By Don Heckman
Robert Davi conjured up more of his musical magic Thursday night at Vibrato. Backed by the sextet that supported him at the club last December, he once again celebrated the Frank Sinatra legacy of song, style and story telling.
Although he may be best known for some of his high visibility roles in dozens of films – including the memorable villain Franz Sanchez in the James Bond picture License to Kill — Davi’s singing has been attracting attention since he was in high school. But he didn’t fully display his vocal skills until a year and a half ago with the release of his first album, Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road To Romance.
The Sinatra connection was a natural for Davi, an Italian-American with a full, resonant baritone voice and a rich understanding of the classic songs in the American Songbook (which he identifies as “America’s Shakespeare”). Add to that the fact that, in his first film, 1977’s Contract on Cherry Street, he worked side by side with Sinatra.
All those qualities were once again on display Thursday when he strode on stage singing a high spirited take on “I’ve Got the World On A String.” It was the first of several rhythmically irresistible Davi readings of Sinatra-associated songs. More followed, including, “At Long Last Love,” “Fly Me To The Moon,” “How Little We Know” and “You Make Me Feel So Young,” among numerous others.
He was equally convincing with more differently-oriented tunes: the jaunty qualities of “The Tender Trap” and “Pennies From Heaven”; the subtle emotions of “The Summer Wind”; the Las Vegas atmosphere of “Luck Be A Lady” (for which Davi was suddenly accompanied by a pair of sensually active female dancers); and the assertive anti-racism and anti-bigotry of “The House I Live In,” from a ’40s documentary of the same name, in which Sinatra was featured.
In between songs, Davi often identified songwriters, offered some whimsical recollections of his friendship with Sinatra, and strolled through the full house audience, amiably singing directly to individual listeners. And when the volume level at the bar obliged him to deal directly with Vibrato’s usual noisy crowd, he got directly to the point:
“Be quiet and be respectful,” he said, with the authoritative tone of a Mafia Don, “Listen to the music or get out!” After which the noise at the bar quickly diminished.
Davi was backed by a six piece band – Rich Ruttenberg, pianist and Musical Director, guitarist Mitch Holder, bassist Anna Stadleman, vibist Emil Richards, alto saxophonist/flutist Kim Richmond and drummer Dave Tull. The sextet was a different musical animal from the usual Sinatra orchestral backing, and from the backing Davi had on his own album. But the sextet arrangements — by Nic. tenBroek and Randy Waldman — were similar to those used by Sinatra in a world tour, providing the sort of sturdy, swinging sounds and atmospheric settings in the big band charts by Nelson Riddle, Billy May and others.
Ultimately, however, it wasn’t just the Sinatra associations that made Davi’s performance so convincing. It was the musical authenticity of his singing, which was one of his closest linkages to Sinatra. Davi’s goal is not to simulate or imitate Ol’ Blue Eyes. It’s to honor, in full living color, the importance of what Sinatra did for American (and beyond) popular music. And Davi once again proved how well he does it
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Photos by Faith Frenz.