My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sessions with Sinatra by Charles Granata is one of the best books on music, and recording, that I have ever read.
Mr. Granata has a rich vein to mine in his subject, which is Frank Sinatra in the recording studio. The author’s deft writing and deep research make it great fun to hang with one of the world’s greatest recording artists as he created his timeless works.
Sinatra was considered by virtually everyone he worked with – writers, arrangers, musicians, engineers, and producers – to be a consummate artist and craftsman. He was respected for his impeccable taste, his profound musicality, his adventurousness, and his immovable integrity. Granata, a true fan, conveys a sense of awe as he elucidates this brilliance. His sensitive prose brings us right up close to the microphone. The reader feels as if he is on the podium, conducting the orchestra, with Frank singing inches away.
In many ways, Sinatra defined modern singing. He was not only the world’s greatest interpreter of the great American Songbook, but he utilized the recording studio in unprecedented ways to optimal effect. Granata shows us just how he did this with increasing sophistication as he matured and grew as an artist alongside the development of the recording medium.
The author perfectly balances technical detail with human story. He writes about technique and gear with enough authority to interest the connoisseur, without alienating the lay person. At the same time, he never loses site of the essential plot, which is the human quest for artistic expression. Sinatra represented one thing above all else to everyone he worked with – the pursuit, and realization, of excellence. In a world all too inundated with mediocrity, it was having had that experience of creating something truly great that made Sinatra beloved to all those who were fortunate enough to work with him. That is the compelling center of Granata’s book.
Granata lives up to the Sinatra standard in the writing of this book. His writing is like Sinatra’s singing. His technique is transparent. He makes the hardest things look easy. He is smooth, clear, approachable, and direct. Though writing on an ostensibly arcane subject, his writing is full of feeling. His phrasing is deeply musical.
To top it off, Mr. Granata provided me with the great joy of learning an incredible amount about an inspiring subject. Due to the miracle of streaming, I listened to the albums that Sinatra created as Granata describes them. The author not only reveals the process of recording these masterworks, but captures their artistic meaning, and how they reflected the development of Sinatra as an artist. His writing about Sinatra’s recorded music is penetrating. Like all great art appreciation, the analysis of the works deepened my understanding of them, and intensified my hearing of them.
Granata does Sinatra proud, reaching for excellence as his subject did. For anyone who is interested in good writing on how great art gets made, Granata’s book is a must read.