Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Ecstasy and the Agony Down Under: Frank Sinatra

Francis Albert Sinatra

In 1959 Frank Sinatra was at the top of his game.  He’d recorded a series of hit albums (Come Fly With Me, Songs for Swinging Lovers, In the Wee Small Hours) that remain among the best regarded in the American musicsphere.   In 1953 he had won an Oscar for Best Actor and was redefining what it meant to be a Star in Vegas. It was a time when as one card recalled, “Sinatra said 'cigarette' and nine lighters came out."

In 1959 there was no bigger performing artist in the world.  Sinatra, accompanied by the Red Norvo Quintet toured Down Under that year and while in Melbourne his show was put on tape.  Live in Australia 1959 was only released in 1997, the year before he passed away but for fans has become an instant classic. In the words of the gurus at All Music Guide, Sinatra's loose, swinging performance is a startling revelation after years of being submerged in the Rat Pack mythology. Even on his swing records from the late '50s, he never cut loose quite as freely as he does here. Norvo's quintet swings gracefully and Sinatra uses it as a cue to deliver one of the wildest performances he has ever recorded.” (

At the beginning of the set Red Norvo gushes about how much he really loves Melbourne (even getting the pronunciation right). Sinatra, for his part, is very relaxed and is obviously very happy, tossing snappy asides to an adoring audience.   It was a real love fest and the album is indeed a fantabulous one.

Fast forward 15 years to 1974. Sinatra has had a rough go in the 60s. The rock n’ roll he so scornfully dismissed is all the rage. The media seem more interested in his failed marriages and links with the Mafia. Though he had some of his biggest hits (cue, My Way) in the 60’s he was of no interest to anybody but the middle aged and nostalgic.

In 1974 he’s back in Australia.  And the proverbial fan is hit by the equally proverbial shit. No one is at Melbourne airport to meet him. He has to break into his own press conference! During his first show he’s displaying his not-so-charming side and takes a couple stabs at the local journalistic fraternity. The men are ‘bums’ and the female journalists are ‘a buck and half whores’. 


No one is permitted to call Aussie shielas names except Aussie men, thank you very much.  The boozy, philandering leader of the Union movement, one Bob Hawke, sends the word out to his troops: Ol’ Blue Eyes gets no service until he apologizes to our women folk.  Frank lets Bob know he can fuck off. “I never apologize,” he storms as he and his wife hang out in a hotel room.  And there they stayed with nothing more than some Jack Daniels. Room service didn’t answer. His private plane wouldn’t get any fuel. He finally managed to sneak aboard a Qantas flight to Sydney but even there remained stuck in his hotel.  At one point, the historians tell us, thought was given to calling in the US Navy to rescue him.  The story is taken up by Shane Maloney.

Eventually, he agreed to negotiate.
On 11 July, the two men met in Sinatra’s suite. Over four hours, an agreement was hammered out. In return for a statement that Sinatra “did not intend any general reflection upon the moral character of working members of the Australian media”, Hawke was prepared to green-light his remaining concerts.
Back in the US, it was joked that Sinatra was only allowed out of Australia because the union boss woke one morning with a kangaroo’s head on his pillow. (

Hawke, of course, went on to become one of our most loved raconteurs and Prime Ministers. Sinatra went on with his life and never returned to the land down under where he had given one of the performances of his life.

            Track Listing:
            01 – Perdido (Red Norvo Quintet)
02 - Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (Red Norvo Quintet)
03 - I Could Have Danced All Night
04 - Just One Of Those Things
05 - I Get A Kick Out Of You
06 - At Long Last Love
07 - Willow Weep For Me
08 - I've Got You Under My Skin
09 - Moonlight In Vermont
10 - The Lady Is A Tramp
11 - Sinatra Speaks
12 - Angel Eyes
13 - Come Fly With Me
14 - All The Way
15 - Dancing In The Dark
16 - One For My Baby
17 - All Of Me
18 - On The Road To Mandalay
19 - Night And Day
Listen here.


Holly said...

What a GREAT story! Thank you for sharing. The cd is quite wonderful, too ;-)

ajnabi said...

It is!

deewani said...

Every time I've walked into a Barnes and Noble bookstore in the US in the past 4 or 5 months his Best of the Best CD has been playing on the speakers. I look forward to hearing this as I enjoy In The Wee Small Hours. Thanks again.

Olde Edo said...

Thanks for sharing this -- Frank's rare small-group jazz recordings are fantastic, but hard to find..