Remembering Frank… uh, Mr. Sinatra

Sinatra. I didn’t know him well, but I got up close a few times. After finishing a set at New York’s Cafe Carlyle the pop icon beckoned pianist George Shearing and I to join him at his table for a drink, Feeling way out of my league, I sat down feeling like I had been called into the Principal’s I office for God-knows-what. After all, this was Frank Sinatra.

He could not have been more gracious and, as the conversation began, he eased my nerves by saying that I had been “playing some pretty groovy notes.” It was the early 1980s, and only Frank Sinatra could use a word like ‘groovy’ and t away with it. The man emanated power, fad done it all, ‘could use any word he wished, and he knew it. I felt like I had been blessed by a higher authority.

Several months later I did a week of shows opposite ‘ him in Boston and recall the v vision of Sinatra emerging from his dressing room with seven or eight large and rather ominous-looking men in tow. While he was alwayssmiling and charismatic onstage, his off-stage persona could be dark, brooding, and more than a little scary. I was sufficiently intimidated; after all, he was Sinatra.

We followed that engagement with two weeks at Carnegie Hall. (Who else but Sinatra appears for two weeks at such a place?) The Shearing Quintet was the opening act for his main event, and one night as I was descending the dressing ‘ room stairs, I heard a voice, above me exclaim, “Hey kid, you sounded real good tonight.”

Completely caught off guard, I looked up to see the legendary man__ leaning over the railing. Like a fool, I blurted, “Thanks, Frank.” In that instant my life flashed before my eyes – me, a virtual nothing, had just addressed one of the great artists and entertainers of our century as ‘Frank’. With visions of double bass and self sleeping with the East River fishes, I hastily added, “uh, Mr. Sinatra …. sir!” Fortunately for me, he smiled, then let out a laugh like I had seen him do *in the movies. I staggered to Seventh Avenue and the nearest bar, but lived to tell the tale.

The last time I saw Frank Sinatra I was standing right behind him, this time on stage at the grand re-opening of (once again) Carnegie Hall in 1987. Though he was returning after an illness, he sounded like no other and to hear him that close was a tremendous thrill. Of course, he did not remember me. After all, he was Sinatra.

He’s gone now, yet I can still see him, leaning over the railing, looking down on me. His voice remains like a beacon through the heavy blue curtain of night, telling us to live hard and well, have no regrets, and above all, play some groovy notes.

as published in Connecticut Comment