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Remembering Frank Sinatra’s Time-Stopping Performance At The Sands

Captured live on ‘Sinatra At The Sands’, The Chairman delivered a performance that made everyone in the room think they’d hit the jackpot.

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“How did all these people get in my room?” So quips an ebullient Frank Sinatra when he walks out on to the Copa Room stage in front of about 600 people at The Sands Hotel And Casino in Las Vegas. Behind him, Count Basie’s orchestra are revving up with a hard-swinging, foot-tapping intro that seamlessly morphs into a turbo-charged version of ‘Come Fly With Me’. Powered by Norman Keenan’s walking bassline, the song’s irresistible, kinetic groove – over which Sinatra’s voice glides effortlessly – feels like its propelled by jet fuel. It’s a stunning way to open Sinatra’s first ever live album, Sinatra At The Sands.

Issued in July 1966 as a double-album on The Chairman’s own Reprise label, Sinatra At The Sands was seamlessly assembled from a week’s worth of shows recorded during a seven-night stint in Vegas which lasted from 26 January to 1 February 1966.

It’s hard to believe that Frank Sinatra had notched up half a century of birthdays (he was 50 the previous December) without making a live album – he had, after all, been a professional singer since 1935 and a solo recording artist since 1943. But that all changed in 1966 when he joined forces with the legendary Count Basie and his band in Vegas.

The fact that Sinatra chose to record his first in-concert album in tandem with the Rolls Royce of big bands illustrates how much he appreciated performing with Basie’s slick and sophisticated, super-tight ensemble.

They had, of course, recorded together before, but only in the studio. Their first collaboration was 1962’s Sinatra-Basie: An Historical First album, followed in 1964 by It Might As Well Be Swing, the latter with arrangements by Quincy Jones. Later, in the summer of 1965, Sinatra and Basie performed several concerts with Jones conducting. By the time that the Sands dates were booked, in early ’66, Sinatra and Basie were, musically, perfectly attuned to each other.

Frank Sinatra with Count Basie web optimised 720 - CREDIT - Frank Sinatra Collection

Photo: Frank Sinatra Enterprises

Sinatra At The Sands was recorded at a time when long-haired pop and rock groups – epitomised by The Beatles and The Beach Boys – were changing the face of music. 1966 was, after all, the age of game-changing albums such as Revolver and Pet Sounds, but in the Copa Room, in Sinatra’s presence, none of that seemed to matter. The audience were in Frank’s world, where the music swung, the songs were timeless, the jewellery dazzled and the booze flowed. Time stood still.

On Sinatra At The Sands, the golden age of saloon singing is brought vividly to life. With Quincy Jones conducting and providing scintillating charts, Sinatra is in tremendous form. As the arranger recalled in his book, Q: The Autobiography Of Quincy Jones, “Frank was at the height of his powers then and I was steering his musical ship, the greatest band in the world.”

Frank Sinatra Backstage With Quincy Jones - CREDIT - Sinatra Family Collection

Sinatra backstage with Quincy Jones. Photo: Frank Sinatra Enterprises

Sinatra swings with a finger-clicking pizzazz, as ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, then a new song in his repertoire, clearly demonstrates; on the ballads he shows that, despite the jokey asides between songs, he’s deadly serious and deeply sensitive. Of these, ‘One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)’ is particularly noteworthy. Sinatra introduces the song by saying, “This is the part of the programme where we sing a drunk song,” a wisecrack which elicits chuckles from the audience. Once he starts singing, however, the room succumbs. You could hear a pin drop as Sinatra, accompanied by Bill Miller’s lone piano, transforms Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s barroom nocturne into a desolate hymn for perennial losers.

In sharp contrast, ‘The Tea Break’ comes across almost like a Sinatra stand-up routine: a 12-minute monologue packed with gags, some of which are daringly risqué, targeting himself and fellow Rat Packers Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin. “If we ever develop an Olympic drinking team, he’s gonna be the coach,” quips Sinatra, alluding to his friend’s purported partiality for strong liquor.

Sinatra At The Sands is also notable for introducing a brand new song, Johnny Mandel’s ‘The Shadow Of Your Smile’. Featured on the soundtrack to the 1965 movie The Sandpiper, Sinatra only learned the song at the last minute for his 1966 Sands shows, but, such is the form he’s in, he nevertheless delivers a definitive performance. Elsewhere, Basie’s band get a chance to shine on their own with a brief but climactic snippet of ‘One O’Clock Jump’ and a complete version of ‘All Of Me’, but they are at their most potent when working in tandem with Sinatra.

Sinatra on stage with Quincy Jones conducting Basie's Orchestra - CREDIT - Frank Sinatra Enterprises

Sinatra on stage, with Quincy Jones conducting Basie’s orchestra. Photo: Frank Sinatra Enterprises

The third of four LPs that Ol’ Blue Eyes released in 1966 (it followed hot on the heels of the chart-topping Strangers In The Night), Sinatra At The Sands peaked at No.9 in the US album charts, on 15 October 1966, and eventually went gold. Those who had predicted the demise of easy listening music at the hands of the beat groups were wrong. Sinatra At The Sands proved that, even at 50, The Chairman remained a force to be reckoned with.

Still arguably the definitive Sinatra live album, Sinatra At The Sands is also, indisputably, one of the greatest in-concert albums by anyone, offering a compelling on-stage portrait of a performer at the peak of his powers, able to make every person in the Vegas audience think they’ve hit the jackpot just by being in his presence. You can still feel that today: Sinatra At The Sands remains a classic album that vividly brings to life the last days of his Rat Pack empire.

Sinatra At The Sands can be bought here.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Rob Constantine

    July 23, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    If you can find it get the DVD audio release of this album it is a 5.1 surround mix and it is absolutely stunning I bought it in 2003 right after it came out.. unfortunately dvd-audio did not catch on and it is it is now out-of-print but you can find it on eBay

  2. William

    July 23, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    In 1969 when I was just four-years old, the first four LPs I remember listening to was “A Hard Days Night” by The Beatles, The Monkees debut album, Elvis’ Golden Hits and THIS album; it’s influence on me was profound, one of the most important jazz albums ever made.

  3. Patti throne

    July 23, 2018 at 11:41 pm

    Frank is gone,but his music will last forever. EVERY song he sings goes straight to my soul.

  4. Noreen

    July 24, 2018 at 12:39 am

    For those of us lucky enough to have been in those musical circles, this will bring great memories of a time when we still had some of the greatest artists around. I was in Vegas and privileged to be hearing Basie, Frank, Sass and others live and in person. You had to be there!

    • HKTERRI

      July 24, 2018 at 5:00 am

      Make no mistake, Francis still is the
      CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD. Whenever life’s grit & grind get’s you down. Get yourself a (JackDaniel’s mix)!put Francis on the box, with the likes of Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Gordon Jenkins,Quincy Jones, & Count Basie…then
      Baby just let it all hang-out!!!

      “Best is Yet to Come”

  5. HKTERRI

    July 24, 2018 at 1:08 am

    Make no mistake, Francis still is the
    CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD.
    When the grit and grind of life, gets you down…get yourself (A drinkie-linkie) put Francis on the box, with the
    Likes of Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Gordon Jenkins,Quincy Jones & Count Basie…then Baby, just let it all hang-out!!! Ala-Francis!!!”Best is Yet to Come”

  6. Raymond Liberti

    July 24, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    When entertainers entertainers with class.

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