That unique, inimitable vulnerability that brought Frank Sinatra to fame and fortune is perhaps not so unique and inimitable after all. Paul W. Hullah talks to New Orleans‘ budding young pretender
HARRY CONNICK JUNIOR, and (right) charts the rise ofthe pseudo-Sinatras.
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10 The List 17 — 30 May 199]
ome people think that Frank Sinatra‘s extraordinary, perennial allure stems from his ability to sing like a woman. He has an androgynous personal magic, an academic argued recently. which he presents in a shamelessly vulnerable. un-macho manner. 01’ blue eyes drives women wild by. paradoxically, showing them a mirror image of their own fragility. From the earliest stages of his career, Sinatra picked ‘women‘s‘ songs and taught himself the smooth intimacy of the female vocal tones (without ever appearing to behave like a woman) ofperformers like i Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Billie Holliday. A current New York cable show offers every week a different, more direct assessment ofBig Frank‘s appeal. On it, a ' seventy year old woman, clad in obvious I wig, bangles and spider mascara. pays her endless personal tributes to the geriatric crooner in the form of toe-curling. eulogistic poems which she reads to camera, frequently bringing herself (and the viewer, though for different reasons) to tears. This old idiot actually believes that Sinatra is God, and she wants the world to know it.
The timeless, multi-faceted appeal of Sinatra is one that the young pretender, Harry Connick Junior, has self-consciously copied in both his appearance and his vocal performance. With a little bit of Fred Astaire thrown in for good measure, Connick is every inch the young Sinatra and very good at it too. His kipper ties, vaselined hair and ash-tray eyes belie his age (23) and his silky incantations — showcased on his chart topping When Harry Met Sally soundtrack album — swing with a mature, hypnotic sway. Like Frank, Connick doesn’t look or act like a woman, but he exudes a smouldering seductiveness and a lazy nonchalance that are altogether very feminine. You want to cuddle him, but at the same time, he might just be a street-mobster. That‘s Frank, that’s Harry. There’s something in there for everyone.
The Harry Met Sally album was Connick’s third and features big band and orchestra. It reads like a classic American songbook set; ‘Autumn In New York‘. the Gershwins‘ ‘Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off‘ and Duke Ellington‘s ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore‘ let Harry exhibit his singing prowess — some would say his Sinatra impersonation — to the full. The current international tour, though, is a vehicle to promote Connick’s co-released fourth and fifth albums oflast winter. the orchestral-vocal epic We Are In Love (his most successful disc to date) and the stripped-down. jazz-trio intimacies of Lofty 's Roach Souffle. Both are fine records l which, in different ways, emphasise the ! considerable adaptability of this young man‘s classic Sinatra-based style.
‘They‘re both pretty much original albums.‘ he admits. presumably using the term to mean self-penned rather than underived. ‘I felt it was time to move away from singing just standards and show that I‘m a composer as well. I‘ve always been a composer — I just didn't feel ready to put my own songs on the first two albums. I thought it would be a good idea to do both the new records at the same time, kind ofstretch