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