Interviews

'The Voice' at 100: Frank Sinatra Jr. Speaks Out

On the centennial of his legendary father’s birth, Frank Sinatra Jr. strives to defend the Sinatra legacy, and keep his father’s music alive


Frank Sinatra

A Voice On Air (1935-1955)

Label: Sony Legacy
Release Date: 2015-11-20
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2015 has been a very good year for Frank Sinatra fans.

The centennial of the singer's birth (on December 12, 1915) has seen the release of the two-part HBO documentary All or Nothing At All, multiple exhibitions, an expansive radio rarities collection, several new books and biographies, even a special Sinatra-themed whiskey. This plethora of Sinatra-related events and activity seems to have quenched the thirst of even the most ardent Sinatra enthusiasts, but there is one man who is not entirely pleased with the hoopla.

For over 70 years, Frank Sinatra Jr. has stood, with great pride, in his legendary father's shadow. An accomplished singer himself, Sinatra Jr. served as his father's musical director and conductor for the final years of his father's career, and since Sinatra Sr.'s death in 1998, has served as one of the most prominent defenders of his legacy. Frank Jr.'s "Sinatra Sings Sinatra" tour plays to packed symphony halls and auditoriums around the world, harkening back to a long-past era of tuxedoed singers, big bands, and the Great American Songbook; in a word, class. But despite his accomplishments as both an entertainer and champion of the Sinatra legacy, the persistent rumors and controversies surrounding his father's life continues to haunt the 71-year old Sinatra Jr.

It's difficult to imagine Frank Sinatra Sr., renowned for his limitless artistic talent, emotive power as a performer, and, it must be noted, ferocious temper, as a "rather simple man," but that's exactly how his son describes him. The seemingly endless Sinatra scandals, hearsay, and rumours -- about shady goings-on in Las Vegas, connections to the mob, a bevy of celebrity bedfellows, alcohol abuse and more -- continue to plague the late singer's reputation, however legion and universally-acknowledged his musical accomplishments. But according to his son, the vast majority of this gossip is simply that: gossip, designed solely to enrich and aggrandize the gossipers while, at the same time, tarnish his father's image. And Sinatra Jr., who chooses and enunciates his words with great consideration and tact, has had enough of it.

We recently caught up with Frank Sinatra Jr. on the eve of the 100th anniversary of his father's birth to talk legacy, what makes great art, what he thinks of the activity surrounding the centennial, and what it's like to share a name, bloodline, and profession with the greatest entertainer of the 20th century.

* * *

I'd imagine that when most people first meet you they're more likely to mention your father's accomplishments, as opposed to your own. I'll also guess that people have been doing that for most of your life. How does that make you feel? Doesn't it get old?

Well, you have to take it in perspective. In terms of his accomplishments as opposed to my accomplishments, mine are almost non-existent. He is the one who has made these great accomplishments, so you really can't blame people for gravitating toward what it is they know, and what it is they believe in.

You've been the primary guardian of your father's legacy for some time now. Is that not an accomplishment in and of itself?

As a practicing entertainer, I've never had a hit record. I've never had a hit television show. I've never had a hit movie. Those are what are called, in the "trade," accomplishments, none of which I have actualized. Therefore, as I say, he is the one who has won Grammys, and Oscars, and all kinds of trophies, and awards, and accolades, and things like that. Not I. So I cannot begrudge people for applauding what it is they admire so much.

What would you say is the biggest public misconception about your father? It's now been 100 years since he was born, and there's been a lot of attention, a lot of events going on. What do you think the public still gets wrong, in large part, about your Dad?

I'll tell you what it is. There have been a plethora of articles in newspapers, magazines, there's a couple of new books out. And because of the nature of my travels, regrettably I have to read these terrible things. And the real bad thing is that there are stories that are told firsthand, secondhand, thirdhand, fourth-hand, fifth-hand. And it's like when you play "telephone" when you were a kid. When you whisper something in someone's ear that goes to the next -- and by the time it comes around the circle it's nowhere near what the first message was.

And all of these people, in order to aggrandize themselves, and, of course, to sell their writings, they add more falsity into these stories which are watered down so many times anyway. And most of that which they add is all fabrication, it is all scandalous, it is all controversial, it is, in many instances, criminal. And what they do to the reputation of a man who has been in his grave for nearly 18 years now is equally criminal.

Do you think that there are largely negative conceptions out there about your Dad, then?

They are constantly being spewed out during his 100th year to anyone who wants to investigate them. Therefore, it cannot really be ignored that there are constant controversial things coming out because these people today are just reporting them. If there is any smattering of truth involved, it is purely coincidental.

Have you read the [recently released, and widely lauded] second volume of James Kaplan's biography on your Dad, Sinatra: The Chairman?

I am just about trying to finish it now. I've been reading it for a month. That was the one book that came to mind when you asked me this question. It is nothing but gossip, secondhand, thirdhand, fourth-hand, fifth-hand gossip. And it gets so far away from an original source, if one can ever be isolated and identified ...

And it is so regrettable that these people write this thing, and this son-of-a-bitch actually got some publishing house to print 900 pages of it. And the only thing worse than that is that I have spent the last month reading it.

[laughs]

And it is nothing but nonsense. It just reports "Somebody said that he said, that she said, that he said, that she said. Somebody wrote this at the time, somebody wrote that at the time." And how these people can go back over 50 years and second-guess all this, and third-guess, and fourth-guess, and fifth-guess. It is so unfortunate.

What did you think of the HBO documentary Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All?

It was incomplete, and not to my way of thinking. When you have a man that lived to be something like 82, almost 83 years, and they completely eliminated the last 25 percent of his life. [Note: the second part of the film provides only a very hasty summary of the years spanning 1972 to Sinatra's death in 1998.] You cannot call it a true documentary, not by any stretch of the imagination. Everybody wants to make an interpretation in their own way. How far it is from being accurate is something else, again.

What still fascinates you about Sinatra, either the artist, or your father? What still confuses you about the man?

The misconception that people are being given about his life. It's absolutely amazing how, with the help of the very publications that I told you about a moment ago, how everybody paints a different picture of what the man was all about. And what he really was all about. And it's most unfortunate.

So what was he really all about?

That would take volumes. He was actually a rather simple man. He had his concept of where justice lay.

And it was quite important to remember that, as I tell people often, the things that he believed in he practiced devoutly. And this has to do, as far as I'm concerned, with a certain word about the devout practice of what you believe in; I think that word is "integrity." And he had magnificent integrity. He was never somebody who bent with the wind. He was never a "51-percenter." And that degree of independence, and even to the point of stubbornness now and then, cost him many hungry nights. But he believed what he believed in. And this is the way that he conducted his life.

All of the scandals and gossip aside, I don't think anyone on the planet would deny his contribution to music, his artistic achievement.

I hope not.

At the end of his life, do you think he realized what he accomplished?

Only in one instance. Only in one instance, which came in 1997, a year before his death, when the joint session of the United States Congress made him the 38th American citizen in 221 years to be issued a Congressional Gold Medal.

And when the gavel of the Speaker of the House came down, and said "So ordered ..." ... We were watching it on television and [Sinatra Sr.] wept. He actually wept. And he regained his composure, and very quietly he said "And I'd do it again, too."

How did that make you feel?

Very, very happy. Very proud. If some kid off the streets of Hoboken who barely had two coins to rub together in his pants when he was a little boy -- and the Congress of the United States unanimously votes him a gold medal.

This year, 100 years after he was born in Hoboken, are you at all surprised by the fact that so many of us are still interested in Frank Sinatra?

Yes. Yes, I am. Pleasantly surprised, but surprised.

What would you attribute this to? Why do you think he has such staying power in the culture?

I think his music talked to people. That, in fact, is what my show is about.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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