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Sid Mark's Anniversary Concert with Frank Sinatra Jr. and All-Star Band at Harrah's, Atlantic City

Victor L. Schermer By

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52nd Anniversary Celebration of Sid Mark's Sounds of Sinatra Show
Harrah's Marina Hotel
Atlantic City, NJ
November 17, 2007

Sid Mark, a prominent Philadelphia disc jockey, has been hosting a show called Sounds of Sinatra for 52 years. During that time, like the music itself, Sid and his show have become integral parts of the lives of many in the Delaware Valley and the New Jersey Shore. In addition, Sinatra himself frequently performed in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, feeling very much at home in both locations. So for a celebration of Mark's anniversary, radio station 1210 AM had Frank Sinatra Jr. bring on a big, augmented orchestra conducted by Terry Woodson to do his Sinatra Sings Sinatra show, which has been touring the country recently.

Political commentator, Michael Smerconish, a staple on the "talk radio" station for which Mr. Mark's is the only musical program, introduced Sid with obvious admiration, and then the latter—tall, self-composed, and gray-haired—reflected on his many years with Sounds of Sinatra and his recent radio exchanges with Frank, Jr. He then introduced Musical Director Terry Woodson and "The Frank Sinatra Orchestra."

Put simply, the concert that ensued was at once a blast and a sentimental, moving occasion. Sinatra Jr. reprised many of his father's numbers with exquisite sensitivity, taste, and musicianship. The orchestral accompaniment was nothing short of sterling, with the original arrangements of Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Sy Oliver, and other Sinatra Sr. appointees perfectly adapted for Sinatra Jr. and the special ensemble brought together for this gig. In a casino auditorium that had stunningly good acoustics and technology, the sound of the orchestra, consisting of consummate professionals some of whom were part of Sinatra Sr.'s own groups, was bracing if not exhilarating. One might say that the Chairman of the Board would have wanted it that way, because whatever organization he performed with—whether the Tommy Dorsey band, the Red Norvo Quintet, Count Basie, Antonio Carlos Jobim, or the many studio orchestras on his recordings—he insisted on nothing less than musical perfection.

Sinatra Jr., like his father, is a musician's musician, and although he exuded a modest and humble presence, it was obvious that he was the force behind the orchestra's performance, having served during one stretch as his father's musical director and orchestra conductor. Although Frank Jr. has had to tolerate his share of the pundits' derogatory quips and snipes, he knows better than to try to fill his father's unfillable shoes. This Sinatra clearly deserves to be recognized as an outstanding musician in his own right and moreover as a master of his craft. As was all too evident from his singing and his rapport with the orchestra, he has a finely tuned ear, a well-honed flare for interpreting a song, and a superb baritone voice with a wide dynamic range.

For those curious about the top-of-the line personnel comprising the orchestra, a quick review of some of the names and a few brief resumés might be in order here. Conductor Terry Woodson is Sinatra Jr.'s regular conductor, has produced recordings for Sinatra senior (among other stars), and is a studio trombonist. Principal trumpet Walt Johnson has worked with Frank Sinatra Sr., Louie Bellson, Johnny Mathis, Lionel Hampton, Mel Torme, Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, and is one of the premier lead players on the Los Angeles studio scene. Principal saxophonist Mike Smith has performed and recorded with over a hundred jazz greats, including Nat Adderley, Clark Terry, Art Farmer, Tony Bennett, Jimmy Heath, Natalie Cole, Linda Ronstadt, Diane Schuur, Gloria Morgan, Kurt Elling, Nancy Wilson, Harry Connick, and Frank Sinatra Sr. Guitarist Ron Anthony spent nine years with the senior Sinatra's orchestra and also with pianist George Shearing. Bassist Paul Rostock has toured with Bobby Vinton, Maynard Ferguson and Frank Sinatra Jr. in addition to performing with jazz greats Phil Woods, Ellis Marsalis, Bob Dorough, John Coates Jr., Bill Watrous, Urbie Green, David "Fathead" Newman, Stanley Turrentine, Eddie Severn, David Leonhardt and The Absolut Trio. Rostock's trumpet has moreover seen stellar service in some of the most popular big bands from the Swing Era, including the high-profile ensembles of Gene Krupa (led by Mike Berkowitz), Les Elgart, and Harry James. Several of the local violinists are members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In other words, one had only to see the individual musicians' credentials—which read like a Hall of Fame of jazz, classical, and popular music—to understand the basis for the superb ensemble power supporting Sinatra Jr. on this gala occasion.

The show began with a well-crafted orchestral overture that included a medley of Sinatra Sr.-associated tunes such as "The Most Wonderful Girl in the World," "I Get a Kick out of You," "Young at Heart," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Strangers in the Night," and "New York, New York." Junior then took the stage, launching into "Look Down that Lonesome Road" with a touch of that late-night, laid-back but assertive bluesy swing that his father loved and practically owned. Throughout, rather than attempting to "imitate" his father, Frank Jr. sang in a straight-ahead manner that tastefully incorporated his father's rhythmic inflections and unique ability to "swing." Sinatra Sr. and Jr. have approximately the same vocal range, so at times Old Blue Eyes was uncannily evoked, but always it was his son whose presence predominated. To the delight of the audience, Sinatra Jr. reprised Great American Songbook standards like "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "Lazy River," S'Wonderful," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and one song never recorded by his father, Alan Bergman's "That Face" (also the title of Frank Sinatra Jr.'s recent CD).

Then Sinatra Jr. went to a program recapping his legendary father's musical career chronologically, by decades. From the early Tommy Dorsey band of the 1940s, there was the Sy Oliver arrangement of "Without a Song" followed by the obscure "I Believe" (not the traditional spiritual ballad, but the one that begins "I believe, I believe, I believe in wishing wells, But I also believe in a lot of things, Things the daisy tells..."). Sinatra Jr. here interjected some scholarly research, showing that Sinatra recorded 1760 different songs during his career, a remarkable if not singular achievement. From the 1950's, we heard "Night and Day" (which Sinatra recorded no fewer than six times beginning with Dorsey in the early '40s), "I've Got the World on a String," "The French Foreign Legion," and "My Funny Valentine" (from the Chairman's first LP). The 1960's brought us "For Once in My Life (I Have Someone Who Needs Me)," "The Summer Wind" (which was very meaningful for this Atlantic City audience—visibly enraptured), and the iconic "Strangers in the Night." (Jr. tells us that his father got tired of that song; quite honestly, so did the author of this review!) From the 1970s there was, of course, "New York, New York"—in fact, the only tune Sinatra Jr. selected to represent that period. Conspicuously absent (and with no explanation) were any of the bossa nova performances from the two classic LPs the elder Sinatra made with Anton Carlos Jobim.

Next, the younger Sinatra took some time to reflect on and demonstrate the attributes of a few of his father's lesser-known numbers, performing "So Long My Love," and Legrand's beautiful ballad "Summer Me, Winter Me," from the film Picasso Summer. The show concluded with a powerful but well-controlled rendition of "My Way," which became symbolic of Sinatra's life and brought the audience to a standing ovation, for which Sinatra Jr. was clearly appreciative. If he couldn't fill his father's shoes (who could?), he more than filled his own.

On a personal note, I couldn't shake one particular reservation—perhaps unavoidable and not limited to this reviewer alone—about this otherwise outstanding concert. The awareness of the father-son relationship and the intrusive question about whether the performer had sacrificed himself unnecessarily for the sake of "dad" rather than developing his own musical persona, or "charisma," interfered (initially, at least) with the listening process. Such a "compare-contrast" mentality by the public has hounded Frank Jr. throughout his career. (Who's not to say that if he had been named Joe or Bill, his career might have gone easier for him?) Once past that obstacle, it was all too clear—to this reviewer and all those in attendance—what a fine musician he is in his own right. As someone who covets serious jazz, which both Sinatras always closely identified themselves with, I was glad that not for a moment during this concert did the music degenerate for the sake of popular appeal—an undeniable quality of excellence was maintained throughout.

On a further positive note, it was moving and not necessarily expected to witness the devotion and nostalgia of the many died-in-the-wool Sinatra fans who filled the auditorium to capacity. Sinatra seemed to represent for them the straightforward courage and romanticism that is so lacking in the contemporary world and its music. The Chairman's singing was the "soundtrack" for the personal lives of several generations, reinforcing people's strivings and even bringing out their humanity. Frank Sinatra's son and also Sid Mark are to be credited for keeping this significant tradition alive.

Although Sinatra was a complex figure who often alienated those around him by his street-wise arrogance, he was also a man of great generosity and purpose, never flinching from manifesting his real and true self, whether in his music or his life. Undoubtedly, he would have been proud to see the more humble, self-effacing way his son has dedicated himself to the music, values, and tradition that his father stood for and, to a great extent, was responsible for creating.

[This reviewer would like to express special thanks to his long-time good friend, Janine Carazo (educator, accomplished vocalist, and Sinatra fan), who accompanied him to the concert and contributed many useful musical observations. Finally, deep appreciation to Sid Mark's wife Judy and members of the Mark family for their unreserved hospitality and warmth.]

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