By Peter Sloggatt
He was born in Astoria but when Robert Davi was growing up, Dix Hills was home.
These days, though, Davi is all about a guy from Hoboken.
The guy from Hoboken.
Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.
Davi is a versatile entertainer who’s enjoyed success on many fronts. As an actor, he played some memorable tough guy roles. The opera-singing baddie in “Goonies”; the iguana-toting James Bond villain Franz Sanchez in “License to Kill”; and FBI agent Big Johnson in “Die Hard.” He has also played the small screen with roles on hit shows like “Profiler,” “Stargate Atlantis,” “Criminal Minds” and “CSI.”
Branching out, Davi produced, directed, co-wrote and starred in “The Dukes,” a film about a once-successful Doo Wop group that falls on hard times. The film won several awards, including Best First-time Director and Best Screenplay in the Monte Carlo Festival of Comedy. It also prompted Davi to revisit his earliest career aspiration – musician.
Davi said that as a child, he listed to Sinatra and opera great Enrico Caruso “on the windup record player in my parents’ house.” His mother encouraged his interest in music and the arts, but as a student at Seton Hall High School in Patchogue, Davi said he pursed athletics and was lining himself up for a football scholarship.
That’s when things turned.
“I used to sing in the shower after football practice,” Davi explained. One day, Sister Gabriel Gerard was walking through the hallway and heard him and asked someone who it was that was singing. The next thing you know, Sister Gabriel tracks him down.
“She says, ‘I want you to join the glee club,’” Davi said.
He initially resisted.
“I was already doing drama. I told her I didn’t have time,” he said.
But Sister Gabriel prevailed and convinced him to give it a try. And whaddya know… “I liked it. I was one of the only guys and the rest were pretty Irish American girls.”
Davi received classical training in music, practicing bel canto techniques and doing isometric exercises to push his “tessitura.”
Despite his interest in music, Davi pursued a career as an actor. His first film role was a bit part in the film “Contract on Cherry Street,” which starred Frank Sinatra as a New York City detective.
Fast forward to 2011. Davi’s love of Sinatra, his acting ability and musical abilities come together on his debut album, “Davi Sings Sinatra – On the Road to Romance.” Produced by Phil Ramone, the album spent several weeks on Billboard's Jazz Charts.
And Davi took the Sinatra songbook on the road. In support of the album release, Davi toured the U.S. and the world. He performed a three-night stand at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, played the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza with a 55-piece orchestra, and performed at the National Italian-American Foundation’s (NIAF) tribute to the 25th anniversary of its Lifetime Achievement Award to Frank Sinatra at the Washington Hilton in D.C.
Last August, he played to a crowd of 10,000 at an Eisenhower Park presented by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a concert they’ll reprise this week. Mangano again presents Davi Sings Sinatra this Saturday night, 7 p.m. at the park’s Lakeside Theater.
Davi feels a connection to Sinatra, whom he likes to call “the first method singer,” a reference to the acting techniques popularized by Lee Strasberg. Sinatra was a singer who could act. Davi is an actor who can sing.
The acting techniques certainly help the 6-foot-plus Davi pull off Sinatra on stage. The vocals, the mannerisms and the casual storytelling all come together. Even Quincy Jones said so. After seeing Davi perform, Jones wrote this on his own Facebook page: “As FS would say, ‘Koo, Koo.’ Wow! I have never heard anyone come this close to Sinatra's sound – and still be himself. Many try, but Robert Davi has the voice, tone, the flavor and the swagger. What a surprise. He absolutely touched me down to my soul and brought back the essence and soul of Ole Blue Eyes himself.”
For Davi, in the midst of a second career, this year has great significance. Dec. 12, 2015 will be Sinatra’s 100th birthday (and Davi’s father’s birthday), and he’s hoping this week’s concert will launch a year of awareness about his favorite crooner.
And not one to let parallels go unnoticed, Davi points out he’ll be continuing some of Sinatra’s work – specifically, raising the profile and image of Italian Americans – as an honoree of the Det. Lt. Joseph Petrocino Award at a banquet on Aug. 14. Petrosino, from Italy, was the first immigrant to rise to the rank of detective in the NYPD. A famed mafia-fighter, he was assassinated in Italy 1909 by the Black Hand, as the mob was called there. Petrocino’s funeral was attended by hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, and he remains revered to this day among NYC crime fighters and Italian Americans.
In town this week to promote the concert and film segments of a documentary on Sinatra, Davi sat at Oheka Castle with a gathering of local Italian-American luminaries to talk about Sinatra, himself, American politics and whatever else came up. Among the group were representatives of the Petrocino organization and Little Italy’s Italian-American Museum, Bob Fonti and Vita Scaturro, representing the Petrocino organization, Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius, Paramount partner Dom Catoggio, and Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone.
Talk about two degrees of separation; turns out Petrone’s father – an accordion and keyboard player with his own band – spent a year touring with Sinatra.