1961 was a very good year for Frank Sinatra. His albums were selling, his concerts drew standing room only audiences and his movie career — thanks to 1960's Ocean's 11 — was stronger than ever. Most important, he launched his own record label, Reprise, fulfilling a long-time dream to regain control of his music.
The early roster on Reprise included an impressive array of friends: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby and comedian Redd Foxx, among others. But the "Chairman of the Board" decided that an album of his own was the only proper way to introduce his new venture — and thumb his nose at executives at his former record company, Capitol.
That new album was Ring-a-Ding-Ding! which showcased a confident and relaxed Sinatra. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the album and the launch of his label, a remastered Ring-a-Ding-Ding! came out this year, along with several other rich Sinatra releases from around the Reprise era.
"Sinatra was very wise when it came to knowing what the public wanted from him, and he gave it to them," says Frank Sinatra Jr., who was a 16–year-old aspiring musician when his father recorded the original version of Ring-a-Ding-Ding! "It was very good and intelligent music, both harmonically and melodically. And the words had just a little bit of thought put into them." Now 67, Frank Jr. penned the liner notes for the freshened-up version.
Another new and notable reissue is The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings, a sublime collaboration between the elder Sinatra and Count Basie. Sinatra was such a Basie fan that he recorded two albums with him within a few years of launching Reprise. Both sessions, collected in this new release, brought out the best in both men, especially on "Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)" and "Learnin' The Blues."
Frank Jr. recalled how the two legends worked together: "I can remember being at the sessions, and watching the people who showed up just to be there and hear them play together: Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, all the jazz greats. They were all lined up just to hear Count Basie's band play with Frank Sinatra. You could line up 2,000 piano players, and you could never emulate what Basie did. He was just brilliant."
As if these two reissues weren't enough for the resolute Sinatra fan, two other recent releases round them out:
Best Of Vegas: A festive overview of four concerts from Sinatra's long career in Vegas, from 1961 all the way to 1987. The best tracks come from a highly regarded 1966 set at The Sands with the Count Basie Orchestra, conducted by Quincy Jones.
Sinatra: Best Of The Best: A wonderful collection of the best of the Capitol and Reprise years, featuring insightful and loving liner notes by Frank Sinatra Jr. It's due Nov. 15.