When anyone asks did I see Sinatra, I answer yes: I saw him in Philadelphia in 1991, on his "Diamond Jubilee" tour (given that he joined Harry James in 1939 and left Tommy Dorsey to go out on his own in 1942, what fiftieth anniversary he was celebrating was vague). Really, though, all I saw from my seat in the press box in the Spectrum—a basketball arena suitable for the inflated theatrics of a Garth Brooks or Bruce Springsteen, but all wrong for a self-professed "saloon singer" a month away from his seventy-sixth birthday—was a tuxedoed snowcap who looked a little bit like Casey Stengel and occasionally sounded like him, too. I wound up watching Sinatra on a color monitor suspended from the scoreboard, feeling no closer to him than if I were at home, watching him on video. What I most noticed were his hands—translucent, veined, and, to judge from his weak grip on the microphone, arthritic—and the poor fit of his Roman-senator toupee, which was absurdly iridescent under the harsh lights.
Almost forty years before, on his first collaboration with the arranger Nelson Riddle, in 1953, when Sinatra sang of having the world on a string, he might as well have really had it dangling. He spent the next fifteen or so years taking songs off the market. Who wanted to hear anyone else do "Angel Eyes" or "I've Got You Under My Skin"? His interpretations were unquestionably definitive. During these years, with assistance from Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, and Billy May, among other arrangers, Sinatra originated what is generally defined as the concept album,