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Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!

 
 


I used to know an amazing drummer (now deceased) named Dusty Neely who performed with the Dorsey Brothers, and I remember one time asking him what his favorite instrument was and why, and his reply was:  “The piano, because it’s so visual and laid out before your eyes, with lows down there and highs up there and all the sharps and flats clearly visible.”  This album cover photo is kind of the same way in terms of stereo sound:  The left track is over there on the left (green arrows), and right track is over there on the right (red arrows), and Frank’s there in the middle.  I love it!

quote of the day

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Let’s start with the fantastic album cover,

August 23, 1960 (Red Sweater Day in Los Angeles)

Five saxes, with bass clarinet on stand-by, all gathered around a single, bi-directional RCA 44 ribbon mic

Harp, with mic not visible

Celli, sitting in the rear, apparently with their own mic, although it’s a bit unclear.

Upper strings, apparently with two mics, although it’s a bit unclear.

Above: Sinatra, hat, mptv logo, and RCA 44 mic visible in piano lid off to the left side.

Mallet percussion, also on an RCA 44.

Trombones, on a U47/48.

Alvin Stoller, his drums, and an Altec 21B omnidirectional “Coke bottle” mic.

Red Mitchell on bass; mic not visible.

Al Viola (behind Frank) on guitar; mic not visible.

Bill Miller’s piano, with

RCA 44 (unseen here, visible in another photo below).

Trumpet section captured on what appears to be an Electro-Voice V-series mic, although I suspect it is actually  an RCA 44.  (Hard to tell with low-rez photo reproduction.)  Mic cropped out of album cover, but visible below.

Mr. Sinatra, this time not using Capitol’s trademark U47 (or 48), but instead using a Telefunken/AKG ELA 250 (or 251). (See inset, also.  Mic clearly “staged” for color photo.)

Above: Sinatra, hat, mptv logo, and what appear to be two RCA 44 mics for the string section, visible above the head of an unsuspecting, bespectacled sax player off to the right.

While there is a degree of stagecraft used in that Sinatra album cover, it’s pretty mild compared to this Four Freshmen photo!

Nelson Riddle, unmiked, indicating that his contributions went unrecorded.

Former artist “Sting” (left) performing his famous “I Want My MPTV” bit with Dire Straits, 1986.

Sinatra photos by Sid Avery, mostly available from MPTVimages.com


Just to dispel pesky rumors:  There is no alternate cover photo used on some issues of this album, but there was some poor touch-up work done by EMI in Britain that altered the appearance of a couple of players in the orchestra.  This all came to be when EMI needed cover art for the CD in their 1998 boxed set.  Instead of going back to the original photo or even going back to an original LP jacket, they used the cover art for the 1987 “Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!! and more” CD, but removed the “and more,” problem being:  The “and more” partially covered the faces of two players in the orchestra, so when those two words were “airbrushed out,” the faces had to be “recreated,” assumedly using Photoshop or a similar touch-up program, and it was done quite poorly.

Upper right:  Original LP cover

Center right: 1987 CD cover, with “and more” added

Bottom right: 1998 UK box set

Above: 

Argentinian EP release.

This is the first Sinatra album recorded from the new, enlarged, upgraded Studio A stereo control room at Capitol.  In the past, the all-powerful mono mix was conducted “live” in the booth, while the stereo (3-track) tapes were tracked upstairs in the “snack room” makeshift facility.


Where Are You, Come Fly with Me, and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely were undoubtedly 3-mic recordings, with two mics on the orchestra and a mic on Sinatra.  As far as my ears can tell, the final 3-mic Sinatra vocal recording was the session of June 26, 1958, the last session for Only the Lonely.  Eleven sessions over fourteen months had been recorded fully or partially with only 3 mics, and I can find no evidence -- aural or visual -- of any such Sinatra.recordings occurring after June 26, 1958.  Indeed, I am of the opinion that, starting no later than the July 1957 Just One of Those Things sessions of Nat “King” Cole, Capitol Records staff began looking for a way to consolidate their stereo/mono “dual booths” operation into one system that could serve mono and stereo needs.  The initial approach, from August 1956 to summer of 1957, appears to be a “fool-proof,” turnkey stereo system:  three microphones, each feeding a separate track of a 3-track recorder, the “mic-over-there”-on-the-left-and-“a-mic-over-there”-on-the-right-plus-a-mic-in-the-middle-for-the-soloist (aka MOTLMOTRPMMS) mic technique.  In theory, nothing could go wrong, but of course, plenty of things went wrong in practice.  The approach seemed to be followed very briefly by a “mic the orchestra in stereo just as you would in mono, but with another mic thrown in on the winds to provide a convincing stereo effect.”  WOW -- this sounded great, but it was short lived.  (Just One of Those Things falls into this category, and may be my favorite Capitol stereo recording, but a very problematic one, as it was impossible to effectively run the stereo mix “blind” while monitoring for mono.  See here for details.)  I don’t know if Just One of Those Things was an absolute “one-off,” but the stereo approach for that album certainly did not become the norm. Instead, Capitol appears to quickly revert to the MOTLMOTRPMMS technique until sometime in the fall of 1958, after which time the “true stereo” sound image of those first three albums vanishes, and we enter, to degrees that vary from title to title, “Stereo-Wonkyville,” with certain instruments completely on the left track, the others completely on the right, mitigated only by Sinatra’s vocal track and a little bit of bleed-through from section to section, be it intentional or merely fortuitous.  (It should be mentioned that on rare occasions, a solo instrument would share Sinatra’s vocal track, but such was the exception, not the rule.) 


Thus far in this survey of recordings, we have seen/heard that Come Dance with Me, No One Cares, Nice ‘N’ Easy, and now Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session share these “wonky” stereo characteristics.  To my ears, the first two albums on the list are quite unconvincing in stereo, but for different reasons.  In the case of Come Dance with Me, a major culprit is the arranging style, which is largely (nearly exclusively) “call and response” between the saxes on the left and the blasting brass on the right.  Not only is it ping-pong stereo in the worst sense of the phrase, but the team on the left side is playing with fly swatters while the team on the right is playing with baseball bats and just beating the heck out of the guys on the left.  To my ears, it’s all wrong, and I really hate that album in stereo, and only listen to it because the original mono mix is so poor.  Here’s a quick refresher:

Capitol Studios: Now Renovated for Stereo!

OR: Stereo Finally Moves Downstairs and Takes Over

October 1958:

Nearing the end for the original mono booth

August 1960:

First Sinatra album to use the new, enlarged stereo booth

Original mono booth, completed in 1956.

(Stereo recording initially accomplished upstairs, separate from actual studio.)

New stereo booth, completed late in 1959.  12-input stereo/mono mixer, up to four Ampex tape machines, switchable 1-, 2-, and 3-channel monitoring.

(Before)               (After)