I discovered Frank Sinatra and singers of his ilk in the fall of 1996. Unfortunately, in May of ’98, Sinatra passed away. It was then that I ratcheted up my perusal of his catalogue, adding titles to my collection after researching his releases. I remember I was in the Columbia House CD club and – say what you will about that set up – here I found their monthly catalogue in my hands and FS was featured. I could check out what they had for sale and start buying. One I “took a chance on” was 1967’s Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim.
I say “took a chance” because this bossa nova album seemed to stand out from the bulk of his other releases and I had a low opinion of this music I didn’t know anything about. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I used to be dumb. Growing up a rock ‘n’ roller (“The so-called “Fifties” didn’t even start until ’56 with Elvis Presley!”) I had an uninformed and close-minded opinion of different types of music. I used to rail against hip-hop and dance music when I was a teenager while in my head I knew I couldn’t deny I was “getting something” from this music with the infectious beat. Stupidly, music I didn’t understand was looked at askance by me. I distinctly remember reading a review of a new album from Sean Lennon – looking back, it may have been when he was in a group called Cibo Matto. Their January 1997 release Super Relax featured Jobim’s “Águas de Março”. Anyways, the review said that Lennon and Co. were experimenting with many different types of music, bossa nova being one of them. I scoffed. Mostly because this all sounded wacky when compared to Steve Miller and anything Lennon dabbled in must be lame.
Gosh, it was hard to write that! I’m baring my soul and admitting my shortcomings – which shows how much I love you people. When the FAS/ACJ came in the mail, I played it and soon realized this was like nothing I had ever heard. Exploring Sinatra’s catalogue can be a challenge for the neophyte. I remember friends asking me what to buy to start their Sinatra collections and I wasn’t sure what to tell them. His catalogue is not easily consumed or even understood. I had no idea when I started buying Frank that there had always been a separation between his album releases and his singles and that most of his albums are either torch albums or swingin’ albums. One of the first Sinatra albums I bought was No One Cares and when I listened to it I wondered where the ring a-ding ding! was – this album was depressing!
So early on I owned No One Cares and FAS/ACJ. What gives? I wondered. And then the album we’re talking about today slowly began to assimilate itself into my life, my psyche, my being until it almost totally altered my personal perception of all things. This album was my introduction to Jobim and bossa nova. When I began to explore the man Frank called “Tone” and the Brazilian music he did much to popularize I made a startling revelation; I absolutely loved bossa nova. As a teenager, I had been captivated by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys – I still am today. Their music served as an escape for me. Even when they weren’t singing about “fun in the sun”, their sound took me away to a warm place. As I began exploring bossa nova, I realized that it was an extension of surf music; a mature version of surf music. As a young man, I swung in a hammock in my mind to “The Warmth of the Sun”. As an older adult, I swayed to the same breeze but instead it was “Corcovado”. But enough about me.
By the time Frank Sinatra got to bossa nova, the craze had diminished somewhat in the US. Almost all of the essential bossa nova records had been released in 1962 and 1963. But Sinatra was generally not one to follow trends and he was ready to cut an album with Jobim in December of ’66. “Tom” – as everyone called Jobim – was in Rio relaxing in the Veloso Bar when the phone rang. It was Sinatra. Jobim wasn’t terribly surprised, though; since 1964, it was well known in Brazilian music circles that Frank wanted to record a bossa nova record. It was also known that FS considered bossa nova and Antônio Carlos Jobim to be one and the same; Frank would make his bossa record with no other artist. Sinatra asked Jobim if he’d be interested and Jobim said he’d be honoured. Sinatra suggested as an arranger the German Claus Ogerman who had scored Jobim’s debut record. Sinatra also suggested that Jobim play guitar on the record. Jobim paused; he was a pianist and was growing tired of the stereotype of the latin guitarrista but he of course agreed.Lesley Gore’s recordings and would later apply his velvet touch to Canadian Diana Krall’s superb The Look of Love album) Once Claus and Tom were done, they sat waiting for Frank to return to LA. Tom wrote letters home jokingly describing his lonely vigil, waiting to be summoned to the studio. On January 25 – Jobim’s 45th birthday – he received a call from producer Sonny Burke announcing that recording would begin on January 30.
The album would feature 7 Jobim originals and three standards that would lend themselves well to the bossa beat. Frank arrived early for the first session; a sign of respect for the project. He started by warming up, using the American songs to get the feel that he would use for the rest of the record. Frank had told Tone that he would be gentle with his songs, saying he would restrain himself so as to not rob the songs of their subtlety. Indeed, Sinatra – having just turned 51 – had never sang so gently before and would not again. The gentleness was described ably in the liner notes written by the venerable Stan Cornyn. In flowery prose, Cornyn made much of the softness of the atmosphere, quoting Sinatra using a phrase that was much quoted thereafter; “I haven’t sung so soft since I had the laryngitis”. Cornyn said the music was “tender like a 2-day Rio sunburn. Slap one of (Jobim’s) songs on the back with a couple of trumpets? Like washing crystal in a cement mixer”. Stan stated that FS and AJ were trying to “out hush each other” adding that this certainly was “not ring a-ding ding”.
There are ten songs on Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim. The album clocks in at a mere 28 minutes and 5 seconds but it is the most wondrous half hour you will spend with any one record. I think it’s the greatest short album ever made.
“The Girl From Ipanema” — The 1964 single of this song from Stan Getz, João Gilberto and Astrud Gilberto was a worldwide hit and a Grammy winner. The English lyrics for this and many other bossa nova songs were written by Oscar winner Norman Gimbel. From the outset, we hear Tone’s lovely guitar and we’re introduced to Dick Noel’s subdued trombone; both will thrill us over the next half-hour. Woodwinds caress our ears, trilling like birds, the strings like a blanket of bliss. Antônio provides a verse in Portugese, validating these proceedings. This is the only tune that could have started this record. “Tall, tan, young, lovely…” and Frank’s last accentuated “smile…”.
“Dindi” — Jobim had written this song for Brazilian singer Sylvia Telles who was killed in a car wreck shortly after recording it. English lyrics by Ray Gilbert who wrote the lyrics for the Oscar-winning “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”. Gilbert worked with many Brazilian composers and his thorough and somewhat dubious business practices made him a fortune. “Dindi” opens so gently you can barely hear it. The orchestra comes in like the wind when Frank sings of it and then he breathes “oh, Dindi”. I’m dying. At the end, the strings answer Frank with four sweeping notes. Ed O’Brien and Robert Wilson in their book Sinatra 101: The 101 Best Recordings and the Stories Behind Them describe this song as “one of the most exquisite things ever to come out of American popular music”.
“Change Partners” — Written by Irving Berlin in 1938 and one of the many standards introduced by Fred Astaire. This tune begins jauntily compared to the previous. The flutes bounce nicely among gentle percussion. Frank again sings with flawless soft inflection; “YOU’VE been locked IN his arms…” And at the end, the flutes and piano bounce back out.
“Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)” — “Corcovado” – the name of a mountain in Rio de Janeiro – was written by Jobim in 1960 and has become a jazz standard. The English lyrics come courtesy of Canadian Gene Lees who translated many bossa nova songs from the Portugese and also co-wrote Henry Mancini’s autobiography. This may be the greatest of all of Jobim’s songs and Frank does it justice. His breath control is stunning especially for a man of his age. Listen to how he strings lines together. “…have found with you…the meaning of existence…”
“Meditation (Meditação) — Another bossa nova standard, this tune has been recorded by everyone from Doris Day to Cal Tjader. Here, drummer Irv Cottler employs his brushes well. The swelling of “Yes, I love you so…..” and using two notes to sing the “I” in “I will wait for you…” FS and AJ close the tune together – Frank breathing quietly, matching Tone’s muted guitar.
“If You Never Come to Me (Inútil Paisagem)” — Another lovely song that has received countless treatments, this beautiful tune is featured in one of my favourite movies, Bossa Nova (2000). Here, the out-of-place phrase “winter snow” is followed by a couple of nice piano tinkles courtesy of Frank’s longtime accompanist Bill Miller who tinkles again after “if you never come to me…” The trombone and reeds answer Frank’s “it’s nothing” and then follows a lovely flute solo.
“How Insensitive (Insensatez)” — Speaking of the film Bossa Nova, that soundtrack contains an absolutely gorgeous version of this song by Jobim with Sting. It has also been recorded by Iggy Pop and William Shatner, Megan Mullally and the Monkees and countless others. The song ascends to perfection at “now she’s gone away…” The music swells nicely at the last line.
“I Concentrate on You” — A staple of the Great American Songbook, Cole Porter wrote this tune in 1940. Here, the tune starts brightly with flutes and some samba-type percussion. FS wasted no time; this tune and the one following it on the record were recorded early in the sessions and it’s on these two tracks that Sinatra makes some of the finest sounds of his storied career. Listen to the bridge; “on your smile, so sweet, so tender…” But listen to the breath he takes for “…and once again our arms intertwine…” and with the same breath goes into “and so when wise men say to me….” Unreal. Consider that this is a 50-year-old that smokes, drinks and stays up late. The flutes close triumphantly this song that Sinatra 101 declares a “minor masterpiece”.
“Baubles, Bangles and Beads” — This tune comes from the 1953 musical Kismet and makes a nice matched pair with the previous tune. It starts off with a little samba shuffle and some popping flutes and trombone. On back-to-back songs FS sounds like a 25-year-old who’s lived a sheltered life. Makes Josh Groban sound like Tom Waits. Listen just past the halfway point when the strings rise and Frank goes up for “she’ll glitter and gleam so. Make somebody dream so…” before he drops down for “I have heard that’s where it leads” This is a perfect marriage; a well-crafted show tune done with a bossa beat and sang flawlessly. Light, ringing percussion ushers the song out into the mist.
“Once I Loved (O Amor em Paz)” — A song of “introspection and quiet soul-searching”, Jobim’s “Once I Loved” was not widely known until Sinatra essayed it here. It is another of Tom’s bossa nova standards that has been recorded many times. It is a melancholy song though the lyrics tell of redemption; “Then one day from my infinite sadness you came and brought me love again…” However, the final tone of the album is caution and the fear of impending loss; “love is the saddest thing when it goes away” Gorgeous strings and Tom’s guitar end the record.
Sinatra 101 says that FAS & ACJ “may be Sinatra’s greatest single work at Reprise”. Indeed, it often shows up on many lists of Frank’s best records. Sinatra thought highly of it, too, so much so that he and Tone got together again in early 1969 to record a follow-up to be title Sinatra-Jobim. After an initial shipment of 8-track versions of the record had made it to stores, Sinatra decided to pull the album. Some of his less-mainstream releases had sold poorly in the recent past and so Reprise retreated to come up with a new strategy. The 8-tracks are now eagerly sought-after collector’s items. The cover art of this rarity depicts Sinatra leaning against a Greyhound bus. Seven of these new songs with Jobim – arranged by my man, Eumir Deodato – were used to make up Side One of 1971’s Sinatra & Company, the second side being made up of soft rock tunes. This second batch of collaborations with Jobim is almost as gorgeous as the first with “Wave” being a rare recording of his own that Sinatra loved. He would blast it over the speakers at his Palm Springs compound, enjoying the sound of the bass notes he hit. All of the tracks these two men recorded together were later compiled in 2010 on Sinatra/Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings. Buy that.
Regardless, this album is sublime and is respected and loved in Sinatra circles. It is perhaps even more significant, though, in the context of bossa nova, this most beloved Brazilian export. When Antônio Carlos Jobim started recording this record with Frank, his friends began arriving from Brazil. Early in the sessions, Tom brought home an acetate of a few completed tracks to play for his friends gathered at the hotel; “they were all astounded”. This beautiful music – made with the vocalist that had so captivated Brazilian musicians since the 1940’s – was a validation for many in that country. It was declared a “victory” and was the culmination of dreams conceived so long ago in the night clubs of Rio.
Jobim went on to record many great jazz/bossa albums for A&M and CTI. He enjoyed a career during which he was revered by his countrymen and loved by those Stateside who understood his immense contributions to music. “Garota de Ipanema” is thought to be the second-most recorded song in history after only “Yesterday”. He would again join Frank for what would be Jobim’s last recording, “duetting” with an absent Frank on “Fly Me to the Moon” on the regrettable Duets II. But Tone’s legacy, for me, is in the sheer beauty of his music. His sun-kissed melodies that have the innate ability to transport you to a comfortable, peaceful place. Like Van Morrison, Jobim’s music celebrates the glory of femininity and the majesty of nature. Stan Cornyn was never more right than when he said of Jobim “Antônio, troubled not by the clamour of the world. Troubled more by the whisperings from his heart”.