march 2011

Sinatra at The Sands, 1966: Some moment.

A Vegas Memo From The Chairman Of the Board

By David McGee

Frank Sinatra
Concord Records

A well-done 15-song overview of the 2006 four-CD box set, Sinatra: Vegas, Best of Vegas offers a similar quarter-century perspective on the Chairman of the Board’s Vegas legacy that, though abridged, still does the job of affirming Sinatra’s musicality and theatricality both. The first three tracks were recorded at the legendary Sands (partly owned by Sinatra) in November 1961, followed by four sensational performances from Sands shows in January-February 1961 when he has at his disposal the muscle of Count Basie & His Orchestra, conducted by Quincy Jones (with Sinatra’s long-time concert pianist Bill Miller on hand as well). (The 1966 Sinatra At The Sands album produced by this pairing, a bonafide classic, was Sinatra’s first live release; the Vegas box set includes an alternate version of this show—from which the Best of Vegas tracks are culled—with a slightly different set list.) Forming the bulk of this disc, the Sands tracks are peak Sinatra, assaying classics from his bountiful Capitol years: a swaggering “Fly Me To the Moon” (with a robust Basie horn section really kicking and inspiring shouts of admiration from the Chairman); a wonderful, low-key reading of “The Lady Is A Tramp” with Antonio Morelli & His Orchestra supporting him with a humming, discreet arrangement until Sinatra ups the intensity about halfway through and gets the appropriate exclamations from the horn section in building to a big finish, which, in the sequencing here, leads seamlessly into a knockout, understated arrangement of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with the Basie Orchestra in service to a tender but enthusiastic Sinatra vocal that sets up a big, boisterous denouement ahead of a stop-time measure and a soft landing at song’s end. In the ’82 tracks from Caesar’s Palace and three selections from a 1987 Golden Nugget show, Sinatra is settled into his songs; he knows them inside out, all the nuances and the surprises available to him as an interpreter, and so in essence becomes those songs; the 1961 Sinatra hasn’t yet overcome his awe at the poetic wonders so abundant in the Great American Songbook. So in the ’61 Sands set, when he settles into the exquisite “Moonlight in Vermont” and sings, “People who meet in this romantic setting/are so hypnotized by the lovely eeeee-vening summer breeze,” he can’t contain himself, steps outside the performance and interjects, “goddamn, boy, I tell you…” and then, with the audience laughing, has to clarify: “I’m talkin’ about the song, not me!” It’s an amazing moment, hearing him overwhelmed by the lyrics’ beauty to the point where he is compelled to editorialize.

Frank Sinatra & the Count Basie Orchestra, Quincy Jones conducting ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin.’ Filmed in St. Louis, MO, June 20, 1965, Benefit for Dismas House (the first halfway house for ex-convicts) at the Kiel Opera House. Also on the bill: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Johnny Carson. Billed as ‘The Frank Sinatra Spectacular,’ the concert was televised live via closed circuit to select locations where paying customers viewed the festivities.

Though the voice is a bit heavier on the ‘80s tracks, it remains a formidable instrument, and Sinatra’s rhythmic interaction with his combo is simply masterful—as is his genial banter with the audience between songs, when he’s both a bit cocky and a tad melancholy in introducing the late-night existential angst of “Angel Eyes” in a beautiful, sumptuous, string-laden arrangement that reaches an exultant emotional peak early on, then gradually fades until Sinatra is left alone with pianist Bill Miller, despairing over his lost love before exiting with an abrupt “‘scuse me while I disappear…” A swinging “Pennies From Heaven” (recorded at the Golden Nugget) and the big, brassy finish of “Theme From New York, New York” (into which he interjects a snippet of “Chicago”) serve as rousing bookends to the poignancy of “Angel Eyes.”

marqueeThe longest track on here, at 8:38, contains no music. It’s Sinatra at the Sands, ’66, doing shtick, nothing else, as heard previously on disc 2 of the Vegas box. He jokes about his shoes (“my Mary Janes, patent leather with little bows on ‘em. You think I’m tryin’ to tell you somethin’?”) and the martial arts lessons he took before he dared wear them in public; he takes a jab at the Vatican; has a good time poking fun at Sammy Davis Jr.’s versatility; and reserves Don Rickles-like venom for Dean Martin, who was subbing for Sinatra at the Sands on Monday nights (“He doesn’t know it yet; we’ll let him know when the engagement’s finished that he’s been here every Monday. He gets flown up here in a Lear jet—shwoom! like this—and he gets—boom!—flown back to Los Angeles; he’s stoned all the time. He don’t know he’s been here yet, folks. He thinks he’s been doin’ benefits for the Hadassah somewhere. Or the Sons of Italy! Dean Martin is probably my dearest friend, and people always ask me, ‘Does he really drink?’ Well, he drinks. He’s a drunk. He falls in the street a lot; he wears curb feelers instead of cufflinks, so he can feel the curb when he lays down.”). You wonder how many listeners are going to get his crack, “I’m beginning to get feet like Jack Entratter now!” A legendary Vegas character, Entratter owned a controlling interest in New York’s fabled Copacabana club before he cashed out to become General Manager of the Sands and a Sinatra confidante and benefactor, booking him at the club’s aptly named Copa Room—because Entratter was leaning on the talent from New York’s Copacabana to appear in his Vegas joint—when the singer’s career was practically dead, pre-From Here To Eternity and all the towering Capitol albums yet to come in the wake of his departure from Columbia Records. Fans of The Godfather will remember seeing Entratter’s name on the Sands marquee in the opening shots from the movie’s Vegas sequence. For listeners of a certain age, the mention of Entratter’s name is going to bring back vivid memories of the old, glamorous Vegas, not on a par with what obtains from Sinatra’s performance, of course, but it’s all part of the package—not as expansive an experience as the box set, but quite a moment in its own right.

Frank Sinatra & the Count Basie Orchestra, Quincy Jones conducting ‘Luck Be a Lady’ at the June 20, 1965 Benefit for Dismas House (the first halfway house for ex-convicts) at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis.

Frank Sinatra’s Best of Vegas is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024