To be Frank
BEAVER CREEK – When you listen to him sing, you would think Steve Lippia has spent a lifetime trying to sound like Frank Sinatra.The truth is that Lippia has spent very little time listening to Ol’ Blue Eyes other than to learn the songs.”Because of what I sound like people assume I sit around listening to the records. I’m not a Sinatra-file. In my free time I tend to listen to rock or talk radio,” Lippia said. “What is important is that this is me singing with my natural voice. I’m not an impressionist and I haven’t tried to emulate his vocal style. It just happens to be that I respect and sound a lot like that person.”Lippia said he has learned to surrender to the Sinatra-esque voice he was born with. And he’s OK with that to some extent, as long as he’s not defined by it. He and his manager have an ongoing joke in which his manager says, “The good news is that he sounds like Sinatra. The bad news is that he sounds like Sinatra.”It’s a double-edge sword, Lippia said, but they come to hear Sinatra and leave loving Lippia, a charming singer who knows how to deliver.When Sinatra sang, you were sure he lived every word of the lyrics personally, when in fact most of the tunes he sang were done by other singers. Lippia doesn’t just sound like him, he understands Sinatra’s charisma.”I’ve certainly listened to how he approaches a song, how he interprets or dramatizes a lyric, or to put it simply how to sell a song. There was something about when he sang a song – and he owned it,” Lippia said. “He was an omnipresent icon, and there was a quality about him that is what I refer to as being forever hip. There’s something about Sinatra that he never appears to be corny. He was a ladies man. He was a tough guy. I always looked at him as being kind of the James Dean of the music scene in a tuxedo and his defiance and his refusal to not be heard characterized a certain kind of strong individualism that we idyllize as being American.” Fans of Sinatra’s music have a chance to hear “A Tribute To Ol’ Blue Eyes” with Steve Lippia and the 16-piece Gene Krupa Orchestra live at the Vilar Center for the Arts at Beaver Creek Friday at 7:30 p.m. “I’m a huge fan of the chairman of the board. He was a huge influence in me learning how to sing and taking up singing. My dad was a fan of Frank’s. I think it has a lot to do with an ethnic connection. ‘You know Frankie is the best,'” said Gulizia, of Sicilian descent, in an American-Italian accent. “When I was in college I kind of started to really enjoy Frank from the vocal end of it and admired him and his style. He took a lot of songs from the ‘Great American Songbook’ as I call it and put his twist on them. He probably recorded four or 500 songs, and all of them were classics. He always had the greatest band.”
Gulizia said “Sinatra Basie” is one of his all-time favorite Sinatra albums, but if you had to own just one it would have to be “Songs for Swinging Lovers.”The jazz aficionado hosts “Jazz at its Peak” on 97.7 FM The Zephyr on Sunday mornings from 10-noon, and replayed from 8-10 p.m. Heading into his 89th show, Gulizia plays one Sinatra song every show, “I’ve got you under my skin” being one of his all-time favorites.”I think of Frank as being the coolest of cool whether they were ballads or his great swinging cooking stuff,” said Tony Gulizia of The Tony Gulizia Trio. “He’s the best as far as I’m concerned.” Erin Coy of Eagle has been a Sinatra fan since the first time she heard it – on her grandfather’s stereo.”When I was a freshman in high school, I kept wondering why I liked the music in my grandpa’s car better than what my friends were listening to.”When her grandpa bought her first CD player, Coy went out and bought jazz CDs and Frank Sinatra CDs, records her grandfather bought in the ’40s.”It’s enjoyable music and it’s enjoyable anywhere: when you’re eating dinner, driving in the car, getting ready in the morning. It’s classically always good music that any generation can listen to. It’s timeless in that way, and there’s just nobody like him. There’s just nobody that has that charisma and that voice.”As far as Lippia is concerned, that voice, that musicianship, is associated with a time when music was driven by quality.”The business has changed a lot. It used to be that singers and writers wrote and that’s why the lyrics were so sophisticated. Now recording artists know that if you write a song and you never sing it again, every time that song is sung you’re getting royalties. So that drove the industry in a different direction, and now adolescents are steering the industry,” he said. “Musicianship and the quality of music went down the tubes at that point, and that’s what happened in the rock industry. It’s a long and interesting cultural evolution.”
Sinatra’s unique tenor sound has a staying power that’s moved through generations with songs like “New York, New York,” “Witchcraft” and “The Lady is a Tramp,” selling records by the millions throughout his 30-year career.”He was much more sophisticated than some of the short shelf-life singers’ pop songs you hear today. Now if you get six months out of a song, it’s a miracle,” Lippia said. “We’re the instant-gratification generation. I don’t know how long this kind of music is going to last.”Lippia, a baby boomer, was born and raised during the rock ‘n’ roll era. It was from his mother that he got his first taste of the standards. A big-band singer herself in her late teens and early 20s, his mother used to sing standards all around the house all the time. Because of his mother’s musical inclination, Lippia was a chronic singer since before he could talk or walk, he said.In high school, Lippia sang classical music in the glee club, he sang in a barbershop quarter, he even played in a rock band doing top 40s at a few school dances. But it wasn’t until entering a variety show at Saint Paul Catholic High Schools performing Sinatra’s “It was a very good year” that Lippia caught a glimpse of his future for the first time.”It was the beginning of the thought that maybe I could do this, maybe I could become a force in the business. And after a while I went, ‘Nah’ and I did the college thing so I could pay the bills,” he said.Lippia went on, receiving a bachelors in psychology, as well as literature. He went to law school for two years, and later became a stock broker.He eventually moved to Florida to run a small construction business, meanwhile his father was passing along a demo of his son singing standards.”My big break was when my father contacted a big executive he went to high school with from the William Morris Talent Agency. He sent him a not-so-good demo of me. He called my father and said I really like it, I’m going to give it to some people. Just be patient. And then he calls back a few months later.”It turned out that two men in the music business were interested, one in Hollywood and one in Las Vegas. Before he knew it, Lippia packed his bags and headed for Vegas. He would be headlining a show at the Rio.
“Everybody that headlines in Las Vegas has to pay their dues and here I am coming in through the front door headlining a room. It was kind of weird for a guy who was running a construction business a few minutes before,” he said. Lippia’s musical career took off after his 6-month stint at the Rio. He headed to Atlantic City to headline another gig and started garnering attention from symphoniesShortly after, he was performing at the legendary Birdland Jazz Club in New York City, where he was backed by the Nelson Riddle and Woody Herman Orchestras.Lippia is happy to be singing, sharing his values about American music and culture every time he steps on a stage to perform.”What does Sinatra mean today after several years after his career began. If you look at the subject of his music, love songs never go out of style. He could tear your heart out. There’s something universal about that music, and I think it will sustain itself.”Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado