There really was a lot of music in the home when I was growing up. My parents were great fans of jazz, particularly swing jazz, so our house was just filled with the music of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. When I was a toddler, my parents had a Frank Sinatra album called A Swingin’ Affair! I just loved it as a little kid. My mother tells me that I would pick up the cover, which had a photo of Sinatra with his trademark fedora on his head. I would point at it and say “the man in the hat! Let’s hear the man in the hat!”
Tom Burlinson. Photo © supplied
That album! It was something about the music of Sinatra and the arrangements of Nelson Riddle and the songs of the Great American Songbook that captured my imagination at a very young age. But of course I was also a child of The Beatles generation: we lived in England as a family in the early 60s so we were right there when they exploded onto the world scene. I remember my sister’s walls were absolutely plastered with pictures of The Beatles – it was full on Beatlemania time.
As I became a teenager, I became interested in people from Bing Crosby to The Doors and Cat Stevens. I suppose you would call it soft rock, but I was also interested in bands like Santana and for a while Led Zeppelin. But then as a young adult I rediscovered A Swingin’ Affair! and fell in love with it all over again. Thereafter I became an avid Sinatra fan, and of course my love for his music has gone on to be a major part of my career.
Performing his music feels very natural to me. Some of it is just the range of our voices, and to a certain extent our tones are similar. But on the other hand, Sinatra is one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, so it doesn’t come easily, you really have to study it. I always think, “Hang on! How does he hold that phrase and where does he breathe to keep that note going for so long?” I study in particular his phrasing, which is very famous and distinctive.
That study has prepared me for the kind of repertoire I do. I’ll soon be performing as part of the Bravo Cruise of Performing Arts later in the year, and I’ll be doing a program that celebrates not only Sinatra but his contemporaries – people like Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr and Bobby Darin, as well as the more modern guys like Harry Connick Jr and Michael Bublé.
Musicals have also been a big part of my life. I remember Mel Brooks came out during the rehearsals for The Producers in Melbourne and he told me a wonderful thing. I played Leopold Bloom, who sings a song called That Face at the beginning of Act Two, and Mel told us he’d actually written it about his late wife, the actress Anne Bancroft. Something about her face had inspired him to write a song, which was a touching personal reference that I appreciated him sharing with us.
I listen to a great mix of stuff now. My kids are now teenagers and they like to play modern music, some of which I’ll go along with and some of which I don’t have much time for, to be honest! But always I go back to Frank. It’s funny, my little girl who is just ten-and-a-half, she might hear Come Fly with Me or Fly Me to the Moon when we’re out shopping and she’ll say “daddy, is that you?” And I say “no honey, that’s Frank”, and I always take it as a great compliment.
THE MUSIC I COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT…
A swingin’ affair!
Capitol Records W803
I just can’t help but go back to this album. It’s Sinatra at his prime in 1957, and features songs like Night And Day, From This Moment On, as well as I Wish I Were In Love Again and The Lady Is A Tramp. I know that a lot of people think that the swing album that preceded it, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!, is regarded as his classic, but for me it was the record my parents had when I was little. It will always be very special and I just think it’s a masterpiece.
Tom Burlinson will perform on the Bravo Cruise of the Performing Arts 2018, departing Sydney, from November 13 – 21