MI6 contributor Stuart Kortekaas attended Robert Davi's concert in Melbourne and caught up with the singer and 'Licence To Kill' star afterwards
While Robert Davi has starred in more than 150 film and TV roles, Bond fans probably know him best from his role as the villain in "Licence to Kill". What they may be less likely to know is that he is also a classically trained singer, now touring the world performing a tribute show to Frank Sinatra.
His "Davi Sings Sinatra" show was performed at the Palais Theatre on June 7, headlining for the 2014 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. The Palais was an excellent choice of venue for the concert. Promoted as Australia's number one theatre concert venue, its elegant and luxurious interior added a touch of glamour and sense of occasion - a setting in which James Bond would have been quite at home!
Just like Sinatra, Davi toured Australia using a 6-piece band, who played superbly. Quite simply every song during the concert was performed flawlessly from start to finish. Davi's desire for the show to be as authentic as possible was highlighted by the fact that three out of the six band members had previously worked with Sinatra: Randy Waldman (Musical Director, piano), Mark Sherman (Vibraphone) & Mitch Holder (Guitar). The rest of the band comprised of Kim Richmond (Saxophone, flute) Cooper Appelt (Bass) and Dave Tull (Drums).
While Davi sang songs which Sinatra made famous (As well as others from around the same time period, often referred to as "The Great American Songbook") this was in no way an imitation or karaoke show. Instead he drew upon his classical training (He was awarded first place in the prestigious New York State School Music Association's Solo Competition), his understanding of Bel Canto, as well as his personal knowledge & friendship with Sinatra to capture the essence of the songs without ever mirroring Sinatra's mannerisms or singing style.
Davi's singing has received widespread acclaim, from critics as well as people who knew Sinatra well, including the famous Quincy Jones, (Winner of 27 Grammys, producer of the world's best-selling album, "Thriller" by Michael Jackson) who worked with him for 40 years, first during a benefit concert in Monaco organized by Princess Grace back in 1958 (Which featured a 55 piece orchestra), right up until Sinatra's death in 1998.
What comes through most on the stage is Davi's screen presence. No other singer has the decades of experience on film and television that Davi has, and it shows (This is something he shares with Sinatra, who was quite successful as an actor). What they also have in common is that they sing from the perspective of a "real man"... at times romantic, but with an edge; as you'd expect no less from someone who played a Bond villain in arguably the most brutal film of the series! In the same way that James Bond would be just another man in a tuxedo if it wasn't for his licence to kill, the edge that Davi brings from playing so many bad guys on screen sets him apart from other singers. Speaking of which...
As the lights dimmed, the first song played by the band was the "James Bond Theme"! A selection of clips from movies he starred in was then played, starting with "Licence to Kill". It was obvious that even though it's been 25 years since the release of the film, Davi is still justifiably quite proud of his role as the main villain Sanchez. The last film clip shown was 1977's "Contract on Cherry St", in which he appeared on screen together with Sinatra, which brought applause from the audience. Wisely the screen which the movies had been projected onto was not used again during the concert, keeping the focus of the evening on the songs themselves.
Davi kept the audience entertained throughout the night, mentioning just enough background information to the songs to add depth without being overwhelming. His genuine love for the music is unmistakeable. Out of all the songs performed one which stood out was "It was a very good year". Sinatra would have been proud of his performance. In my opinion it was as good or even better than any of the original recordings.
After the show Davi decided to hold an unscheduled autograph session in the foyer. He made sure that every single person who lined up got an autograph, patiently posing for photos, staying well past the closing time of the theatre. I recall practically every person stopped to have a chat with him. He even took part in a video call with someone on a mobile phone at one point. It was fantastic to catch up with Mr Davi while he was in town, and ask him about his career & experiences:
You starred with Sinatra in your very first movie, 1977's "Contract on Cherry St". What were some of the highlights of working with Sinatra? Was there anything that surprised you about him? Did he teach you anything in terms of performing, or about life in general?
Well, as you can imagine there were many highlights. Let's start with meeting him for the first time and then becoming friends with him: the entry and wonderful people I met through him and my first trip to Los Angeles. There are many personal memories, some of which I talk about in my show. Two things occur. One was this: he took six of us to his live performance in Forest Hills that summer we were filming in New York. To see him perform was an experience I will never forget. He had the ability to have 15,000 plus people feel as if he were singing just for them. Quite remarkable. There were many life lessons; one is the ability to be authentic in all you do.
Your love for lyrics with depth and style is obvious. At one point during your concert you dryly commented "With music like this who needs to twerk?". Do you have any ambition to write any songs of your own? As someone who's written scripts as well as contributed dialogue to films they've starred in (Most famously the line "Loyalty is more important to me than money" in "Licence to Kill"), it would seem like a natural progression.
Yes, at some point I plan on writing songs. I have some brewing! But I was thrilled to have the great Phil Ramone produce my first album. This debuted at number six on the Billboard Jazz Charts. I absolutely love music and wish I had gone back to it earlier. I just had a wonderful tour and reception in Australia.
Out of all the Bond songs that have been made since 1962, is there one that stands out for you to maybe perform one day as a singer?
I never like divulging my strategy, you'll have to wait and see...
You mentioned that you had the great opportunity to go to Cubby Broccoli's house and have lunch/dinners together with Frank Sinatra and lawyer Sidney Korshak, and be able to hear their stories & wisdom first hand. Did they give you any advice that you found helpful? What do you feel you learned from these legendary figures?
Gosh, you're asking for a lot of gold here [laughs]. There are a great many thanks, but, I must save this stuff for a book if I ever decide to write one. One little pearl is that the title of Cubby's book "When The Snow Melts" - I translate that to my own "Taste The Bait but Don't Swallow the Hook".
Back in 1967 Sinatra's daughter Nancy sung the title song for the Sean Connery Bond film "You Only Live Twice". Did Sinatra ever talk about the Bond song his daughter recorded, or the Bond movies at all?
Yes, he was a huge fan of the Bond Films.
A few years later, Connery returned to the role of James Bond in "Diamonds Are Forever", which featured Las Vegas prominently as a location. It occurs to me that if there ever was a Bond movie that Sinatra would have been ideal for, it would be this one (Obviously with a different song/lyrics than the one sung by Shirley Bassey). Did Cubby Broccoli ever talk about the possibility of working with Sinatra?
As regards to "Never Say Never [Again]" - Sinatra would have NEVER entertained that film - it was not produced by Cubby and Loyalty is very important to both of those men. As for Sinatra being in a Bond Film... they had discussed it several times. I will give you a very strange inside coincidence... what is my characters name in LTK? Franz Sanchez. What are the initials? FS. Who else has initials FS? Frank Sinatra. Also both names have five letters in the first name and seven letters in the family name. This was a little inside nod to Sinatra.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of "Licence to Kill". In many ways this movie marked a turning point in the series; the first not to use the title of an Ian Fleming story, and not to be shot at all in the UK, and the last Bond film for many Bond contributors including Richard Maibaum, Maurice Binder, John Glen, Alec Mills, Timothy Dalton and Cubby Broccoli. Looking back with the benefit of a quarter of a century, what comes to mind first when you think of "Licence to Kill"? Was the experience of working on a James Bond film what you expected? What are some of your fondest memories of working on the film?
When I was a kid growing up on Long Island Bond Films were just beginning and with each new Bond an excitement was generated which is still happening today. I remember as a young boy seeing the opening title sequence and the name Albert R. Broccoli come across the screen. For some reason I had a strange feeling I would someday meet him. I don't think there was anyone who didn't fantasise about being in a Bond film. So, when I received the call that Cubby wanted me for the main baddie that was very exciting. I think back and what comes to mind was the great care of which he and Dana took with the films, John Glen's wonderful sense of humour and directorial sensibilities, Timothy Dalton courageous and uncompromising interpretation and generosity as an actor, the fun Benicio Del Toro and I had during our five months on the film, Talisa Soto and Carey Lowell's legs, the Iguana that was affectionate to me but disliked Talisa, (she probably sensed her betrayal), the wonderful English crew who were like family and taught me conkers, the terrific artisans in Mexico who were full of heart, Barbara Broccoli's wonderful ability to protect all of us, her care and filmic sensibility, Michael Wilson's intellect and the terrific script he crafted with Richard Maibaum. There are a great many fond memories I could write a book just on this, from my first dinner with Cubby and Dana that their daughter Tina arranged to the PR tour around the world for four months. And yes, working on a Bond film is everything one would expect and more...
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