Friday at the Orpheum Theater, well-known local singers and an 18-piece band will perform “New Orleans Salutes Sinatra 100.”
The centennial celebration of singer Frank Sinatra’s birth includes Kermit Ruffins, John Boutte, Jeremy Davenport, Clint Johnson, Lief Pedersen and Phillip Manuel.
They’ll sing 19 songs identified with the larger-than-life singer and actor who was known as “The Voice.” The revue also features an overture of Sinatra songs arranged by former Loyola University jazz professor John Mahoney.
Actor and comedian Harry Shearer will emcee, and David Torkanowsky will conduct a big band in performances of original Sinatra arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Count Basie and Billy May.
Sergio Lopez, executive producer of the New Orleans film and video post-production service company Storyville, originated “New Orleans Salutes Sinatra 100.” There’s no shortage of talented singers in the city who appreciate Sinatra, he said, but interpretations of the singer’s material vary. Friday performers Davenport and Pedersen are faithful to the original recordings. Others do it their way.
“Kermit (Ruffins) is going to sing a Frank song in the key of Kermit,” Lopez said. “Which is great. That’s what Kermit and John Boutte bring to the table.”
The Sinatra arrangements posed some challenges for conductor Torkanowsky, especially because they require “doubles.” A doubles musician, for example, could be a saxophonist who also plays flute and clarinet. Such versatility adds varied timbre to the arrangements.
“The call for doubles is a thing from yesterday,” Torkanowsky said. “Most people are specialists now, but between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, I got it done. I’m excited about the level of musicianship in the band.”
In their earlier years, both Torkanowsky and Davenport were serious jazz musicians who didn’t appreciate Sinatra’s vocal musicianship.
“As a young jazz player growing up, I discounted him,” Torkanowsky said. “He was the pop star of his day.”
Torkanowsky’s change of heart came during his 1992 to 2001 stint as music director for jazz singer Dianne Reeves.
“Then I began to appreciate his rendering of lyrics and phrasing,” Torkanowsky said. “He de-emphasized consonants and emphasized vowels. He influenced an entire genre of singers, not only because he was commercially successful, but because he defined the American songbook.”
Davenport, a singer and trumpeter who spent six years performing with the Sinatra-influenced Harry Connick Jr., experienced a similar change of tune.
“As a young person, I wasn’t exposed to Frank’s music,” Davenport said. “Frankly, I wasn’t interested.”
But then Davenport read a quote by Miles Davis about Sinatra.
“I thought, ‘Hey, I better check out this Sinatra guy,’ ” Davenport said. “I haven’t looked back since. It’s sounds cliché, but he is one of the greatest interpreters of the American songbook. In style and phrasing, he was a master.”
Jazz instrumentalists influenced Sinatra’s vocal style, Davenport noted.
“Just like Billie Holiday and all the great jazz singers, you hear that in Frank’s singing,” he said. “It’s super hip. Frank pretty much hit the reset button on how to sing a song.”
Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Dec. 12, 1915. Centennial events also include the documentary “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All,” the Grammy Museum exhibit “Sinatra: An American Icon” and a Sinatra-brand whiskey by Jack Daniels. Capitol Records, Universal and Sony are releasing collections of Sinatra music. A 100-track Sony box set, “Frank Sinatra: A Voice on Air (1935-1955),” is out Nov. 20.
As for Sinatra statistics, the Recording Industry Association of America awarded Sinatra 31 gold, nine platinum, three double-platinum and one triple-platinum album certifications. He made more than 1,400 recordings. He released Top 40 hits on the charts through eight decades, received nine Grammy Awards and acted in more than 60 movies.