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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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”…
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