What I've learned from Frank Sinatra

 

Frank Sinatra's impact on popular music, film and live performance is unmatched. Throughout his 60 years as an artiste he was known as Ol' Blue Eyes, the Chairman of the Board, and sometimes the most dangerous man in show-business.

He had four wives and few more lovers, dined with presidents and gangsters and sold over 150 million records. I've been a fan since I was a kid and now make my living singing many of the songs he made famous. He's what I've learned from Frank Sinatra.

Sing the Lyric not the Words

We've all heard people say what a great singer Sinatra was. They go on about his phrasing and his timing but his real gift was knowing how to sing the lyric.

Good songwriters craft their lyrics to tell a story. It's the singer's job to understand that story and to deliver the sentiment of the lyric as sincerely as possible.

Mel Torme's a terrific singer, but compare rendition of the standard P.S. I Love You with Sinatra's. Torme's is clean and pitch perfect but it's Sinatra's that brings you to tears. He aches along with you, less bothered about making the perfect sound and more concerned with making you feel something.

Dress the Part

When you're standing on stage with hundreds of people staring at you for an hour, what you wear matters. Whether your stage costume is a suit and shiny shoes or jeans and trainers, pay attention to the way you dress and what it says about you.

Look after your stage clothes. They say a lot about who you are and how much (or little) you care.

Appreciate and acknowledge the musicians and arrangers

Making music is a collaborative business. You may be the front man but that doesn't make your contribution any more important than your musicians, the technicians, the stage manager and so on. Respect everyone. Musicians loved working for Sinatra because they were well looked after, and the respect was mutual. He would often credit the arrangers and writers on stage and never forgot to acknowledge his musicians. A performance is a team effort. Share the love.

Take care of yourself

After a few months of playing Sinatra in the West End's 'Rat Pack' I lost my voice. My manager sent me to his private doctor who happened to have been Sinatra's doctor too. There was no infection; I'd lost my voice because I'd been out drinking and partying after the shows. After giving me a proper telling off he gave me a little insight into his other client, Mr Sinatra:

Despite the image of all-night boozing with his Rat Pack buddies, Sinatra actually took great care of himself and his health when he was touring. He didn't smoke and drank very little. He got plenty of sleep and avoided spending too much time in noisy places. The good doctor would meet with him early every morning at a church on Tottenham Court Road to check him over and nip any problems in the bud.

Your voice is a precious thing. Take care of it.  

This article first appeared on The Voice Council March 26 2017.