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Sinatra In Vegas With Sun Ra Discovery

Courtesy Harry S. Pariser

Arthur R George BY

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Was it really what it was?
—Don Was
Atomic! Sun Ra and Frank Sinatra at The Sands, a previously unknown 1966 recording of the Intergalactic Navigator onstage with The Chairman of the Board, was released today in a joint venture by Blue Note and Mobile Fidelity. "We didn't know if it was real when we first found these recordings. Had we been had? Or did we have what we thought we had? Was it really what it was?," Don Was, president of Blue Note, wondered about his first encounter with the material.

Further exploration revealed unusual origins. The recordings had been salvaged from the Universal Music warehouse fire. The Sinatra/Sun Ra pairing occurred because the entire Count Basie band, in Las Vegas to record with Sinatra, was sick with food poisoning from a hotel buffet. "We were cramped up and camped out in our rooms," Basie's music director Quincy Jones recalled. "We weren't going anywhere. The only travelling was bed to bathroom and back, and not in a good way."

Sinatra was staying in the penthouse of another hotel, personal guest of aviation industrialist Howard Hughes, and was thus unaffected by stomach problems, except for nerves about the change in plans. He was unsure of going forward with Ra, but a tumbler of Jack Daniels settled him.

Sun Ra was in town to play for a weekend getaway of the Philadelphia branch of the Prince Hall Black Freemasons. With the Basie contingent immobilized, and The Sands sold out for the weekend, a frantic call went out for a replacement orchestra. Sun Ra had apprenticed under big band leader Fletcher Henderson, and had trained his own band in the hieroglyphics of Solar Arkestra arrangements. Taking command of the Basie enterprise was not illogical.

The Swell of Space

A log kept by Marshall Allen of the Sun Ra band showed other uncertainty, as reproduced in a booklet with photos accompanying the album release. "The crowd was fresh off the casino floor, a bunch of swells in tuxedos and grey sharkskin suits, their silver-blue and platinum-blonde big-hair women strapped into lush evening gowns and shiny cocktail dresses. What would they think of our outer space get-up, African robes and Egyptian headdresses? Actually, our styles had a lot in common, just six parsecs in separation."

Sinatra asked Sun Ra whether his band would be comfortable in the Sands ballroom. "Space is the place," Ra replied. Sinatra interpreted that as affirmative.

Sinatra and Sun Ra worked out the repertoire. Sinatra resolved any space/place confusion with "Where or When," then invited "Come Fly With Me," followed by "Fly Me to the Moon," playing among the stars, investigating spring on Jupiter and Mars. For "I Get A Kick Out of You," waiters appeared with courtesy pony bottles of bubbly at the line "I get no kick from champagne." By the time Sinatra sang "I get no kick in a plane," the crowd was up where the air was rarified, all flying high with gals in the sky.

For those who think it's Frank's World and we just live in it, Ra's Heliocentric World aligned as tightly as tracks on 180-gram vinyl. The songlist returned to earth with the hideaway "stays—in—Vegas" intimacy of "Shadow of Your Smile" and the joie—de—vivre of "My Kind of Town."

Over an eruption of applause, Sinatra murmurs "Interstellar, man, interstellar. Ring-a-ding-ding."

"Oh yes," Ra replies from behind his 88 keys. "Just as it was on Saturn."

"It was," Don Was was clear about the production effort, "a trip to the moon on gossamer wings, just one of those things. April 1, 2021 has been worth waiting for. Only a fool would miss this." eBay is the sole authorized vendor for the recording, and payments must be made in Bitcoin to avoid international currency fluctuations, Was noted.

Gotcha! April Fools!

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