But his phrasing, inflections and tone were unmistakably those of the skinny kid from Hoboken who had the Bobbysoxers screaming back in the '40s. And the powerhouse big band led by his son Frank Jr. swung hard with those classic arrangements by Nelson Riddle and others.
The two things I remember most are that there were several teleprompters arrayed around the edge of the stage that were scrolling the lyrics for him as he sang - songs he had sung thousands of times but could no longer recall as he once did.
The other thing that stood out is that he didn't have much rapport with the audience other than to introduce the tunes. At one point he pulled a stack of note cards out of his jacket pocket and started reading a lot of lame jokes, which he soon gave up on when they weren't going over that well and the crowd clamored for him to sing some more.
A few years later he would stop performing in public and not long after that, in 1998, he would be dead at 82. I'm not going out on too precarious of a limb in stating that Ol' Blue Eyes was the definitive pop singer of the 20th century - and his legend and influence have not diminished much in the intervening years.
So it's both a shrewd career move - as well as a daunting challenge with large tonsils to fill - when a little-known singer puts together a tribute show to Frank Sinatra. Rick Ellis did just that and filled the El Campanil Theatre Saturday night with a mostly older crowd who had come to hear the Great American Songbook a la Frank.
Obviously, the number-one challenge for Ellis is that he should sound like Sinatra - and in this he succeeded remarkably well. His voice is in Frank's range, has a similar tonal quality and he does a great job of capturing his vocal inflections and phrasing - the way he'll flatten a note, linger over a word or delay a syllable at the end of a phrase.
And Ellis, while not the image of Sinatra, does convey the look of the younger singer in his classic Fedora, suit and skinny tie. And he does a fine job of mimicking the Chairman of the Board's movements, the cock of the head, the snap of the fingers, the swing of an arm across the body, the swaggering stance.
Unfortunately, the show never quite caught fire, at least the first half of it (I left at intermission). I hope it picked up in the second half, but I wasn't inspired to stick around and take that chance.
It actually started out with great promise with the pianist playing a couple of choruses of "I Can't Get Started" alone on stage, then a golden-toned trumpeter walked on playing a lovely solo, and they ended the ballad as a duet. Very sweet.
Things hit a lull on the next tune with a lackluster vocal on "Day by Day" by the bassist. There was also a lame conceit that the band was just getting together for a rehearsal, only to find itself in a theater filled with people. Fortunately, they dropped that shtick fairly quickly.
All was forgiven, however, as things got on track with a swinging version of one of Sinatra's biggest hits, "Come Fly With Me," in which you could close your eyes and imagine yourself back at the Sands in the '50s with the leader of the Rat Pack.
But then a low-key sameness crept in with the next few tunes. A nice and easy "Nice and Easy" was followed by a gently swinging "Fly Me to the Moon," followed by a laid-back "Summer Wind." All the tunes were rather brief with Ellis singing a verse or two, followed by a one-chorus trumpet solo and/or trombone solo (occasionally the piano) and Ellis singing another chorus before wrapping it up.
And that was pretty much it for Sinatra in the first set. At that point Ellis introduced a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who took over the show, wandering into the crowd and hamming it up with an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator. Many in the audience ate it up, but I kept wondering what happened to Sinatra.
"Monroe" then sang "I Want to Be Loved by You" with the requisite cutesy boop-boop-be-doo breathiness followed by a laid-back duet with Ellis on "Nice Work if You Can Get It."
This was followed by an infomercial for Rat Pack playing cards that were on sale in the lobby, followed by more dead time while Monroe wandered back into the audience to pass out a few packs of the cards.
After this long interlude, things got back on track for a rousing but all too brief "New York, New York" in which Ellis' vocals were submerged in the sound mix. And then the 50-minute set was over - a fact that Ellis attempted to inform the audience, but his microphone had been cut off.