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Photo by Dan Chapman ©2001 Stanyan Entertainment Group

A Thought for Today

Time is an enemy only to those who waste it.


After selling out the 1100 seat theatre at the Hilton Hotel in Atlantic City five nights in a row, Frank Sinatra Jr. starts a seven-country tour of European Jazz Festivals tomorrow night in Istanbul. I was with him in Jersey for rehearsals and all but two of the shows before I took off for the Celebration of Diversity in Redding, California.

Frank is the special guest soloist with the Woody Herman Orchestra so the program will probably be more jazz oriented than his out and out tribute to his late father at the Hilton. To say that the Atlantic City shows were a triumph would be gross simplification. Without trying he evoked the sound, the presence and the out and out magic of Sinatra senior.

When the lights were lowered and the spotlight picked up the legendary Bill Miller (86 this year) playing the introduction to “One for My Baby” or “Angel Eyes", the applause of recognition and then a hush fell over the audience. This was followed by a collective gasp as Frank began the vocal lines so closely associated with Frank Sr. Every night it was the same, a thousand plus people transported to the era of Frank Sinatra in his prime.

Frank Jr. has always been blessed with the vocal equipment of a first rate singer and he is as smart and inventive as his father always was with a lyric and musical phrase. Until now that has hardly been an advantage to the younger Sinatra who, like his father before him, began to hone his craft as a teenager. But there was only one Frank Sinatra and his presence was so overwhelming that being in his shadow only gave Vic Damone and Dick Haymes successful careers rather than the stardom they deserved. 

Try being Sinatra’s son and no matter how vocally talented you are, you’re still the kid, junior, not even considered the heir apparent. How could anyone replace Frank Sinatra and who would be dumb enough to try? Certainly not Frank Sinatra Jr. who made a point of steering himself as far away from his father’s style as humanly possible, given that like it or not he got stuck with the old man’s genes.

Frank Jr. has had a solid career and over the years built a steady and growing audience of people who recognize superior singing when they hear it. But as the senior Sinatra outlived one by one all of his conductors and nearly every arranger and began to grow frail himself, his son knew he needed someone that could be trusted near him. FSJ solved that problem by becoming Sinatra’s conductor. He was also savvy enough to know that performing was everything to his dad and the longer he kept that connection with his audience the longer he would stay vital and alive.

Sinatra, the younger, not only put his own career on hold to become his dad’s conductor but he became Sr’s closest confidant, his truest friend and (FSJ won’t appreciate my saying this) but as the years took their toll on the old man, even his baby-sitter. In short the son ended up being the father to the man. If you think about it, this is not an extraordinary story. It happens to families every day. Given the principle players, however, it’s like telling tales out of school. I know a lot about Frank Sinatra, I had the privilege of calling him friend for 35 years. I know less about FSJ but enough to realize he is every bit as complex and, trust me, as talented as Senior. 

You won’t have to take my word on that for very long. FSJ is starting to be ‘in demand’ and for the oddest but most natural reason; millions of Sinatra fans refuse to restrict their memories to worn LP’s, CD’s, DVD’s and videos of this century’s greatest, most influential singer. They are asking for, beginning to demand, something a little closer to the real thing. Little by not so little the shadow that all but obscured the younger Mr. S. is narrowing. This isn’t one of those cases of giving in to the inevitable and Sinatra the son isn’t impersonating his father, but his new and very smart act brings us as close to the original as we will ever come again.

At times FSJ’s tribute to the elder Sinatra was truly unsettling and eerie as he stood before a thirty-six-piece orchestra caressing familiar ballads and almost effortlessly singing the expected swingers. Because the son’s pipes are indeed in their prime it is the Sinatra of 1953 you hear and see on stage singing “Young at Heart” and it isn’t necessary to close your eyes or look away from the stage to honestly believe “The Summer Wind” and “I Get a Kick Out of You” are being delivered in that same, easy, familiar voice you could recognize in your sleep.

An unheard Riddle arrangement of the “Soliloquy” from “Carousel” was a standout from both an acting and singing standpoint. One of many touching moments of a totally satisfying evening was FSJ’s tribute to the late Perry Como. Part of that acknowledgment is the most beautiful rendition of Don MacLean’s “And I Love You So” I’ve ever heard. That goes for “I’m Not Afraid". He delivers the difficult and evocative Lennie Hayton chart of this not very easy to sing song as if it were written for him. I would be hard pressed to choose between his rendition and that of his father’s. The old man would have loved it because it’s the way he would have wanted to sing it. 

Senior never recorded “Spice,” it was written and sung by FSJ as the title song for his own 1971 LP but it no longer belongs to him. It is sung now by that more than imaginary figure up there on stage and you know you’ve got that old Frances Albert rendition somewhere in your collection at home even if it doesn’t exist. In less talented and loving hands evoking the best-known entertainer of our time could be dangerous and even embarrassing. With FSJ there isn’t a single misstep and not one false note – vocally or in the well-written and executed presentation. FSJ wrote the narration that strings the songs and stitches the Sinatra career together. It’s simple, honest and coming from a man who knows the subject better than anyone, it works. 

Catch this superb evocation while you can because it’s only a matter of time before yet another transition takes place. We are not yet dealing with nostalgia but one day the shadow will narrow to an exclamation point and those Sinatra Sr. standards will be relegated to encores. FSJ is his own man and while he’s proud to be The Keeper of the Flame at this point in time there is absolutely no doubt that he will be creating his own standards as a singer and writer in the near not distant future.

FAS didn’t live long enough to record Rupert Holmes lovely “The People You Never Get to Love” but in the guise of his father FSJ is making it a defacto hit by singing it every night. It is one of the rare moments in the Sinatra evening when the son brings to mind no one but himself. What a beginning it is and depending on just how quickly the audience wises up to the fact that there is room for two Sinatra’s in this world after all. . the beloved memory and the extraordinary new reality . . . each Mr. S. will take his proper place. 

I’ll never forget the nights I spent the last week of June, 2001 in Atlantic City. They were a revelation. What a treat to be this close to two generations of such shining talent.

I’m wrong about lots of things, but never talent. Frank Sinatra Jr. will always bring to mind his father, that’s just the way it is. But his own individual and unique way with a song, just about any song, will see him past the rubber stamp phase. 

I envy those of you lucky enough to see one of FSJ’s 10 European performances with the Woody Herman Band. Here’s his schedule and in the coming days I’ll be reminding you of each performance a day or so ahead of time. 

Frank Sinatra, Jr. with The Woody Herman Band

July 13 Istanbul, Turkey Cemel Reyit Theatre 8:00pm
July 15 Wiggins, England Mill at the Pier 1:00& 3:30pm 
July 16 Stockholm, Sweden Berns Hotel Ballroom 8:30pm
July 17/18 Pori, Finland Sony Jazz Center 8:30pm 
July 20 Molde, Norway Idrettens Hus 6:00pm
July 23 Antibbes, French Riviera La Pinede 9:00pm
July 24 San Sebastian, Spain Plaza de la Trinidad (open air)
July 26 Marbella, Spain Tennis Club, Puente Romano
July 27 Calello, Spain Jardins de Cap Roig, (open air)

I’ll be back tomorrow with Pass It Along and don’t forget FSJ opens tomorrow night in Istanbul and Sunday afternoon he’ll be at the Wiggins Mill on the Pier in England for two performances. Sleep warm.

RM 2/11/2001 Previously unpublished

Rod McKuen concert and appearance details can be obtained via the link below.

Concert & Appearance Details

notable birthdays

Battle of the Boyne, Northern Ireland

Milton Berle o George Washington Carver o Van Cliburn o Bill Cosby o Ken Curtis o Kirsten Flagstad o Buckminster Fuller o Oscar Hammerstein II o Mel Harris o Mark Hatfield o Jean Hersholt o Max Jacob o Cheryl Ladd o Christine McVie o Amedeo Modigliani o Pablo Neruda o Vera Hruba Ralston o Richard Simmons o Henry David Thoreau o Josiah Wedgwood o Andrew Wyeth o Kristi Yamaguchi

Rod's random thoughts We crawl from childhood into youth, bounding into manhood and finally slump to old age. Making mistakes, asking forgiveness, getting it and giving it. No big deal. Same cycle for everybody.

Argue only with your peers, otherwise there is no basis for an argument.

Nothing in the world is so bad as something we call "not so bad".


They swoop at you like larks
or quarterbacks in forward runs
of either sex or neither sex
without formation or a plan;
unless the worked-out play
is to make the lonesome cry
                     or cry out,
cause the looker-on to weep
at glimpses and snippets
                 of great beauty
in long distance runner
or the smile of loping jogger -
here then gone forever in the crowd.
Headband, headset firm in place,
dodging honking autos and the cursing tourist,
hearing music from some other sphere.

Distant eyes and yet aware, aware
of damage done by muscled leg
                       and thrusting arm.
Such sleek machinery coming from,
moving from such supple trunks.

I tell you just the sight of them
can cause pedestrian heart to pound,
can set off bells in heads
that were not there or never rang before.

If age-old steeples toppled to the ground
                         at their mere passing
I would not feign surprise.
Should traffic stop and drivers die
                         while shifting gears.
As these sprinters sprinted traffic lights
                                and bounded corners,
it would not make the papers
                                      or the nightly news.
These runners are the body commonplace
and so uncommon as to melt the sidewalk,
                                         wilt the rose.

I would I were the vendor on the street
dispensing water and refreshment
                                to the sweated brow,
if only just to gain another momentary look
at Venus and Adonis too in colored underwear.

The joy to be stone pony on the carousel
Awarding rings to every arm-stretched runner.
Oh, I have seen the future
                running in each retina -
it is brown bodies tumbling in summer games,
and afterward more summer games,
                                            and afterward...

You, runner, coming at me
catch my breath and eat it up.
Wipe your forehead on my chest
with knifelike slash that draws
a cup of blood to prove I have one.
Smother me with arms and legs
                         and piston trunk.
Trample me with feet
that do not touch the ground.
It would be easy death to one
who having trod a dozen blocks on summer days
now returns to unlit rooms
and to such memories that kill a man
with the slowest kind of passion poison.

-from “The Sound of Solitude,” 1983

© 1964, 1983, 2001 by Stanyan Music Group & Rod McKuen. All Rights Reserved
Birthday research by Wade Alexander o Poetry from the collection of Jay Hagan o Coordinated by Melinda Smith
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