“Frankie was the consummate professional.
The ultimate musician.
And so well-read,
some called him the professor
because he was knowledgeable
about every possible subject.
I used to joke that you shouldn’t ask him a question
if you didn’t have forty minutes to spare to hear the answer.
Though he was never tested,
I think he may have had a photographic memory.
And I wonder where all that information is now.” – Nancy
Exemplifying his work as the “consummate musician,” Nancy’s brother headlined “Gershwins’ America with Frank Sinatra, Jr. and His Orchestra,” a 10-city national tour, beginning on July 4th, 1997 in New York City and including a July 12th performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Recording Industry’s Music Performance Trust Fund, this ambitious series of free concerts celebrated the Gershwin centennial, as Frankie’s 12-piece ensemble was joined by more than 40 local musicians in each city. Beyond his interpretations of Gershwin classics, Frankie presented an expanded version of one of his own compositions, the patriotic opus “Over The Land,” which he had debuted twenty-one years earlier at the Armory in Washington, D.C. for the nation’s bicentennial.
Nancy eloquently captured the spirit of Frankie’s Independence Day 1997 concert in New York City, with the following heartfelt account.
It was a picture postcard day in New York City –
as if Mother Nature were wearing her “I LOVE NY” cap.
The bus ride to The Battery took
only a few minutes from midtown,
reflecting the lack of metal and rubber
on the usually over-laden streets.
People were walking slowly and smiling a lot.
Children were obviously happy
to have their parents to themselves.
The city was covered with the color and spirit that,
one can imagine, was in full bloom one hundred years ago
when the brothers Gershwin were born:
George in 1896 and Ira, 1898.
It is fitting that this,
the first of the “GERSHWINS’ AMERICA” concerts
was offered on the Fourth of July,
in view of Ellis Island and Miss Liberty,
in Battery Park – which is, as Frankie pointed out –
halfway between Brooklyn,
where the little Gershwin boys lived,
and Tin Pan Alley where they later worked.
Famous WQEW Radio voice, Stan Martin
introduced Frank Jr. as a musical genius,
which is true – though very few people know it.
But by the time the nearly two hour concert was over,
eight thousand more knew what Martin said was true.
There is not one other person in this country who has
and the talent
to do all of the following things
and do them WELL:
Guide arrangers and copyists,
choose the finest musicians,
correct mistakes in the music charts,
move the bandstand around if the configuration is wrong,
instruct the sound engineers (in their own technological lingo),
handle interviews with polite dignity
and plan the set lists.
Frank Sinatra Jr. does all of that, PLUS:
He can WRITE his own script,
and command the respect of a symphony orchestra,
PLAY the Gershwin ragtime piano,
as George wrote it and played it,
and, as if this were not enough
— SING (beautifully) Ira’s lyrics —
as he takes his audience through
an interesting and funny Gershwin mini-biography.
An all-American music lesson.
Some of the highlights:
The lost, until now, Robert Farnon orchestral arrangement
of Acts 1 and 2 of “Porgy and Bess.”
Frankie’s renditions of “Someone To Watch Over Me,”
and the lesser known, (except for Astaire fans), “Slap That Bass.”
Frankie’s principal players:
Anne Barak, Ed Morgan, Jane Richter, Bob Chamel
were wonderful, as usual.
Lead reed, Terry Anthony’s solos swayed and bent
with the truth and purity
George Gershwin’s hungry melodies demand.
Lead trumpet Walt Johnson managed to add even more color
to the difficult Farnon charts.
Concertmaster Nicholas Grant’s solos were outstanding –
painfully sweet and tender.
After the first standing ovation
which followed the Gershwin tribute,
Frank Jr. asked the crowd to stay
for a “special salute to America’s birthday.”
Expecting “The Stars and Stripes Forever” or “America the Beautiful,”
the people, who already had tears in their eyes
from the hauntingly beautiful Gershwin works,
were surprised to find themselves caught up
in the emotions of Frankie’s historic and patriotic composition,
“Over the Land.”
Begun 23 years ago [in 1974], it took 30 months to write.
With the simple use of flags,
from the Union Jack to today’s Colors,
Frankie takes us through America’s history
as represented by the changing Stars and Stripes.
Through peace and conflict,
the music reflects the living and the dying,
the laughing and the crying,
the anger and pride and strength of our people.
The thrilling, yet sometimes disturbing lyrics of “Over the Land”
put smiles on the lips,
and tears in the eyes
of men and women alike.
In the greatest city in America,
which begins where two rivers blend and form a victorious V,
under the bluest of skies,
on the loveliest of days,
within the protective sightline of the Statue of Liberty,
the couples and the loners,
the tattooed and the toupeed,
the war veterans,
the young who couldn’t remember,
and the not so young, who could —
shared their respect for and love of country with each other —
as my brother shared his with them.
It was one of the most breathtaking moments I have ever witnessed,
(which speaks volumes when you consider whose daughter I am
and how many stunning moments I’ve seen).
Frankie and I realize that some people come to see us,
and some to see “his” kids.
It is a tribute either way.
Yesterday, those in the latter group
stood and cheered as enthusiastically as Frankie’s fans.
It was a thrill for him on the stage
and for me in the audience.
Am I gushing?
Damn right I am.
Am I proud of my brother?
More than I can say and more than you want to know.
You and I can only guess
what his long swim upstream has been like.
On this Fourth of July, 1997,
with a great orchestra, audience and crew,
Frank Sinatra, Jr. celebrated
not only his country’s independence
— but for all time —