An actor can put on makeup, a wig or a costume to get into character, but the performance ultimately comes down to the person underneath.
The same holds true for singing, says actor turned singer Robert Davi.
“I was either cursed or blessed with a blending of the masculine and feminine… it gives you a certain kind of interpretive swagger that you get over the years,” says Davi, whose recording debut, ‘Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road to Romance,’ pays homage to the performing legend. “To sing these songs, you gotta live.”
And Davi has done just that for decades, forging a respected acting career in films like ‘Die Hard,’ ‘The Goonies,’ and ‘License to Kill’ while his considerable singing chops waited for the right time to be embraced.
‘Davi Sings Sinatra,’ produced by the legendary Phil Ramone and mixed by engineer Al Schmitt, marks just such an occasion. The album’s 12 tracks, including Sinatra staples like ‘The Best is Yet to Come’ and ‘Summer Wind,’ reveal Davi as a serious musician with a voice well suited for Sinatra’s romantic ballads. Even critics who might otherwise carp on an actor attempting a musical career are singing the album’s praises.
The actor isn’t simply attempting a career change. He studied music long before becoming one of Hollywood’s more respected performers.
Davi always envisioned himself forging a dual career like his idol, New Jersey’s own Francis Albert Sinatra. Davi studied opera as a young man, but his acting career took off first, eventually landing him parts in blockbuster feature films, working with the likes of Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood and Marlon Brando.
But the urge to sing never really went away.
Enter ‘The Dukes,’ Davi’s 2007 labor of love which he co-wrote, directed and starred as a former doo-wop singer struggling to make ends meet. The film proved he could make a movie, but it also reignited his passion for singing.
“I knew I’d come back into it,” he says. “Everything is aligning — my own development as a human being, an actor and an artist. I need to communicate through song. Before, there may have been some fear holding me back.”
He sees ‘Davi Sings Sinatra’ as more than just a musical tribute. Davi may excel at being a tough guy on screen, but his debut disc reveals a more vulnerable side. The 12 songs touch on the depths of love, from “settling into it to starting to fall out of love and the despair” that follows. And, of course, the eventual re-awakening of the next romance, he says.
And the love in question isn’t necessarily for a woman, he says.
“We have to re-ignite that love of America … the hope and optimism immigrants came to America for,” he says, the kind Sinatra stoked during the tumultuous years around World War II.
Today’s music often targets specific demographics, while chapters from the Great American Songbook brought people of all ages together. Davi is seeing that for himself with his initial forays into live performing.
“I’m getting kids [in the crowd], people from 10 to 80,” he says, adding patrons from different countries are also dropping by to see his live act. “This music translates all over the place.”
Davi isn’t giving up on his other career. He recently wrapped shooting on ‘The Chameleon,’ a comedy co-starring Stacy Keach. And he just inked a deal to write and star in ‘The Voice,’ a film centering, in part, on a Sinatra fanatic.
Davi’s Sinatra connection isn’t simply that of an unabashed fan. Sinatra personally selected him to play Mickey Sinardos in the 1977 NBC television drama ‘Contract on Cherry Street.’
“There are a million things you’d like to sit down and talk to him about, but at that point in my life I was a pretty shy kid. I didn’t want to invade,” he says of his time on the set with Sinatra. So the young actor observed his idol up close. He saw a man who trained with the best coaches possible, not relying solely on his musical gifts. And he marveled at the fact that Sinatra possessed a massive trove of classical music. In conversation, it’s immediately clear Davi possesses an encyclopedia of knowledge on all things Sinatra.
Davi isn’t one to mock today’s music no matter how much enthusiasm he shares for the Sinatra songbook of yore. But he’s keenly aware that the disposable pop ditties of today are no match, in the long term, for the songs Sinatra cradled in his inimitable voice.
“A great piece of music is something that lasts,” he says.