Philharmonic swings Sinatra with Holmes and Falcone

Fingers on keyboard, ear buds in ears, iPod charged and tuned to … Frank.

Aural inspiration for a writer to attempt, likely in vain, to capture an iconic sound in mere language. Perhaps not the most classic of Sinatra classics, but still … The Voice:

"Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage." (No, kids, it wasn’t just recorded to be the "Married … With Children" theme.) "He’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes, he’s got high-in-the-sky-apple-pie hopes." (Name the film that’s from … Yes, "A Hole in the Head.") "Hey baby, what’s your hurry? Relax and don’t you worry. We’re gonna fall in love." ("Nice ‘n’ Easy" — with a finger snap as the final note. Now THAT’s Frank.)

Sufficiently Sinatra-ized, we move on.

"We’re going over these arrangements and it’s daunting to be singing an entire evening of possibly the best pop singer who ever lived with some of the greatest charts ever written with the guy who conducted them," says Clint Holmes.

Our hometown crooner will perform — or perhaps re-create, imitate, emulate, what’s the best word? — the Sinatra oeuvre Saturday, teamed with The Chairman’s ex-conductor, Vincent Falcone, backed by the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

"I don’t want to emulate, I want to honor him," Holmes clarifies. "I have to find my own way through these charts, which isn’t easy. I’m not going to interpret them better than him, you know?"

We do. Sinatra was Sinatra. End of sentence. Yet Holmes and Falcone will still funnel his swingin’ style through the celebrated repertoire — think "I’ve Got You Under My Skin," "Fly Me to the Moon," "My Way," a Sinatra smorgasbord.

"The arrangements are from the meat of his career, as a mature singer in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s," says Falcone, who was with Sinatra from 1976-82 and 1985-86. "It’s some of the greatest music this country ever produced."

Exceptionally high-toned pop for a "Pops" concert — a showcase with wide appeal to some, perhaps symphonic slumming to others — the material awakens the finger-snappy fan in the Philharmonic’s music director. "With popular music programming, there are plenty of times when I know our audience will like something, but personally, I couldn’t care less," admits David Itkin. "Luckily, this is not one of those times."

While the Sinatra catalog is a comfy fit for many Philharmonic musicians who also perform in clubs and on the Strip, adjusting to Ol’ Blue Eyes arrangements does entail shifts in instrumentation as, essentially, a big-band configuration is inserted to modulate the full Philharmonic sound.

"All our strings are there, but there’s only one bass player," Itkin says. "There’s expanded brass and a smaller but more diverse woodwind section, about five or six, each playing several instruments with clarinet and saxophone, rather than the traditional setup. It’s going to be really exciting to see these kinds of great arrangements in this context."

Recalling his tenure as the Chairman’s musical chief of staff, Falcone remembers him as a teacher by example. "You paid attention and learned or you weren’t there — his favorite expression was, ‘Where you working next week?’ " Falcone says. "You kept your ears open and your mouth shut and listened."

Exalted for his exacting attention to musical details — the man wanted what he wanted, down to every eighth-note –Falcone says songs were never recorded until they were honed onstage. "He said to me, ‘We’ll never record something until we’ve performed it many times.’ It gave him the chance to develop it the way he wanted it done."

That’s not to suggest the master enjoyed each song he mastered, iconic Sinatra status notwithstanding. "He wasn’t enamored of ‘Strangers in the Night,’ " he says, even though it yielded his signature "doo-be-doo-be-doo."

"He performed it abroad because he knew it was a big hit there, but he never sang it in the States."

Receptive to younger songwriters, Sinatra was still selective. "I conducted the recording for ‘Something’ and he made something of it not perceived by the composer (George Harrison), more than was performed by the Beatles themselves," Falcone says. "We did ‘Just the Way You Are,’ with my arrangement and Don Costa’s orchestration. Billy Joel flipped when he heard it."

Interpreting composers from Gershwin and Porter to the Beatles and Billy J., he was — forever will be — singularly Sinatra, creating artistry Falcone says soars above the modern music scene.

"What the public accepts as quality music today couldn’t have been featured in a lounge in this town 40 years ago," he says. "It will last among those who value culture, like Mozart and Beethoven."

Fingers off keyboard, ear buds still in, iPod still charged …

"I never made love by lantern shine, I never saw rainbows in my wine, but now that your lips are burning mine, I’m beginning to see the light."

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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