Shout! Factory // 1965 // 205 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // March 23rd, 2011
Ol' Blue Eyes is Back.
When 1965 began, Frank Sinatra had been in the business for three decades and the Beatles had taken over music. With Sinatra approaching his fiftieth birthday, there was some speculation that the title of his new album, September of My Years, might be a little too apt.
As it turned out, 1965 was a banner year. He, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. did a sold-out benefit concert that was broadcast around the country on closed-circuit television. September of My Years wasn't just a hit, but it won the Best Album Grammy as well. The cherry on top was the November broadcast of A Man and His Music, a one-hour television special. The show, a retrospective of Sinatra's hits, was a smash hit, winning an Emmy and a Peabody award. In addition, Sinatra recorded an accompanying album of the same name, which won the Grammy for Best Album. The success of the special spawned sequels, in 1966 and 1967; sixteen years later, Sinatra was back with one more sequel. Shout! Factory brings these four specials before the court in A Man and His Music: The Collection. All four specials were first released on DVD in 1999; this set simply repackages them. The specials are also available in a larger boxed set of all Sinatra's TV specials, Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection...
* A Man And His Music (aired November 24, 1965)
This 1965 performance showcases Sinatra in peak form. The Nelson Riddle arrangements sparkle, opening with a classic rendition of "I've Got You Under My Skin" and other favorites, such as "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "Come Fly With Me," and "The Lady Is A Tramp."
* A Man And His Music Part II (December 7, 1966)
For his second special, Sinatra is joined by his daughter Nancy Sinatra, who was a pop star in her own right at the time. Songs include an upbeat rendition of "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," plus "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Luck be a Lady."
* A Man And His Music + Ella + Jobim (November 13, 1967)
This third special, a celebration of rhythm, finds Sinatra joined by the dazzling Ella Fitzgerald in an historic pairing of the two preeminent vocal talents of the era. As if that weren't enough, Antonio Carlos Jobim accompanies Frank for an intimate medley of classics, including "The Girl From Ipanema." Sinatra had recorded an album with Jobim, who pioneered the bossa nova style, the previous year. He loved working with Fitzgerald; they performed together on several occasions, but every time they tried to record an album together, the schedules never worked out.
* Sinatra: The Man And His Music (November 22, 1981)
Sixteen years after the first A Man and His Music special, this final installment picks up right where the last special left off, with the Count Basie Orchestra. Performances include "Pennies From Heaven," "Something," "The Best Is Yet To Come," and "Theme From 'New York, New York'."
First things first: These are not variety specials, mixing music and skits and conversation. You get music, nothing but music, from beginning to end. That is most assuredly a good thing, because it means that instead of getting maybe fifteen or twenty songs over all four specials, you get a total of fifty-five songs. Several songs are repeated over the course of the four specials, and it's fun to hear Sinatra taking different approaches to the same material.
The sixteen-year gap between the third and last specials makes for an interesting contrast (Sinatra did some other TV specials in the interim). In the earlier specials, Sinatra is still the crooner, the consummate saloon singer; in the last one, though, he's The Chairman of the Board, master of all he surveys.
Technically, you've got some variations. The video, eh, it's good but not great. The first few specials were color broadcasts back when black-and-white was still the norm, but the set designers managed to restrain themselves. The color that is there is strong and vivid, though the picture remains a little soft. Interestingly, it is the 1981 special that has the weakest video, perhaps because it has the most elaborate sets. For the most part, the sets for all the specials are basically a set of raised paths weaving in and out of the orchestra, with occasional props here and there. It's not only effective but it has a great effect on the sound. Because of the set, the orchestra sections were spread out further than usual, and each had to be miked separately; whether by design or by luck, that arrangement worked -- this set sounds great. It's a mono mix, but a good mix, with surprising dynamic and frequency range (particularly the lower register), letting you savor not just the vocals, but the orchestral arrangements of Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins. There's a touch of boominess to the vocals due to the large soundstage, but it results in a more concert-like feel. In some cases, the presence of an audience causes some sound problems -- they weren't really miked, and the applause muddies the sound. Audiences can be heard in the first two specials, but they're never seen, and I can't help but suspect that the audience reactions were edited in later. An audience -- simulated or otherwise -- was dispensed with altogether for the final special. There are no extras whatsoever.
Trivia: The taping of the first special is discussed in Gay Talese's classic Esquire profile, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." Sinatra had the cold in question during taping; his voice gets a little hoarse at times, and he wipes his nose during one song.
If you're a Sinatra fan, you want this.
Review content copyright © 2011 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 205 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Frank Sinatra
* Esquire: Frank Sinatra Has a Cold