“May you live to be 100 and may the last voice you hear be mine.” – Frank Sinatra
I’ve been thinking about this Sinatra tribute since the beginning of summer and I knew I wanted to do something to honor his 100th year as a way of showing my admiration and appreciation for all the ways his music/style has influenced and enriched my life/imagination. I searched for inspiration for months and didn’t find it until I went home to Buffalo, NY and spent a few hours with my father. I knew he would have the key. First he played me some old reel to reel tapes when he interviewed Frank during his career in radio. Still, I came up blank. It wasn’t until my father popped in the tape—yes, VHS tape—of Sinatra The Main Event Live at Madison Square Garden, that my creativity was awakened.
The concert gave me chills, it had been a very long time since I had seen it and I watched closely for inspirational clues. Finally, twenty minutes into the performance Frank begins talking to the audience and telling them a story, a story that would introduce the song Angel Eyes. Although Angel Eyes is not Frank’s most popular tune by any means, it was the way he introduced the song that stuck with me long after we turned it off. He mentioned saloon singing as being his favorite type of singing, and that he believed Angel Eyes to be the finest song of its kind. I felt using his favorite and most loved tune as inspiration would be the best way I could honor him. Even my father asked, “Why, Angel Eyes?” And the answer: Because that is what Frank loved to sing.
So that story introducing Angel Eyes became my inspiration for his tribute. I decided I would play out his story (recounted below) to Angel Eyes. In my mind I saw a Sinatra like figure with a suit and hat on stumbling into a bar at 2:30am—tie askew. He sits down at the bar and immediately orders a Jack Daniels neat and lights a cigarette (as Sinatra does during the performance.) Yet he still cannot escape his love. Everywhere he looks he sees her, and in his mind she is sprawled across the bar, teasing and tormenting with her eyes and smile. Finally he gets up, moves to a table and orders something to eat, thinking that might clear his mind. The plan back fires as she reappears more glamorous than ever in his favorite white silk dress and fur sole, wearing those diamond earrings he bought her.
New York City. Madison Square Garden. 20,000 People. Sold Out. A stage in the very center of the arena measuring at most 15’X15′.
A man in a tuxedo and a microphone with a long cord. Much like you would see at a boxing match only a much smaller ring. More like a wide pedestal. No technicolor light show, skull chattering bass, dancers, jumbo trons. Nothing.
Just a man and his stories. The first few rows surrounding the stage you see the mayor of NYC, A-list actors, Broadway stars, celebrities and common folk alike.
You are asked to close you eyes and . . .
“I should now like to sing [can we please watch the feedback, somebody?] with your very kind permission I would like to take the time to sing one of my favorite kind of—shhhhh please we’ve only got an hour, please. Please. I’d like to sing one of my favorite kinds of song because I happen to be probably one of the last living, live saloon singers aside from Tony Bennett and Drunky Dean, I’m the only other guy . . . I think. And I should like to do one of the finest songs of this type written by Matt Dennis with a glorious arrangement by Nelson Riddle. It’s sad, it’s poignant. It has to do with a fella whose chick split, she grabbed whatever money was layin around and all the grass. And she left him 5 gallons of muscatel, and after he grabbed all of that grape for about 5 or 6 days he decided to go out among us and he walks into a small bistro at about 2:30 in the morning. I should like all of you to imagine all of us shunkin down into a small bar when this poor soul comes in fractured out of his scull and he’s lookin for somebody to talk to—he doesn’t want any answers, he just wants to talk. And he nearly makes it, but not quite . . . “
This is a recording of Angel Eyes from earlier in Frank’s career, I like being able to see how the tune evolved through the years:
I would like to give a special Thank You to the original P. J. Clarke’s for so graciously inviting us into your gorgeous and historic establishment/NY institution and feeding us your delicious signature burger after the shoot! P. J. Clarkes on Third Ave. was one of Sinatra’s favorite hangs in NYC, he loved going there at the end of a night out, and was considered the “owner” of Table #20. It seemed perfect and fitting as the setting of the “small bistro.”
Location: P.J. Clarkes
Photos by Keziban Barry
Thank you for helping us bring this imaginative scene to life:
Kavador for the vintage one-of-a-kind jewels: