On Thursday I went to the rehearsal for the Michel Legrand tribute that took place Friday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. I was there to interview Frank Sinatra Jr. who is appearing at Suncoast April 9-11. I have seen him perform in Vegas before and there is a similarity between his voice and his father’s famed sound. Sinatra Jr. was bandleader for his father for years and nowadays his tours include performing songs from his father’s songbook.
But Sinatra Jr. is more than a good singer. In 2010 he is one of the last truly credible performers of the American Songbook using the great jazz arrangement styles for big band. And, we are lucky to have him playing these songs for fans of his dad, fans of the era and young people who have never heard the power of a big band live.
This interview and my earlier ones with Sinatra Jr. made clear that he is comfortable keeping the music his father made art a live experience for an audience to enjoy in the Internet age. But what I want to emphasize is that while there is a family quality in their voices (like Bob and Bing Crosby), Sinatra Jr. is not an impersonator. There is nothing crass or cheesy about his show; he is certainly not attempting to channel his father’s voice. He sings with the confidence and skill of a veteran with a deep respect for the music he performs and the other musicians on stage. As a singer he is as influenced by Sinatra as anyone who touches certain songs. How can any singer not be? Yet, Sinatra Jr. after decades in the business deserves a fair share of recognition.
In conversation he is scholar of the music he performs. He also has an incredible memory for the details of shows and theaters. He exudes his goals. He is not trying to pursue family vanity, but rather keep alive an art that reached a zenith in his father’s recordings. But in a more just universe people would see Sinatra Jr. deserves a level of respect that I have noticed he gets from his fellow musicians though not in terms of an audience the size of his talents.
This photo shows Sinatra Jr. meeting Legrand for the first time at the rehearsal. Both were clearly admirers of each other. It was Sinatra Jr. who was chosen to open the tribute Friday night.
And, I guess this is the point of the preamble. Actor Jon Voight was host of the tribute to Legrand, and throughout the entire evening he was a spectacular jerk There were many examples to pick from. But I want to single out the two times he suggested to audience members that they close their eyes while Sinatra Jr. sang. The reason: so they could be transported by the voice and imagine the father while not looking at the man actually singing or the musicians playing. Jerk.
Hey, Dr. Freud, anyone maybe having a parent-child issue; perhaps a certain actor being eclipsed by a daughter in the same field?
Sinatra Jr is worth hearing and seeing all on his own. He brings love and legitimacy to the material that he has a lifetime immersion in performing. If you love horns kicking out swinging arrangements of songs by Gershwin, Berlin, Porter or handling song lyrics of Mercer, Sinatra Jr. offers that music about as well as any other living performer.
The poet John Berryman admitted most of his stature came from outliving his contemporaries. But Sinatra Jr. is from the rock generation. By choice he is carrying on a style of music that few musicians left have any of the direct links to making. He has those links to Duke Ellington or anyone else you can name. And, Sinatra Jr. shows that first hand comfort in the confidence he brings to his performances.
Of course, there is only one Frank Sinatra. But the music that mattered to Sinatra most gets an honest heartfelt performance in the hands of Sinatra Jr.
There is no reason to close your eyes. Watch, learn and applaud. See you at the Suncoast. (photo: Lanie Crossman)