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Frank Sinatra the conductor
Alec Wilder arranged some of Sinatra's 1943 a cappella sides with The Bobby Tucker Singers and in 1945 Sinatra recorded the Wilder tune "Just An Old Stone House", whose tortuous modulations put it well away from the mainstream. Around the same time, Sinatra heard and enjoyed some of Wilder's classical work and, with the encouragement of the oboist Mitch Miller (a friend of Wilder and future bète noire of Sinatra), he persuaded the Columbia boss Manie Sachs to let him take the baton for a recording of Wilder's work. Contemporary and oblique, the product didn't find a large audience but was a cult favourite among some modern-minded musicians.
Wilder also got a couple of cuts when Sinatra repeated the experience ten years later at Capitol for Tone Poems Of Color, a specially commissioned series of pieces based on Norman Sickel's poetry, featuring the archetypal work of Gordon Jenkins in his first encounter with Sinatra, untypical offerings from Nelson Riddle and Billy May, and further contributions from Elmer Bernstein, Victor Young and André Previn.
Sinatra felt capable enough to conduct Riddle's charts for Peggy Lee's Capitol debut The Man I Lovein 1957 and Pete King's charts for Dean Martin's "Sleep Warm" in 1959, and he conceived and produced both albums. Sinatra also once mentioned that he was going to ask Nelson Riddle to write a guitar concerto for him to conduct but the nearest this came to fruition was when Riddle arranged the ultra-rare Frank Sinatra Conducts Music From Pictures And Plays, an early release on Reprise.
In the fanciful The Future suite on Trilogy of Gordon Jenkins, in 1980, it becomes evident though the libretto that the semi-fictional character of "Francis", above all the things he could do in the future, wants to conduct an orchestra. And soon afterwards he did, on Syms By Sinatra for the cabaret singer Sylvia Syms, whom he had known since the early 1940s, the arrangements being Don Costa's last work; and on What's New, an album of ballads by his incured lead trumpeter of the time, Charles Turner.
Sinatra took his baton-wielding very seriously and the musicians who were there agree that he was phisically expressive and competent, at the very least. Even Miller, who had reason to remember Sinatra in an unfavourable light, admitted that the musically untrained singer "had a feel for music... he didn't get in the way": Peggy Lee recalled that Frank's conducting was "marvellously sensitive, as one would expect".