In 1966, Frank Sinatra performed at the Las Vegas’ Sands Hotel & Casino, accompanied by Count Basie and his orchestra. 51 years later, Curtis Stigers, together with Ronnie Scott’s Big Band, bring a taste of this legendary night to the Great Yorkshire Fringe.
Stigers and Ronnie Scott’s Big Band flawlessly follow example of their idol without suffering the constraints of archetype or expectation.
Far from his fleeting fame in the early 1990s as a Michael Bolton impersonator (complete with flowing locks), Stigers’ recent impression aspires to greater heights. Sinatra remains to be one of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century, relentlessly covered by big bands such as Ronnie Scott’s and in karaoke bars alike. Thankfully, frequent collaborations with Ronnie Scott since his rejuvenated career as a jazz singer mean that Stigers is more than qualified to offer his tribute to the man himself. The same age as Sinatra at the time of recording ‘Sinatra at the Sands’, 51-year-old Stigers is entirely seductive in manner - his slim figure sauntering across the stage before the rhythm overtakes it once more. Stigers’ voice drips with class as he romances the crowd with his Rat-Pack croon. His silky-smooth vocal embodies the example of Sinatra, complete with the gentle murmur of adlibs between songs.
Steering clear of an imitation, the set manages to update the classic tunes while retaining their performative tone. Tackling all the favourites and then some, Stigers expands the collection further to include the category of “songs I wish Frank had sung”. Mixing old-fashioned swing and jazz style with more modern alternatives - even reinterpreting some of his former hits. The band relish the challenge, introducing different techniques without sacrificing their impressive sound. One especially creative deviation is a sample of Sinatra’s most notable hit, ‘New York, New York’ - the ‘New’ being silenced in an allusion to the city’s heritage.
Amassing a total of seventeen players, Ronnie Scott’s Big Band boasts musicians of impeccable talent led by their conductor, Pete Long. Their unequivocal skill speaks for itself, distracted only by a few criminally cheesy quips from their leader. Together, Stigers and the band work in complete harmony: each supporting the other and exhibiting their own proficiency in the process. The band’s full sound compliments Stigers’ baritone, while instrumental breaks showcase the powerful brass. Regular solos offer individuals the opportunity to prove their experience by improvising around the note-perfect jazz. Amongst those virtuosos is 17-year-old Ed Richardson, the child prodigy drummer. His drumming exhibits a highly intuitive rhythmic style, unafraid to explore a range of genre and patterns while simultaneously uniting the stage.
And how united this performance is. Two musical legends pay tribute to their most significant ancestor. Stigers and Ronnie Scott’s Big Band flawlessly follow example of their idol without suffering the constraints of archetype or expectation. Instead, they entertain and awe. Nobody puts a finger wrong. Like Sinatra, they create a historic evening of their own.