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This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the January 22, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The Young Ol’ Blue Eyes

His call is right on the minute. Clearly, Frank Sinatra

Jr. respects time — his own and other people’s.

Once we move past the introductions, this son of the man who was arguably

America’s most famous crooner also clearly establishes that he is

a force to be reckoned with. Frank Sinatra Jr. has strong opinions

which he articulates eloquently and with passion.

And the subject at hand is how America is faring in a post-9/11 world,

a subject Sinatra himself has eagerly landed on. Clearly he would

rather discuss politics for starters than his own long musical career.

It turns out to be a decidedly non-linear but nonetheless fascinating

interview.

"I made friends with people from all parts of the world, including

many exchange students from the Middle East," Sinatra says. "They

were terrific people, gracious people. How could we have known that

such hatred was building up?"

But most disturbing to this thoughtful man: "Now that same hatred

is in this country because of the thousands of lives lost on that

terrible September day. Indiscriminate cold-blooded murder is a terrible

thing because it poisons all of us." Sinatra dubs the current

world atmosphere "the deadliest form of cancer from which no one

is immune."

This is a man who will tell you that he wants a better world, and

that hatred begets hatred. He is a father who doesn’t know what to

tell his own son and two stepdaughters about an America poised on

the brink of war. And only then is Sinatra, who appears on Friday,

January 24, at the State Theater in a tribute show to his father,

ready to talk about himself.

Frank Sinatra Jr. was about five years old when he began

playing piano. He was drawn to the instrument almost mystically, and

by the time he was seven, he was already creating his own music, pulling

notes together in ways he couldn’t explain. "It was all just there

for me, waiting to be discovered."

While his father was away too much to notice, Sinatra’s mother picked

up on her son’s talent. And she wanted him to learn from the classics.

"I was totally derelict in the things I was supposed to practice.

Instead of Mozart and Beethoven, I was fooling around on the keyboard,

doing my own thing."

At first the man whose father had a voice recognized around the world

didn’t dare sing. That spot was already taken. Until something began

to change.

"I was a student at the University of Southern California playing

with a college band when our singer got tanked and didn’t show up.

So everybody turned to me and said, `You’ve got to do it. You’re a

Sinatra so you can sing.’"

As Frank Sinatra Jr. tells it, he did sing that night — but poorly.

"It took until I was at least 28 years old before I could listen

to my own voice and be able to stand it. For all those years, what

I wanted in my head just never came out of my mouth."

When the sound that he was seeking finally came, Sinatra was more

relieved than elated. And he still clung to his first love: piano

and composing. At 60, Sinatra now looks back on a career that he did

his way.

It was back in 1963, at the tender age of 21, that the young man

with the famous name made his professional singing debut at the Americana

Hotel in Manhattan. Abel Green, the editor of Variety at the time,

gave the new singer a "thumbs-up." That’s when Frank Jr. decided

to perfect his craft until he himself — not others — was satisfied.

And that didn’t just mean singing.

"I hung around the musicians in the Sam Donahue Orchestra, which

hired me," recalled Sinatra. "You learn by doing in this business."

Juggling his own composing, conducting, and piano playing with singing,

Frank Jr. began appearing regularly in Las Vegas, often opening for

superstars. Recording projects were particular gratifying, with Sinatra’s

name as composer on works like "Spice," "Believe in Me,"

and "Black Night" in the early 1970s.

In 1985, after some discouraging years when big band sounds were muffled

as lounges were converted into bingo halls and buffets, Frank Jr.

was back in Las Vegas. It was a place he knew well. "When I was

a boy, my father would often bring me to Las Vegas where I saw all

the great stars perform." Then, late at night, there would always

be a big band playing — Harry James, Count Basie, the true greats.

This time around, however, it was Frank Sinatra Jr., with a 17-piece

orchestra, doing what he loved best — making music for and with

big bands.

It was not until 1988 that Frank Sinatra Jr. and Frank Sinatra Sr.

joined forces professionally. That was the year when Frank Jr. joined

his father’s staff as musical director and concert conductor. That

meant selecting the music and rehearsing the orchestra for his father’s

major gigs, and sometimes conducting as well.

Occasionally, father and son would end up in the same city, performing

in different venues. One of the most celebrated occasions came in

October, 1993, when Frank Sr. and Frank Jr. were both booked into

the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, with Frank Jr. in the lounge, and his

dad in the showroom.

Fans affectionately called the set-up a "total eclipse." Frank

Jr. remembers it as a wild spell. "It was a lot of work, conducting

for my father and then singing two of my own shows, but I can’t remember

when I had so much fun."

The next year, there was a repeat scenario when son conducted for

father at Radio City Music Hall, then dashed off to Tavern on the

Green for his own late-night show.

Two years before Frank Sinatra died in 1998, his son released "As

I Remember It," a tribute to his father and to the composers and

arrangers who had defined the Sinatra legend. The album was a hit,

and Frank Jr. went on a promotional tour that lasted for a year.

At his first appearance after his father’s death, at the Sands Casino

in Atlantic City, a proud son remembered Old Blue Eyes publicly. Working

with Frank Jr. was Bill Miller, his father’s pianist for nearly 50

years. Since then, "Sinatra Sings Sinatra," the show he will

be presenting at the State Theater on January 24, has been a labor

of love and memory for Sinatra Jr.

"People have made it clear that they’re not willing to give up

on my father’s music. And they’ve turned to me to make it for them.

I could not and did not refuse."

In the show, a son performs his father’s classics, from "Luck

Be A Lady" and "I’ve Got the World on A String," to "New

York, New York." But there’s one song Frank Sinatra won’t do:

"My Way."

"I think it would be presumptuous and even hypocritical,"

he says. "He handled his life, and that song, in a very special

way. It was a statement about his own strength, his own path. And

that one belongs just to him."

— Sally Friedman

Frank Sinatra Jr., State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue,

New Brunswick, 732-246-7469. $20 to $55. Friday, January 24, 8

p.m.


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