This week on “Sing! Sing! Sing!” Will Friedwald makes a weekend contribution to KSDS’s 12 Days of Sinatra by revisiting Sinatra’s 1955 recording "In the Wee Small Hours" and interviewing Sinatra’s granddaughter AJ Lambert, a vocalist who’s made the album part of her vocal repertoire.
By Matt Silver
It’s no secret that the prolific Will Friedwald considers Frank Sinatra to be the greatest entertainer of the 20th century. On this week’s episode of “Sing! Sing! Sing!” Friedwald takes a deep dive into what might be Sinatra’s greatest album, 1955’s In the Wee Small Hours. Joining him is singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist AJ Lambert, who knew Frank and his music as well as anybody — as a granddaughter would (Lambert is Nancy Sinatra’s daughter and oldest child).
Typically, “Sing! Sing! Sing!” opens with something up-tempo and extroverted and brash and swaggering and swinging— just as Frank would typically open a performance.
But this week, a change of pace. Friedwald will explore the introspective side of Sinatra; the side that could tend toward melancholy; the side that leaned into loneliness to produce pop music of groundbreaking emotional honesty.
Friedwald, as is his wont, will go both micro and macro. So, in addition to going through In the Wee Small Hours song by song, he’ll also turn to Lambert, who brings unique insight to bear on her grandfather’s legacy, personally but particularly artistically. In other words, they’ll talk about why Sinatra really matters.
Lambert says that the songs her grandfather sang on “In the Wee Small Hours" (1955) and “Only the Lonely” (1958) remind her most of the man she knew, her grandfather.
Of course, Lambert hasn’t been a mere bystander vis-à-vis her grandfather’s legacy; she’s added to it, with The Sinatra Concept, a series of live performances where Lambert as vocalist, accompanied by pianist John Boswell, performs “the torch song albums” — In the Wee Small Hours and Only the Lonely, too — in full. And, in 2021, to celebrate the 60-year anniversary of that latter album’s release, Lambert, along with Boswell and guitarist Greg Ahee, released Lonely Songs, an EP of four new interpretations from the album so sad that the late Frank Sinatra, Jr. once said that “it should be sold by prescription only.”
Sinatra’s musical offerings—and maybe his personality, too—have been described as representing if not a bi-polarity then definitely a multitude of Sinatra’s different personal and artistic shades. “The person who I knew,” says Lambert, speaking of her grandfather, “was very much the person I hear in the torch song records. Not to say that he was a sad sack around me, but it was a person who was a lot more real than a lot of people know…."
Lambert concedes readily that the brash, licentious libertine Rat Pack persona was genuinely a part of who her grandfather was as an entertainer and public persona. But as a friend—as a grandfather—that wasn’t really the guy she knew best. “The Ring-a-Ding-Ding! stuff,” she tells Friedwald, “was a suit he kind of fit into really comfortably, but, to me, that wasn’t the natural person who I knew….
“I related more to the…and I don’t want to say melancholy, but [I related more to] the more thoughtful person who was very comfortable having a dark side… somebody who could be really quiet and be really comfortable with that.”
Put simply, Lambert chose to perform the Sinatra songs she performs because those selections track most authentically with the grandfather she knew. Which is a powerful thing in itself—to suggest that a vocalist, even a consummate song stylist like Sinatra, could graft so much of his soul and truest essence onto music and lyrics that, of course, he himself didn’t write.
“For me,” she tells Friedwald, “that music is so personal. Specifically, because he chose it. There was so much thought that went into choosing those songs, in particular. And that running order for those records. That tells me so much about the person.”
Friedwald’s conversation with Lambert reveals so many interesting and profound insights about Frank Sinatra the musician, the artist, the friend, and the family man. If there’s one unassailable takeaway, it’s that Sinatra was truly a man who contained multitudes. And the side that speaks to Lambert’s musicality has allowed her to continue shining a light on that side of her grandfather that fans and media and casual listeners would likely have known least.
It’s a fascinating and revealing discussion between Will Friedwald and Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter, the singer, songwriter and instrumentalist AJ Lambert. And all talk aside, there’s plenty of music; as to be expected, Friedwald’s dive into the Wee Small Hours is a deep one. So, this week’s “Sing! Sing! Sing!” will be broken into two parts. Frank’s music is epic enough, but when expanded to include tales heard from The House of Sinatra, it becomes a leviathan.
Don’t miss Part I of the AJ Lambert/Wee Small Hours Miniseries on “Sing! Sing! Sing!”
This Saturday, Dec. 16 at 10 a.m. PT/1:00 p.m. ET on KSDS Jazz 88.3 FM San Diego, jazz88.org, and the KSDS mobile app.