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Party in the Sky: Francis Albert Sinatra and Joe Williams

On this day, December 12th, two magnificent singers, Sinatra and Williams, share a birthday–two voices, and such superlative ones being born on the same date must mean something for sure

Sunil Sampat Dec 12, 2015

What is it about these birthday coincidences? On September 23rd we have the great John Coltrane sharing his birthday with the equally fabulous Ray Charles and also with  pianist Les McCann, saxophonist Frank Foster and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen!

On December 12th, two magnificent singers, Frank Sinatra and Joe Williams share a birthday as well. It will give heart to those who believe in sun signs, horoscopes and the like — in this case with good reason. Two voices, and such superlative ones being born on the same date must mean something for sure. The stars are in the right place!

A44AG6 FRANK SINATRA US singer and actor

Frank Sinatra would have been 100 today. Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Old Blue Eyes aka Frank Sinatra would have been a hundred years today, December 12th. Wherever he is, I can visualize him singing, “when I turned a hundred, it was a very good year for……”. Sinatra was, arguably the greatest singer of American popular music of the twentieth century.  That is saying something but then, Sinatra was so special. A friend has just reminded me of a quote from lyricist Yip Harburg who said, “Music makes you feel a feeling. But a song makes you feel a thought.” No singer ever made you feel a thought more deeply that Sinatra. He had the magic, the vocal charisma, persuasion and seduction to make each listener believe he was saying the words to just him or her and that he meant it all!

Sinatra was classified in the categories of swing, pop, soft rock, show tunes, ballads and singer of the American song book, he was never seen as a jazz singer, although held in high esteem by jazz musicians for his magnificent phrasing and uncanny sense of timing. This has meant that one never tires of hearing Sinatra again and again. He recorded extensively in the Fifties and Sixties and has made fine recordings, several of which have become classics. His albums, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, Come Fly With Me, in which he makes a reference to “a bar in far Bombay”, as well as songs like “Only the Lonely”, “Sinatra & Basie at the Sands”, “Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim” among others are a musical yardstick for other performers.

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On many occasions, Sinatra has credited Billie Holiday for her vocal influence on his singing style. In 1970, he wrote and recorded “Lady Day” in Billie’s honor. Incidentally, Billie Holiday also would have turned 100 in April, 2015.

Sinatra started out as the vocalist in the Dorsey band in the Thirties. His voice was a lot weaker than the Sinatra of the Fifties. However, his potential to be a vocal great was noticed even in the Thirties. There is an amusing story of Bing Crosby, a very popular vocalist of that time. Crosby was then the top male crooner. His manager came excitedly to Bing and said, “Have you heard of  this new kid, Sinatra? They say he has a once-in-a-lifetime voice”. Bing Crosby looked skywards and said, “Yes, but why in MY lifetime?”

Apart from his great singing and magnetic stage presence in live performances, Sinatra also acted in a number of Hollywood movies. He played a major role opposite Grace Kelly in High Society–which also had Crosby and Louis Armstrong. For the movie, From Here to Eternity [1953], a story based on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Sinatra won the Oscar for Best Supporting  Actor.

D9PJ0B JOE WILLIAMS (1918-1999) US jazz singer about 1946

US jazz singer Joe Williams in a file photo from 1946. Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Joe Williams would have been 97 today. He was the fabulous vocalist best known for his long association with Count Basie and his orchestra. In fact, Williams was perhaps the last great big band vocalist, where he had followed in the tradition of Jimmy Rushing, William’s predecessor in the Count Basie Orchestra. Williams had perfected the genres of swing, blues, ballads and standards to go with his deep baritone voice. Basie and Williams have several notable recordings together.

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The Williams/Basie collaboration on “Every Day I Have the Blues” is a classic in every respect. It has swing, great orchestration and arrangement, is the blues and tells a story in itself. The very knowledgeable and famous jazz pianist from Chennai, Madhav Chari had once told me that this Basie/Williams song was a perfect example of a blues piece with every ingredient of the blues in it. “Frame it and keep it,” he had said. It is a jazz and also a blues classic. Sadly, Chari passed away in November 2015, just in his forties.

So tonight, I suspect there will be a swinging party up in the sky where Ol’ Blue Eyes and the blues singer are entertaining a crowd! These guys were truly out of this world.

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