BWW Reviews: Robert Davi - Vintage Music, Vintage Ambiance & Timeless Talent

"I have played behind Frank Sinatra all around the world and in the recording studios in Hollywood since 1959. Now along comes 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 Ol' Man had. Listen and become a life-long fan of this wonderful talent."

The speaker is percussionist Emil Richards who, at 81 is still playing choice gigs and, last week, was in the orchestra backing Robert Davi at Herb Alpert's Vibrato Grill Jazz. In just the last year or so, Robert Davi has become a regular at the Bel Air nightspot performing Davi Sings Sinatra.

Vibrato co-owner Eden Alpert says, "Robert always has a great, interesting turnout when he plays here." With a capacity of 135 people, Vibrato is the smallest of the venues in which Davi performs his show.

Last summer Davi played for 10,000 people outdoors at Eisenhower Park on Long Island, New York. He's performed for 2,000 people at once in arts centers across the country and to full houses at the Venetian and the Orleans in Las Vegas.

The audience at this show was made up of friends - including Gene Simmons, Shannon Tweed, Mickey Rourke, Billy Dee Williams - as well as several others who work in entertainment and those who have become friends by becoming fans and attending his performances. There were newcomers, too. Davi's audience spans the decades - from people born in the last decade of the last century to those who remember Sinatra singing with Tommy Dorsey. Many of the newcomers read about his show and, because they know him from films like The Goonies and Licence to Kill or his starring role on the NBC series Profiler, seek him out.

Robert Davi keeps it interesting for his regular audiences - people who attend whenever he's playing nearby - by changing elements of his set list. This time, he sang, among others, "How Little We Know," "Fly Me To The Moon," "The Best Is Yet To Come," I've Got You Under My Skin," "River, Stay Away From My Door" and 17 more songs. Each was beautifully performed, with precise enunciation and phrasing. Highlights included the quintessential Sinatra late-night bar song, "One For My Baby" and - a show highlight - his own recently released holiday recording, "New York City Christmas."

The above-mentioned orchestra playing with Davi included Emil Richards, who worked with Sinatra on vibes from 1959 on; Davi's musical director Randy Waldman, who works with Streisand and George Benson among others, was on piano. Mitch Holder, was on guitar; Dave Tull on drums; Tom Saviano sax and flute and Cooper Appleit played bass. Also there with Davi was Chris Walden, the composer-arranger who has, it seems, worked with everyone - Bieber, Streisand, Ethridge, Anka, Aguilera, Bocelli, Bublé, David Foster, a score of symphonic and philharmonic orchestras, several big bands and producers. He arranged and conducted "New York City Christmas" and at Vibrato played the flugelhorn. He says of of the singer whom he had play with his big band, "Robert Davi's performance was reminiscent of the era of great torch singers and crooners. His ability to capture the essence of a song and convey it to the audience is extraordinary. "

Opening for Davi was comic Bobby Slayton. Hilariously funny, smart, quick and known as "The Pitbull of Comedy," Slayton seems to hold nothing sacred. His comedy is full of stories about his wife, jabs at gay people and minorities. On the other hand, he appears to be a nice, accommodating guy. He even brought Davi a cup a tea when the latter was onstage. I am not sure how to best compliment a comic but Bobby Slayton deserves the best compliment possible. Having seen him several times before, his presence at Davi's show was, for me, a terrific surprise.

One audience member who had heard Davi's music but had never seen him in person told me, "What I liked best was his attitude. He talked about the music and the writers - he really studied the songs. And, he made me feel as if I were in his home just having a good time." This guy was at Vibrato because he liked the CD (Davi Sings Sinatra On the Road To Romance). Others, judging from overheard conversational snippets, were there because of the kind of music he does.

And Davi's long-time friend Mickey Rourke said, "I went to the show with no expectations. Only friendship brought me out of the house - a friendship of almost 30 years with Robert Davi. There are a few things I know about Robert that other people don't. One, he is a serial seducer of international repute! Number two, for such a delicate soul and mercurial personality, he convincingly portrays bad man and tough guys, where in real life he is really a fragile , delicate, pussycat . What I just said gives him credit for being such a fine actor that I've always respected . Now, back to the singing - as a friend and admirer of Frank and Dino, I was not disappointed in watching my buddy taking me back in time to a place I'd rather be! I will thank my dear friend for those moments."

And, even those who don't know Davi as Rourke does, looked and sounded most appreciative of his talent. To me, it was like spending an evening in one of the sophisticated supper clubs one can only see today in 40s-vintage black-and-white movies. He sings beautifully, knows his music and - clearly and outstandingly - loves to perform. Vibrato, too, is a perfect venue for the music. I have seen Davi in Las Vegas and drove from there to see him at Vibrato.(Lots of traffic meant 15 hours total on the road. But it was well worth it.) I can attest to the fact that he commands any size room. In addition to his talent, Davi has the rare ability to reach out to the audience as a group and as individuals and to touch them. It's a wonderful thing.

The fact that Robert Davi is singing - beautifully singing - the Great American Songbook means he is both a pleasure to see in concert and a talent to be treasured. Too few are keeping these classics alive and nobody does so better than he.

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From This Author Ellen Sterling

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