By Don Heckman
Bel Air, CA. Robert Davi’s appearance at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Sunday night was my third opportunity to hear the talented actor/singer in action. Once again, the program was devoted to his Frank Sinatra tribute. And no one does the Sinatra catalog, in all its entertaining essence, as well as Davi.
But the Sinatra catalog, for all its appeal, is only one aspect of a Robert Davi performance. As in past appearances, he sang most of the Sinatra classics – from “Fly Me To The Moon” and “I’ve Got the World On A String” to “My Way” and “It Was A Very Good Year.” Each was delivered with prime musicality by Davi’s warm and pliable baritone voice.
And he didn’t stop there, singing a wide ranging program of Great American Songbook tunes – “Day In, Day Out,” “Nice and Easy,” “The Best Is Yet To Come,” “At Long Last Love,” “”Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and topped off his nearly two hour set with the less familiar, bu equally compelling “Summer Wind,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Moonlight In Vermont” and “What Is America To Me?”
If that looks like a long list of tunes, that’s exactly what it was. And Davi spent a substantial amount of time moving into the audience, singing through a wireless microphone, engaging the enthusiastic crowd with up close and personal phrases from each of the songs. That’s a fairly common technique among experienced singers. But in Davi’s hands, combined with humorous exchanges with his six piece band, along with his between-songs tales about working and hanging out with Sinatra, the impact was enormously effective.
Davi’s acting skills, enhanced by his irresistible abilities as a born story-teller, were even more on target with songs driven by rich inner emotions.
When he sang a song such as “New York, New York,” for example, his interpretation was enough to bring tears to the eyes of New York emigres in the audience. So, too, for the dramatic qualities of “My Way,” the believable patriotism of “What Is America To Me?” and the poignant passions of “It Was A Very Good Year,“ And, perhaps most unexpected of all, there was Davi’s stunning reading of “Old Man River,” an impressive vehicle for the full range of his baritone voice.
Each of Davi’s past appearances at Vibrato have had their memorable moments. This performance, however, stepped up to a higher, utterly convincing level of musical communication. Davi will no doubt continue to showcase his convincing versions of songs associated with Sinatra. But he’s well on the road to thoroughly establishing his own appealing creative identity.
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Photos by Faith Frenz.