Zach Alexander (Red Bank), Hollie Baines (Little Silver) and Deborah Dutcher (Rumson) are among the local vocalizers paying tribute to the Chairman of the Board during the 7th annual Sinatra Birthday Bash, this Friday at Count Basie’s place.
By TOM CHESEK
It’s got a collection of some of the greatest songbook and seasonal standards ever put to sheet music, driven by the “freight train” of Red Bank’s very own orchestral jazz band. It boasts the participation of nearly a dozen pop, jazz, and cabaret vocalists from all around the region — from weekend warriors to polished pros.
It’s a salute to “Ol’ Blue Eyes” that offers up a first local look at the winner of the 2013 Sinatra Idol competition — and it’s even packing a secret weapon: a first-person, real-world, one-degree-of-separation connection to the legendary Rat Pack itself.
For the 2013 edition of the Sinatra Birthday Bash, conductor-arranger-ringmaster Joe Muccioli promises “our biggest, most ambitious show ever” — an affair that teams the 18-piece Red Bank Jazz Orchestra with a cast of 11 guest bandstand singers, and the assembled skills of the Red Bank Regional High School Concert Choir, under the direction of Kristopher Zook.
In the seventh annual tribute to Jersey’s own Francis Albert Sinatra — born 98 years ago, on December 12 — the man called “Mooche” will be serving up the expected cavalcade of Sinatra signatures, drawn from the iconic singer’s awe-inspiring 60-year career. The December 6 concert, set for 8 pm at the Count Basie Theatre, also sports a new angle — “a little holiday cheer thrown into the mix,” a fitting theme for the second most famous birthday celebration in December.
“It’s definitely going to add some more fun to the existing concept — maybe even a ‘Christmas with the Rat Pack’ feel,” says Muccioli.
At the same time, “this is also the scariest show we’ve ever done,” he adds, as it represents the first Bash produced top-to-bottom by Jazz Arts Project, the borough-based nonprofit for which Mooche serves as artistic director.
“It’s a big hall, with a lot of expenses… but only the Basie affords us the scale to do something like this,” says Muccioli of the venue named for one of Sinatra’s most swinging collaborators, the “Kid from Red Bank” William “Count” Basie. “That said, the only real reason to be nervous is to not be prepared… and we spend a whole lot of time writing, rehearsing and putting this show together.”
“I’ve been doing big productions here for years, and it’s a skill that I picked up working with Quincy Jones,” Muccioli says of the multiple Grammy winner who got one of his first big breaks as arranger with Count Basie’s big band. “He had this unerring sense of knowing just what to do.”
For Friday night’s show, the conductor and crew will be working with an all-new cast that includes three performers with roots in the greater Green — including Little Silver’s Hollie Baines, familiar to many regional fans of jazz, blues and pop vocals. Zach Alexander (Red Bank) and Deborah Dutcher (Rumson) are further featured, as are Rosemary Conte (Matawan), Patrice Jegou (West Long Branch), Lou Orrichio (Millstone), and Mario Cruz of Guttenberg, winner of the 2013 Sinatra Idol competition in the Chairman’s hometown of Hoboken. Sinatra tribute artist James Anthony (Manassas, VA) and Tony Sands (Milton, DE) make it worth the commute.
And then there’s a special guest star who may stir some memories with what Boomers like to call “a certain age group.” New York-based singer Michelle DellaFave is well known as a charter member of The Goldiggers — that troupe of go-go booted dancer-singers who interacted with Dean Martin on his fondly recalled 1960s TV variety series — as well as spinoff sorority The Ding-A-Ling Sisters (check out this clip from another era, offered without comment, in which Michelle and her sister Ding-A-Lings burn up the picture tube with Dino and Sinatra himself).
They’re all part of a select group of “pros and amateurs from all walks of life,” paying tribute to a game-changing music giant who, Muccioli suggests, “really put the singer in the spotlight, as opposed to just being a featured soloist on the bandstand.”
“Many of the singers we work with on these shows are a little anxious at first…they’re not used to singing in front of a massive orchestra, or in front a thousand people,” he observes. “but they suddenly get a new confidence, and they really step it up, really come through.”
“It’s all part of a unique event…it’s about that night, that audience, that cast, the theater,” Mooche sums up. “It’s in the moment, and you’re part of its creation.”
Top-ticket proceeds for Friday night’s event will benefit the Education and Scholarship Fund of the Jazz Arts Academy, the program for teenaged music students established as a partnership between Jazz Arts Project and the Count’s Performing Arts Academy, with the support of the Monmouth County Arts Council.
Take it here to reserve tickets for the Sinatra Birthday Bash ($25 to $79.50) — and check here for updates on other upcoming events from Jazz Arts Project, including a planned show at Two River Theater starring jazz pianist and chanteuse Champian Fulton.