The billing at the Grand Avenue Bar of the Biltmore Hotel read "Frank Sinatra Jr. with Buddy Childers." Yet in his own words, the singer, who does not customarily appear in such an intimate jazz setting, insisted he was "just sitting in."
That was, in fact, the impression he gave during his well-attended two night stand. On Wednesday, the second evening, he waited for the band to play one or two instrumentals, and even during his own numbers allowed ample time for the soloists to take off freely.
Over the years Sinatra must have been the victim of more ill-informed, condescending criticism than any other singer on earth. Contrary to popular unwisdom, he does not now bear a strong resemblance, vocally or visually, to any other singer.
At 43 a somewhat introverted figure, conservatively dressed and wearing rimless glasses, he opened with an ill-advised parody of Dean Martin, singing "When You're Drinking" to the tune of "When You're Smiling." From that point on, however, things improved as he stayed with orthodox versions of such standard tunes as "You Go To My Head" and "Stella By Starlight." He sings good songs and sings them in tune, with occasional improvised melodic changes.
A million-dollar personality he is not; he moves very little and smiles seldom. One had the sense that he would have been more at home back in Las Vegas, with the big band and arrangements that are his normal context--and who can blame him?
Childers, playing fluegelhorn, also seemed ill at ease during the first set. Perhaps both he and Sinatra were disconcerted by the chatter and laughter, for this is one of the noisiest rooms in town (the music hours run from 5 to 9 p.m.).
Plas Johnson was in good form on tenor saxophone and flute. Childers picked up momentum as a second, somewhat less-interrupted set got under way.
Lou Forestieri on piano, John Leftwich on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums offered competent but not entirely cohesive support.
Sinatra, Childers & Co. will be back New Year's Eve.