One of the themes of this year's Portland Jazz Festival, presented by Alaska Airlines under the omniscient direction of Don Lucoff, was the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra's birth. Two panels were devoted to the subject, the first featuring Kurt Elling and Bill Charlap chaired by Sinatra scholar Will Friedwald (Sinatra! The Song is You: A Singer's Art, Da Capo 1995); the second included yours truly, Doug Ramsey, Dave Barduhn, Sinatra impersonator Tony Starlight and John Gilmore, son of Voyle Gilmore, who produced Sinatra's storied Capitol albums in the 50s.
Charlap was particularly passionate and insightful in his dissection of Sinatra's celebrated timing, singer/pianist Gilmore however was cautioned not to perform Sinatra material when working a club in LA patronized by Old Blue Eyes, not easy given Sinatra's repertoire of 1,500 plus songs. Elling later emphatically demonstrated what he owes The Chairman in a concert with local bandleader Art Abrams' Swing Machine at the Newmark Theater.
It was a reined-in homage with Elling referring to the metaphorical bespoke suits arrangers and composers Cahn/Van Heusen, Cy Coleman and Nelson Riddle 'the founding fathers of sound' provided and how the likes of Jack Jones, Vic Damone and Steve Lawrence paled in comparison to The Sultan of Swoon.
Elling's own interpretations deepened over less trammeled material, such as 'Don't Worry Bout Me' and, during a stunning duet with surprise guest Charlap on 'In The Wee Small Hours' and 'Lucky To Be Me,' the latter nugget more readily associated with Bill Evans/Tony Bennett. As the lone Brit on the second panel I played devil's advocate, suggesting all Peruvians should have lobbied against 'Come Fly With Me' and its cavalier references to 'llama-land' and - in defence of their national instrument, the panpipes - the “tooting of flutes,” going further to project this lyric presaged Palinesque Isolationism!
Despite my best efforts to chafe and undermine Sinatra's unassailable rep, the laid back Portland audience seemed un-vexed. One had to aver that Elling's instrument offered a broader palette than Sinatra's, most evident in the Chicagoan's effective 6/4 recasting of 'Come Fly With Me' and resoundingly in the rich resonance of his low notes in synch with Charlap - a range in which Sinatra trod with less panache (and according to Gilmore, he envied the ability of Dick Haymes).
Charlap's late night trio set on Saturday 21 February at the Winningstrad Theatre with Peter and Kenny Washington mined the Sinatra canon for new crannies of finesse. Conflating some tunes (he merged 'It Never Entered My Mind' with 'Only A Paper Moon') Charlap remarked how Sinatra only recorded the verse of 'Stardust' and recalled how Michel LeGrand perfectly concocted the melody to 'What Are You Doing For The Rest of Your Life?' in one sitting after the Bergmans provided the initial line. Charlap offered low volume taste, restraint and particularly poised timing during final cadences but on 'The Lady is A Tramp' he let virtuosic technique off the leash with scampering runs.