Sinatra Songbook Lives On

Robert Davi pays tribute to the Chairman of the Board

Robert Davi singing his way through the Frank Sinatra songbook

Most people may know Robert Davi as a respected character actor who has appeared in a number of films over the past three plus decades, including Die Hard, Showgirls and The Goonies. But in the last few years, the Long Island native has dedicated a fair amount of time returning to his musical roots. In 2011 he released his debut album, the Phil Ramone-produced Davi Sings Sinatra—On the Road to Romance.

Recorded with a 30-piece orchestra at Capitol Records Building in Hollywood, the same site for many storied Sinatra recording sessions, Davi tackled a dozen standards from his idol’s canon including “Best Is Yet to Come,” “Summer Wind” and “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” It was good enough to crack the Top 10 of the Billboard Jazz charts and impressive enough for Quincy Jones, who worked with Sinatra in the studio, to say, “I have never heard anyone come this close to Sinatra’s sound—and still be himself. Many try, but Robert Davi has the voice, tone, the flavor and the swagger.”

For Davi, the Sinatra connection runs deep and goes beyond growing up in an Italian-America household where Sinatra’s music was a staple. Davi’s initial acting role found him working with the man himself.

“I did my first movie with him, Contract on Cherry Street. I was a young kid and as an Italian-American growing up in New York and doing my first film with him was quite an experience. He was just amazing and he kept in touch with me over the years when I’d see him along with Jilly Rizzo and some of the other friends and entourage,” Davi recalled over the phone from his California home. “He was just the most gracious….what you would expect. In my show, I tell some anecdotes about him and I tell the audience how I had my first Jack Daniels with Frank Sinatra and how that happened. [I have a number of] fun stories.”

Far from being just another actor taking a crack at the Great American Songbook, Davi’s musical roots run deep. Growing up in a traditional Italian household on the border of Deer Park and Dix Hills, he was exposed to an enormous amount of opera and classical music.

Names like Caruso, Tito Gobbi, Franco Corelli, Mahler and Debussy pop up in conversation alongside crooners like Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and of course, Sinatra. But it was the latter who provided the aspiring vocalist with the bridge between the worlds of classical music/opera and pop.

“I always loved it concurrently. I loved classical music with a passion; the opera and symphony, from Debussy to Mahler. I had a huge affinity to it. It’s not so much the transition to pop music because had there never been a Frank Sinatra, I don’t think I would have been interested in trying to bridge that gap,” Davi revealed. “To me, Sinatra is the greatest entertainer of all time. He is the first artist that combined the tenets of Bel-Canto singing, which has its roots in the Italian tradition of operatic Bel-Canto singing. In other words, if you want to say there are two voices of the century, one being Sinatra and the other being Caruso. Caruso did to opera what Sinatra did to popular music. Combining some of those Bel-Canto techniques is what Sinatra introduced into popular music. And that sound appealed to me. It was something that was classicism with beauty and sensibility. He wasn’t somebody that hammed it up. He had a very elegant approach to all the music as well as being an ultimate jazz singer.”

Authenticity is a major part of the Hofstra alum’s homage to Sinatra when he’s on the road. Audiences not only get the richness of Davi crooning in front of a 30-piece orchestra that features a number of musicians who played behind Sinatra, he’ll often have Tom Dreesen, a veteran comedian who spent 14 years warming up audiences for Sinatra, serve as his opening act. The integrity with which he approaches the material has found him playing a number of impressive gigs including Feinstein’s/54 Below, Foxwood’s Casino and the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in Australia. This dedication to his craft and the memory of Sinatra runs deep in Davi.

“Being able to swing and do all that Sinatra did with his tone go hand-in-hand,” he said. “Sinatra would have loved to have sung opera as well. That was a big passion of his. That’s not to say that at some point I won’t branch out but for now, I have a need to bring as much attention to this music and him as I can.”

Check out more from LIW‘s Frank Sinatra theme issue:

Dave Gil de Rubio
In addition to being editor of Massapequa Observer and Hicksville News, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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