Last night at the Hollywood Bowl an assortment of musicians and vocalists paid tribute to the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra. Our attending AAUW group consisted of two carloads of women of a certain age...accompanied by a couple of nieces of one of the members. As we wandered around the Bowl's museum before the concert, one of the teens asked, "What exactly did Frank Sinatra sing? Would I ever have heard any of the songs?"
I was a child in the early '40s, too young to be one of the bobbysoxers who swooned at the crooner's appearances. Nonetheless, the question gave me pause...and throughout the evening I reflected on the fleetingness of fame.
Even as a teen I knew about the performers my grandparents and parents idolized...from Rudy Vallee to Billie Holiday. In junior high, we learned to dance in our PE classes to the swing music of Glenn Miller, even though he'd been more of an icon of our parents than ourselves. By high school we were into Patti Page, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Tony Bennett, but we still swayed to the music of Sinatra when we felt particularly romantic.
The summer I got married, 1955, my husband and I listened to the Hi Lo's, The Four Freshmen and June Christy...but we still loved Sinatra, even when Elvis Presley entered the pop music picture. By the sixties and the British Invasion, I was teaching high school journalism. My students divided their loyalties between the Beach Boys and the Beatles.They alluded to the songs of balladeers and crooners as "wrinkle music." Nonetheless I took one of them to a Sinatra concert in Long Beach, a fundraiser for the Police Officers Association Widows and Orphans Fund...and fifty years later she wrote to me that she never forgot that special event.
So last night, at the tribute, I expected to be blown away, even though other than the Count Basie Orchestra and Seth McFarland I didn't recognize the names of the performers:
Kurt Elling, special guest
José James , special guest
Seu Jorge, special guest
Seth MacFarlane, special guest
John Pizzarelli, special guest
Luciana Souza, special guest
Christian McBride, musical director
Carmen Bradford, special guest
They all were good...but for me the rich baritone of Family Guy creator McFarland was the event's surprise sleeper. Others in my group were familiar with the Scottish man from Connecticut's vocal abilities...he'd studied with Sinatra's vocal coaches...but my only prior exposure to his singing had been an uncomfortable few moments at the 2013 Academy Awards when he sang "We Saw Your Boobs," paying homage to female nominees.
Last night he captured the true Sinatra flavor, the swinging hipness that epitomized the Chairman of the Board,,,the others not so much, though I needed reminding that Sinatra indeed could swing a mean bossa nova.
Sinatra's history at the Bowl, for those who may question if they've ever heard of him, or if they'd recognize one of his songs, is provided on the Bowl's website: http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/philpedia/frank-sinatra
Sinatra made his Hollywood Bowl debut in 1943. Last night's tribute was a sellout for the Bowl. Old Blue Eyes still packs them in.