Oscar-Winning Actress Viola Davis Reads the Children’s Story, Rent Party Jazz, for Jazz Appreciation Month

FYI: In hon­or of Jazz Appre­ci­a­tion Month, Vio­la Davis treats us to a read­ing of Rent Par­ty Jazz, a chil­dren’s book writ­ten by William Miller and illus­trat­ed by Char­lotte Riley-Webb. Here’s a quick syn­op­sis of the sto­ry:

This sto­ry is set in New Orleans in the 1930s. Son­ny and his moth­er are scrap­ing by to pay their rent. Mama works in a fish can­ning fac­to­ry, and Son­ny works for the coal man before school each morn­ing. When Mama los­es her job, they no longer have enough mon­ey for the rent and fear that the land­lord will turn them out. One day Son­ny meets Smilin’ Jack, a jazz musi­cian who is play­ing his trum­pet in Jack­son Square. Smilin’ Jack offers to play at a par­ty at Sonny’s house to help raise mon­ey for the rent. The neigh­bors all come to sing and dance and before they leave, drop some coins in a buck­et. Son­ny learns how peo­ple can help one anoth­er “if they put their minds and hearts to it.”

For any­one not famil­iar with them, rent par­ties start­ed in Harlem dur­ing the 1920s, when jazz musi­cians would play at a friend’s apart­ment to help them raise enough mon­ey to pay the rent. If you hop over to the web­site of Yale’s Bei­necke Library, you can see a col­lec­tion of rent cards that belonged to Langston Hugh­es.

This video comes from the Sto­ry­line Online Youtube Chan­nel, spon­sored by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s children’s lit­er­a­cy web­site. The chan­nel fea­tures cel­e­brat­ed actors “read­ing children’s books along­side cre­ative­ly pro­duced illus­tra­tions, help­ing to inspire a love of read­ing in chil­dren.”

Vio­la Davis’ read­ing will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Stars Read Clas­sic Children’s Books: Bet­ty White, James Earl Jones, Rita Moreno & Many More

Enter an Archive of 6,000 His­tor­i­cal Children’s Books, All Dig­i­tized and Free to Read Online

Langston Hugh­es Reveals the Rhythms in Art & Life in a Won­der­ful Illus­trat­ed Book for Kids (1954)

Mis­ter Rogers Turns Kids On to Jazz with Help of a Young Wyn­ton Marsalis and Oth­er Jazz Leg­ends (1986)

200 Haunting Videos of U.S. Nuclear Tests Now Declassified and Put Online

Last month, Lawrence Liv­er­more Nation­al Lab­o­ra­to­ry put on YouTube 200 now-declas­si­fied videos doc­u­ment­ing Amer­i­can nuclear tests con­duct­ed between 1945 and 1962. Accord­ing the Lab, “around 10,000 of these films sat idle, scat­tered across the coun­try in high-secu­ri­ty vaults. Not only were they gath­er­ing dust, the film mate­r­i­al itself was slow­ly decom­pos­ing, bring­ing the data they con­tained to the brink of being lost for­ev­er.”

In the first video above, weapon physi­cist Greg Sprig­gs dis­cuss­es how a team of experts sal­vaged these decom­pos­ing films, with the hope that they can “pro­vide bet­ter data to the post-test­ing-era sci­en­tists who use com­put­er codes to help cer­ti­fy that the aging U.S. nuclear deter­rent remains safe, secure and effec­tive.”

If you click the for­ward but­ton, the playlist will skip to the next video, the first of 63 nuclear tests. Sev­er­al of those clips you can watch below:

Oper­a­tion Hard­tack

Oper­a­tion Plumb­bob

Oper­a­tion Teapot

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kurt Von­negut Gives a Ser­mon on the Fool­ish­ness of Nuclear Arms: It’s Time­ly Again (Cathe­dral of St. John the Divine, 1982)

Haunt­ing Unedit­ed Footage of the Bomb­ing of Nagasa­ki (1945)

53 Years of Nuclear Test­ing in 14 Min­utes: A Time Lapse Film by Japan­ese Artist Isao Hashimo­to

How a Clean, Tidy Home Can Help You Sur­vive the Atom­ic Bomb: A Cold War Film from 1954

Discover “Unpaywall,” a New (and Legal) Browser Extension That Lets You Read Millions of Science Articles Normally Locked Up Behind Paywalls

Ear­li­er this month, Impact­sto­ry, a non­prof­it sup­port­ed by grants from the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion and the Alfred P. Sloan Foun­da­tion, launched, Unpay­wall, a free brows­er exten­sion that helps you “find open-access ver­sions of pay­walled research papers, instant­ly.”

As the co-founders of Impact­sto­ry describe itUnpay­wall is “an exten­sion for Chrome and Fire­fox that links you to free full-text as you browse research arti­cles. Hit a pay­wall? No prob­lem: click the green tab and read it free!”

Their FAQ gets into the mechan­ics a lit­tle more, but here’s the gist of how it works: “When you view a pay­walled research arti­cle, Unpay­wall auto­mat­i­cal­ly looks for a copy in our index of over 10 mil­lion free, legal full­text PDFs. If we find one, click the green tab to read the arti­cle.”

While many sci­ence pub­lish­ers put a pay­wall in front of sci­en­tif­ic arti­cles, it’s often the case that these arti­cles have been pub­lished else­where in an open for­mat. “More and more fun­ders and uni­ver­si­ties are requir­ing authors to upload copies of their papers to [open] repos­i­to­ries. This has cre­at­ed a deep resource of legal open access papers…” And that’s what Unpay­wall draws on.

This seems like quite a boon for researchers, jour­nal­ists, stu­dents and pol­i­cy­mak­ers. You can down­load the Unpay­wall exten­sion for Chrome and Fire­fox, or learn more about the new ser­vice at the Unpay­wall web­site.

Note: Over at Metafil­ter, you can find a good list of sources of, or meth­ods for, obtain­ing free aca­d­e­m­ic con­tent.

via Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics/Metafil­ter

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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Behold the Masterpiece by Japan’s Last Great Woodblock Artist: View Online Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885)

Uruguayan-French poet Jules Laforgue, one of the young T.S. Eliot’s favorites, pub­lished his major work, The Imi­ta­tion of Our Lady the Moon, in 1886, two years before his untime­ly death at 27 from tuber­cu­lo­sis. It is “a book of poems,” notes Wuther­ing Expec­ta­tions, “about clowns who live on the moon… wear black silk skull­caps and use dan­de­lions as bou­tonieres.” The Pier­rots in his poems, Laforgue once wrote in a let­ter, “seem to me to have arrived at true wis­dom” as they con­tem­plate them­selves and their con­flicts in the light of the moon’s many faces.

I can­not help but think of Laforgue when I think of anoth­er artist who, around the same time, began on the oth­er side of the world what is often con­sid­ered the great­est work of his career. The artist, Japan­ese print­mak­er Tsukio­ka Yoshi­toshi, also stood astride an old world and a rapid­ly mod­ern­iz­ing new one. And his visu­al rumi­na­tions, though lack­ing Laforgue’s arch com­e­dy, beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trate the same kind of dreamy con­tem­pla­tion, lone­li­ness, melan­choly, and weary res­ig­na­tion. The moon, as Laforgue wrote—a “Cat’s‑eye of bright / Redeem­ing light”—both com­forts and taunts us: “It comes with the force of a body blow / That the Moon is a place one can­not go.”

Yoshitoshi’s prints fea­ture a fix­a­tion on the moon’s mys­ter­ies, and a the­atri­cal device to aid in the con­tem­pla­tion of its mean­ings: char­ac­ters from Chi­nese and Japan­ese folk­lore and heroes from nov­els and plays, all of them staged just after key moments in their sto­ries, in sta­t­ic pos­tures and in silent dia­logue with the night. Heav­i­ly invest­ed with lit­er­ary allu­sions and deeply laden with sym­bol­ism, the 100 prints, writes the Fitzwilliam Muse­um, “con­jure a refined poet­ry to give a new twist to tra­di­tion­al sub­jects.”

The por­traits, most­ly soli­tary, wist­ful, and brood­ing, “pen­e­trat­ed deep­er into the psy­chol­o­gy of his sub­jects” than pre­vi­ous work in Yoshi­toshi’s Ukiyo‑e style, one soon to be altered per­ma­nent­ly by West­ern influ­ences flood­ing in between the Edo and Mei­ji peri­ods. Yoshi­toshi both incor­po­rat­ed and resist­ed this influ­ence, using fig­ures from Kabu­ki and Noh the­ater to rep­re­sent tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese arts, yet intro­duc­ing tech­niques “nev­er seen before in Japan­ese wood­block prints,” writes J. Noel Chi­ap­pa, break­ing con­ven­tion by “show[ing] peo­ple freely, from all angles,” rather than only in three-quar­ter view, and by using increased real­ism and West­ern per­spec­tives.

Yoshi­toshi began pub­lish­ing these prints in 1885, and they proved huge­ly pop­u­lar. Peo­ple lined up for new addi­tions to the series, which ran until 1892, when the artist died after a long strug­gle with men­tal ill­ness. In these last years, he pro­duced his great­est work, which also includes a kabu­ki-style series based on Japan­ese and Chi­nese ghost sto­ries, New Forms of 36 Ghost Sto­ries. “In a Japan that was turn­ing away from its own past,” Chi­ap­pa writes, Yoshi­toshi, “almost sin­gle-hand­ed­ly man­aged to push the tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese wood­block print to a new lev­el, before it effec­tive­ly died with him.

His tumul­tuous career, after very suc­cess­ful begin­nings, had fall­en into dis­re­pair and he had been pub­lish­ing illus­tra­tions for sen­sa­tion­al­ist news­pa­pers, an erot­ic por­trait series of famous cour­te­sans, and macabre prints of vio­lence and cru­el­ty. These pre­oc­cu­pa­tions become com­plete­ly styl­ized and psy­chol­o­gized in his final works, espe­cial­ly in One Hun­dred Aspects of the Moon, an extra­or­di­nary series of prints. View them all, with short descrip­tions of each sub­ject, here, or at the Ronin Gallery, who pro­vide infor­ma­tion on the size and con­di­tion of each of its prints and allow view­ers to zoom in on every detail. The images have also been pub­lishished in a 2003 book, One Hun­dred Aspects of the Moon: Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Yoshi­toshi.

While it cer­tain­ly helps to under­stand the lit­er­ary and cul­tur­al con­text of each print in the series, it is not nec­es­sary for an appre­ci­a­tion of their exquis­ite visu­al poet­ry. Per­haps the artist’s memo­r­i­al poem after his death at age 53 pro­vides us with a mas­ter key for view­ing his One Hun­dred Aspects of the Moon.

hold­ing back the night
with increas­ing bril­liance
the sum­mer moon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Hap­pens When a Japan­ese Wood­block Artist Depicts Life in Lon­don in 1866, Despite Nev­er Hav­ing Set Foot There

Down­load Hun­dreds of 19th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters of the Tra­di­tion

The Art of Col­lo­type: See a Near Extinct Print­ing Tech­nique, as Lov­ing­ly Prac­ticed by a Japan­ese Mas­ter Crafts­man

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Take a 16-Week Crash Course on the History of Movies: From the First Moving Pictures to the Rise of Multiplexes & Netflix

Almost all movies tell sto­ries, even the ones that don’t intend to. Put every movie ever made togeth­er, and they col­lec­tive­ly tell anoth­er sto­ry: the sto­ry of cin­e­ma. Of course, not just one “sto­ry of cin­e­ma” exists to tell: crit­ic Mark Cousins told one to great acclaim a few years ago in the form of his book and doc­u­men­tary series The Sto­ry of Film, as Jean-Luc Godard had done ear­li­er in his Histoire(s) du ciné­ma, whose very title acknowl­edges the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of pos­si­ble nar­ra­tives in the his­to­ry of the mov­ing image. Now, with a lighter but no doubt equal­ly strong per­spec­tive, comes the lat­est mul­ti­part video jour­ney through it: Crash Course Film His­to­ry.

“Movies haven’t always looked like they do now,” says host Craig Ben­zine (bet­ter known as the Youtu­ber Wheezy­Wait­er) in the trail­er above. “There was a real long process to fig­ure out what they… were. Were they spec­ta­cles? Doc­u­men­taries? Short films? If so, how short? Long films?

If so, how long? Is black and white bet­ter than col­or? Should sound be the indus­try stan­dard? And where should we make them?” And even though we’ve now seen over a cen­tu­ry of devel­op­ment in cin­e­ma, those issues still seem up for grabs — some of them more than ever.

In the first episode, Ben­zine dives right into his search for the source of the pow­er of movies, “one of the most influ­en­tial forms of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion the world has ever known,” a “uni­ver­sal lan­guage that lets us tell sto­ries about our col­lec­tive hopes and fears, to make sense of the world around us and the peo­ple around us.” To do so, he must begin with the inven­tion of film — the actu­al image-cap­tur­ing cel­lu­loid sub­stance that made cin­e­ma pos­si­ble — and then goes even far­ther back in time to the very first mov­ing images, “illu­sions” in their day, and the sur­pris­ing qual­i­ties of human visu­al per­cep­tion they exploit­ed.

All this might seem a far cry from the spec­ta­cles you’d see at the mul­ti­plex today, but Crash Course Film His­to­ry (which comes from the same folks who gave us A Crash Course in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture and A Crash Course in World His­to­ry) assures us that both of them exist on the same spec­trum — the ride along that spec­trum being the sto­ry of movies. It will last six­teen weeks, after which Crash Course and PBS Dig­i­tal Stu­dios will con­tin­ue their col­lab­o­ra­tive explo­ration of film with a course on pro­duc­tion fol­lowed by a course on crit­i­cism. Take all three and you’ll no doubt come out impressed not just by the size of the cre­ative space into which film has expand­ed, but also by how much it has yet to touch.

As new install­ments of Crash Course Film His­to­ry come out, they will be added to this playlist. Check back for updates.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hol­ly­wood, Epic Doc­u­men­tary Chron­i­cles the Ear­ly His­to­ry of Cin­e­ma

World Cin­e­ma: Joel and Ethan Coen’s Play­ful Homage to Cin­e­ma His­to­ry

A Crash Course in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture: A New Video Series by Best-Sell­ing Author John Green

A Crash Course in World His­to­ry

Cin­e­ma His­to­ry by Titles & Num­bers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Patti Smith, Umberto Eco & Richard Ford Give Advice to Young Artists in a Rollicking Short Animation

Note: There are a cou­ple brief not-safe-for-work moments in this film.

Patron­iz­ing, pon­der­ous, well-mean­ing, self-aggran­diz­ing, inco­her­ent… young artists are sub­ject­ed to a lot of unso­licit­ed advice, and not just from their par­ents.

But what hap­pens when a young artist active­ly seeks it out?

Daniel­la Shuh­man turned to the Louisiana Channel’s series, “Advice to the Young,” feast­ing on the col­lect­ed wis­dom of such heavy hit­ters as per­for­mance artist Mari­na Abramovic, author Umber­to Eco, artist Ola­fur Elias­son, and the mul­ti­tal­ent­ed God­moth­er of Punk, Pat­ti Smith in prepa­ra­tion for her final project at Jerusalem’s Beza­lel Acad­e­my of Arts and Design.

Her resul­tant short film, above, appears to be the work of a deliri­ous­ly aggro inner child, one with a keen bull­shit meter and an anar­chic sense of humor.

“The most impor­tant advice I have is to have fun,” coun­sels nov­el­ist Jonathan Franzen—a man who alleged­ly wrote The Cor­rec­tions while wear­ing earplugs, ear­muffs, and a blind­fold, then bust­ed on Oprah Win­frey when she chose it for for her Book Club.

Cue great spurts of ani­mat­ed arte­r­i­al blood.

At least Franzen both­ers to sound encour­ag­ing… much more so than Abramovic, or fel­low nov­el­ist Richard “Talk Your­self Out of It If You Pos­si­bly Can Because You’re Prob­a­bly Not Going to Be Very Good At It” Ford.

(Par­ents strug­gling to come up with tuition may be relieved to learn that Ford’s on leave from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty this term.)

Mean­while, Shuh­man breaks for NSFW ter­ri­to­ry to visu­al­ize artist Eliasson’s advice, a move that would sure­ly please anoth­er Louisiana Chan­nel per­son­al­i­ty, car­toon­ist David Shrigley. Per­haps it can be his con­so­la­tion prize for not mak­ing the cut.

The pul­sat­ing repro­duc­tive organs aren’t entire­ly inap­pro­pri­ate. Lis­ten to Eliasson’s full inter­view to hear him equate mak­ing art with mak­ing the world. Now that’s the sort of advice that will put a young artist to work!

Some of the more gen­er­ous advice:

Build a good name, keep your name clean, don’t make com­pro­mis­es, don’t wor­ry about mak­ing a bunch of mon­ey or being suc­cess­ful.

Don’t be embar­rassed about what excites you.

If you are doing some­thing weird that every­body hates, that might be some­thing worth look­ing into and worth inves­ti­gat­ing.

Make your own way in the world. Wrap up warm. Eat prop­er­ly, sen­si­bly. Don’t smoke and phone your mom.

We love imag­in­ing the sort of unfet­tered advice Shuh­man will one day be in a posi­tion to dis­pense.

You can see some of her post grad­u­a­tion illus­tra­tion work on her Flickr page.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

21 Artists Give “Advice to the Young:” Vital Lessons from Lau­rie Ander­son, David Byrne, Umber­to Eco, Pat­ti Smith & More

Walt Whit­man Gives Advice to Aspir­ing Young Writ­ers: “Don’t Write Poet­ry” & Oth­er Prac­ti­cal Tips (1888)

Great Film­mak­ers Offer Advice to Young Direc­tors: Taran­ti­no, Her­zog, Cop­po­la, Scors­ese, Ander­son, Felli­ni & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

David Bowie/Nirvana’s “The Man Who Sold The World” Played on the Gayageum, a Korean Instrument from the 6th Century

East meets West, and the Ancient, the Mod­ern. That’s what hap­pens every time Luna Lee plays one of your favorites on the Gayageum, a Kore­an instru­ment that dates back to the 6th cen­tu­ry. We’ve fea­tured her work in years past (see the Relat­eds below). Above, watch her lat­est release: a cov­er of “The Man Who Sold The World,” the song first writ­ten by David Bowie in 1970, then famous­ly per­formed by Nir­vana on MTV Unplugged in 1993. An alter­nate video fea­tures Luna on vocals here. Enjoy!

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Clas­sic Blues Songs By John Lee Hook­er, B.B. King & Mud­dy Waters Played on the Gayageum, a Tra­di­tion­al Kore­an Instru­ment

Watch Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ Per­formed on a Gayageum, a Tra­di­tion­al Kore­an Instru­ment

Three Pink Floyd Songs Played on the Tra­di­tion­al Kore­an Gayageum: “Com­fort­ably Numb,” “Anoth­er Brick in the Wall” & “Great Gig in the Sky”

Ste­vie Ray Vaughan’s Ver­sion of “Lit­tle Wing” Played on Tra­di­tion­al Kore­an Instru­ment, the Gayageum

Leonard Cohen’s “Hal­lelu­jah” Played on Kore­an Instru­ment Dat­ing Back to 6th Cen­tu­ry

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Watch Frank Sinatra Record “It Was a Very Good Year” in the Studio in 1965, and You’ll Know Why They Called Him “The Voice”

I’ll be hon­est, for a long time when I thought of Frank Sina­tra, I thought of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, rat­pack films, and the Olive Gar­den. That is, until I lived for a short time near The Bronx’s Arthur Avenue, the best Lit­tle Italy in New York. Sina­tra poured from the speak­ers of Ital­ian eater­ies and cig­ar and pas­try shops. It dra­mat­i­cal­ly increased the qual­i­ty of my pleas­ant asso­ci­a­tions with his music. Still, I rarely lis­tened very close­ly. I can’t entire­ly blame pop cul­ture for turn­ing him into back­ground music—it hap­pens to near­ly every major star. But overuse of his voice as accom­pa­ni­ment to olive oil, cig­ars, and mar­ti­nis has per­haps made us tune him out too often.

Treat­ing Sina­tra as mood music would not have sat well with some of the singers many of us grew up idol­iz­ing from a young age, like Paul McCart­ney and David Bowie, who both found his work for­ma­tive. McCart­ney thought so high­ly of it, he sent Sina­tra one of his ear­li­est com­po­si­tions, an off-kil­ter lounge croon­er called “Sui­cide” that he wrote at the age of 14. (Hear an unre­leased record­ing below.)

“I thought it was quite a good one,” he remem­bered, “but appar­ent­ly [Sina­tra] thought I was tak­ing the mick­ey out of him and he reject­ed it.”

Bowie, in 1977, wrote what he express­ly intend­ed as a par­o­dy of Sinatra—“Life on Mars.” But the sto­ry is even stranger than that. He specif­i­cal­ly tried to “take the mick­ey” out of Sinatra’s “My Way,” a song cred­it­ed to Paul Anka that just hap­pens to have first been writ­ten, with dif­fer­ent lyrics, by Bowie, as “Even a Fool Learns to Love” in 1968 (hear Bowie sing it above). “Life on Mars,” one of the most beau­ti­ful­ly melod­ic songs in all of pop music, with one of Bowie’s best vocal per­for­mances, shows how much the Thin White Duke owed to Ole Blue Eyes.

These are just two of hun­dreds of male singers whose melodies have tak­en up immor­tal res­i­dence in our brains and who owe a tremen­dous debt to Frank Sina­tra. In addi­tion to his keen melod­ic sen­si­bil­i­ty, Sina­tra also set a high bar with his tech­nique. In the video at the top of the post from 1965, we see the con­sum­mate artist record “It Was a Very Good Year” in the stu­dio, while smok­ing a cig­a­rette and casu­al­ly sip­ping what may be cof­fee from a paper cup in his oth­er hand.

At one point, he stops and ban­ters with the engi­neer, ask­ing him to stop for any “P pop­ping,” the explo­sive sound result­ing from singers putting too much force into their “p” sounds and dis­tort­ing the micro­phone. Nowa­days every­one uses what’s called a “pop fil­ter” to catch these bursts of air, but Sina­tra doesn’t have one, or seem to need one. “I don’t thump,” he tells the record­ing engi­neer, “I’m a sneaky P pop­per.” Indeed. One com­menter on YouTube point­ed out Sinatra’s grace­ful mic tech­nique:

Notice how he turned his head when he sang “it poured sweet and clear” to avoid the spike on the P. In fact, he backed away from the mic just a bit for that whole last verse because he was singing much stronger for the last state­ment of the song. Think about it… this was a live stu­dio record­ing. One take. No over­dubs, No added tracks. Just pure tal­ent. The only thing the sound engi­neers had to do was adjust the eq lev­els a bit and that’s it. This is what you hear on the album. You’d be hard pressed to find ANYONE who could do that today.

Most vocal per­for­mances get record­ed in booths, and cer­tain­ly not in big open rooms with an orches­tra and no head­phones. Some singers learn to han­dle a micro­phone well. Many do not. Audio com­pres­sion sup­plies the dynam­ics, per­for­mances get processed dig­i­tal­ly and edit­ed togeth­er from sev­er­al takes. Young pro­duc­ers often won­der how peo­ple made great sound­ing records before improve­ments like pop fil­ters, iso­lat­ing mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems, or soft­ware that allow a near­ly infi­nite num­ber of cor­rec­tive tech­niques. The answer: per­haps many of these things aren’t always improve­ments, but props. As Sina­tra shows us in this footage, great sound in the stu­dio came from the pro­fes­sion­al­ism and atten­tive tech­nique of artists and engi­neers who got it right at the source.

Relat­ed Con­tent:       

Watch Sud­den­ly: Frank Sina­tra Stars in a 1954 Noir Film

Bob Dylan Releas­es a New Cov­er of Frank Sinatra’s “Full Moon and Emp­ty Arms”

“The Girl from Ipane­ma” Turns 50; Hear Its Bossa Nova Sound Cov­ered by Sina­tra, Krall, Methe­ny & Oth­ers

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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