pl | en

MUSIC ⸜ review

Sinatra at the Sands

Record label: Reprise Records RLP 1019, LP
Released/re-issued: Aug. 20th 1966/May 30th 2022
Re-issue: Universal Music/Stereo Sound SSAR-065~066
Medium: 2 x 140 g LP



translated Marek Dyba
images „High Fidelity” | Piccolo Audio Works

No 229

June 1, 2023

Sinatra at the Sands is a live album by Frank Sinatra, recorded with Count Basie and his orchestra, conducted and arranged by Quincy Jones. It was recorded live at the Copa Room of the former Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1966. It was Sinatra's first commercially released live album, featuring many of Sinatra's finest interpretations of songs that are associated with Sinatra. Source:, accessed: 3.04.2023.

RANK SINATRA, born in 1915 in Hoboken, an American singer and film actor, is one of the most recognizable voices of the "golden era" of popular music in the USA, i.e. the period between the 1930s and 1960s. The songs performed by him are very often used as parts of soundtracks for movies and commercials, they are also part of Christmas, which is why they are still present in the cultural space.

He began his career in the mid-1930s, performing with bands popular at the time, occasionally performing vocal parts. His first successes came when he collaborated with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra. Sinatra, convinced of the rightness of his decision, began to perform solo, recording several hits in 1942, among them Night and Day, a song that will remain with him for the rest of his career. It was a bold move, because the only singer who had done that before was Bing Crosby. As it turned out, Sinatra was right. It was during this time that the nickname "The Voice" stuck to him, and fans went crazy at his concerts.

On June 1st 1943 he signs a contract with Columbia Records, and in 1946 releases, in collaboration with arranger Axel Stordahl, his first album entitled The Voice of Frank Sinatra. He was already a very wealthy man at that time, and his records sold 10 million copies a year. After a few unfortunate incidents, like the one with a Vanity Fair reporter he punched, his star faded and Columbia didn't stop him when he parted ways with them. What's more, the technique and style he developed, which worked well in the 1940s, seemed outdated in the new decade.

The movie industry that helped his career earlier in the 1940s gave him a lifeline. The Fred Zinemman-directed movie From Here to Eternity, which was released in 1953, was a box office hit and restored the singer's good name. He took advantage of this by signing a contract with Capitol Records in May of the same year. It was a good move for both sides. Sinatra's biographer Charles L. Granata wrote:

The label's rise to prominence over the next four years (beginning in 1949 - ed.) and its caring, family atmosphere made the Capitol a warm place for singers like Sinatra. They welcomed him with open arms.

⸜ CHARLES L. GRANATA, Sessions with Sinatra, p. 81.

The 1950s and 1960s were a time when the artist frequently performed in casinos in Las Vegas - one of the most lucrative jobs at the time. He has performed in the city of casinos since 1951, when he made his debut on September 13th at the Painted Desert Showroom of the Desert Inn hotel. According to biographers, due to the decline in popularity, the singer could only count on employment in hotels located on the famous The Strip, the main street of the city. At that time, it offered only seven hotels, all owned by the mafia.

Sinatra gave solo concerts, in duets - in the late 1960s, he performed Strangers in the Night with Violetta Villas in the Casino de Paris or with friends, the so-called Rat Pack. This informal, ever-changing group included singers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, actor Peter Lawford and comedian Joey Bishop. Because the members of the Rat Pack did not perform in hotels and casinos that refused to serve Sammy Davis - a black member of their pack it is even said that Sinatra played an important role in racial desegregation in Nevada.


Sinatra at the Sands IS A RECORD OF ONE OF THESE CONCERTS. It was recorded live at the Copa Room of the former Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and released on August 20th 1966. The material for the album was edited from recordings made during seven performances that took place from January 26th to February 1st this year. Although The Concert Sinatra was released in 1962, it was actually a studio recording. Sinatra at the Sands was thus Sinatra's first commercially released live album.

Each performance was attended by as many as 600 fans. When Sinatra first saw them, he said, "How did all these people fit in here?" There are 21 tracks on the double album. They were the singer's greatest hits, in new arrangements, punctuated by his monologues and jokes. As Quincy Jones wrote in his autobiography Q: The Autobiography Of Quincy Jones: "Frank was on top at the time, and I was running his ship, the greatest team in the world." Years later, the jokes are not so funny anymore, and the monologue contains crude racist and sexist jokes. However, great music remains.

Sinatra was accompanied on stage by Count Basie and his 20-piece orchestra, and the music was arranged by Quincy Jones himself. More than a decade before Jones produced two of Michael Jackson's most important albums, including Thriller, he was still a young, promising arranger hired by jazz bands. Nevertheless, as Jacob Adams writes on the Spectrum Culture portal, the arrangements of Sinatra's songs that he proposed on Sinatra at the Sands are one of the most appreciated standards of big-band bands:

The dynamics of All of Me, the erotic intensity of I've Got You Under My Skin and the sheer joy of You Make Me Feel So Young, flawlessly performed by Basie's band found their original expression thanks to Jones' talent.

⸜ JACOB ADAMS, Revisit: Frank Sinatra with Count Basie & the Orchestra: Sinatra at the Sands.

This was not Basie's first meeting with Sinatra, as in 1962 they collaborated on the album Sinatra-Basie: An Historical First and in 1964 on It Might As Well Be Swing; the orchestra on the latter was arranged by QJ. Moreover, the Las Vegas shows were preceded by a short tour with the Count Basie Orchestra in the summer of 1965. It is worth mentioning, for example, a performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, which took place on July 4th 1965, and a charity event with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis. All three heroes of the album in question were therefore well acquainted and played well together.

As Erwin Barendre writes, the artist prepared especially carefully for concerts in The Sands, and even developed a special ritual. Most of all, he took care of his voice, taking steam inhalations in the late afternoon and ditching cigarettes for the time being. Before taking the stage, he warmed up with his accompanist, Bill Miller, for about half an hour. And the tailor-made tux he wore was supposed to still be iron-warm.

The performances were received in a lively fashion. The then fifty-year-old artist - he celebrated his birthday in December of the previous year - was in very good shape, and Basie's band under the direction of Jones played with swing, dynamic and energy. As Charles Wawrick points out in his review of the album, 1966 was the "long hair revolution" time and of the music of The Beatles and The Beach Boys, with the albums Revolver and Pet Sounds that changed the face of music. Still, he adds, it didn't matter at all: "The audience was in Frank's world, with rocking music, timeless songs, where jewelry dazzled and booze flowed. Time has stopped” (more → HERE).

At the Grammy Awards on March 2nd 1967, Frank Sinatra was one of the top winners. He won four awards for the Strangers In The Night piece (which Sinatra was known to hate) and one for the compilation A Man And His Music. Sinatra At The Sands was also awarded, but not in the strictly musical category, but in the literary category - for the Best Liner-notes).


Sinatra at the Sands WAS RELEASED in 1966, nine years after the first stereo LP. And yet, the publisher presented it in both stereo and mono versions. Such approach will last until the end of the 60s and even the beginning of the 70s. Due to the length of the edited material, the recording was divided between two records and the publication received a fold-out cover. The album was released simultaneously in the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and other European countries, and even in Uruguay. Each branch of the record label received a copy of the "master" tape.

In 1998, Warner Bros. Records released a reissue of the album, with the master digitally recorded on U-matic tape, which included a bonus track, for a total of 22 tracks. In 2003, the four-track recording was remixed and released on DVD-A with a slightly different track listing. In November 2006, the box Sinatra: Vegas was released, awarded a gold record by the Recording Industry Association of America. Among the six discs with concert recordings there was also one with a record from 1966, this time from one day, January 28th.

FRANK LOWELL was responsible for recording process and SONNY BURKE produced the album. LEE HERSCHBERG selected and edited recordings from nine days. Lowell was an American sound engineer, head of the recording department at Warner Brothers. A year before the events recorded on the album in question, he recorded the album Moonlight Sonata with Sinatra. In turn, Herschberg worked with Sinatra on several of the singer's most important albums of the 1960s, including Strangers In The Night, for which won him a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Recording together with Eddie Brackett. More than just an engineer, he released the album My Way in 1969, for which he wrote some of the music and arranged the orchestra.

Considering the exceptional momentum with which Sinatra at the Sands was recorded, it's hard to understand why we know so little about what recording equipment was used. Even the usually reliable Charles L. Granata, the author of the most complete monograph of Sinatra's recordings in this respect, is silent on this subject. Everything we learn comes from side sources, usually not directly related to the album.

⸜ Two Sinatra at the Sands versions released by „Stereo Sound” on SACD + CD and LP

It is known, for example, that the material was almost certainly recorded on four-track portable tape recorders. This is indicated by the fact that the performances of Count Basie's orchestra, which took place just before the headliner of the evening, were recorded on four tracks, to which we will return later. We also know, and this is for sure, what microphone Sinatra sang into. It was a Shure model 546. It can be seen on the cover of the album, the website of this American producer also mentions it. It also mentions that for a while this microphone rested in the decoupling holder of the A45. However, the artist quickly got rid of it and handheld it.

In Richard B. Stolley's book entitled Sinatra: An Intimate Portrait of a Very Good Year it reads:

Knowing how to use a microphone was one aspect of Sinatra's art that other singers would never grasp. As he said, "the microphone should be an instrument for them", and "instead of playing the saxophone, they should play the microphone". Frank preferred the mic's dark finish to blend into his tuxedo, to move with it but subtly, and never let listeners hear an explosive "p" or inhale. "I think that a weak, but still parallel, would be a comparison to the use of a fan by a geisha" - said the artist.

The Shure 546 Unidyne lll was a mid-size diaphragm dynamic microphone and, experts say, a fantastic predecessor to the most important and most used microphone in pop and rock music, the SM57. The 546 was used by a plethora of famous acts, from Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) to Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. Sinatra himself used it often when recording albums for his Reprise label. The advantage of this microphone was also the impedance switch, thanks to which it could have been used with any microphone preamplifier.

This ends what we know about the technical aspects of Sinatra at the Sands. Not a word about the mixing desk or the studio where it was mixed to stereo and mono.

Live at the Sands (before Frank)

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2113

WE MENTIONED THE ALBUM with recordings preceding Sinatra's performances. COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA’S Live at the Sands (before Frank). The material, from which 14 tracks were selected, was recorded, it seems, so that the sound engineers could prepare for the actual recordings. This is indicated by the fact that it was not released or even mixed until 1998, when Warner Bros. prepared a new edition of Sinatra at the Sands.

In his autobiography Basie wrote:

And speaking of preparations, which Frank liked, it must be said that when he found out that the band had a few days off just before it was scheduled to go to the Sands with him, he arranged for it to fly to Vegas from Chicago at his own expense. That's all Frank (…) He never took the easy way out. I'm pretty sure at Sands he could let it go and it would still be great. But it wouldn't be Frank.

⸜ ALBERT MURRAY, Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie (as Told to Albert Murray)

The version I would like to recommend was released in 2013 by Mobile Fidelity. Until recently, it seemed that it was a copy of an analog "master" tape, but some time ago we found out that it was a a copy of a digital U-matic tape, recorded on a Sony 1630 PCM mastering tape recorder, i.e. with 16 bits , 44.1kHz. Probably from a similar tape MoFi cut their version of Sinatra at the Sands.

Listening to a recording of Basie's orchestra performance after the Sinatra’s concert is a slightly surreal experience. It's a completely different sound than from Sinatra at the Sands. Mobile Fidelity's reissues are saturated and filled with bass, which is usually lacking. In the 1950s-70s. the bass was deliberately cut off so that you could listen to records on inexpensive turntables There are known cases of titles that were returned en masse as faulty. And the point was that they had high dynamics and strong bass - cheap cartridges and tonearms were not able to follow the groove and the stylus even jumped out of it.

MoFi sound engineers, on all albums of the last dozen or so years, restored the proper tonal balance. This is also the case with Basie's album. The instruments have a large volume, are strong and tangible. The stage has a creamy consistency, that is, the virtual sources are not as clear as on the Sinatra disc, whether in the LP or SACD version. But it's also just a very nice sound. Sonorous but also dense. The depth of the stage is perfectly reproduced, better than in the recording with the vocalist.

In general, I have the impression that the recording of the orchestra itself was less stressful for the sound engineers. It is freer, smoother and cleaner. Sinatra gave the music style, disciplined the presentation, but also introduced a kind of "tension" to the recording, for better or for worse. It seems that the orchestra was less stressed, which was probably helped by the fact that the audience is mostly occupied with themselves and not listening to the music - loud conversations and even shouting can be heard, which is absent at the concert with Sinatra.

Therefore, I would treat Live at the Sands (before Frank) not as an addition to Sinatra at the Sands, but as an independent whole, an excellent concert by Basie and his orchestra, recorded by a great team of engineers.

Remaster 2022

THE HISTORY OF THE VERSION WHICH I wanted to tell you about and which I wanted to listen to with you is fascinating. From 1998, all LP and CD reissues used the same U-matic tape. So this is the first fully analog reissue for a long time, cut directly from a copy of the "master" tape, sent in 1973 to the Japanese branch representing the Reprise catalogue. It was jointly published by the Japanese branch of Universal Music and the "Stereo Sound" magazine. It was created on the 60th anniversary of the singer's first concert in the Land of the Rising Sun, which took place in 1962.

This was not the first release with this concert to feature the logo of this Japanese magazine. In 2019, a digital version was released, consisting of a single-layer SACD and a second, CD - it was the first release of this type in the world. The signal for it came from PCM 24/192 files, copied from the original "master" tape in the United States and brought to Japan, to Sony Music Studios in Nogizaka, for editing and mastering.

⸜ One of the four reels of tape held by Universal Music in Japan • photo Piccolo Audio Works

This time, an analog tape was used. According to an article by music producer Yoshio Kohara, these tapes were transcribed in the USA in December 1973 from the "master" for the Japanese edition, which appeared in the same year (for clarity: I used an automatic translator ). The tapes, he says, are in excellent condition because they have been kept in an air-conditioned special room since they were made and have only been used a handful of times in fifty years. Each side of the album has its own tape, recorded at 38 cm/s without Dolby; the tapes are wound on a metal spool. Courtesy of Universal Music, it was possible to cut the varnish directly from this tape, without the need for a production copy.

The varnish was made at the Piccolo Audio Works mastering studio, headed by Shinya Matsushita and located in Tokyo's Yushima district. This studio is responsible for many contemporary reissues of vinyl records. The basis for the preparations for the work was the resignation from all digital devices. The tape was ripped from a Telefunken M21 tape recorder with Ampex electronics.

The varnish was cut by the owner of the studio, Mr. Shinya Matsushita, who also restored the aforementioned tape recorder. The Scully RA-1389 lathe with Westrex 3DIIAH head and RA1574D tube amplifier from the same company was used for this purpose. Pressing was done at the Sony Music Shizuoka pressing plant. Interesting, but it was decided to press it on 140, not 180-gram vinyl. This was supposed to be advice given by the head of the music cafe Jazz Cafe Basie, Shoji Sugawara, where Count Basie used to play.

Great attention was paid to the cover. The first edition had the white stripes on the sides of the photo and they were kept. Interestingly, the cover was made by hand by Japan Sleeve, thanks to which its original texture was preserved. The surface of the double coat was created by wrapping white paper from back to front and sticking a photo on it. This process cannot be done with automated machines and each cover is finished one by one by hand by skilled artisans.


I SAT DOWN TO LISTEN to the Japanese reissue unsure of what I would hear. Such projects can be either brilliant or completely wrong. And yet I know, like and have this album in several versions - for comparison I used first releases from the United States and Great Britain. As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. The Japanese release has an open and dynamic sound. Starting from the announcement, with the great voice of the announcer, on which you can hear a lot of reverberation, through the drums, although mono, but still dynamic, to the great brass section, everything says "let's rock it!"

⸜ Telefunken M21 tape recorder with Ampex electronics • photo Piccolo Audio Works

Sinatra's vocals are not as clear as in studio recordings, from time to time you can hear "pops", quickly extinguished, but still. The vocal track doesn't have much bandwidth because it's cut off from the bottom. So Sinatra is set pretty deep in the mix. Which resembles a stage situation, not a studio situation - so everything is correct. From time to time, as in The shadow on your smile, the signal is slightly distorted, such is the charm of live recordings. All this, however, is kept in check and adds up to a fantastic consonance of voice and orchestra.

The thing that stands out is the clarity of this recording and this pressing. The timbres of individual instruments are also well differentiated. And even if the guitar is positioned exactly on the axis with Sinatra, as in I've got a crush on you, it is clear and selective. The percussion, which after the first songs slightly expands in the panorama - especially to the right, with the snare drum - has a nice timbre. Its kick is not very active, it's not a massive sound. Wind instruments play much denser, mainly the trombone on the left. Interestingly, on the following pages the width of the perspective from which we see the drums changes and already on side B it is monophonic again, but it seems to be larger than on side A.

Count Basie's piano in One for my baby, the track ending the A-side of the vinyl, was placed on the extreme left channel. It sounds a bit like from a small bar, that is, the instrument plays mainly in the midrange and treble. This fits in with the general perception of timbres on this album. And they are open, clean, fast. There is little romance or warmth in them. Those who know the sound of big band from concerts will appreciate this type of presentation, because it brings the listener closer to the real stage situation.

The most important thing here seems to be not sophistication of timbres, because there is none, not three-dimensional, tangible bodies of the instruments, because we will not get that either. This release offers something completely different: the magic of a concert. There is an internal spring in this presentation, which makes the music move forward, there is a well-preserved rhythm, and above all, the consonance of small elements. The sound of cutlery in the hall, the laughter of the audience, Sinatra's jokes, and above all Basie's orchestra watching over everything - this is something that builds a specific bond, a spiritual connection that transcends time, between us and the performers, and above all between us and the singer.

⸜ Scully RA-1389 lathe with Westrex 3DIIAH head and RA1574D tube amplifier (seen from the rear, right) • photo Piccolo Audio Works

The "dirt" was not removed from the recording, especially the knocks coming from the Sinatra microphone. There's a lot of it, mostly in the parts where he's talking to the audience or telling stories - like in "The Tea Break". The engineer cut the bass to remove the most irritating ones, but the editing did not interfere with this track more than necessary. That's why the sound is so believable. It's not as clean as from the studio, it's not as full, and yet we believe what we hear.

The album was created as a result of editing tapes from several performances. The cuts are nicely hidden, but if you want, you will find them. Look for minimal reverberation cutoff and subtle variations in source size. They do not affect the pleasure of listening, but they remind us that even a recording of a concert, by definition a kind of document, is a creation. In this case creation at the highest level.

⸜ LP vs SACD The comparison of the analog reissue by "Stereo Sound" with the digital one was extremely interesting. It turns out that the digital remaster has a heavy bass sound, which makes the double bass more present in the mix. Sinatra's vocals are cleaner, closer to us, and the "pops" are less audible. However, the vinyl showed a much deeper soundstage and a more dynamic sound of the orchestra. The SACD version, although excellent in itself, is not as emotionally moving as the reviewed vinyl.

And this is because the sound seems a bit flatter with the digital disc, both in terms of timbre and the creation of bodies. The vinyl sounds higher, it does not have such a clear bass, and yet it gives the impression as if it is more resolving. There is more emotions and "drive" in it. It lacks saturation, I must admit. In return, vinyl gives momentum and a better insight into the recording technique. The aforementioned "dirt" of the recording can be heard better, and it is also easier to indicate the places of „gluing” tracks from various recording days. This would seem to be a mistake. And it is not. This makes the presentation more credible.

Therefore, although the digital remaster of the "Stereo Sound" magazine, released on a single layer SACD disc, is the best non-analog version I know, the analog reissue from last year is the one I would choose to listen to. But, it's important, for an engaged, loud listening. Because if I wanted to listen to something quieter while doing something else, for example reading, I would reach for the SACD or the MoFi remaster. Because they sound cleaner, deeper, but they are also less emotionally engaging. Not much, but still - enough for the music to flow calmly in the background.

Frank Sinatra in HIGH FIDELITY

⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, Frank Sinatra, «Sinatra’s Sinatra», Stereo Sound, SACD/CD, „High Fidelity”, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, Frank Sinatra. «My Way. 40th Anniversary Edition», Sinatra Society of Japan, SHM-CD, „High Fidelity”, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA , Frank Sinatra by Mobile Fidelity. «Nice’N’Easy», «Only The Lonle», „High Fidelity”, Mobile Fidelity, Gold CD, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, Frank Sinatra Sinatra&Strings, Mobile Fidelity, 180 g LP, High Fidelity”, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, Frank Sinatra Frank Sinatra &S extet: Live In Paris, Mobile Fidelity, 2 x 180 g LP, High Fidelity”, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, Sinatra. The Capitol Years, EMI, 21 x CD, „High Fidelity”, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, Frank Sinatra «Songs From The Heart», Capitol Records, CD, „High Fidelity”, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.

Bibliography, accessed: 19.04.2023., accessed: 19.04.2023. Frank Sinatra / Sinatra At The Sands – The Ideal Audiophile Pressing, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.
The Concert Sinatra' Applies State-of-Art Technology, →, 13th December 2011, accessed: 19.04.2023., accessed: 19.04.2023.

⸜ JACOB ADAMS, Revisit: Frank Sinatra with Count Basie & the Orchestra: Sinatra at the Sands, “Spectrum Culture, 2nd June 2014, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ ERWIN BARENDREGT, Sinatra At The Sands, →, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ WILIAM GOODMAN, Frank Sinatra’s ‘Sinatra at the Sands’ Turns 50: The Whiskey-Swilling, Joke-Cracking American Icon at His Peak, →, 25th July 2016, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ CHARLES L. GRANATA, Sessions with Sinatra, A Capella Books, Chicago 2004.
⸜ YOSHIO KOHARA, Stereo Sound Talking about the charm of original software Masterpiece software Listening point introduction 42 / "Sinatra Live at the Suns / Frank Sinatra" (LP) Stereo Sound REFERENCE RECORD, “Stereo Sound”, 15th October 2022,, accessed: 19.04.2023.
⸜ ALBERT MURRAY, Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie (as Told to Albert Murray), Random House, London 1985.
⸜ RICHARD B. STOLLEY, Sinatra: An Intimate Portrait of a Very Good Year, Harry N. Abrams, 2002.