Third Annual Sinatra Bash Blows Count Basie Away
All Stars Men (left-to-right) Thos Shipley, Sean Hanlon, Jeffrey Carrano (with the hat) and Jim Manfredonia (not pictured are Doug Acosta, John DeMarco and Al Lambert) – photo by Studio Rase
by Sherri Rase
Francis Albert Sinatra would have been 94 on December 12, 2009. Though he passed away more than a decade ago, his legacy lives on in dozens of singers, many of whom don’t remember ever hearing him on television or hearing him live. Some of his most talented Jersey brothers and sisters celebrated him in grand style at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre in a style befitting the Chairman of the Board.
Frank was born in Hoboken, NJ, his father, a fireman and his mother, a local bluestocking active with the Democratic Party and involved with women’s reproductive rights. Frank was an only child, with amazing connections to all parts of the city through his parents’ interest, and he began singing with a group called the Hoboken Four, once he joined, at his mother’s insistence, when he was not yet 20. With the help of Frank, a skinny blue-eyed wonder, the group won the “Major Bowes Amateur Hour”-for you you youngun’s, that’s the Depression Era version of “American Idol”-and when Harry James signed him for his orchestra, life took Frank in some extremely interesting directions.
The major talents on the roster at the Count Basie included Doug Acosta from Linden, Chelsea Crowe from Montclair, Cherry Grove’s own John DeMarco from Plainfield, Holmdel native Sean Hanlon, Jim and Angela Manfredonia from Trenton, Red Bank’s own Barbara Rose, Thos Shipley from Roselle Park, and Maggie Worsdale from Jackson, and featured was New Yorker Al Lambert hailing from Staten Island, for a little soupçon of what makes New York so great. And there were surprises to be had from all!
The Red Bank Jazz Orchestra (RBJO), under the expert direction of Jazz Arts Project founder Joe Muccioli, led off with the “All of Me” as people’s appetite for Frank-inspired tunes became sharp. People of all ages filed into the gorgeous theatre out of the sub-freezing darkness. The orchestra then segued into Duke Ellington’s “The Mooch,” a double entendre since Muccioli’s nickname, when he was growing up, was the same. The RBJO then rounded out its brief opening set with a piece written by Buck Clayton, a member of the band now playing in heaven, called “Rampage in Gmin,” which features the best of the best of this amazing orchestra.
Leading off Act One for the Sinatra Birthday Bash All-Stars was Maggie Worsdale, with her rendition of “The Best is Yet to Come.” Maggie indicated that, while she had awakened that morning with laryngitis, nothing could prevent her from honoring Frank. She pointed out also that her song was never more true than this moment, and through it all she stood tall-the song was deft in interpretation and poignant. Low key and elegant, Maggie’s energy added verve to the classic lyric.
Next, father/daughter duo Jim and Angela Manfredonia did a Frank and Nancy style turn on their first song “I Get A Kick Out of You” in a delightful arrangement that not only displayed their complementary vocal styles but gave us a rare glimpse into a close relationship.
Doug Acosta was next, summoning visions of early Sinatra in his white dinner jacket with “At Long Last Love.” In fact, those who were there who had seen Sinatra live might have thought they were listening to Chairman, if they closed their eyes. And if they left them open, they would have found that Doug’s mannerisms were so like Frank’s.
Thos Shipley weighed in with a song called “Money” that Sinatra would surely have sung had he been alive when it was written. While purists may have wanted strictly songs that Sinatra had performed, Shipley was right on target with this song in Sinatra’s style. It would have been a great addition to an album featuring songs from “Guys and Dolls,” and Shipley’s vocal style and stage presence are dazzling.
Chelsea Crowe is a raven-haired crooner in the classic style. Her rendition of “One For My Baby” was silky smooth and flowing, much like her 40s style gown. Her voice is reminiscent of pre-whiskey and cigarette Bacall. Doe-eyed looks, in response to men saluting her from the audience, made sure at least half of the theatre was paying rapt attention.
Staten Island’s Al Lambert’s voice is the love child of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. His turn on “You Make Me Feel So Young” was playful, resonant and rich. Everything you could want in style and interpretation was there-influenced by Frank, but stylistically all his own.
Trombone player Wayne Goodman did a sexy pre-quel to Barbara Rose’s first number, with a mute and wah that caressed the ears and hearkened back to the jazz age and bathtub gin. Rose’s rich rendition of “Making Whoopee” was like flowing dark honey and encouraged thoughts of, well, YOU know.
Sean Hanlon’s “Summer Wind” brought a lot of warmth to the audience, partly for the lush arrangement, partly for his beautiful interpretation, and partly for his lead up where he actually buttoned his coat as a response to the ghost drafts occasionally being felt by the audience as he spoke about his song. Hanlon’s version of this classic Sinatra tune was delightful!
One of the biggest hit performers of the event is 5th grader Jeffrey Carrano whose big voice portends big things for this young man. His “Fly Me to the Moon” was very evocative, even as we were thinking, “so much he has to learn of love.” His three-button black suit and fedora was reminiscent of the cover of the album my grandmother played while cleaning the house, but his verve and style are reminiscent of a mini-me Blues Brother. With awesome presence, this young man is a powerhouse. Watching him, it came to mind that, at one point, each of the more experienced singers began as the person in the household like Jeffrey’s, who grew up singing into a hairbrush, getting involved in the arts and remaining true to the singer’s soul inside. Look for great things to happen, not only for Jeffrey, because great things will happen for him, but also for all artists who remain true to themselves. A case in point would be the dynamic musicians of the RBJO whom immediately after Jeffrey’s bravura performance, kicked it out with “One O’Clock Jump.”
John DeMarco has, as Walter Winchell once said, “the voice that wishes you love,” and never more so than on the Act One closing, “Angel Eyes.” His voice is butterscotch and velvet and the pathos of the song was clear from his deft phrasing and timbre.
Muccioli set the bar very high for the beginning of Act Two with a virtuosic “Sing, Sing, Sing” that drew thunderous applause and everywhere feet were tapping and heads were bobbing. Again, some Sinatra purists weren’t thrilled by the Benny Goodman tribute, but Sinatra was influenced by Goodman, Harry James, and the other Big Bands of the era.
Chelsea Crowe’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” was a sultry opening for the returning singers and, with Al Lambert’s “Pennies from Heaven” following, we were off to a rousing second act. Muccioli’s program played us like a harp, with Lambert followed by the visceral Barbara Rose in “Don’t Mean A Thing,” where she displayed awesome control and power-she is a force to reckon!
RBJO stepped in for an arrangement of “Sunny Side of the Street,” featuring a handful of its most versatile musicians, who did a bit of singing as well, with Wayne Goodman taking a Satchmo-like riff that was absolutely delightful. The singing began in earnest again with Sean Hanlon’s rendition of the otherworldy “Where or When,” followed by a poignant “My Funny Valentine,” by Jim and Angela Manfredonia. Their interplay was again reminiscent of Frank and Nancy and tugged at heartstrings all over the room-the blend of their voices is divine.
John DeMarco returned for a stellar arrangement of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Clearly having a grand time singing with the phenomenal RBJO, John was swinging it and his dynamic range elevated the song even further. Thos Shipley was following closely with a très cool take on “My Favorite Things” that was not only set in 5/4 time, but also quoted Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” liberally throughout. Of course, this was the perfect showcase for Shipley, and DeMarco and Shipley back to back were a one-two punch.
Doug Acosta returned for a classic take on “Night and Day,” extremely enjoyable on its own and deeply satisfying for the Sinatra-philes, who appreciated the return to the work of the man being celebrated.
The coup de grace of this amazing evening was Jeffrey Carrano’s “That’s Life.” It was an audience participation piece and, when the audience didn’t rise as much to the occasion, Muccioli summoned recruits Chelsea Crowe, Angela Manfredonia, Barbara Rose, John DeMarco and Maggie Worsdale to provide back up, and it was magic. The All-Stars came together for a final number, “My Way” which is ironic considering each served Frank up his or her own way but then isn’t that what that song is truly about?
Watch for a date in December close to Frank Sinatra’s Birthday and keep an eye on the Count Basie Theatre-it offers an amazing array of what makes the arts so rich in New Jersey. Manhattanites can get to the Theatre using NJ Transit’s NJ Coast Line and there is a wide variety of restaurants in walking distance, even out here in the Provinces!
Happy Birthday, Frank-you will always be a part of singers who croon with style.