Although I never met Frank Sinatra, he has been an important part of my family history: my uncle and namesake, Ted Nash, was Sinatra’s primary tenor sax soloist in the 50s; My father, Dick Nash, played the famous trombone solo on I’ve Got You Under My Skin; and my sister, Nikki, was on Sinatra’s touring production team in the 1980s. The closest I got to Frank was playing opposite him at Radio City Music Hall in 1985, with the Benny Goodman Band. (This was a few months before Benny’s death.)
On Saturday night I got a chance to recognize both this iconic singer and my family by performing three songs as part of the “Sinatra at 100” concert at Symphony Space. I was honored to be one of approximately 35 artists invited to pay tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes, performing exactly 100 songs between us. (For a complete list of artists click here http://www.symphonyspace.org/event/8909/Music/frank-sinatra-at-100)
I chose three songs that (on the original recordings) featured a solo by my uncle: Lean Baby, A Million Dreams Ago, and Just One of Those Things. I wasn't familiar with the first two, and transcribed them from Frank's 1954 Capitol Records release, Swing Easy.
Hanging out in the green room prior to going out on stage for my fifteen minutes was an interesting experience, including a tap dancer stretching, an actress worrying about her makeup, and someone who was a friend of someone who asked me who I was and when I answered said "Oh, you're one of the cats!" I'm convinced she never had heard of me.
Finally, the cute clipboard-armed production girl came to get me, all professional smiles, and brought me backstage to be on deck as Russ Kassoff finished a feature with his trio. As I climbed the four steps to enter the backstage area, I passed by and quickly met Tony Danza, who exuded a genuine enthusiasm at our meeting, a nice energy I carried with me on stage.
The MC introduced me. The applause was generous as I found myself center stage facing face a very large house of Sinatra fans. Then it hit me: these people probably know everything about Frank’s music; every nuance of his recordings, every tempo and feel. Maybe they would be disappointed to hear renditions of their favorite songs played by a tenor saxophonist.
I turned to the band and counted off Lean Baby, which I arranged to have a group vocal intro - "Do, do do-do, do-oo-oo." The house trio, now in their sixth marathon hour, embraced this with surprising optimism and willingness. We swung our way through the opener then slowed things down for A Million Dreams Ago, a very sweet song I would definitely play again. We closed with an uptempo version of Just One of Those Things, which gave everyone in the rhythm section a little taste. We ended by vamping out, building the energy to high point and ending on a sharp bang.
In addition to the applause from the audience, I heard some strong “yeahs” from stage left, and as I walked off I saw it was Tony Danza, "Yeah, man, great. Great to meet you." Big smiles. He was introduced by the MC and a moment later was on stage, charming the audience just as much as he he charmed me during that short meeting.
My Uncle talks about Sinatra in his (as of yet unpublished) memoirs. Here is a short quote about the end of a party Sinatra had hired him to play at his house:
“After showing them all out, Frank came over as we were packing up and loosened his tie. (I think we were the only three people on earth to ever see Frank with a loosened tie.) I think one of his innermost desires was to prove to the world that a kid from Hoboken, New Jersey could do it with class - hence the tie. Not wanting the evening to end right there, he went into the kitchen, poured out three drinks, and handed me a ripe nectarine. For the next hour, the four of us sat around telling big band stories.”