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Sinatra back to back

Through the harsh noises of our day, A low sweet prelude finds its way....

- Whittier

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ANN, not long out of high school, sat at a desk outside the glass partition of my office. Her job was to retype the reporters' edited copy that I passed along to her. She was quiet, industrious, and obviously eager to please.

As we got better acquainted, she'd talk a bit after checking copy with me. One day she said that she'd just bought a record on her lunch hour.

``Elvis?'' I asked - ``Bill Haley and the Comets?''

``Oh no - Frank Sinatra.''

``Frank Sinatra!'' I fairly shouted.

``Oh yes, he's my favorite.''

She was too young to have been one of the bobby-soxers at the New York Paramount in the early '40s, screaming and swooning over Tommy Dorsey's frail-looking boy singer with the startling blue eyes, soon to become known as The Voice. And yet - even through the din of 1950s rock-and-roll - that Voice had gotten to her.

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We'd met on our morning commuter train to New York, but we had more of a chance to talk on the 125th Street cross-town bus. On one ride we discovered a common love: music. She loved the classics. I said I liked the three B's, too, but more often had ears for Duke Ellington or Frank Sinatra.

She had reached up to pull the buzzer cord but turned suddenly, and smiled, ``Oh, I love his singing - you can always understand every word. And the feeling!'' The bus was pulling into her stop, the door opened. Before stepping down, she turned to say, ``I listen to his records, too.''

The house was in one of the city's older neighborhoods. Almost as soon as I rang the bell, the door opened. I was there to write an article.

A pleasant-faced woman of middle years shook my hand warmly and escorted me into the living room. ``Only a half hour 'til dinner and then you'll meet all the girls,'' said this obviously devoted housemother. She was a deaconess of the denomination supporting this home for girls - girls coming into the city from farms and small towns to go to business or beauty schools, get jobs - and husbands.

We took a tour of the house. In the game room I spotted LPs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and of Favorite Hymns.

The next day we toured the neighborhood: everywhere visible the crumbling and the well-kept in combat. We ended up at a small soda shop near ``home.'' The deaconess stepped over to the counter to order our sandwiches. Music from the jukebox suddenly filled the room - ``When somebody needs you/ it's no good unless he needs you/ all the way....'' She returned with our orders. ``I love Frank Sinatra's singing,'' she said, almost apologetically. ``I come here every now and then just to play that record. I guess that sounds silly....'' ``I do the same,'' I said, ``...and the encore's on me!''

Johnny had gotten out of Cuba in the early days of the Castro regime and found a new life in the United States. For several months, he and I had the same boss.

During breaks and slack times, he often turned entertainer. The jokes and anecdotes he told over and over somehow always sounded funny. He also loved to cook and brought me his own special recipes.

Between jokes and recipes, he frequently half crooned, ``Ol' Blue Eyes is Back,'' referring to the catch phrase of the '70s Sinatra boom. I had one Sinatra album that Johnny did not have and brought it in. He returned it with a little note of thanks in Spanish taped neatly in the lower left-hand corner of the cover:

``Amy, mil gracias por los ratos tan agradables que me proporcion'o este disco, `Ojos Azules,' Johnny.''

New friend, Polly, and I were sitting in my living room discussing the previous night's chamber music concert, featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the symphony coming up. She'd miss it to baby-sit for her grandchildren in another state. ``Tchaikovsky and a Mozart piano concerto, I think,'' I said.

She sighed, ``I love Mozart. What do you think of Frank Sinatra?''

Taken completely off guard, I groped momentarily for an answer. I opted to come clean.

``The Greatest,'' I said. ``And what a role model he had - Tommy's trombone at his ear night after night. And he listened - shaped his singing in the same image - the marvelous breath control, the tone, seamless phrasing that carries you often breathlessly, always securely. There's a tenderness that comes through even in up-tempo swingers. A friend once said, `Attention to detail is an expression of love.' Maybe that's what we're hearing.''

``Oh, I agree,'' I heard Polly insisting. ``There's something about his singing that reaches into the soul.''

She got up to leave. ``And I have a couple of tapes to sweeten the long drive tomorrow.''

To paraphrase Whittier:

Through the Rock fever of our day, The Voice's singing found its way.

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