*(Just in time for the holidays, here’s a story about a gift that keeps on giving!)*
“John’s back?” I asked excitedly.
“John’s back,” the hotel clerk said with a warm and contented-looking smile.
John English is a talented baritone singer . But, he’s better known as “The Voice of Sinatra,” just like it says on the big, glossy poster at the Portland, Oregon ,Clarion Hotel, airport location.
Every Tuesday and Thursday evening John, dressed in a perfectly pressed black tuxedo, brings the era of jazz standards crooned by ol’ Blue Eyes himself back to life.
You see, John left us for a little while. Something about Philadelphia. . .the east coast. . . But fortunately for we Clarion regulars, he came back. He had spoiled all of us and no other artist the hotel could hire could ever “replace” him.
According to the biography at Sinatrafamily.com, Frank Sinatra left us all the way back on May 14, 1998. But there’s something about a performer who entertains and really works a room that people still crave. Even in our twittery, texty, 21st century, high tech world, people still relate to the essence of Sinatra.
I’ve watched, and spoken with, many of the guests at The Clarion who are just passing through – those who had no idea that they would be spending a Portland stop over, watching a Frank Sinatra act. Often times, especially the women, are still all a aglow at breakfast the next morning.
“I couldn’t believe it,” many will say. “It was so exciting to get to see Frank Sinatra!”
“I just can’t believe you’re here,” one woman told English. “You’ve got to take a selfie with me,” she said. John was happy to oblige. He’s always happy to oblige.
As The Chairman of the Board, this coiffed and dapper singer, makes it a point to shake the hand of every guest at the show.
He gets them singing and involved, especially children. Even grumpy old men let down their guard when John sticks his microphone in front of them so they can intone the words from some standard. “Pennies from heaven,” growls one such gentleman at a recent Clarion gig.
For Mr Yogi and me, coming into town on a quick business trip when it just doesn’t make sense to stay over with friends, spending time at John’s show is such a pleasant way to pass a weekday evening.
But it’s not just the guests who look forward to the gigs. “Now I get to get to get all dressed up two nights a week,” hotel staffer Tonya told me when the second show was added.
She and Clarion colleague Heather dress up in black. They pour beautiful Oregon wines into voluptuous glasses with sophisticated flourishes that would make any wine steward envious.
I remember the first time Mr. Yogi and I got to see John’s act and attend the suave and hip guest reception.
We’d seen the poster in the lobby and its replicas in the elevators. We’d been wanting to see the show for some time.
But our first opportunity was anything but a happy occasion. We were overnighting at the Clarion in order to catch an early morning flight back to Evansville, Indiana, for my father’s funeral.
Mr. English began to sing, “.. . and now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain. . .” I kind of lost it.
My tears caught the baritone’s immediate attention. He started playing around with the words, changing the lyrics, making jokes. Of course, by this time he knew my husband’s name because, remember, he makes it a point to meet each guest and shake their hand.
“And did it (Mr. Yogi’s) way,” he sang.
After the song John came over to us and I told him my dad had just died and we were on the way to his funeral. He was genuinely compassionate.
I’m a life-long maker, seeker, and lover of music. In my opinion, a good musician – especially a singer – needs to be able to empathize, feel, reflect and convey emotion. Vocalists are the only musicians whose instrument uses words. This uniqueness gives their musical offerings a special capacity for emotional conveyance. John’s ability to connect in that way serves to contribute to his place in my musical heart.
, the time of that sad airplane trip, we’ve been able to share lots of smiles, laughs and lyrics with our Frank-like friend. Often, he shares with the audience that he’s dedicating the evening’s show and tips to his son. He openly and forthrightly shares that his adult boy has Down’s Syndrome. Sometimes, he’ll brag about a recent medal his son has won through Special Olympics.
Every year, the trucking community raises thousands of dollars for Special Olympics by conducting “convoys.” During these truck parades, owner-operators shine up their rigs and pay for the privilege to parade through a town and raise money for this important cause.
When truckers weigh their loads on Certified Accurate Tare (CAT) scales, the weight ticket most often comes with a trading card with a picture of a fancy big rig. The cards can be collected in special albums. These albums are prized among truck drivers’ family members, in classrooms, and hospitals, etc. So, of course, we put an album together for John’s son and left it for him at the hotel.
Always the gentleman, we received a call at home. “Thanks for the card album,” John said.
You are so welcome John, and thank you for keeping the music going, keeping a great legacy alive, and keeping people connecting to the power of music.
To learn more about John’s act or to find booking info go to http://www.nwam.com/johnenglish.html .
* * *
This summer saw the passing of another influential musician for the Yogi family. Mr. Chris Squire, founder and bassist for the band “Yes,” left us all too soon at the age of 67.
Mr. Yogi and I met playing music. He was, and still is, a giant fan of Squire’s work. The Yes song, “Roundabout,” had been a big part of my youthful summer soundtrack.
But for my husband, Yes’ work was much more than a few favorite songs. He studied Squires’ work and learned to play his big, bold, and yes, even melodious bass lines.
The New York Times quoted original Yes drummer Bill Bruford as saying, “(Squire’s) lines were important; counter melodic structural components that you were as likely to go away humming as the top line melody; little stand-alone works of art in themselves.”
Someday, perhaps I’ll put up some of my husband’s early music and you can hear how the kind of playing Squire put out to the world influenced him, and in turn influenced me.
The 70s rock-n-roll gave us bands like Genesis, and Yes, and Led Zeppelin, and, and, and. . .These bands were not three-chord wonder groups. Rather these bands were comprised of real, studied, proficient musicians who understood music theory and wrote intricate, meaty, meaningful music.
To illustrate Chris Squire’s place in this pantheon of rock-n-roll greats, I have two cuts for you. In the first piece you will hear the band Yes, playing the music of one of the 20th’s century’s most iconic composers, Mr. Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein’s music was smart, hip and difficult. In this version of “Something’s Coming,” from West Side Story, you will hear that Yes was definitely up to the challenge.
In the second cut, Squire, plays what seems to be his own benediction with his haunting solo recording of “Amazing Grace.”
Rest in peace, Mr. Chris Squire. And, thank you. Thank you for the music you gave the world, the inspiration you gave my husband and the joy that music has brought both of us for nearly 25 years of a beautiful, devoted, love story that still unfolds for us every day.
Squire and his band mates demonstrate their musical prowess in this interpretation of Leonard Bernstein’s “Something’s Coming,” from the musical, “West Side Story.”
Mr Squire, did you intend to leave your own requiem benediction? The rock icon left behind this haunting take on “Amazing Grace.”