'Simply Sinatra' is simply fantastic

Published: Sunday, Feb. 26 2012 12:17 p.m. MST

Nothing gets you in a swingin' jazz mood quite like Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing" does.

As the instrumentalists warmed up in Abravanel Hall on Friday night, the audience waited patiently and quietly, just as they would before any symphony performance. But this concert was a little different. After the orchestra burst into the big band delight of "Sing," the audience seemed to hesitate. "Do we clap in the middle of the song? Do we hold our applause?"

After all, it was Abravanel Hall, not a jazz club. But that fact was quickly forgotten.

The audience broke out into applause when singer Steve Lippia came onto the stage, as if they were just ecstactic over how much he sounded like Sinatra himself.

Lippia is more than aware of that fact. He offered a joke, saying that many people approach him to tell him that when they close their eyes, he sounds just like ... Lady Gaga.

Regardless of how similar the sound, Lippia has a style all his own and has a smooth and easy voice rivaling that of greats from Sinatra to Martin and Crosby. This singer has the art of crooning down pat.

One would think that with a long program focussed on largely the same style, it'd get old fast. This was not the case with "Simply Sinatra." There were plenty of fun classics like "I've Got the World on a String," "Come Fly With Me" and "That's Life," employing the whole orchestra in a rumbling energy.

But Lippia added a Tony Bennett hit, "The Good Life," for a little variety, and songs like "Send in the Clowns" made for a nice change of pace. "Clowns," a slow ballad Lippia sang accompanied only by pianist Russell Schmidt, was deeply moving.

Lippia proved himself a bit of a comedian too, adding jokes and commentary, along with some interesting historical context and heartfelt verbal tributes to composers, arrangers and family, between songs.

The Utah Symphony, under conductor Jerry Steichen's baton, rose to the occasion. Adding an exuberant saxophone section helped the brass section really shine on the big band standards and the swelling strings were reminicsent of sweet tunes you listen to on a crackling turntable. Steichen has performed with Lippia before and it showed.

Las Vegas drummer Bob Chmel, a drummer for Frank Sinatra, Jr., worked the drum kit effortlessly. Thanks to him, the audience was not only treated to memories of great singers, but they were also reminded of drumming greats like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. The perfect mix of precision and fun, Chmel was a joy to watch and exciting to listen to.

To round off a perfectly jazzy evening, Lippia gave an encore performance with Sinatra's "New York, New York," to which the audience happily clapped along. Lippia exited the stage with a standing ovation.

"Simply Sinatra" made for a foot-stompin', finger-snapping kind of evening that leaves you dancing in your dreams that night. It was simply fantastic.

Here's hoping the Utah Symphony teams up with Lippia again very soon.

For more information, visit www.utahsymphony.org.

Email: hbowler@desnews.com

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