Jack Jones’ long awaited tribute to Frank Sinatra, “Seriously Frank,” is being submitted for Grammy consideration this week, but we already know what inspired him, thanks to the stories he shared Wednesday at Lord Fletcher’s restaurant.
Jones joined Sinatra friends Trini Lopez, Rita Vale (Jerry Vale’s widow) and myself in a fun and often poignant night of storytelling about Sinatra and the Rat Pack produced by The Desert Sun. At one point, Trini noted he was in the movie, “Marriage on the Rocks,” with Frank, Dean Martin and Nancy Sinatra. He asked the sold-out audience if they remembered that film and Jack, now happily committed to his fifth wife, Eleonora, quipped, “Remember it? I lived it!”
Jones also talked about those Rat Pack years when Sinatra was recording great albums with Count Basie and Jones was winning Grammys for Best Vocal Performance, Male. Sinatra recorded a song called “Call Me Irresponsible” between Jones’ 1962 and ’64 Grammys, and it didn’t become a hit until Jones recorded it. But Jack learned from the way Sinatra sang it.
The song was written by Frank’s pals, Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, for the film, “Papa’s Delicate Condition,” starring Jackie Gleason. The film character who sings it is a good-hearted man who squanders the family’s savings with his irresponsible actions. Sinatra inhabits the song and brings his own personal travails to it, singing it like a man who drinks too much and isn’t a reliable husband and father. Hearing Sinatra dismiss his fallacies and admit to his lover, “I’m irresponsibly mad for you” is just another reminder of his ruinous relationship with Ava Gardner.
The radio-listening audience didn’t want to hear that. So a record executive gave the song to Jones, who sang it beautifully and made it a hit.
But Jones has become a serious actor since then, as he revealed in a long national tour of “Man of La Mancha,” and, at 77, he’s done a ‘lotta living. For his Sinatra tribute, he didn’t want to do an impersonation of Sinatra or sing Sinatra songs the way he had sung them when he was young.
For “Seriously Frank,” Jones created a character that fit his age and selected Sinatra songs he could inhabit as an actor.
The first song, “Teach Me Tonight,” is like a foreword to the story, an introduction to the theme that Sinatra was the teacher who inspired Jones. But it’s also a showcase of a sensational 22-piece orchestra, conducted and arranged by Patrick Williams, that swings like a big band led and arranged by Nelson Riddle.
For my money, the story actually starts with the third song, “For Once In My Life.” Jones seems to rejoice in his marriage to Eleonora as he exclaims with searing honesty, “For once in my life I have someone who needs me.”
Jones has always been extremely private about his personal life. While Sinatra put his personal life out there for everybody to examine and relate to, Jones always seemed to want to protect his wives and daughters and just be appreciated as someone with the best pipes in the business.
In “Seriously Frank,” Jones isn’t worried about showing the flaws in his voice or his life. Choosing Sinatra’s great saloon songs, including “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” “Drinking Again” and “Only the Lonely,” we get insights into the man who has lived “Marriage on the Rocks.” And we feel for him like we’ve rarely felt before.
The obvious Sinatra salute is his elongated version of “It Was A Very Good Year,” with jazzy new interludes, that allows Jones to tell the story of Sinatra’s life in a narrative. It’s the song that will probably get played on SiriusXM’s Siriusly Sinatra channels. But the saloon songs on this album tell Sinatra’s story the way Sinatra liked to tell it – saying things without actually spelling it out.
As I said in our recent Sinatra and the Rat Pack series, bars were Sinatra’s sanctuary and sharing a bottle was his way of getting to know someone. “Seriously Sinatra” is Jones’ way of letting us get to know that Sinatra and, conversely, it lets us get to know more about Jack Jones.
Jones, who lives in La Quinta, begins a UK tour Jan. 31 and then he’ll perform songs from this album March 4 at the McCallum Theatre. Go to JackJones.org to buy the album or concert tickets.
“It all started with (McCallum president and CEO) Mitch Gershenfeld asking if I’d do a performance in March about Sinatra,” Jones said. “I said, ‘I don’t know. So many people have done Sinatra. I just never thought I would ever do that.’ I definitely won’t sing ‘My Way’ and, if you ask me why, I’ll tell you it’s because I’m singing my way!
“It takes chutzpah to be doing the album at all. What it is, is a thank you.”