail special too;
Your answer was goodbye, there was even postage due.
I fell in love just once and then it had to be with you.
Ev'rything happens to me.

I've never drawn a sweepstake or a bank night at a show,
I thought perhaps this time I'd won, but Lady Luck said no.
And though it breaks my heart, I'm not surprised to see you go:
Ev'rything happens to me.

The words, now, are sweetly anachronistic. Nobody telegraphs anymore. A 'show' was a cinema in the USA, as in 'Let's go to the show': during the Depression they gave away dishes at the movie theatre, and on bank night a small amount of cash, anything to get people to come. But the craft is in the way the words fall. The arrangement is by Axel Stordahl, but with the Dorsey band's very best two-beat treatment. Sinatra is backed by a lovely woodwind choir, muted brass gently commenting at the end of each line; the two-beat lilt at the perfect slow tempo has three or four syllables jammed into the first half of each bar, but only one or two in the next: 'make a date/ golf', 'bet your life/ rains', 'try to give/ party', 'guy upstairs/ 'plains'; thus the singer's resignation is reinforced by a sort of shuffle beat. This is a young man's song, full of yearning and loneliness, but with a touch of humor too: maybe things will get better. And Sinatra's long lines come into play here: you don't notice where he breathes, and you don't care. Bing Crosby never made a record with which a 25-year-old man, standing around on a street corner on a Saturday night with his hands in his pockets, could have identified this much: during his free time Sinatra was a wise guy, but when he was singing a song like this, the song became more important than he was, and the result was that he became the hero of his generation. He knew, he understood. He yearned.

It was now that the running and swimming Sinatra had done when he was younger began to pay off: he weighed only 125 pounds when he was 22 years old (according to that 1938 brush with the law) and wanted to build himself up, but the lung power was more important than he could have imagined, for what he did with a song that made him different from his competitors depended on being able to sing eight bars or more without a break. You can't express the ideas in the lines if you have to break them into bits, turning them into a nursery rhyme; nor can you take proper advantage of word-groupings such as those described above if you have to interrupt to take breaths. Indeed, the whole Dorsey band played in this seamless way on every arrangement, which is what made it one of the best. Alto saxist Arthur 'Skeets' Herfurt had left Dorsey before Sinatra joined the band, but would work with Sinatra in the future; he remembered that Dorsey would sometimes make the band play a whole page of an arrangement without drawing a breath, and named Dorsey as his teacher, as Sinatra did.

Dorsey also helped Sinatra to develop his knack for finding the right songs. There weren't any more by Burke and Van Heusen for a while (they were in demand elsewhere: Crosby soon hit with their Oscar-winning 'Swinging On A Star'). But Dennis and Adair were employed by Dorsey, who was building up his publishing portfolio, and they didn't stop with 'Everything Happens To Me'; they were on a roll. The very next Sinatra record was their 'Let's Get Away From It All', a two-sided 78, the first side featuring Jo and the Pipers, the second adding Haines and Sinatra (and the song itself perhaps the first in a Sinatra genre: later he would travel with 'South Of The Border', 'It Happened In Monterey', 'Come Fly With Me'.) They followed up with 'Violets For Your Furs' (arranged by Heinie Beau) and 'The Night We Called It A Day', four songs permanently in the Sinatra canon.

It is almost a relief to report that not all the songs recorded by Dorsey and Sinatra in 1941-2 were masterpieces; showbiz can't be all free beer and pretzels. 'Free For All' was also by Dennis and Adair, a strange bit of quasi-patriotic optimism with a march tempo sounding like it was intended for a war-bond rally, but several months before Pearl Harbor. Taking the cake, though, speaking of Hawaii, is 'Neiani', copyrighted by Dorsey's two arrangers, Oliver and Axel Stordahl: it is the obligatory Hawaiian song. Ever since the 1920s there have been periodic Hawaiian fads in American popular culture; country music's steel guitar came from the Hawaiian fretless guitar, played in the lap. (I suppose 'Hawaiian War Chant' has to be counted in this genre, being co-written by a Hawaiian prince, but Dorsey had turned it into instrumental big-band jazz.) 'Neiani' was one of the goopier examples of Hawaiian kitsch, and another example of the 'unlucky mulatto' genre ('I found her in Hawaii, my Neiani;' 'I left her in Hawaii...') 'Free For All' and 'Neiani' are almost the only two of all these tunes for which alternative takes have survived; maybe they had to be attacked twice because nobody really liked them. Buddy Rich must have hated them.

A nice version of Irving Berlin's 'Blue Skies' had a straight Sinatra vocal and the band being wise guys in the background; 'You And I' and 'Two In Love' were not bad songs, the former the theme song of a popular radio program, both written by Meredith Willson, who went on 16 years later to write the Broadway hit Music Man; and there were a few other fairly useless ballads ('I Think Of You' had a nice arrangement; the tune was borrowed from Rachmaninoff and recycled a few years later as 'Full Moon And Empty Arms'.) But a marvelous new film song by Ralph Freed and Burton Lane, 'How About You', rounded out 1941: the performance is curiously straight; it was a song for a more mature man, and Sinatra would make more of it in the future.

The new year of 1942 began with the next chapter in the struggle to make Sinatra as famous as he wanted to be: his own first recording session. The band had made a film in 1941, Las Vegas Nights, with one song by Sinatra, and went on to the more elaborate Ship Ahoy! in 1942, which was shot in color, had two songs by Sinatra and a famous, clever sequence with Buddy Rich and Eleanor Powell dancing together. Hollywood had a powerful effect on both Rich and Sinatra: Rich got a crush on Lana Turner that he didn't get over for years (she apparently ate several men for breakfast every day), while Sinatra realized that as long as he was going to be the biggest singing star in the world, he may as well be a movie star too, and that he would much prefer living in California to New Jersey. He had never been faithful to Nancy, but during the making of the first film he fell for a blonde starlet and virtually lived with her, perhaps realising for the first time that his marriage could not last. Meanwhile, he kept reminding Dorsey that he wanted to leave, and he was so nervous and worried about his career and about things in general that he actually consulted doctors: skinny ever since a childhood bout with appendicitis, now he was actually losing weight.

As powerful as Dorsey was in the music business, the audience reaction to Sinatra on the bandstand, on record, on the radio and in the film meant that the entertainment business was starting to wonder what the skinny kid might be worth by himself. Manie Sacks at Columbia Records was interested, and Sinatra knew he could have a recording contract with a major label when the time came. Meanwhile, after a lot of lobbying, Dorsey reluctantly agreed to allow Sinatra to make some solo records. Some say that Dorsey saw to it that the Sinatra's first records under his own name came out on Bluebird, RCA's budget label, rather than full-price Victor, just to remind Sinatra who was boss, but that is probably nonsense; one of the biggest acts in the music business at the time was the Glenn Miller band, which had had dozens of hits in 1939-42 on Bluebird before switching to Victor. Miller's attitude was probably that the kids he was trying to reach would be able to buy more of his records at 35 cents each than at 75 cents; Sinatra's first solo efforts too would probably sell more copies on Bluebird.

At any rate, a recording session of January 1942, in Hollywood, used some of Dorsey's men augmented with woodwinds, strings and even a harp, on four tunes arranged and conducted by Axel Stordahl, and a change in the direction of Sinatra's career was evident. Stordhal, two years older than Sinatra and a Dorsey arranger for six or seven years, relished arranging for a full orchestra rather than a dance band; both Stordahl and Sinatra worked hard and rehearsed like demons, and the records were very good of their kind. Indeed, even the recording balance is impressive. What Stordahl produced is what has been called the 'rustle of spring' school of accompanying singers. The tunes were 'The Lamplighter's Serenade', 'The Night We Called It A Day', 'The Song Is You', and 'Night And Day'. 'Lamplighter', co-written by Hoagy Carmichael, was being recorded by everybody, but it is hard now to hear why; the other three, by Dennis and Adair, Kern and Hammerstein and Cole Porter respectively, were better songs and remained associated with Sinatra, but as with 'How About You' from the previous month, he would make more of them when he had more confidence, and when he could free himself of the cossetting of the arranger and the studio. Of the four sides, 'Night And Day' was the biggest hit at the time; it was probably the equivalent of a top 20 hit, but it is fun to speculate that certain music business interests (such as Dorsey) were able to use their influence to keep it off the Billboard chart. Sinatra's head was big enough as it was; at any rate, he was as pleased as a child with his work.

He also knew what he was doing. However he may have behaved elsewhere, in the recording studio he was in complete control of himself and everything else, and he was also utterly fair and even-handed with musicians, so long as they gave him the best they could. Harry Myerson was the RCA A&R man for the four sides of January 1942, and said later, 'Popularity didn't really change Sinatra. On the first date he stood his ground and displayed no humility, phoney or real.' The music was the most important thing, the acting or interpretation went into the music, and no other exercise of personality was necessary, or even possible. For that matter, with Sinatra what you saw was what you got: as difficult as he could be, there was never really any 'face' to him. If he was sore at you, you had no doubt about it; it was not going on behind your back, and the best thing you could do was stand up to him. And it was in the recording studio, from the earliest days, that the complete professionalism of which he was capable was manifest.

While everything Sy Oliver did had a jazz feeling, Axel Stordahl was not a jazzman at all, and on the four sides of January 1942 an important aspect of Sinatra's emerging style was kept tightly wrapped: namely the jazz content. Perhaps this is as good a place as any to deal with the question of whether or not Sinatra was a jazz singer. In my opinion, at his best he might have deserved to be called a jazz singer. What made 'Everything Happens To Me' and quite a few others such great records is the feeling that he is making up the words as he goes along, that you don't know what he is going to say next; he is interpreting the song according to his own feelings and to the need of the moment, rather than singing it as written, which is one of the essences of jazz. Yet Sinatra was not improvising. His passion was of a different kind, and his control over himself as an artist was too absolute to allow him to be a jazz singer. It is a paradox in Sinatra, the man for whom 'Anything Goes', that there was an element that could not let go; and the resulting tension is one of the things that made him a great interpreter. Finally, if there has to be a demarcation, we have to allow him a category of his own. He was the greatest of jazz-influenced pop singers. As Gene Lees put it, he made things difficult for other singers: after Sinatra, if you sounded like him you were imitating, but if you didn't, it sounded like you were doing it wrong.

The fact that throughout his subsequent career he probably sang a song the same way many, many times is not important; this had to be expected if a tune was to be performed hundreds or thousands of times. This is one of the things that Artie Shaw found maddening: he didn't want to play his hits over and over, while other leaders insisted that their men play the same solos on the bandstand that they played on the records; many of the fans, listening to the records over and over again, had memorized the solos and had no idea they were supposed to be improvised. Jazz, in Whitney Balliett's famous phrase, is the sound of surprise, but the improvised solo doesn't always work, and chance-taking is seen as antithetical to commercial success: the product has to be reliable. That is why the jazz element began to be superceded in the popular music of the 1940s, and it is also why fans of Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, many of them, don't want their favorites to be labelled 'jazz' artists. During the 1940s the record industry was finally recovering from the Depression (the gold record gimmick for a million-seller was invented in 1941), and jazz soon became a dirty word in the marketplace, which is partly why rock'n'roll was later invented, in an attempt to restore an illusion of risk.

Meanwhile, in 1942 a great many of Sinatra's fans were putting on uniforms. The whole world was in a holding pattern, and nothing would ever be the same again. Sinatra recorded 15 more tunes with Dorsey between February and July, and somehow one is not surprised that the earlier peaks were not matched. 'Snootie Little Cutie' should have been fun, written by Bobby Troup, who was on Dorsey's staff that year (and who would later write 'The Girl Can't Help It' for Little Richard). 'Snootie' is a duet loaded with period slang: Connie Haines was the 'dapper little flapper', Sinatra the 'mellow little fellow', but they sound bored, and when he sings 'You're a vain little Jane, but you're sweet,' you can almost hear his clenched teeth. 'I'll Take Tallulah' was a production number from Ship Ahoy which may have worked on screen, but Dorsey's version on record was a dreadful noisy thing, though something of a novelty hit at the time.

There were also some more-or-less dreary ballads, and then in May a wrong turn: Dorsey added a string section to his band. Harry James, Artie Shaw and a few others had done it; Dorsey didn't want to be seen to be left behind, and he had Stordahl to write for the strings, and strings were often seen as lending class to the act, however inappropriate to this or that context. Most if not all of the 1942 Dorsey arrangements for Sinatra seem to be by Stordahl rather than Oliver, and Stordahl knew better than some what to do with strings, but now he wasn't writing to suit himself and Sinatra, but to suit Dorsey. A few of the songs -- 'It Started All Over Again', 'There Are Such Things', 'Be Careful It's My Heart' -- aren't bad ones, but they turn to treacle. (Perhaps Dorsey's true attitude to strings was revealed a few years later, in 1946, when he asked Nelson Riddle not to give them so much music to play. 'Frankly, they're only a tax dodge,' he added.) And then, in August 1942, Frank Sinatra got his way and left the Dorsey band.

This immediately raised the problem of how he could afford to live like the star he was rapidly becoming. Sinatra always spent money like water anyway, and now he was effectively becoming self-employed and would have no regular income, at a time when he wanted to move to the West Coast and buy a new house for his family. He wanted Stordahl to come with him as his music director, so he offered Stordahl several times as much as Dorsey had been paying him, which must have angered Dorsey still more. If he had a standard three-year contract with Dorsey, it only had a few more months to run, but he he was in such a hurry that he signed with General Amusement Corporation (GAC), a booking agency, and for an advance of $17,000 from Dorsey signed an agreement with him that gave Dorsey a third of his gross earnings over $100 a week for ten years, as well as 10% to Dorsey's personal manager as a finder's fee for bringing Frank to Columbia Records. His last appearance with Dorsey was in September, and within a year he was refusing to honor the agreement.

It was with Dorsey's band, his arrangements and his booking agency that Sinatra had achieved national fame, but now he whined to the newspapers about the agreement he had been in a hurry to sign, and Dorsey began to look like the bad guy. There had to be another settlement, and there has been gossip ever since that gangster pressure on Dorsey was involved. Dorsey's own booking agency, Music Corporation of America (MCA), wanted Sinatra, and some fans were picketing Dorsey's band, and Dorsey had to to sue Sinatra to get some of the money he legally had coming. Another factor was that the American Federation of Radio Artists gave permission for bands like Dorsey's to do 'remote' broadcasts from ballrooms without extra payment: remember that radio programs without sponsors were called sustaining programs, and AFRA's lawyer (also Sinatra's lawyer) was threatening to prevent Dorsey from doing 'sustaining remotes', which were valuable publicity. A new settlement was in everybody's best interests. In August 1943, Dorsey accepted $60,000 from MCA, which came out of Sinatra's earnings, some of it an advance from MCA and some from Columbia, an advance on his record royalties. In addition, MCA agreed to split its commission on his income with GAC for five years. Dorsey was said to have been pleased with the deal, until he realized he should have taken less cash and a percentage: it was not long before Sinatra was making a great deal of money.

Dorsey and Sinatra were both the kind of men who did not want to be seen to be bested. They had respect for each other's talent, and in fact they subsequently worked together; but when they were in the mood they could snarl at the memory of the battle of the lawyers. Sinatra always resented having to sign a bad deal to get out of Dorsey's clutches, and then having to depend on lawyers to get him out of the deal; saying something nice about Harry James, he would be reminded of Dorsey and become angry all over again. For Dorsey, to a large extent it was just business; he claimed that he had demanded a bad deal from Sinatra because he didn't want him to leave, and didn't think he would go for it. Asked what he thought of Sinatra, Dorsey once said, 'He's the most fascinating man in the world, but don't stick your hand in the cage.'

It was Dorsey himself, no doubt in a mischievous mood, who perpetuated some of the gangster nonsense in an article in American Mercury magazine in 1951, in which he claimed to have been visited by tough guys. (That magazine had been a favorite of American intellectuals in the 1920s and '30s, but by the 1950s had fallen on hard times and was read by the paranoid anti-Communist right, who disliked Sinatra.) In August 1956, Sinatra sang with the Dorsey band at the Paramount theatre in New York City (on the screen was the latest Sinatra movie), and Dorsey told the band, 'I showed him all his shit. Everything he does, he got from me.' That claim was not unjustified. The kid who didn't even graduate from high school had learned about more than music from Dorsey: he'd learned about business, and about promoting himself and his work. Dorsey had perhaps been a more useful father figure than Marty Sinatra was, and Sinatra admitted that Dorsey had been like a father to him, but he had grown up to be the kind of man who resented anybody who looked like a father figure. It is an irony that his tendency toward irascibility and a quick temper may have been confirmed by Dorsey as well, as if he were not already arrogant enough.

But at last, from the autumn of 1942, not yet 27 years old, Sinatra was a star, and his own boss. (Once again, before he left the band, he introduced Dick Haymes, who was following in his footsteps.) As with the so-called American century, even greater triumphs lay ahead, and even more trouble.

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