Frank Sinatra Jr., a singer, composer, and bandleader who followed in his famous father’s footsteps and pursued a career in music, passed away on Wednesday, March 16 while on tour in Daytona Beach, Florida. According to a statement issued by his family, the 72 year-old Sinatra died after suffering a cardiac arrest.
In September 1998, four months after his father’s passing, Frank Jr. set out on a tour that would bring him to Atlantic City’s Sands Casino Hotel on October 10 and 11 that year. In advance of his shows at the Copa Room, Sinatra granted me an interview of sorts – he agreed to answer questions submitted via fax. I also interviewed Jim Wise for the story. Wise was the Director of Advertising, Entertainment & Public Relations for the Sands from 1990 to 1998. The resulting feature appears below in its original form.
Offspring who choose to follow the career paths of their famous musical parents typically have a tough road ahead of them – just ask Sean Lennon, Rufus Wainwright, Adam Cohen, or Chris Stills, all who released records this year that have fizzled commercially, and, for the most part, critically. Now imagine that your name is Frank Sinatra Jr., and you’ve endured decades of comparisons to your legendary father.
Even the most casual observers would agree that Frank Jr., as he’s been known throughout his career, has had to forge his career in the considerable shadow of his father. Embarking on his first tour since Sinatra’s passing, the 52-year-old singer is returning to play the Copa Room at the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City October 10 and 11. He is using the opportunity to pay final tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes, and to firmly establish himself as a multi-talented performer in his own right.
Apparently hoping to avoid being inundated with questions about his father, Frank Jr. is not doing live interviews for the remainder of the year. He did agree to answer questions via fax, however, and downplayed the effect his name has had on his career.
“My name has never helped nor deterred one way or another,” he says. “It may seem so on the surface, but in reality, when you are out there performing, it’s just you.”
Some observers in the industry feel that Frank Jr. suffered from constant comparisons to his legendary father. Jim Wise, Director of Advertising, Entertainment & Public Relations for the Sands, says the public might finally be willing to give Frank Jr. his due.
“His dedication to the music is unparalleled,” Wise says. “I think people will look at Frank Sinatra Jr. in a whole new light.”
A singer, composer, arranger, pianist, and conductor, Frank Jr. joined his father’s staff in 1988, as musical director and concert conductor. He helped to choose the music and rehearsed and conducted the orchestra whenever Ol’ Blue Eyes was on stage. Wise says that on at least two occasions, Frank Jr. stepped in at the 11th hour when Sinatra was unable to perform at the Sands.
“One time the cancellation came probably about two hours before show time,” Wise says. “Sands went ahead and refunded all the cash tickets, but rather than just let the show be totally canceled, Frank Jr. said, ‘I’ll do the show. Let’s just let everyone who had a ticket into the room, refund their money, but invite them to come in and enjoy the show. I’ll put a show on for them.’
“In both instances he did absolutely fabulous performances,” Wise added. “He drew standing innovations, and the audiences loved him.”
The upcoming shows at the Sands will feature Frank Jr. paying tribute to his father in a special musical segment.
“Since the Sands hotel was the last hotel in Atlantic City that Sinatra played before he stopped working, we will do a Sinatra section in the show,” Frank Jr. says. “I hope it will be received well and I hope it will be touching.”
While Sinatra’s fans respond well to Frank Jr.’s show, the younger Sinatra is no clone of his father. In fact, Frank Jr. says it would be a mistake to assume that his father (or any of his father’s contemporaries) was his primary musical influence.
“I was more influenced by the classical music in which I was trained, than by any singer,” he says.
To this day, he remains a huge fan of both classical music and jazz.
“I am very, very much given to jazz,” Frank Jr. says. “I am very much given to classical and to motion picture sound tracks that contain original compositions.”
In 1992, Frank Jr. brought his show, featuring an orchestra of 20 musicians, to the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. It was the first time in 20 years that a big band had appeared in the lounge on the famed Strip.
“When I was a boy, my father would often bring me to Las Vegas. I saw all the stars perform, and late at night, there would always be a name band playing in a lounge,” Frank Jr. recalled. “I remember listening to Harry James, Count Basie, and many other famous bands. It was quite an education. I always try to recapture the spark of those late-night sessions in my own show.”
Over the years, his entourage has grown. The orchestra that Frank Jr. will bring to the Sands is composed of 36 musicians – many are the same musicians who played behind Frank Sinatra in his later years. While some might mistakenly categorize the sound as “big band,” Frank Jr. says that most of the music of the big band era is not his cup of tea.
“I have never tried to capture the mood and feelings of the big band movement in my own recordings,” he says. “The classical recordings of the ‘big band era’ are to me as bad as rock ‘n’ roll is – dull.
“What I would rather do is use the orchestra and all the colors in it. That will be our approach [on any new recording] in the near future.”
Frank Jr.’s most recent CD, As I Remember It, was recorded in 1996 as a tribute to his father’s talents and to the musicians, composers, and arrangers who worked with Sinatra over the years. Greeted with enthusiasm by Sinatra purists upon its release, As I Remember It proceeded to climb the easy-listening charts, garnering significant critical acclaim along the way.
A promotional tour ensued, and Frank Jr. treated audiences to renditions of classics such as “Night and Day,” “I’ve Got The World On A String,” and “Ol’ Man River,” to name a few.
Utilizing a 44-piece orchestra and the arrangements of legends like Nelson Riddle, Don Costa, and Billy May, Frank Jr. won the hearts and respect of fans and critics alike, distinguishing himself as a vocalist and an endearing storyteller.
In his last Atlantic City appearance, Frank Jr. performed selections from As I Remember It over the 1997 Father’s Day weekend at Trump Marina to standing-room-only audiences. But perhaps Frank Jr.’s most fitting endorsement comes from Charles Pignone, president of The Sinatra Society of America.
“Frank Sinatra Jr. has found himself catapulted into a position he never sought, but must have surely contemplated,” he says in the liner notes for As I Remember It.
“The songs of Sinatra need a new envoy…. As you will hear, the songs could not have asked for a better new friend. Frank Sinatra Jr. has inherited the legacy.”