More than any other performer, Frank Sinatra turned Las Vegas into "The Entertainment Capital Of The World." Whether it's "Come Fly With Me," "Luck Be A Lady" or "My Way," Sinatra in Vegas is a Sinatra of legend. This 4-CD/1-DVD boxed set of live performances, all of it previously unreleased, captures five unforgettable performances in legendary Vegas venues by Sinatra in his prime.
Spanning the years from 1961 to 1987, the collection includes never-before-heard versions of the his most iconic hits, including "The Lady Is A Tramp," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Fly Me To The Moon," "Witchcraft," "Theme From New York, New York," "My Way", and many more. It also includes an insightful bonus audio interview that sheds light on the segregation in Nevada hotels that Sinatra was battling at the time of his early performances. The DVD features a complete unreleased concert from May 5, 1978 at Caesar's Palace, as well as rare backstage footage shot before and after the performance.
These five discs reside within a beautiful metallic foil clamshell box, which also contains a lavish 64-page book with celebrity commentary, essays by noted Sinatraphiles, rare photos, and reproductions of Vegas memorabilia.
Disc one was recorded at the Sands in November 1961. The hotel had been Sinatra's home base in Vegas since 1953, and he'd recently increased his ownership stake in the hotel to nine percent. The two-week engagement was taped for what was planned as Sinatra's first live album, though those plans were later tabled.
Disc two comes from a January-February1966 engagement at the same hotel. The four-week run, during which Sinatra was backed by Count Basie and his Orchestra, were recorded for the historic life album Sinatra at the Sands with Count Basie & the Orchestra. For this release, the original tapes were located to assemble a complete show in the order in which Sinatra performed it.
Disc three is from Caesar's Palace, the mega-hotel at which Sinatra began to perform in 1968. The show was taped in March 1982, with Sinatra backed by a smaller-than-usual group that ditched the usual stings in favor of an uptempo big-band sound dominated by horns and percussion. Nancy Sinatra makes a guest appearance on the show, duetting with her father on their Number One hit "Somethin' Stupid."
Disc four was drawn from an April 1987 engagement at the Golden Nugget, a rare appearance at a downtown hotel rather than one on the Las Vegas strip. Performing in a showroom that was smaller and more intimate than the Vegas rooms where he usually appeared, Sinatra was backed by an orchestra conducted by his longtime piano player Bill Miller, with Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald vet Lou Levy taking Miller's usual spot on the piano bench.
Disc five, the DVD, was filmed by CBS at a May 5, 1978 appearance at Caesar's Palace. It was one of the few times a complete Sinatra show at Caesar's Circus Maximus showroom was filmed.
FROM THE LINER NOTES TO SINATRA: VEGAS:
"His Kind of Town"
From his debut at the Desert Inn in September 1951, no entertainer was ever more synonymous with the city of Las Vegas than Frank Sinatra. It has been said that next to legalized gambling, nothing has been more beneficial and profitable to Las Vegas than Sinatra.
In 1951 Sinatra's career was at a low point; his records had stopped selling, and he had been dropped by MGM. Though he'd been king of the bobby-soxers only a few years earlier, times were so rough that Sinatra was rumored to have attempted suicide at a hotel in Lake Tahoe with an overdose of sleeping pills. Vegas was in its infancy; the Strip, at that time, comprised only five resorts - El Rancho, the Last Frontier, the Flamingo, the Thunderbird, and the new guy, the Desert Inn. But Las Vegas and Sinatra were both destined for much bigger things.
While audiences around the country may have cooled on Sinatra, he was hip with the Vegas cognoscenti from the beginning. Variety reported, "The maitre d' cried for mercy during this fortnight, because tables are at a premium. Sinatra displays marvelous ease while setting forth some clever patter preceding his tunes." Sinatra's repertoire included "All Of Me," "My Blue Heaven," "I'll Never Smile Again," "Come Rain Or Come Shine," "I've Got A Crush On You," "Soliloquy," "I'm A Fool To Want You," "Hello, Young Lovers," "I Concentrate On You," and "That Old Black Magic," among others.
Sinatra returned to the Desert Inn in July 1952 for a three-week run. This was not the best of times for the singer. The previous month, he had been dropped by his recording company, Columbia Records, and his talent agency, MCA. However, if you had the chance to see Sinatra at the Desert Inn, you might not have realized the troubles he was facing.
Here is what a local Vegas publication wrote about his engagement: "Fast becoming one of the nation's top entertainers, Frank Sinatra has been packing the Painted Desert Room every night, every show during the entire length of this three weeks' engagement. Frank has a natural flair for comedy and is acquiring a great sense of timing for it. With these things, his undisputed ability in the art of phrasing, and an air of humbleness, he will remain at the top for many, many years to come." How prophetic that assessment proved to be!
By 1953 Sinatra was on the verge of one of the most stunning comebacks in the history of show business. On December 12, 1952, the Sands Hotel and Casino opened as the seventh resort on the Vegas strip. Frank Sinatra debuted at the Sands in October of 1953. With a new recording contract at Capitol Records and a smash movie, From Here To Eternity, in the theaters, Sinatra had the world on a string! The Sands would be his new home in Las Vegas for the next 14 years, legendary years now in terms of his career and the history of the city.
Bill Miller [Sinatra's pianist]: "Everything changed when Frank signed with the Sands. His career was on an upswing; he was confident, and it showed in his performances. Sometimes we would rehearse the same night another act would close. We would start around 2:30 a.m., after they cleared the Copa Room, and Frank would rehearse the entire show with the band. That way he could choose the lineup of the songs for the show; we would rehearse until he was completely satisfied. When it came to the music, Frank was a perfectionist! Those were great days to be a musician and working in Vegas."
And the performances were the better for that perfectionism.
Cramming the casinos for a chance to hear The Voice, the customers would sit and listen to him croon. But it wasn't just the music that they came for; it was the attitude, the character that Sinatra projected from the stage clear across the room. And in case there was any question as to whether he was having fun up there, Sinatra packed the stage with friends - stars! - who in turn brought even larger audiences. Under Sinatra's guidance, the Sands - and the rest of the Strip - seemed to become one giant, swinging family.
Al Viola (Sinatra's guitarist): "Sinatra was a king at the Sands; he was Vegas. He owned a piece of the hotel and made sure that all the best talent - like Nat Cole, Dean Martin, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis - played and stayed there. Listen, everyone in town was glad when Frank was performing there, from the cab drivers to the bellhops: he filled the rooms in all the hotels. The Sands' slogan was 'A Place In The Sun,' and it was in more ways than one."
Billy Wilder, the legendary director, once said, "When Sinatra is in Las Vegas, there is a certain electricity permeating the air. It's like Mack The Knife is in town, and the action is starting."
But nothing could brace Las Vegas for what Sinatra planned to do in January 1960.
Bill Miller: "Frank called it 'The Summit,' and the idea was to have the cast of Ocean's Eleven perform at the Sands while they filmed on location in Vegas. That was also the birth of what is now called the Rat Pack. Each artist would do 10 or 15 minutes on their own, and then [they] would all get together at the end of the show. We'd just sit back and laugh through the entire show."
The Rat Pack was Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford.
Sammy Davis Jr.: "The Summit at the Sands changed my life. Anybody that was anybody was there. People like Elizabeth Taylor, Danny Thomas, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and a wonderful senator by the name of Jack Kennedy. For two weeks while we were filming Ocean's Eleven, Frank, Dean, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and I had a party every night onstage at the Sands. We were called various things, mostly the Clan or the Rat Pack."
The show ran for four weeks with two shows nightly. Amazingly, in the first six days the Sands had to turn down more than 18,000 people who requested reservations. If you were not one of the lucky patrons who had the privilege of attending The Summit, here is what you missed. Joey Bishop would open the show, followed usually by Martin, then Davis, then Lawford, and then Sinatra. For the finale the group would return en masse to joke and sing. More often than not, Davis and Lawford would sing and dance one number, Martin and Sinatra would heckle Davis, and Frank and Dean would roll a bar out onstage and sing parodies. This was the basic pattern of the show. No event before it or since achieved such legendary status in Las Vegas. Frank and friends had conquered the town!
Sinatra, Martin, and Davis would continue to work together in Las Vegas through the mid-1960s at the Sands, with Bishop showing up occasionally.
In the summer of 1966 the much-anticipated opening of Caesars Palace gave birth to the city's first megaresort. As the landscape of Las Vegas changed, so did Sinatra. In November 1968 Frank Sinatra performed at the Circus Maximus showroom in Caesars Palace. In the tradition of the Romanesque flavor of the resort, they dubbed him "The Noblest Roman of Them All." Such was his popularity in the city that the marquee need only read "He's Here," and there was no question that Sinatra was in town.
Caesars Palace was chosen as Sinatra's first paying gig after returning from a two-year hiatus, and Las Vegas gave him a warm welcome back. The ad simply stated, "When the man sings, the whole world is in love . . . " The shows, of course, were sellouts, and Sinatra wowed them with chestnuts like: "Come Fly With Me," "That's Life," "My Way," and some new material such as "Send In The Clowns," "Let Me Try Again," and "You Will Be My Music." He also found time to interject some humor into the shows; on opening night he stated, "This is my first time in a club in three years. Unless you count the White House . . . I sang there last summer . . . but so did most of the staff." With Ol' Blue Eyes back in town, Las Vegas again became the entertainment capital of the world.
Sinatra would continue to sing in Las Vegas at the Golden Nugget, Bally's, the Riviera, the Desert Inn, and finally, the MGM Grand. No matter where he performed, the shows would be the hottest ticket in town.
If you were in Vegas at the same time as Sinatra, there was nothing else that could compare. Even when the entertainment in town was changing from headliners to magic and production shows, Sinatra was still the "main event." The audiences were composed of both young and old fans alike; it was hip to see him. By 1990 Sammy Davis had passed away and Dean Martin had retired, but Sinatra continued to entertain the ever-changing Las Vegas audience. His last performance, in May 1994 at the MGM, would mark the end of an era for Las Vegas. Following his death in 1998, the city paid tribute to the legend by dimming the lights on the Strip.
Fifty years after his Las Vegas debut onstage at the Desert Inn, the town honored Ol' Blue Eyes with a day all his own. Mayor Oscar B. Goodman proclaimed December 12, 2001, "Sinatra Day" and presented Tina Sinatra with a key to the city in order to pay tribute to the destination's most enduring icon, an inimitable original, who was influential in shaping Las Vegas' image and entertainment scene. Sinatra's music and image were featured in a series of television advertisements launched to lure tourists back to the city. His kind of town, Las Vegas is!
Excerpted from The Sinatra Treasures
by Charles Pignone, published by Bulfinch.
The Sinatra: Vegas liner notes also include an appreciation of Sinatra's performances by former Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin; a fan's notes from television and music writer David Wild; Las Vegas memories by recording engineer Phill Sawyer and television producer Herman Rush; and detailed accounts of the shows by Sinatra friends, colleagues and family members, including Quincy Jones, Angie Dickinson, Tom Dreesen, Hank Cattaneo, and Nancy and Tina Sinatra.