The Houston Symphony Celebrates Sinatra's Centennial with Tony DeSare

Tony DeSare
All photos courtesy of Tony DeSare

Singer Tony DeSare was a teenager when his mom brought home a Frank Sinatra cassette. Out of curiosity, the young DeSare played it. That casual act changed the course of DeSare's career. “I was completely enveloped by it,” the singer-songwriter performing Sinatra's Centennial with the Houston Symphony this weekend tells us.

[Sinatra] “described his singing as a combination of Bing Crosby pop music and bel canto opera singing. I really studied, not so much how he sang the song, but how he sang … the way he paid attention to telling a story with the music. The things that were important to Sinatra, are the things that are important to me. I want to tell a story, to sing with lots of control and with that kind of bel canto style.”

DeSare says the Sinatra's Centennial set list includes several songs fans will associate with the Rat Pack singer/actor, but the show goes beyond that. “We do a lot of Sinatra classics and then we move on to what would Sinatra be singing today if he was still recording pop music. It’s a Sinatra program for the 21st century.”

Many of the arrangements for the show have been adapted from the original Nelson Riddle arrangements Sinatra used. “He often had a real symphonic set up with lots of strings so that it’s not too much of an adaption to have a full orchestra perform [them].” 

The Houston Symphony Celebrates Sinatra's Centennial with Tony DeSare

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"I’ll be doing "I Love a Piano," which he never recorded but was written the year he was born, in 1915. I’ll be doing a couple of classics like "My Way," "Night and Day" and  "Something Stupid" which Sinatra recorded with Nancy Sinatra," DeSare tells us. 

The challenge for DeSare is to interpret Sinatra, but not mimic him. “It’s a gray area between imitation and embodying the style in which he sang. I try to land squarely in the embodying half. When I’m singing "Night and Day," for example, it’s very, very similar to the way that Sinatra sang it. I’m even singing the same Nelson Riddle chart Sinatra used. While I’m trying to find a way to give a nod to what Sinatra did, I'm also trying to keep it true to myself. 

"The challenge becomes what can I pull out of this song that’s been done so much,  and so well, before. I try to tell the story of the song, keep the lyrics at the same level of importance as the sound."

The music, DeSare says, is the key. It's timeless. "You have a great melody, a great lyric and someone to interpret that song, that makes for a really powerful combination that strikes a chord with listeners. The songs have a sophistication. They evoke emotions. I think that’s why this music is still here and will never go away. When I sing "I Love a Piano," I see this 100-year-old song that still works, it still has an effect on the audience."

Principal POPS Conductor Designate Steven Reineke is at the podium; vocalist Montego Glover shares singing duties with DeSare.

The Houston Symphony presents Sinatra's Centennial at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit $25 to $142. 

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