Review: TD James Moody Jazz Festival explores Sinatra’s songs in centennial tribute

Frank Sinatra was born nearly 100 years ago, on Dec. 12, 1915.

Frank Sinatra was born nearly 100 years ago, on Dec. 12, 1915.

As writer Will Friedwald noted in his onstage introduction to “The Real Sinatra Songbook,” a concert that took place at the Victoria Theater at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on Monday, Frank Sinatra is often thought of as a song interpreter, but he was also a singer whom great songwriters, in many cases, wrote songs for. The show, which was part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival (which continues through Sunday), earned its title by emphasizing those songs, as well as one Sinatra co-wrote (“I’m a Fool to Want You”).

Kevin Mahogany, Sue Raney and Tom Wopat were the vocalists, and clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski led the band, which also included pianist Ehud Asherie, saxophonist Mark Lopeman, bassist Nicki Parrott, drummer Chuck Redd and trumpeter Bria Skonberg. In between songs, there was lots of conversation about Sinatra: Mahogany, for instance, talked about trying to emulate his smooth phrasing, and Raney shared memories about meeting him and working with his frequent collaborator, Nelson Riddle. Friedwald and fellow Sinatra expert Charles L. Granata participated in a panel discussion with Peplowski and the vocalists afterwards.

The show built to a great, final two-song segment by Wopat, featuring “Luck Be a Lady” (which he is very familiar with, having sung it in a Broadway production of “Guys and Dolls”) and an intimate version of “I Fall in Love Too Easily” with just him, singing without a microphone, and Asherie. Mahogany was at his best applying his big, warm, welcoming voice to “Come Fly With Me,” and Raney was most impressive on a yearning “There Used to Be a Ballpark.”

Skonberg sang “Empty Tables,” and Parrott took the lead on a marvelous “The Best Is Yet to Come,” featuring just her voice and bass, and Redd’s drums. Parrott and Peplowski explored Sinatra’s lighter side with their good-natured duet on “Something Stupid.”

Sinatra was, of course, a pop sensation. But in many ways he was also rooted in jazz, and it felt perfectly appropriate for the festival to put a sharp jazz band together and devote a night to him in his centennial year (he was born on Dec. 12, 1915).

Here’s a rundown of the remaining festival events; for information, visit

Nov. 10, 7 p.m.: Screening of “Keep on Keepin’ On,” a documentary about trumpeter Clark Terry and his relationship with blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin, at the Newark Museum. Free.

Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m.: Dorado Schmitt & Django Festival Allstars at Victoria Theater at NJPAC. Music influenced by “gypsy” guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Bruce Hornsby and Christian McBride.

Bruce Hornsby and Christian McBride.

Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m.: “Christian McBride with Bruce Hornsby: One on One” at Victoria Theater at NJPAC. An evening of music and conversation.

Nov. 12-13, 8 p.m.: Tony Bennett with special guest Antonia Bennett at Prudential Hall at NJPAC.

Nov. 13, 7 p.m.: NJPAC and the New Jersey Music Educators Associaton present All-State Jazz at Victoria Theater at NJPAC.

Nov. 14, 11 a.m.: Day of Swing at NJPAC’s Center for Arts Education. Family-oriented workshops and activities. Free.

Nov. 14, 1 p.m.: “Jazz Wives, Jazz Lives” at Newark Museum. Panel discussion moderated by Linda Moody, widow James Moody, and featuring WBGO’s Dorthaan Kirk (widow of Rahsaan Roland Kirk), Brenda Feliciano (wife of Paquito D’Rivera), Cecilia Foster (widow of Frank Foster), Sandy Jackson (widow of Milt Jackson) and Laurelyn Douglas (wife of Jon Faddis). Free.

Nov. 14, 3 p.m.: “Bill Charlap: Miles Davis’ ‘Birth of the Cool’ ” at Victoria Theater at NJPAC. Tribute to the landmark 1957 album. Pianist Charlap will be joined by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, baritone saxophonist Frank Basile, alto saxophonist Jon Gordon, trombonist Jason Jackson,  horn player Jeff Scott, tuba player Bob Stewart, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington.

Nov. 14, 8 p.m.: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Dianne Reeves and Christian McBride, at Prudential Hall at NJPAC.

Nov. 15 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.: T.S. Monk Sextet, “Dorthaan’s Place” jazz brunch at NICO Kitchen + Bar at NJPAC.

Nov. 15, 3 p.m.: Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition at Victoria Theater at NJPAC. Finalists are Emma Lee Aboukasm, Lulu Fall, Arianna Neikrug and Nicole Zuraitis. The judges will include Christian McBride, singers Vanessa Rubin and Cyrille Aimée, WBGO’s Michael Bourne and artist manager Edward Arrendell.

Note: To enter contests for ticket giveaway for the Bennett, McBride/Hornsby and Jones/Reeves/McBride concerts, visit

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