Frank Sinatra Jr.
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 the ability, the knowledge, the experience 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.
He can WRITE his own script, CONDUCT, 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", "Embraceable You", "S'Wonderful" 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. Leed reed, Terry Anthony's solos swayed and bent with the truth and purity George Gershwin's hungry melodies demand. Leed 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, 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, yetsometimes 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 families, 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 who's 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 the 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 -- his own.