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Sinatra never stopped being serious about his music

I reviewed a couple of Frank Sinatra concerts. In both cases – in 1982 in the fondly remembered Memorial Auditorium and 1990 in the Niagara Falls Convention Center – we’re talking about late Sinatra, when he was almost portly, his toupees weren’t so hot and one or two of his high notes were shaky too.

No matter. It was still an incomparable honor. It was when the greatest popular singer America is ever likely to have was old that you could truly understand his art – his insistence on formality and respect for the composers and lyricists of his favorite songs, his dramatic power and the astonishing breath control which remained virtuosic even when his larynx might falter. (See some of this on display at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS with “Sinatra at 100 - An All-Star Grammy Concert.”)

It was Sinatra, the old man, who opened a window to the rest of his professional life. He learned virtuosic breathing from watching Tommy Dorsey play trombone solos. Once a man is in possession of such recondite knowledge, who on earth could give it up, as long as his lungs held out?

It was that formal, tuxedoed Sinatra paying reverential treatment to the creators of the Great American Songbook who convinced you that he was the guardian of America’s classic popular song tradition. He was the same Sinatra who once viciously battled Columbia’s contemptuous junk-music peddler Mitch Miller and fled to Capitol Records to perform the most memorable music of his life. (Read Ben Yagoda’s exceptional book “The B-Side”).

He liked to kid around when performing. But about some things he was ALWAYS serious. The music he loved, for instance. And when you listened to him doing something way out of his most familiar precincts like “My Boy Bill” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” you listened to the extended drama of it with awe.

No, when it came to some things, this guy wasn’t kidding around. Not in the slightest.

You’re not likely to get much sense of that when you watch “Sinatra at 100 - An All-Star Grammy Concert.” But it's still worth your time.

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A couple things to think about now that Sinatra is about to turn 100.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

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