NOTE: This is where is all started. With Sinatra's incredibly smooth delivery, he began to build his skills and define his style as a boy singer in trumpeter Harry James' Orchestra. Although Sinatra had been filling in vocally on various radio programs, he hadn't landed a steady job until, according to James himself - the band leader was "knocked out" when he heard Frank sing anonymously on a local radio program. James sought Sinatra out, and became a great friend and mentor to Frank, even when Sinatra stepped up to bigger and better things with Tommy Dorsey. Sinatra in the 30's and 40's was unabashedly romantic, with his trademark phrasing and sensitive lyric delivery coming into full blossom.  What's truly remarkable about this period is how much of his output is available in high-quality sets: it becomes simply a matter of choosing what to purchase.  Hopefully this guide will help you make an informed decision. 

Harry James and His Orchestra Featuring Frank Sinatra: The Complete Recordings, Nineteen Thirty-Nine
Legacy/Columbia CK 66377 [CD];
Released 1995


1. From the Bottom of My Heart 
2. Melancholy Mood 
3. My Buddy
4. It's Funny to Everyone But Me 
5. Here Comes the Night 
6. All or Nothing at All         
7. On a Little Street in Singapore         
8. Who Told You I Cared?         
9. Ciribiribin (They're So in Love)         
10. Every Day of My Life         
11. From the Bottom of My Heart [Alternate Take]         
12. Melancholy Mood [Alternate Take][#]         
13. It's Funny to Everyone But Me [Alternate Take][#]         
14. All or Nothing at All [Alternate Take]         
15. Stardust [#]         
16. Wishing (Will Make It So) [#]         
17. If I Didn't Care [#]         
18. Lamp Is Low [#]         
19. My Love for You [#]         
20. Moon Love [#]         
21. This Is No Dream [#]

[#] = Previously unreleased

REVIEW:  Columbia Legacy has rescued these tracks originally released on the Brunswick label from destruction, and has preserved a marvellous beginning: the pre-eminent singer of the 20th Century: Frank Sinatra.  Above the the bright brassy cushion of  Harry James' Orchestra, Sinatra's voice projected a warm, woody sound which complemented James's strong backing.  The songs themselves are the picture of romanticism: the mystical underpinnings of the orient in "On A Little Street In Singapore," the wistful sigh found in "Melancholy Mood," or the heart-on-your-sleeve sentiment of "Who Told You I Cared?" are all here, and Sinatra fills each moment with a remarkably realized realism, acting each song as though he truly feels each moment.  Granted, some listeners don't prefer this version of who would later become "The Chairman Of The Board," and it's true that on the uptempo numbers, such as "Ciribiribin (They're So In Love)" that he has none of the punch or swagger so typical of his later years; here, he makes every song a romance, and clearly some songs are not suited to the swooning approach that he brings to each number.  And there are moments when Frank really takes it over the top, like the strained, almost hystrionic ending of "All Or Nothing At All" [tr.14], but for sheer interest, you really can't beat the historical interest and strength of Sinatra's performance here.  The sound is very good, with very little distortion or hiss, and although the disc claims the recordings are complete, there are a few extant radio transcriptions missing, but that won't bother anyone but completists.  Recommended for those who want to see how "The Voice" began.

The Complete Original Radio Studio Transcriptions
Swing Factory SWCD 66609 [CD];
Released December 3, 2001

1. Star Dust
2. Wishing (Will Make It So)
3. If I Didn't Care
4. The Lamp Is Low
5. My Love Is For You
6. Moon Love
7. This Is No Dream
8. My Buddy
9. All Or Nothing At All
10. Melancholy Mood
11. From The Bottom Of My Heart
12. To You
13. I Poured My Heart Into A Song
14. Here Comes The Night
15. On a Little Street In Singapore
16. Let's Disappear

REVIEW:  Taking off where the previous collection leaves off, this 16-track CD takes the seven radio transcriptions that the Complete set above carries, and then adds nine more to the running list.  Although nothing here is essential, this is what collectors and completists have been hankering for, since these sides are among the rarest Harry James/Frank Sinatra recordings out there.  The extra tracks included here are: "My Buddy," "All Or Nothing At All," "Melancholy Mood," "From The Bottom Of My Heart," "To You," "I Poured My Heart Into A Song," "Here Comes The Night," "On A Little Street In Singapore" and "Let's Disappear."  The sound is fair to good, considering the age of these recordings, and the historic nature of these radio transcriptions make them worthwhile purchasing if you're interested in Sinatra's beginnings, but again, if you have the Complete set above, you've got a great taste of the James/Sinatra era, where Sinatra was just beginning to take off vocally, but hadn't learned his circular breathing yet from Dorsey, and was singing against James's bright horn lineup, which didn't show off Sinatra's warm voice to its best advantage.  But if you are wanting more, then this set fills in the picture a little more completely than the set above.

Tommy Dorsey & Frank Sinatra: The Song Is You
RCA 07863 66353-2 [CD];
Released August 30, 1994

  Disc: 1
1. Sky Fell Down
2. Too Romantic
3. Shake Down the Stars  
4. Moments in the Moonlight
5. I'll Be Seeing You
6. Say It         
7. Polka Dots and Moonbeams         
8. Fable of the Rose - Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra         
9. This Is the Beginning of the End         
10. Hear My Song, Violetta         
11. Fools Rush in (Where Angels Fear to Tread)         
12. Devil May Care         
13. April Played the Fiddle         
14. I Haven't Time to Be a Millionaire         
15. Imagination         
16. Yours Is My Heart Alone         
17. You're Lonely and I'm Lonely         
18. East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)         
19. Head on My Pillow         
20. It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow         
21. I'll Never Smile Again         
22. All This and Heaven Too         
23. Where Do You Keep Your Heart?         

Disc: 2
1. Whispering         
2. Trade Winds         
3. One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else)         
4. Call of the Canyon         
5. Love Lies         
6. I Could Make You Care         
7. World Is in My Arms         
8. Our Love Affair         
9. Looking for Yesterday         
10. Tell Me at Midnight         
11. We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)         
12. When You Awake         
13. Anything         
14. Shadows on the Sand         
15. You're Breaking My Heart All over Again         
16. I'd Know You Anywhere         
17. Do You Know Why?         
18. Not So Long Ago         
19. Stardust         
20. Oh! Look at Me Now         
21. You Might Have Belonged to Another         
22. You Lucky People, You         
23. It's Always You         
24. I Tried

Disc: 3
1. Dolores         
2. Without a Song         
3. Do I Worry?         
4. Everything Happens to Me         
5. Let's Get Away from It All         
6. I'll Never Let a Day Pass By         
7. Love Me as I Am         
8. This Love of Mine         
9. I Guess I'll Have to Dream the Rest         
10. You and I         
11. Neiani         
12. Free for All         
13. Blue Skies         
14. Two in Love         
15. Pale Moon         
16. I Think of You         
17. How Do You Do Without Me?         
18. Sinner Kissed an Angel         
19. Violets for Your Furs         
20. Sunshine of Your Smile         
21. How About You?         
22. Snootie Little Cutie         

Disc: 4
1. Poor You         
2. I'll Take Tallulah         
3. Last Call for Love         
4. Somewhere a Voice Is Calling         
5. Just as Though You Were Here         
6. Street of Dreams         
7. Take Me         
8. Be Careful, It's My Heart         
9. In the Blue of Evening         
10. Dig Down Deep         
11. There Are Such Things         
12. Daybreak         
13. It Started All over Again         
14. Light a Candle in the Chapel         
15. Too Romantic [Take 2][#]         
16. Shake Down the Stars [Take 2][#]         
17. Hear My Song, Violetta [Take 2][#]         
18. You're Lonely and I'm Lonely [Take 2][#]         
19. Our Love Affair [Take 2][#]         
20. Violets for Your Furs [Take 2][#]         
21. Night We Called It a Day         
22. Lamplighter's Serenade         
23. Song Is You         
24. Night and Day         

Disc: 5
1. Theme: I'm Gettting Sentimental over You         
2. Who? [#]         
3. I Hear a Rhapsody [#]         
4. I'll Never Smile Again [#]         
5. Half Way Down the Street [#]         
6. Some of Your Sweetness (Got into My Heart) [#]         
7. Once in a While [#]         
8. Little in Love [#]         
9. It Came to Me [#]         
10. Only Forever [#]         
11. Marie [#]         
12. Yearning (Just for You)         
13. How Am I to Know?         
14. You're Part of My Heart [#]         
15. Announcements         
16. You're Stepping on My Toes [#]         
17. You Got the Best of Me [#]         
18. That's How It Goes [#]         
19. When Daylight Dawns [#]         
20. When Sleepy Stars Begin to Fall [#]         
21. Goodbye Lover, Goodbye [#]         
22. One Red Rose [#]         
23. Things I Love [#]         
24. In the Blue of Evening [#]         
25. Just as Though You Were Here [#]         
26. Frank Sinatra's Farewell to the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra         
27. Song Is You

[#] = Previously unreleased

REVIEW:  Well this, as they say, is the whole enchilada.  There are literally dozens of Dorsey/Sinatra compilations out there, and if you're looking for just a small sampling, run far, far away from this behemoth.  If, on the other hand, you're drooling at the mouth for everything Frank, you can't turn your back on what is a treasure trove of some of the best music of the late '30's and early 40's.  RCA has lovingly collected every studio scrap and several radio transcriptions that these two perfectionists put out, and you're either going to love it, or shoot yourself in the head after plowing through it all.  Historically, it's the Mount Everest of pop music: this is where Sinatra learned his circular breathing (from watching Dorsey play), which allowed Frank to construct long, textual phrases which allowed the lyrics to speak; where he learned the art of playing off of the orchestra in a fine pas de deux of color and balance; and where Frank's star rose above that of the other singers, and even that of Dorsey himself, so that when he finally left in a storm of acrimony with the band leader, he was a bona-fide superstar.  So let's dive in, disc by disc:

CD one, documenting the complete studio recordings that Dorsey and Sinatra made together, starts out with Sinatra just being one of the band, lending his smooth baritone to the even-smoother sheen that Dorsey brought to his orchestratra.  Sinatra still is all velvety romanticism, but I'm immediately struck by how much better his voice is suited to the sound of the Dorsey orchestra than it was under Harry James's brassier sound at this point.  Frank sounds like a human counterpoint to Dorsey's trombone, which is exactly what he was intended to be, but he succeeds brilliantly; bringing a polish and professionalism to the sound that belies his still limited experience.  Just listen to him on "Too Romantic" and you'll hear how ideally Tommy and Frank blend their sound seamlessly.  Tommy sound is more rooted in the woodwinds and has a richer, mellower sound than Harry James', and Sinatra's voice just melts into it.  And when Dorsey lets the tempo swing a bit, as on "Moments In The Moonlight," Frank just eases his paddle in - as though unwilling to rock the boat too much.  These songs take the typical band-dominated approach, where the orchestra has the lion's share of the song, with the singer taking only a single verse; so the listener hears much more of Dorsey than Sinatra on these earliest recordings, but that will soon change, with Sinatra becoming more and more dominant and his popularity grew, and Dorsey being pushed into the background.  Some fans are less enthused with this period of Sinatra's recordings, since he sounds much the same from song to song - unremittingly sincere, with long, flowing phrases flowing in and out of a sheer soundscape of woodwinds and muted brass; but I enjoy it immensely - it's supremely romantic music, in the best sense of the word, and music this warm and tasteful you can't find in such abundance anymore.

CD two begins with a rich vocal blend of the Pied Pipers blending their incomparable voices with Frank's on the track "Whispering," and he allows them their full due; never getting in the way of the blend or the song.  The arrangements are more adventurous now, and Frank sounds even more confident; his breathing is more controlled, allowing him to stretch out his phrases to remarkable lengths, he's now able to sing a whole line of lyric without a break, and it makes a marked difference in the effect of the song as a whole.  Sinatra still doesn't have the confidence to let loose and really swing, even when the orchestra begins to let loose, as on the punchy "The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else)" Frank keeps it low key, with just of hint of syncopation.  But it's the arrangements that really begin to catch the ear, with Alex Stordahl, Sy Oliver, and Fred Stulce taking the popular songs of the day and giving them subtle little twists to catch the ear, and allow Sinatra's voice to be punched forward in the mix.  For all the credit given Sinatra for his gifts, I can't give enough plaudets to the arrangements, especially of Stordahl, for allowing Sinatra's voice to be given the best possible framing for the listener.  And Dorsey is always present as well with his remarkable technique - his trombone almost sounding like a human voice, which brings each track up another level.  Included on this disc is the popular recording of "I'll Never Smile Again" which became Frank's signature song for many years.

Disc Three reveals Sinatra beginning to be given lighter, more humorous material, with "Dolores" kicking things off on a cute note, but novelty songs also begin to rear their ugly head, with the inane "Snootie Little Cutie" closing out the disc.  Sinatra also begins to change his sound here, with larger, more dramatic readings as on "Without A Song," which closes with an almost operatic intensity.  By now Sinatra was full front and center - his popularity forced Dorsey to make his role more prominent; no longer is he just sitting on the sidelines until the time for his chorus, he sings the entire song, and the orchestra is only featured in short interludes.  Tommy Dorsey didn't mind this - Sinatra was selling boatloads of records, and Tommy was making most of the profits, but this would inevitably lead to the growing friction between these two huge egos.  But also with success came greater opportunity: the songs being recorded are songs that would become standards: "Everything Happens To Me," "Let's Get Away From It All," "Blue Skies," "Violets For Your Furs" and "How About You" are all given gorgeous readings here, while the quality of the arrangements and performances remain top-drawer - even more adventurous, if anything with the Pied Pipers, Stordahl and others at the top of their game.  The sound is growing brassier too, just listen to the wild trumpet solo on "Let Get Away From It All" and you can hear the times changing.  That's what makes this series fascinating: to hear an aural document of societies attitudes and preferences shifting within the space of just a few years.

The final disc of studio recordings finds Sinatra closing his relationship with Dorsey on a consistantly high note, even though the silly novelty songs still are making an appearance ("I'll Take Tallulah"), but Sinatra sings everything with whip-cracking precision, and by now his sense of swing is beginning to rev itself up, allowing a sense of fun and relaxation to ease the otherwise careful control of his singing.  Sinatra is now on an equal footing with his boss, and each seems to fight for time on the singles of this period, but Sinatra is so comfortable in his role now, he sings as if he truly isn't aware of his popularity, and he still generously shares the mic with the Pipers and other artists.  The music is still lush and romantic, as it has been the entire era with Dorsey, but now Sinatra sounds in command of each song, lending each lyric a world-weary tinge that's not present on the first couple of discs.  Alex Stordahl is also writing more with strings, as on track 7 - "Take Me" - pointing toward the lusher, richer sound that the Columbia albums would have.  Stordahl would be the first of several arranger soul-mates that would be so crucial to Sinatra's sound.  The CD closes with several alternate takes of songs, and with the final studio pieces that Dorsey and Siantra recorded, "The Song Is You" and "Night And Day."

Disc five of the box set is a generous 27 tracks taken from various radio broadcasts of what began as an hour-long broadcast from the Hotel Astor in New York City, and eventually transformed into an amateur songwriting contest called "Fame and Fortune" and sponsored by Nature's Remedies laxative tablets!  It's here that listeners first heard the huge hit "I'll Never Smile Again" (which went on to sell more than 400,000 sheet music copies and over 500,000 records.  None of the other 26 songs featured here became hits, but they're all given strong arrangements, and Sinatra's readings are never less than absolutely professional.  The producers have intercut spoken interludes, which makes the disc flow like an actual radio show, making this perhaps the most listenable disc of the entire set.  Frank is simply stellar on songs like "Half-Way Down The Street" and "Marie."  The set closes with what I'm sure is supposed to be a fond farewell to Sinatra by Dorsey in pure Hollywood style, but knowing the firefights going on behind the scenes by this point make the listening filled with irony.  A fine finish to a stellar box.

The box set sounds very good, with clean clear sound throughout although it's been surpassed in sound quality by more recent releases, but there are no obvious crackles and little hiss.  The booklet is a marvel, nearly 100 pages long with loads of pictures and a thorough, scholarly essay by Sinatra expert Will Friedwald.  All in all a class act, and highly recommended for lovers of big band music, Frank Sinatra, and pop music.

Young Blue Eyes: Birth Of The Crooner
Bluebird RCA 60283 [CD]; 
Released April 6, 2004

1. You Walk By 
2. This Love of Mine 
3. Say It 
4. East of the Sun (And West of the Moon) 
5. Medley: June in January/Clouds/You're a Sweetheart
6. Star Dust
7. One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else) 
8. Let's Get Away from It All
9. Moon Won't Talk 
10. World Is in My Arms
11. Medley: Nobody's Baby/The Nearness of You/I Can't Love You Anymore
12. Snootie Little Cutie
13. Alice Blue Gown
14. Prairie Night
15. Medley: A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody/Temptation/I Don't Know Why (I Just Do)        
16. I'm Getting Sentimental Over You
17. Dig Down Deep
18. Last Call for Love
19. I'll Take Tallulah
20. Just as Though You Were Here

REVIEW:  The fourth batch of previously unreleased Dorsey/Sinatra sound-checks from live radio shows, this interesting disc follows the fifth CD of the Dorsey/Sinatra box, and the two Buddha releases reviewed above.  Although the sound isn't quite as startling as the aforementioned discs, some of the takes are breathtaking in their clarity and sparkle, "This Love Of Mine" and "Stardust are two such examples.  Also, you hear Sinatra tackle some truly rare songs, like "Prarie Night" and "June in January" - and his improvement on the otherwise intolerable "Snootie Little Cutie," which substitues the creamy-voiced Jo Stafford for Connie Haines, who sang the part in the studio version is also welcome.  But RCA does the disservice of trimming out parts of the Dorsey orchestra on the medleys in favor of an all-Sinatra program, which, although it might please Sinatra fans who don't care for Dorsey, creates a performance that isn't genuine, and relegates Dorsey to a subservient role that he certainly didn't play during his and Sinatra's time together.  Compiled and annotated by Will Friedwald, the set is professional and enjoyable, but unless you have to have everything, there aren't enough variations or surprises to make this set truly essential.

1939 Broadcasts With Frank Sinatra
Soundcraft [CD];
Released August 3, 1999; Reissued December 1, 2006

1. Introduction (September 1939 Young Man With A Band Show)     2:21
2. I Found A New Baby (September 1939 Young Man With A Band Show)    3:10
3. Ciribiribin (September 1939 Young Man With A Band Show)    2:42
4. Introduction / Vol Vistu Gaili Star (September 9, 1939 New York Worlds Fair Pavilion)    3:20
5. All Or Nothing At All (September 9, 1939 New York Worlds Fair Pavilion)    3:19
6. Blues V (Hotel Sherman Chicago October / November 1939)    3:36
7. Cross Country Jump (Hotel Sherman Chicago October / November 1939)    4:45
8. Flash (Hotel Sherman Chicago October / November 1939)    3:18
9. Two O'Clock Jump / Broadcast Closing (Hotel Sherman Chicago October / November 1939)    4:05
10. Introduction / Shorty George (America Dances Via BBC London July, 19 1939)    2:16
11. To You (America Dances Via BBC London July, 19 1939)    2:42
12. King Porter Stomp (America Dances Via BBC London July, 19 1939)    3:08
13. From The Bottom Of My Heart (America Dances Via BBC London July, 19 1939)    3:46
14. Beer Barrel Polka (America Dances Via BBC London July, 19 1939)    3:35
15. Well All Right (America Dances Via BBC London July, 19 1939)    4:16
16. Two O'Clock Jump (America Dances Via BBC London July, 19 1939)    3:48

REVIEW:  To my ears, this is the best disc to really represent Frank Sinatra's tenure with the Harry James Orchestra, both is how much he was featured (not much), and how rough and ready James and his band were; this was how they sounded in a live setting, when this kind of be-bop music was really the rock 'n' roll of the era.  Before big band got mainstream and popular, smoothing out their rough edges with polished performers like Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, orchestras like Harry James's were pounding the dance halls with music that fused jazz, ragtime, and be-bop, and turned the nations burgeoning youth onto the dance floors in droves.  To be honest, if you're looking for much of Frank, you'll be disappointed - he's trotted out to croon a few ballads here and there, but he's nowhere to be found on the majority of tracks here, which consist of Harry's wild improvisational forays; and when Frank does show up in the program (as on "All Or Nothing At All" or "To You"), his youth and inexperience are fully on display - he sounds very young, and although some of the style and vocal lines are beginning to appear, he possesses none of the mature phrasing or breath control which he would learn under the tutilage of Tommy Dorsey.  The sound on the disc varies widely from track to track, since most of these transcriptions are not restored, but as an aural document, I found it's vitality and variety fascinating.

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