It had begun like the World Soft Championships. The songs, mostly by
Antonio Carlos Jobim. Tender melodies. Tender like a two-day, lobster-red
Rio sunburn, so tender they'd scream agony if handled rough. Slap one
of his fragile songs on the back with a couple of trumpets? Like washing
crystal in a cement mixer.
Seemed like the whole idea was to out-hush each other. Decibels treated
like daggers. The arranger tiptoeing about, eliminating some percussion
here, ticks there, ridding every song of clicks, bings, bips all things
sharp. Doing it with fervor matched only by Her Majesty's Silkworms.
And Sinatra makes a joke about all this. "I haven't sung so soft
since I had the laryngitis."
Singing so soft, if he sang any softer he'd have to be lying on his back.
Hours earlier, Sinatra & Co. moved into Studio One. Nobody much around
except a couple of Rent-a-Cops. Sinatra there half an hour early, as never
before. He begins running down the melody of the new songs. Softly whistling,
smoothing away wrinkles.
The booth begins to fill up with gold cuff-links, Revlon red fake nails,
Countess Mara ties.
Outside, thorough double-glass windows, musicians with black fiddle cases
wander warily in, chatting about the weather in Boston, the governor in
Berkeley, anything but pizzicato.
Along the studio walls, the wanderingsof miscellaneous Brazilians in
yachting caps and silver mustaches.
And then, casually, at eight, exactly eight, Sinatra looks over at the
conductor and "Well let's try one, huh?"
At first, it does not groove right. This is not ring-a-ding ding. Sinatra
mother-hens the session closely: "Let's have an 'A,' huh?" as
he snaps the orchestra.
The "A" passes quickly around the infield: piano to strings
They run through the song once. Then...pause. Long. Long. Like standing
there while the Judge opens up the verdict envelope. The arranger-conductor,
not made of asbestos, sensitive in his position, there between Jobim and
Sinatra, looking over at Sinatra, worrying "Tempo?"
"No, it's a good tempo. It's the only way you can do it. You have
to hang with it." Sinatra's assurance: there is inly one
tempo for this song; any other tempo would be wrong. Have been, are, and
forever shall be wrong.
One more exploration of the song, to catch more wrinkles. Sinatra himself,
at a rough spot in the bridge, stops cold. Long. Long. Sinatra looks around.
Long. Long. He points to himself as the culprit. "That was an old
Chesterfield that just came up on me. Around 1947, it felt like."
You feel for anybody who will blow it on the next take. It begins. the
long, long. About a minute and a half in, then the trombonist braaacks
a note. Braaack. That obvious. He can't look over at some other trombonist;
he's the only trombonist. So he sits there, a butch-colored felt
hat sagged across the bell of his horn, hung there to keep it Soft. Poor
Trombone Player knows: his music said B and it came out F and Jesus was
Sinatra looks over. "Don't sweat it," he says.
The trombonists tries a joke back: "If I blow any softer, it'll
hafta come out the back of my neck."
Next to Jobim perches Jobim's personal drummer, a Brazilian who can look
simultaneously alert and stoned. Flew in to Hollywood specially for this,
but not from Rio. From Chicago, figure that out. "Soft, son, hold
it down." A bronze-colored sofa pillow slumps back against his bass
This drummer, named Dom-Um Romao, looking like he should be selling weird
rugs in Arab doorways. Looking like a tricky one, Martha. Between takes,
the way he keeps the tips of his fingers warm under his armpits. His arms
crossed that way, the fuzzy goatee, looking like a road company Buddhist.
In contrast, the Conductor, a German. Claus Ogerman, speaking always
Germanic phrasing. "Yes the introduction, I will slow down each time
the fourth beat." There in his blue cardigan sweater, fully buttoned,
So starched even his sweaters have creases.
The buzzing continues, with grey-templed producer Sonny Burke conferring
on last-minute scoring changes, standing by with vats of oil lest troubled
waters rise. To the side, Jobim's goateed producer, Ray Gilbert, soothing
softly in Portuguese.
On the next number, jobim will sing duet with Sinatra. "Tome,"
as Sinatra calls him, bends in close to his microphone. His hair undressed,
finger combed. His jaw moving with precision, moving to each new vowel,
his lips moving like yours do when you write a check for over $1000.
This slight and tousled boy-man, speaking softly while about him rushes
a world too fast. Antonio, troubled not by the clamour in the world. Troubled
more by the whisperings from his heart.
The song's last note. Keep quiet until the cymbal stops ringing. Dead
quiet. only Sinatra, a born peeker, can't wait. He liked that take. He
bends over, peeking into the control booth, unwilling to wait for the
endless cymbal overhang to end. Peeking in at the engineers, as if daring
them to reveal any Electronic Irreverances.
They reveal none.
"That," says Sinatra, "should be the record."
During playback, Sinatra leans on the conductor's vacant podium. The
only parts of him you see just popped white cuffs and worry lines in his
brow. He's Worry personified, like he's in the last reel of "The
Greatest Birth Ever Given."
Around him circle the rest. The circle, too, listens to the playback.
Grown men do not cry. They instead put on faces gauged to be intent.
They too listen hard, as if half way through someone whispers buried treasure
It's over. Sinatra walks away. "Next tune," he says.
Around him, the circle. Half-stammering, half-silent, because they can't
think up a phrase of praise that's truly the topper.
Except for Jobim.
He walks up to Sinatra. A peculiar walk, like he's got gum on one sole.
He puts his arm around Sinatra. He hugs Sinatra. Both men smile. Jobim
turns out to look at the circle around them. his face alight, proud of
his singer. His face triumphant. As if to say, and all along, you thought
he was Italian.
Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim
The Girl From Ipanema (Gārota De Ipanema)
Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)
If You Never Come To Me
How Insensitive (Insensatez)
I Concentrate On You
Baubles, Bangles And beads
Once I Loved (O Amor En Paz)
Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim from Amazon.co.uk.