“Sinatra and Me” — a true jazz story by Paul Brophy

October 3rd, 2020

.

.

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

Frank Sinatra, Liederkrantz Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. 1947

 

.

___

.

Sinatra and Me

by Paul Brophy

.

…..Frank Sinatra floated through the air in my boyhood home and Philadelphia neighborhood.  My mother and two of her older sisters, Henrietta and Marge, had seen young Frankie in person at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier in the late 1930s, the thrill that wed these young Italian-Americans to Frank for life. “It’s Always You” reached them.   He was part of our Staffieri family — their fantasy husband.

…..When I was growing up Frank could be spotted and heard around the neighborhood.  The framed Holy Trinity hung in Larry Cosetti’s living room: John F. Kennedy, Pope Pius XII, and Francis Albert Sinatra, with the Pope in the center, just a bit higher than the other two.  (Kennedy and Sinatra were saints, yet they didn’t represent Christ on earth).  The Seeburg jukebox in Aunt Marge’s luncheonette was half full of Sinatra 45s, including his novelty songs like “River Stay Away from My Door”, and “Ol’ MacDonald.”  And he was in the jukebox at Lou’s pizza shop, where we sat around Formica tables after the Friday night 8th grade dances, a musical shift from the more juvenile songs we had rocked to earlier in the evening — songs like “Lloyd Price’s “Personality” and Dion and the Belmonts’ “A Teenager in Love,’ the teen version of the bumpy road of love. “Why must I be a teenager in love?”1

…..Mom hummed and sang Sinatra while vacuuming and washing clothes in the wringer washer and then hanging them in the backyard to dry.   She stirred her special spaghetti sauce with him in the kitchen. He taught her that days go too slowly “Without a Song.”  “I only know, there ain’t no love at all, without a song.”2

…..When I was eight and my brother Richie was four, we memorized and perfected “Love and Marriage,” earning broad smiles from Uncle Jim and Aunt Betty and just about everyone else who wandered into our row house.  We sang, “Dad was told by Mother, you can’t have one, you can’t have none, you can’t have one without the other,”3 without understanding, of course, that “none” was a double entendre.

…..As I inhaled the Sinatra air around me a voice deep inside urged:  “The girls swoon over Sinatra, so be like Sinatra, and maybe the girls will swoon over you.”

…..Our connection deepened every Friday night in the 1960s as I listened to Friday with Frank on WHAT, a jazz and blues station, while delivering pizzas in my family’s 1956 Chevy from that same pizza shop with the Sinatra in the Wurlitzer jukebox.  Friday nights meant handling 40 or 50 orders, as Sid Mark, a DJ who knew Frank personally and seemed to know everything about him, spun popular and obscure Sinatra. It was three hours of pizza and Sinatra, mixed with inside stories and handcrafted commercials for Italian grocery stores and restaurants in South Philly.   Some of those songs, like “Come Fly with Me” and “High Hopes,” kept me running and hoping for broader horizons.

…..With Frank as my consort, I fell in love with Love delivering those pizzas.

…..Ah, the highs of falling in love. Like that night at St. Joes dance when the 17-year old me spotted a knockout from South Philly in a polka dot dress and, instead of going to my usual corner to get up the nerve to ask her to dance, I walked right up, asked her, and was in heaven.  Barbara was tall, pretty, and magnetic. “In my frightened arms, polka dots and moonbeams sparkled on a pug-nosed dream.”4 Love was “All the Way”.  It was “Witchcraft.”

…..And the lows. That stormy night I heard Frank sing Burke and Van Heusen’s “Here’s that Rainy Day” I  had to pull over to the curb.  It was just after Barbara turned me down a third time for a date, and I gave up asking. Or, Rogers’ and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind.” “You have what I lack myself; now I even have to scratch my back myself.” 5 

.

.….(Interlude 1:  I pause here to beg patience from the reader who is not in love with Sinatra, and who conjures up Frank as an old-school womanizer who shouldn’t even be spoken of today let alone listened to. His swinging version of “Ol’ MacDonald” captures the guy-gal culture of his times. “  . . . With a little curve here and a little curve there, this Chick she had curves everywhere.”6 He had four wives, one of whom was half his age. [My mother had trouble forgiving him for Mia Farrow, but she eventually got around to it.]  Then there were his affairs and one-night stands, which while they didn’t trouble my aunts shocked me when I read about them in my mother’s Photoplay magazines. No argument with any of that. I just can’t Cancel Frank.)

.

…..He and I moped on the serene moonlit Avalon beach most nights in New Jersey the summer of 1966.  We ceaselessly hummed and sang “Mood Indigo,” the melody and words echoing and feeding my dark and deep-as-the ocean loneliness.  None of the girls I wanted, wanted me back.  I was miserable; and, for better and worse, I was beginning to taste the sweet side of self-pity.

…..Being in love with Love meant Sinatra had to help me face this heartache.

…..Frank can reach the depths of loneliness. He may be the best ever at it. There are albums entirely of heartbreak songs—All Alone, (1962) No One Cares, (1959) Sings for Only the Lonely, (1958). They’ve been my cocktails through every breakup and love fight in my adult life: a melancholy Sinatra, a few whiskeys, and tears.

…..How to make a woman swoon?  The plot thickens here because I received completely opposite messages in my youth.  There was the Sinatra approach: “Something’s Gotta Give,”“All I Need is the Girl,” and his public behavior, countered by the persistent message from the nuns and priests who taught me in the Catholic schools that Frank wasn’t kidding when he sang “Love and Marriage.”  You get any before you’re married and you suffer the eternal pain of hell. Swooning without canoodling?  As impossible as walking the beach without sand between your toes.

…..I wasn’t handsome and debonair like Frank.  I was a gawky.  And I sure didn’t dress like Frank.  Hell, I only learned that stripes and plaids didn’t go together when I was 17 and my crush Rosemary Logan asked me why I had both on my body at the same time.

…..“The shirt and the pants both have red and blue in them,” I offered, pointing out the matching colors.

…..“No, Paul, it doesn’t work that way”.

…..Ugh.  Who taught Frank how to dress? Frank was an Italian kid from Hoboken.  I was an Italian-Irish kid from Philadelphia. Why couldn’t I be like more like him?

…..A decade later I admired Woody Allen’s portrayal of this feeling of ineptness in Play it Again Sam, his nerdy character coached by an imaginary Humphrey Bogart on how to win a girl’s heart.  “Tell her you’ve met lots of dames, but you are really something special.”  It worked for Woody.

…..But not for me.  Sinatra’s songs and Bogart’s style didn’t win for a pimply teen with stripes and solids.

.

…..(Interlude 2: You may be thinking: it’s bad enough he’s focused on Sinatra.  Now this guy is citing Woody Allen, who is in deeper shit than Frank for his reputed sexual behavior.  I hear you and I support the #MeToo culture; but I try to be forgiving of, or avoid focusing on, personal foibles, and sins. The artistry is what’s essential to me. Stay just a bit longer, please, I’m almost done.)

.

…..I bumbled through those years, finally finding love, losing it, and finding it again. I’m now 35-plus years into my second marriage.

…..Sinatra’s indispensable album for me in my senior years is September of My Years, filled with mellow reflective songs, looking back with some regrets, some fond memories, and some elder wisdom.  “How Old Am I?,” “The Man in the Looking Glass,” and “This is All I Ask.” “How old am I? Old enough to know the difference between infatuation and the love that has a chance to grow.” 7

…..The British music critic Ian Penman says that in his last concerts, Sinatra “ . . . was speaking to everyone in the audience who’d grown up with that voice and grown old with that face, and forgiven their owner’s many trespasses. He’d been their fall guy and idol, political bellwether and stand-in Las Vegas libertine. They’d played his records on first dates and then later at wakes for army buddies and others gone too soon. No one else’s voice seemed to play just so on so many different occasions.”

…..The song that plays through my entire life–my top song of the thousand or so that he recorded–is “Young At Heart,” conveying the Sinatra wisdom that seeped into me in my boyhood, and was my mother’s favorite.

…..I led my friends in singing it at my 70th birthday party:

 

Fairy tales can come true
it can happen to you if you’re young at heart
for it’s hard, you will find
to be narrow of mind if you’re young at heart.8

 

…..(Oh, you’re still with me? Go ahead and listen to it. You just might enjoy the message.)

 

Thanks for the Memories, Frank.

.

.

___

.

 

 

.

 

 

Paul Brophy’s love for Sinatra songs is the base for his lifelong affection for the composers and lyricists of the Great American Songbook as interpreted by the jazz singers and musicians of his generation.  His playlists, including “Sinatra and Me,” can be found on Spotify by clicking here

He still eats pizza and listens to Frank on Friday nights.

.

.

.

Listen to Frank Sinatra’s 1981 recording of Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin’s “Thanks For the Memory”

.

.

1 Music and lyrics by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman

2 Music and lyrics by Vincent Youmans, Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu

3 Music and lyrics by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen

4 Music and lyrics by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke

5 Music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

6 Lyrics by Marilyn Bergman, Spence Lewis (Lew),  and Alan Bergman

7 Music and lyrics by Gordon Jenkins

8 Music and lyrics by Johnny Richards and Carolyn Leigh

.

.

.

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Painting of Clifford Brown by Warren Goodson
The 43 poets who contribute to the Summer Collection of jazz poetry communicate their heartfelt passion for the artistry and inspiration found in jazz music, and help readers, in the words of Art Blakey, “wash away the dust of everyday life” – a special gift to share during this restless summer of discontent…and hope.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In Straighten Up and Fly Right: The Life and Music of Nat King Cole, author Will Friedwald writes, “In his relatively short time on earth, Nat King Cole would not only change the meaning and the sound of both jazz and popular music several times over, but he would also significantly alter the public perception of what it meant to be black.” The author joins us in a conversation about Cole and his book on the legendary entertainer.

Interview

The historian and most eminent jazz writer of his generation Dan Morgenstern and pianist Christian Sands – the Mack Avenue Recording Artist who also serves as the Creative Ambassador of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project – discuss Garner’s extraordinary legacy.

Publisher’s Notes

Grant Park, Portland, Sep 16, 2020
On a challenging summer in Portland, the passing of Stanley Crouch, and upcoming opportunities for writers

Great Encounters

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. In this edition, Will Friedwald, author of Straighten Up and Fly Right: The Life and Music of Nat King Cole, writes about the 1940 Lionel Hampton/King Cole Trio RCA Victor recording sessions.

Interview

photo of James Baldwin by Allan Warren
In our interview with Nicholas Buccola, author of The Fire is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America, the author tells the story of the historic 1965 Cambridge Union debate between Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and Buckley, a staunch opponent of the movement and founder in 1955 of the leading conservative publication, National Review. The evening’s debate topic? “The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.”

Poetry

Mood Indigo by Matthew Hinds
An invitation was extended recently for poets to submit work that reflects this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season. 14 poets contribute to the first volume of collected poetry.

Poetry

photo by Russell duPont
The second volume of poetry reflecting this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season features the work of 23 poets

Poetry

Dreams of Freedom, by Vakseen
Thirty-three poets contribute to the third volume of "Poetry reflecting the era of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season"

Short Fiction

photo FDR Presidential Library & Museum
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #54 — “A Failed Artist’s Paradise” by Nathaniel Neil Whelan

Interview

photo courtesy John Bolger Collection
Philip Clark, author of Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, discusses the enigmatic and extraordinary pianist, composer, and band leader, whose most notable achievements came during a time of major societal and cultural change, and often in the face of critics who at times found his music too technical and bombastic.

Features

Red Meditation by James Brewer
Creative artists and citizens of note respond to the question, "During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?”

Interview

Ornette Coleman 1966/photo courtesy Mosaic Images
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Ornette Coleman: The Territory And The Adventure author Maria Golia discusses her compelling and rewarding book about the artist whose philosophy and the astounding, adventurous music he created served to continually challenge the skeptical status quo, and made him a guiding light of the artistic avant-garde throughout a career spanning seven decades.

Short Fiction

photo by Alan Levine/pxhere.com
“All the Things That I Can’t Tell” — a short story by Blythe Asta

True Jazz Stories

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“Sinatra and Me” — a true jazz story by Paul Brophy

Photography

photo of Thelonious Monk by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Thelonious Monk, Paul Bley and Cecil Taylor are featured

Poetry

Frits De Jong / CC0
“Nocturne in a Whirling Fan” — a poem by Joel Glickman

Humor

painting of Louis Armstrong by Vakseen
In Dig Wayne's "Iconolast," Louis Armstrong is responsible for saving the lives of every man, woman and child on the ball bearing line at the Radio Flyer wagon factory...

Poetry

photo by John Vachon/Library of Congress
“Climate Change” — Ten poems in sequence by John Stupp

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.

Art

Art by Charles Ingham
"Charles Ingham's Jazz Narratives" connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition's narratives are "Nat King Cole: The Shadow of the Word," "Slain in Cold Blood" and "Local 767: The Black Musicians’ Union"

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #141

photo of Stan Kenton by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Prior to his time with Stan Kenton’s Innovations Orchestra, this trumpeter — who some have said could play higher than any other trumpeter up to that point in history — gained experience with the big bands of Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey and Charlie Barnet. Who is he?

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Interview

photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...

Pressed for All Time

In this edition, producer Ed Michel talks with Pressed for All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums author Michael Jarrett about Art Pepper, and the 1980 Winter Moon recording session

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

Spring Poetry Collection

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Coming Soon

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
An interview with Ricky Riccardi, author of Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong; also, an autumn collection of jazz poetry; a new volume of “Poetry reflecting the era of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season”; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography and lots more in the works…

Contributing writers

Site Archive