I know just where my folks were on October 24, 1987 -- sitting in the fifth row for Frank Sinatra's concert at Reunion Arena, as Mom boasted only this morning. And so we wrap this year with a sound track perfect for any New Year's Eve wingding. Or maybe I shouldn't have stopped to watch the end of When Harry Met Sally ... when it was on the other night.
It's surprising the Reunion Arena concert never received a proper release, given the fact there are some 1,294 official Sinatra titles presently in print. Pieces of it have surfaced on official releases: "My Way" found its way to last year's re-release of, well, My Way; "Lonely Town" and "Moonlight In Vermont" were shoehorned onto the long-unavailable five-disc The Greatest Concerts comp; and several more remixed offerings made it onto the Live in Concert disc released in '95, though, given the lack of liner notes, there's much debate about where or when (heh) the tracks actually originated.
But according to two sources, the entire Reunion concert does exist -- because it was broadcast once in '88 and again in '89 by the Mutual Broadcasting System, which branded it Come Swing With Me. Writes one Sinatra fan: "MBS also issued a LP set of the show, of which many people have a copy, which however never wound up for commercial sales. The complete show, albeit being among Sinatra's best, remains commercially unissued to date." To which Ken Hutchins adds of that Dallas date: "The broadcast was a slightly abridged version of the actual concert. There are three versions of the concert available: the actual LPs used by the radio stations to play the concert (and the taped version of the same concert), a professionally recorded line concert (used as part of the creation of the broadcast version), and an audience made recording."
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What we have here, given the varying sound quality, appears to be an amalgam of all three -- the complete show, from overture to "The Lady is a Tramp," with so many other immortals in between, each introduced by Francis Albert with a brief, sweet, sincere nod to the songs' composers and arrangers, most of whom had "the late" affixed to their names by that point.
Accompanied by pianist and arranger and conductor Bill Miller, with whom Frank began recording during his final year on Columbia in '52, he was time-machine Frank -- his voice not quite as beautiful as it had been in the '50s and early '60s, not quite as malleable, but still no less compelling. And he was charming and funny as hell.
My parents were lucky. Only a few years later I saw Sinatra at the Fair Park Music Hall, and by then we got only glimpses of greatness. By then, he relied on TelePrompters to get through the set, and even then he'd forget some of the words. He'd spend much of the night chiding Frank Jr, and you could tell there was a lot of contempt beneath the kidding. He choked up when speaking of old friends and collaborators; he cried more than once. Soon after that night, he retired; not long after that, he was gone. But till today I'd never heard this show, the one my folks got to witness up-close -- Frank, when he was still The Voice, not yet The Echo.
And, so. Happy New Year, Friends of Unfair Park. I tip my Jack on the rocks in your general direction.