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Frank Sinatra’s “I Remember Tommy” Reviewed

Album # 19 is here, I Remember Tommy,  and, amazingly enough, it is still 1961 -an astoundingly prolific year for Frank Sinatra, this was his FIFTH ALBUM OF NEW MATERIAL!!! It was also a great, big question mark because from the very first song, the dead in 1956 great bandleader Tommy Dorsey is conspicuous by his absence on this tribute. If you listen to Dorsey’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” what you hear first and foremost in Tommy’s trombone, and when you listen to Sinatra covering it, the song is first and foremost and only about Sinatra singing. Now, Sinatra was still in great voice in 1961, had lost nothing from the top, his maturity, skillfulness, and breathtaking competence were all stand outs. But that doesn’t change the primary question: why tribute your former boss by removing him?

Here is one reason, a story often told but this take is by written by Marla Eggar of ” When Sinatra was in his mid 20’s, he signed an indentured servitude contract with bandleader Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey demanded that Sinatra pay him one-third of his earnings for life and an additional 10 percent to his agent.In other words, Sinatra was getting screwed without the courtesy of a reach around! However, in 1943, Sinatra’s representatives tried to get him out of the contract by offering Dorsey $60,000 to toss it out. Dorsey, who had a reputation for being persistent, refused. Sinatra’s godfather, Willie Moretti, convinced Dorsey to see the light or the barrel of an associates gun whichever story you want to believe. Rumor has it he turned down 60 grand, but settled for one dollar – far from a pimp decision if you ask me, but I digress. This story is so impressive that Mario Puzo decided to retell it in the 1972 movie The Godfather.” (She meant the novel but you get the concept.

But I am just messing with you, Frank found the lyric to a song we know as an instrumental and with the aid of Sy made one of his most brass heavy albums ever. Recorded over three days in May, 1961, arranged and conducted by Sy (He led the transition of the Dorsey band from Dixielan to Big Band and got Buddy Rich onboard), the trumpet player was also one of the first African American to play with a white lead big band. Sy’s arrangements are first rate, the band is all swing with the dance portion of Dorsey neglected for a pop swing vibe  to a degree, but the charts Sy must have written for this fascinating, energetic return to the 1940s..

I Remember Tommy may have worked like nostalgia back in the day, certainly it has more big band than Frank’s other albums at the time, and while Frank is the complete focus, Sy still disrupts on longer than normal instrumental bridges, and the reprise of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” gives it that circular return to a time and place, it is the quietest of story telling, just a nudge of remembrance.

Sinatra is covering the songs to fun them, the “I’ll Be Seeing You” is not a shocker, the “Polka Dots And Moonbeams” a slight yet deep reward, “The One I Love (Belongs To Somebody Else)” is an unrequited love song as a dance track and when Sinatra sings “boo hoo hoo” there is no doubt this isn’t Wee Small. While not really a dance album, its genesis is definitely dance and it swings on the brass and not from the rhythm section.”East Of The Sun” is a plainly pleasurable vocal from Frank, gone is the ease he showed just two album backs and here he strains to nudge the songs where he wants them.

This isn’t a major addition to the Sinatra canon, but it has the double up of nostalgia and also that which bypasses nostalgia, if Sinatra’s hidden point of view was that he could do what Tommy could do and also do what Frank could do, point well made. Taken out of 1961 and listened to today, it sounds like a remix album that takes the templates and modernizes them.

Grade: A-

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