Considering the dozens of albums in the Frank Sinatra bin at most record stores, it's hard to imagine just what material is left for the Artanis Entertainment Group, the record label launched this year in association with the Sinatra family.
But the first two releases by Artanis (Sinatra spelled backward) remind us there is one area of the catalog that remains largely untapped: Sinatra live.
Though he recorded live albums for Reprise Records in the '60s and '70s, he didn't release any live albums on Capitol during his earlier reign there--a period that numerous Sinatra scholars feel gave us his best work.
A few live CDs with Sinatra backed by a small group in the late '50s and early '60s have been released in recent years, but there was no record until now of Sinatra in his most inspired '50s setting--backed by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.
Artanis' "Sinatra '57 in Concert" is an invaluable, 62-minute set taken from a June 9, 1957, concert in Seattle that author-critic Will Friedwald cites as "the major document of Sinatra and Riddle at work together in front of a live audience." The collection's 18 songs include such signature Sinatra tunes as "You Make Me Feel So Young," "The Lady Is a Tramp," "One for My Baby" and "I've Got You Under My Skin."
Along with the already-released "The Summit in Concert," the new CD represents the foundation at Artanis of a valuable new chapter in the Sinatra recording legacy.
Artanis' "The Summit" was drawn from a 1962 performance by Sinatra and pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. In the historic, 78-minute set, recorded in 1962 at a club near Chicago, Sinatra sings "Goody Goody," "Chicago," "When Your Lover Has Gone" and "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You" on his own and teams up with one or more of the others on such tunes as "Me and My Shadow" and "The Birth of the Blues."
Unfortunately, the banter between songs isn't as classy as the music. There was usually a broads-and-booze undercurrent when Sinatra, Martin and Davis got together--and it was no exception in this Chicago date. Most listeners today will also wince at some of the race-minded references to Davis.
In fact, the issue of political correctness was one reason Tina Sinatra, who oversees the licensing of her late father's recordings to films and television as well as consults with Capitol and Reprise on the reissue his albums, refused to allow the "Summit" collection to be released years ago.
She only relented recently because bootleg versions of the album were becoming widely available, she said. In fact, bootleg copies of the Seattle concert also have been widely circulated.
"One reason to release these albums is so that the collector doesn't have to settle for the inferior quality and artwork of the bootlegs," she said. "We wanted to put together a package that would offer quality sound, great liner notes and great artwork."
Both albums have been released in association with DCC Compact Classics and are in either 24 Karat Gold compact disc or virgin vinyl audiophile formats. They retail for approximately $30.
And Tina Sinatra said there will likely be more previously unreleased live albums from Artanis. The label, administered by attorney Bob Finkelstein and businessman Hal Gaba, also will explore soundtrack projects and eventually sign other artists.
In addition, Tina Sinatra said she would like to see an album that documents the way her father worked in the studio.
"He really did produce most sessions," she said. "I mean he's respectful and he defers and he listens, but you can feel that it is all in his grasp, . . . and it would be revealing for fans to hear some of the exchanges between takes."
She said it's still hard for her, a year after her father's death from a heart attack, to listen to his music at times without being moved to tears.
"It's been a fast year," she said. "One reason is because I probably spent half of it in shock. The hard part is when you suddenly stumble across his music, such as stepping into an elevator and hearing it. That can make me cry because he put so much of his emotions in the music.
"He was a man of extreme moods, and his albums reflected that range. When he was going to do an album like 'Come Fly With Me,' for instance, it was because he was in a happy mood. When he did something like 'Wee Small Hours,' which is my favorite album of his, as well as his favorite, he was hurting. He had just broken up with Ava [Gardner] and you can hear the pain in his voice."