As Tina Sinatra remembers it, you could pretty much tell how her dad was feeling on stage by the musicians he chose to sing with.
“If he was happy, he would use a larger swing band, a lot of brass,” she said during a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “If he was feeling melancholy, he might work with something a little more intimate, like the sextet he performed with in Paris in the ‘50s. He would stick closer to saloon songs.”
And Frank Sinatra was never happier, his daughter says, than when he was working in Las Vegas.
Sinatra, who died in 1998 at age 82, didn’t have a Vegas theme song, the way “New York, New York” and “My Kind of Town” (Chicago is) worked for other cities. But his real home in concert was the desert haven of gambling and other recreation that he as much as anybody made famous. Those years are now captured in song by “Sinatra in Vegas,” a box set of four concert CDs, and one DVD, ranging from the Rat Pack peak of the early 1960s to the late 1980s, just before his voice and memory began to give way.
“Those were the magic years, his senior statesman years,” Tina Sinatra says. “He was the sassy cat in Vegas.”
Working with bands led by such favorites as Count Basie, and Sinatra’s son, Frank Sinatra, Jr., he comes on sassy for most of the Vegas tracks, camping “The Lady is the Tramp” to the point of obscenity; cracking up during the most sensitive of ballads, “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” and warning “Hold on to your handbags” as the Basie band kicks into the break of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Even on a disc from 1987, when he’s in his early 70s, he can open with “I’ve Got the World on a String” and never hint that he doesn’t believe it.
He loved the desert
Vegas was hardly the place for protest music, but the box set does include a Sinatra interview in which he recalls his anger that the black musicians in his group were told to stay in a separate hotel.
“I did make some demand on some people and, said, ‘If they all have to live on the other side of town, then you don’t need me,”’ he says. “I guess I was the biggest mouth in town.”
Listening to the Vegas tracks brought back musical and nonmusical memories for Tina Sinatra, who explains how her dad loved the desert because it was good for his throat, and was bothered when all the hotels became air conditioned and he needed a humidifier to keep the rasp out of his voice.
Tina Sinatra has worked on numerous projects about her father, serving as executive producer of the 1992 miniseries, “Sinatra,” and writing a memoir, “My Father’s Daughter.” She still listens to his music all the time — “he’s always one of six CDs I have in the player in my car” — and remembers the calls she would receive at 6 o’clock every night, from Vegas or anywhere else.
“I miss his humor, his way of dealing with things. He had a way of saying, ‘You’re wasting your energy,” she recalls. “I know he had that other side, but I remember him being soothing and wise. He gave me room to grow. He understood the meaning of seek and search.”