A prophetic moment occurs on The Birth of a Crooner after the MC introduces Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra. Dorsey responds, “you sure you don’t mean Frank Sinatra and his Orchestra?” The cover of the CD will lead one to believe that the bandleader knew what was coming, since Sinatra’s name occupies most of the cover and Dorsey’s name appears in small print below, a footnote to the career of one of history’s greatest singers. However, both were responsible for creating the template for the popular song, a method so successful it works even today for those who have followed the path of “Young Blue Eyes.”
Birth of a Crooner is not a compilation of RCA studio recordings, but rather a collection of radio broadcasts from the same time period that up to this point have been unissued. While the studio recordings are more famous, some may find these 1940-42 broadcasts more compelling. Although there’s a fair amount of crackle present from the original acetates, there’s also a bit of crackle in the band as well, who seem invigorated by the live setting and provide the music with a little more punch than there was in the studio.
The first few tracks feature Sinatra in fine voice, casting off the affected vocal style of his early recordings, and some handsome trombone solos from Dorsey, who employed a lovely, singing tone that few were able to duplicate. Bunny Berigan also contributes some tart solo work as well throughout. Sinatra shares the spotlight with Jo Stafford or Connie Haines on a few numbers; both are well served by the extra presence afforded by the live setting. Highlights included a swinging version of “Walk On By,” a dream-like duet on “Stardust,” and “Say It,” where Dorsey and Siantra work in tandem to fashion an intimate reading of the classic tune. But despite some lesser material, the recording is consistently enjoyable and the accoutrements that keep the studio recordings firmly rooted in the past—such as the vocals by the Pied Pipers and the use of the celeste—are kept to a minimum.
“The Moon Won’t Talk,” not present elsewhere in Sinatra’s recordings, says it all: it’s a classic that demonstrates the magic that can happen when a great song, a lovely chart, and a seductive voice meet for a few brief minutes. One can see how Sinatra and Dorsey became so popular; their music is equally suited to close listening as it is for close dancing. For those who already have the classic Capitol recordings, Birth of the Crooner is an accessible way to see how Sinatra and Dorsey first captivated the world and taught us all how a song can mean much more to us than just entertainment.
Personnel: Frank Sinatra (vocal) with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Tommy Dorsey (trombone); Connie Haines, Jo Stafford, the Pied Pipers (vocals); Bunny Berigan (trumpet); Buddy Rich (drums); various others.