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From One Legend To Another: Robert Davi Pays Tribute To Frank Sinatra

From One Legend To Another: Robert Davi Pays Tribute To Frank Sinatra

When you think of Robert Davi, your mind immediately jumps to his work as a seasoned veteran of the film and television industry — and rightly so! His amazing range and incredible work ethic quickly garnered him roles alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood, ranging from Marlon Brando to Clint Eastwood. He is easily recognizable from his more mainstream roles in such movies as ‘Die Hard,’ ‘Showgirls,’ ‘The Goonies’ and considered one of the top three Bond villains of all time in ‘License to Kill.’ As if that wasn’t already an impressive resume, he has even established himself as a force to be reckoned with behind the camera with his 2007 award winning film ‘The Dukes,’ which focuses one-time rock stars that now find themselves facing hard times. It was in that film that he, who is known in inner circles as the “singer who can act,” was able to showcase his amazing vocal abilities. As he will tell you, he had always intended to make his passion for music a career, but as fate would have it his screen career took of with lightning speed and there was no looking back! In 2011, Davi finds himself returning to his first love. He has been performing to sold out audiences, receiving high critical acclaim from coast to coast and is now making his recording debut with a tribute to his mentor, the legendary Frank Sinatra, with ‘Davi Sings Sinatra: On The Road To Romance.’ Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with this multi-faceted artist to discuss his roots in music, the making of this amazing new album, his experiences with legendary Frank Sinatra, what the future holds for him musically and much more!

Most people hear the name Robert Davi and your great roles in film come to mind. However, we are here today to talk about your musical side. I am curious to hear how music first came into your life?

How music first came into my life? We want to go THAT far back!? [laughs] I was in eighth grade and I was in church, singing along, when all of a sudden this voice came out of me! One of the nuns was looking over and it was the first time that we had heard that sound come out of me. I had a passion for the opera, the Great American Songbook and the Italian popular songs. I would sing a little bit around the house and then in high school, I was also in the drama club at that time. I was singing in the shower after football practice and a nun heard me singing in the shower as she was walking down the hallway. She immediately sent someone in to find out who was singing in there! At that point, they asked me to join the Glee Club — after I dried off of course! [laughs] I resisted at first but then my mom told me to give it a try. So, I joined the Glee Club and they suggested that I start training. I won first place New York State Music Association, then I started to study heavy duty. That is how it started. I studied with Tito Gobbi and Dan Farrow at Julliard, Samuel Margolis, who was Robert Merrill’s voice teacher. On and on.

Robert Davi

Who were some of your early inspirations who helped to shape the artist we see today?

I was a huge fan of classical music. I listened symphonies, the opera, all of the great tenors and, of course, Frank Sinatra! Like I said, I loved the Great American Songbook. I would listen to Peggy Lee and Sinatra because my mom did. Also, Louie Armstrong, Billie Holiday and the old blues guys, so I had an eclectic love of music. I guess it is an osmosis thing! I would listen obsessively.

Your new album is called “Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road to Romance.” What made you decide now was the right time to record the album?

There were a few things. I directed my film, “The Dukes,” I don’t know if you saw that. With me, Chazz Palminteri and Peter Bogdanovich?

Yes, I did see the film and I really enjoyed it!

In the film, is that doo-wop group thing and I knew at some point that I wanted to go back to the music. When you mentioned influences, growing up Italian-American, there are two big influences in your household — The Pope and Frank Sinatra! And not necessarily in that order, ya know! So I had Sinatra there and he was also a consummate actor, so it was a very strong and major influence. That music, The Great American Songbook, is the Shakespeare of America, it is the golden age of American music and it is what made the world fall in love with our country. It helped my parents get through a very difficult time, along with a lot of other people from the depression to World War II and other struggles. Right now, we find that we are once again in a difficult period of time. I think this music has a universal message and again, it is the Shakespeare of America, it is the golden age of American music. I felt that it wasn’t just a case of me wanting to sing, it was me wanting to bring this music to as many people as possible and to express myself through the Songbook.

The Legendary Robert Davi

From start to finish, what was the biggest challenge in putting this project together?

Ya know, it is funny. I don’t look at things as challenges. Isn’t that funny? I just see something that I want to do and I go for it. Everything could be considered a challenge — raising money for it could be difficult. This thing has been a blessed project. People have been drawn to it. I did a demo and the head of Disney Music, Bob Cavallo, he saw “The Dukes” and I told him that I wanted to go back to singing. I asked him who I should train with and he said Gary Catona. He is the voice coach to the stars! He has a revolutionary technique that was absolutely the sound that I was looking for, based on my previous experience, which was extensive. It started there. I did a demo of four songs at Capitol Records. My composer, who composed the music for “The Dukes,” Nic Tenbroeck, he did my charts, all new arrangements. I did the demo and played it for Bob Cavallo and he called down to his head of marketing and they said, “Let’s help him! It’s great!” Then I got Phil Ramone to produce the record, Dan Wallin to engineer the record and All Schmitt to mix it. The next part of the process is to have people be able to listen to it and to get the tremendous response that I have been getting on both the live shows and the album. It has been very, very rewarding.

Did you feel any pressure in trying to live up to the legacy of The Great American Songbook?

Well, I wasn’t going to do anything that I didn’t think that I could do! I didn’t want to do anything sub-standard or compromise. I also didn’t want to do a replication of what had been done before, so I have all new, original charts that pay homage to the music without it being a replication of the great Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins or Billy May charts. You know, I did my first film with Sinatra, so I picked songs that were meaningful to him and meaningful to me and told this story “On The Road To Romance.”

It isn’t like you are just a fan of Mr. Sinatra. You actually had the opportunity to work alongside him. What can you tell us about that experience and what you learned from him through the years?

Frank Sinatra and Robert Davi

Well, it was ongoing. I was friendly with him over the years. He was a very gracious person and had great humor. I would meet him again, many times, over the years and touch base. He was a very caring individual. To me, he was the world’s greatest entertainer. I have worked with Sinatra, Brando and Eastwood through the years, iconic figures. With Sinatra, the way that I learned was listening to his music. The man’s life is in that music. He always said that himself. Stella Adler had a quote, “If you lie on stage, it should offend you.” And that is what Frank felt about singing. Actually, she would use his work as an example of honesty in singing. You don’t feel any embellishment in his singing. He was all emotion and heart with a tremendous control, sensitivity, style and class. That is what I got from him as a person — a dichotomy of humanity. I always remember one night at two o’clock in the morning, we were in a social club in Little Italy. Martin Gabel, who was married to Arlene Francis, was there with Harry Guardino, Marty Balsam and some other New York people. I was just taking it all in as a kid in his 20s. Frank looked over at me and said, “Robert, have a drink.” And I said, “I don’t drink Mr. Sinatra.” He said, “You don’t drink, you’re fired!” I said, “I’ll have what you’re having!” And he poured me one. He took his bottle and poured me my first Jack Daniels.

Wow! That is awesome!

Now I have switched to Jack Daniel’s [Tennessee] Honey. It’s a new drink from them and it is so smooth for the voice! Have you tried that drink yet?

I have tried it and I really enjoyed it!

Oh, it’s the best! He poured two fingers of Jack into a bucket glass with a bunch of ice cubes and the rest water. You can nurse that all night long and feel great!

The reviews of your live performances have been terrific! You take the stage, backed by a 50-piece orchestra and it is a very big production. I imagine that can be very intense. You seem so calm, cool and collected — Do you ever get jitters before you take the stage?

Robert Davi On Stage

There is an internal excitement of wanting to get out there — of course, you want to see what your voice has that night, you know what I mean?

Sure!

There is an excitement and a need for me to express myself through this music and communicate with people. There is a beautiful flow of energy! Once I start in, I am just having a blast! You feel 25 again!

In your opinion, what does the future hold for Robert Davi musically? Can we expect more music from you in the future?

God willing, absolutely! Again, this isn’t a hobby, it is a calling. When I did this album, it wasn’t about me wanting to sing but it was about me bringing this music to the forefront and influencing as many young people as I can to come and see this music, to listen to it and to get it inspired by the golden age of American music and to pay tribute to Frank Sinatra, who sang it better than anyone. You have the great Tony Bennett, who is a national treasure, but for me it was Frank Sinatra who was the standard, and I think for anyone else.

What do you think about the music scene these days? Is there anybody out there who really intrigues you?

I always appreciate music and there is so much of it, it’s tremendous. To me, it is what is lasting. What is going to last. I don’t know who is going to last out of this current crop of artists. What becomes classical is always a mystery. We do know that Sinatra is classical. We do know now that he has gone into that classical realm. We do know that the Great American Songbook is that golden age, The Shakespeare of America. I think it is something that really has to be re-ignited. That is why, whenever you talk to one of these new artists, these young singers, from Lady Gaga to Snoop Dogg, they are all intrigued by The Great American Songbook. It is poetic and it’s classical. You know, you have that song that won the Oscar, “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” but how do you measure that against a lyric like, “I guess I will hang my tears out to dry … ?” Ya know what I am sayin’? How do you measure that? That is something that I think will help the country and culture as a whole. When I was researching all of the music, I realized that you have Howard Arlen, Yip Harburg, Sammy Cahn, The Gershwins, The Berlins and Frank Lester, all of the guys who wrote the Great American Songbook were all either Jewish immigrants or the sons of Jewish immigrants. They took this music that started out in jazz music and the black struggle and combined it to create America’s greatest cannon of music! They brought us all together here. Now, you needed Italians to sing it! But it is really exciting! To hear the big band and the musicians and not the auto-tuning, to hear the players playing behind you, it gets everyone up and running!

What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to those considering making a career in the entertainment industry?

Robert Davi

You need preparation and to work at it like Hercules! Don’t get discouraged. Believe and follow your dreams. If I said to someone, “Ya know, I am going to do this album and blah, blah, blah” and they go, “Yeah. Right. OK, Now?” I mean, people say, “What are you doing that for?” You just have to work at it like Hercules! It’s that persistence, the preparation, it’s the training and finding the best people in the world to work with like I did for this album. It’s not compromising in terms of the vision that you have and the people that you surround yourself with in order to obtain that vision.

You have so many great stories and so much insight to offer people. I was curious if you ever considered doing an autobiography at some point to share your story.

I might do that! I am not thinking about doing it right now but if enough people think that there might be some wisdom for it, there might be something in there. Right now, I just wrote a new screenplay that Mark Canton is optioning. We are going to do that in the Fall. That project deals with this music as well. So, as you can tell, I am just wrapped up in the music right now! I will be at the Venetian in Las Vegas in February [of 2012] on the 23rd, 24th and 25th.

That is terrific! I am really excited for you and for all you have going on! For your fans who are just discovering your music, where is the best place for them to find more information?

They can go to www.davisingssinatra.com. You will be able to get it online and in all of the traditional stores, so if they give it a shot, I think people will be very pleased! I hope they are!

Thank you so much for your time, sir! I really appreciate it and we look forward to spreading the world on your music!

Thank you so much, Jason. I really appreciate it.

Here’s what people are saying about the show “DAVI SINGS SINATRA: A Tribute to Sinatra, the Great American Songbook and America”…

Robert Davi Wants You To Discover His Music!

If a performing artist is going to sing the lyrics and melodies popularized by the incomparable Frank Sinatra then that artist better come into the studio properly equipped with confidence and genuine musical skills. Robert Davi is more than physically and intellectually equipped to take on this challenge. His academic knowledge of Sinatra’s life and career prepare him for the emotional commitment and happily his voice is suitably magnificent and well up to the task. Robert evokes the ease of the Legend without coming off as a replicator. He makes these songs his own just like Dino and Mel did when they performed Frank’s material. As a horn fan I’m digging the crisp new arrangements and the breadth of the highs which a huge section can bring to the sound. Robert Davi is invited to the House of Blues. He will give our audiences a rare, classy treat. I’ve got bus parking for the orchestra. – DAN AYKROYD

I have played behind Frank Sinatra all around the world and in the recording studios in Hollywood since 1959. Now comes along Robert Davi, who in my opinion is the only one that comes close to having the voice, the acting chops, and the charisma that the Ole’ man had. Listen and become a life long fan of this wonderful talent. – EMIL RICHARDS

Robert Davi would make a worthy successor to the incomparable Frank Sinatra, whether in the fields of Stage, Screen or Television. And having been chosen years ago by the Master himself, to act in a film side by side with him, this is not a vain pronouncement. – ERVIN DRAKE, legend of The Great American Songbook

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Antonia Bennett Discusses Her Debut and Upcoming Projects!

Antonia Bennett Discusses Her Debut and Upcoming Projects!

With the release of her eclectic debut EP, ‘Natural,’ Antonia Bennett shows the world she is standing in her iconic father Tony Bennett’s light, not his shadow. Lest anyone think she is a second-generation novelty act, Antonia has the amazing vocal chops and skill of a gifted song interpreter and will appeal to jazz audiences both old and new! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this talented young lady to discuss her musical roots, her famous father, the process of creating her album, and what we can look forward to hearing from her in the near future!

As someone who came from a very musical family, what are your first memories of being around music?

Gosh, I have always been around music. When my dad was living in Los Angeles with us, when I was very, very young, he was making a record with Bill Evans, so I had him around the house as a very small child. There were always a bunch of great musicians around! My neighbor was, so I remember going over there and watching him write songs. I was always surrounded by great people like Rosemary Clooney and Ella Fitzgerald. All of those people were around and at Christmas time they would all throw parties where everyone would get up and sing! Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra and all of those people were around when I was a kid and it seemed very normal and natural!

Is a career in music something that you wanted to pursue early on?

Well I always loved music. I was always interested in it and I always did it. My dad would bring me out on stage when I was just a little kid, so I just started doing it! I was also interested in a lot of other art forms. When I was a kid, I loved to paint and draw and I was also interested in dance, acting, theater, writing, all sorts of things. Then as I got older, I just started singing more and more. I ended up going to Berklee College of Music where I really cultivated it and really became a professional singer, not just along my dad’s side but also in my own right. I really came into myself.

When looking to spread your wings as an artist, do you view having such an iconic father as a blessing, a curse or is it a bit of both?

There are a lot of different ways to look at things but I just try to stand in my dad’s light, not his shadow and focus on the good things. We are all dealt a different deck of cards in life. Wherever you come from, it is your choice to make the best of it. I feel like I have a really blessed situation and I feel like I want to take it, especially now, that I have been able to work with and spend so much time with him, I really see it as a blessing. I have learned so much from him, so there is no point in my focusing on the negative aspects of it.

That is a great attitude to have and obviously your talents are evident on your album. You certainly have the chops and your work stands on its own.

Thank you!

You mentioned all of the great music influences around you growing up but was there a point that stands out in your mind where your dad’s talent and star power became evident to you?

I always knew that he was special but all of the other people that I lived around were also special people, ya know! [laughs] They all had special circumstances, so it seemed kind of normal to me that there would be people like that around and that we were in a special situation. For years, when I was a child, my dad had been working so hard, two shows a night. His shows were always sold out and he always worked. It was when I was in college that he had a huge resurgence. It wasn’t a surprise to me because he always worked so hard. Anyone who works that hard and wants it bad enough is bound to get what they want, especially if they have the talent to back it up.

Speaking of hard work, you just released your first EP, ‘Natural.’ How was it working with renowned producer Holly Knight on the album? What did she bring to the table?

Holly was great to work with! We started out as just friends who were going to write a song together. We actually are shopping a deal for a pop record, like a hot adult contemporary pop record. We have been working on that project for the past couple years in between my touring. As we started writing these songs and it got to the point that we wanted to do a full record, I said to her, “I feel like if I did this and I don’t take a snapshot of what I have been doing up until now, it would be kind of disrespectful to all of the work that I have put in up until this point.” I had been going in such a different direction. She said, “That is a great idea because you sing those songs so well!” Then I called Larry Goldings, a great jazz pianist who has worked with so many great musicians. He has worked with James Taylor, Pat Metheny and the list goes on and on. I had met him because I had sung a debut with Tom Wopat on his record called ‘The Still of The Night’ many years ago. Russ Titelman, the producer of that record, was nice enough to introduce me to Larry. We played on that record together and formed a relationship. At the time, we were both living in New York. Now we are both living in LA. I thought, “What a perfect opportunity to call him and do this!” He has such a beautifully open and spacey way of playing that I knew that it would just work. Holly was really great and made sure that we were comfortable and that we had everything that we needed to go in and do it, the support in that way was immense. It has been really exciting to go out there and put it all on the table and just continually work with such great people like Holly and Larry is such a blessing!

How did you choose the songs for the EP? It is quite an eclectic mix.

For the most part, Larry and I sat down at the piano and thought about standards that we really loved and a way to provide different interpretations that people hadn’t heard yet. We just started going through tunes. ‘Putting on the Ritz’ is a tune that I used to sing when I was just a little girl, I used to get up on stage and sing it. I thought to myself that I would just love to do this song after so many years. Larry suggested ‘Soon’ and suggested that we try a country tune with a jazz treatment, which I thought was a great idea, so we did ‘I Fall To Pieces.’ Holly really wanted me to do a jazz rendition of ‘Love Is A Battlefield,’ which I was really excited to do because I grew up listening to Pat Benatar and all different kinds of music. That is what jazz music is, taking something, putting your own spin on it and making it your own. To have the opportunity to do that with one of Pat Benatar’s songs, which is so contemporary, was really great. Darrin Johnson was the pianist on that one and he did a great job of working with me on that and did a tremendous job!

You mentioned doing a full album. When can fans expect that?

Really soon! It looks like I will be headed into the studio in November at some point to lay it down. I am really excited about that! Hopefully, around the end of January or February of 2011, it will be out on iTunes and Amazon for people to purchase. I am really looking forward to that!

You have been touring and opening up with your father for a while now. What has that experience been like for you?

It is really tremendous working with him. One thing is that I get to spend time with my dad and that is really special because these are moments that I am never going to forget. Also, his whole team of people are just so fantastic and they make it so easy in the sense that I don’t have to worry about anything. I know that the sound is going to be the best that it can possibly be, that we will be in beautiful concert halls, that the musicians are going to be wonderful at their craft and that we will be playing for people that are really excited to come out and see a show! It really gives me the opportunity to go out there and have a really good time! That is an unexplainable feeling, to be able to do that and not worry about the other little details!

What can people expect from a live show musically?

Musically, on my dad’s show, I am doing standards because that is what the show calls for. It is really a review of those great American songs! There are some songs from the record that we do and some other songs that I just love. We always try to switch it up and add new things in along the way, so that the show is a little bit different each night. We really go out there and hope that everyone has a good a time as we do playing for them!

What do you consider your biggest milestone so far musically?

Gosh, it is so hard to say because for me, it is one thing to be recognized, which is terrific. I think more and more I have been recognized by my peers and my fans but I think the most important thing for me is to grow as a musician. I think sometimes when that is happening, you don’t even realize that is what is going on! You take a step back a few months later and realize, “Wow! I just did all of this!” I think that this period of working with Holly Knight has been great because I have grown as a writer and I think that this is just the beginning! I think that this is the milestone of the beginning of me really blossoming into a songwriter as well as an interpreter. I have been interpreting my whole life and I think that is an art form in itself. I think a lot of people don’t realize how important that is. There are some people that did that so well, like Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole or my father. These people are real interpreters and nowadays so many people do so many different things that it gets lost sometimes. I just hope that as a writer, when I am interpreting those songs, or when I am singing someone elses song, I really try to make it a part of me and give it a story with a beginning, middle and end. As long as I can continue to do that and every time I do that, it is a milestone, when I succeed in telling the story.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given you along the way in your career that you would pass on to someone interested in making music a career?

Wow! I have gotten a lot of advice over the years but I think the best piece of advice I ever got was from Duke Ellington. I didn’t get it from him personally but I have seen it written and it is on my dad’s wall. It says, “Number one, never give up. Number two, remember number one!” [laughs]

What is the best place for fans to find out more about you?

I have a website at www.antoniabennett.com to get more information. I have a Facebook fan page as well that can be accessed directly from the website. There are always updates when the music is coming out and where I will be playing. You can check those out and see what I am up to!

Awesome! Thank you for your time, Antonia! We will spread the word and look forward to seeing even more of you in the future!

Thank you!

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