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San Francisco Examiner Page C 3

Vic Damone: Surprisingly jazzy

Philip Elwood
July 16, 1997

WHEN I HEARD that voice, I knew it must be singer Vic Damone on the line, phoning to say that he is appearing at the Concord Pavilion Friday with Rosemary Clooney. "And, by the way" he added, "my new record (CD) release, "Greatest Love Songs of The Century' (Q&M), is the finest thing I've ever done."

Damone then had something to say about his career, the music business and, as the old song says, "What's the Matter With Kids Today."

"I'm in Atlantic City - got a week here, then I'm coming to San Francisco; love your city. Y'know, I'd like to do my symphony concert out there - "Greatest Love Songs of the Century," with a special section of some of Frank Sinatra's hits. Frank loaned me his own charts; wonderful stuff. He told me "You sing my songs - I'm out of it for good."

Like most men singers who came up in the post-war 1940s, Damone pays homage to Frank Sinatra. Francis Ford Coppola even offered the Sinatra-like role of Johnny Fontaine in "The Godfather" to Damone, but it didn't pay enough. Instead, Al Martino grabbed the offer, thus prolonging his fading career. The 1950s and '60s were rough times for mainstream pop singers.

"You're singing at Concord on the first night of the jazz festival," I said. Damone seemed nonplused. "Anyone out of the big band period these days is considered a survivor of the "swing era,' and "swing' and "jazz' are synonymous."

"But I never was a band vocalist," he commented, "I was a solo singer. I worked shows and record sessions with great orchestras . . . so now I'm with Rosemary Clooney as a jazz singer? I first heard her with her sister Betty singing with Tony Pastor's band. We're about the same age (Damone was born 15 days later than Clooney, on June 12, 1928).

"Two things caused the slump in my kind of music in the 1950s," Damone continued. "First was the payola scandals - jocks were getting paid by record companies to play certain tunes. When that blew up, record programming on radio was given to musical directors and librarians, which led to the take-over of all radio music programming by the record companies.

"Then," Damone continued, "the young generation of the '50s grew up hostile to the mess their parents were making of the country - Korea, Vietnam; they didn't like what we were doing to their lives. Anything that had to do with us they didn't believe in. So the complaints, situations where both parents had to work, restlessness of the young people, anti-war feelings, became a nationwide clique of resentful kids - and the jocks, record companies and young musicians saw it happening and responded.

"The record and radio industry are in a rut. The record stores are run by punks who don't know anything but the monotonous crap that's being played all over radio. And it's tough for people like me to get records onto the market.

"Tony Bennett had connections through his daughter with executives at CBS and he has a son who knows public relations, knew how to get his dad exposure. They did a hell of a marketing job for Tony - spent a lot, got a lot in return.

"After a little TV exposure," Damone continued, "we sold 20,000 copies of my new recording. Reader's Digest put $300,000 into the project, but getting airplay, getting it into the stores is something else."

Damone, long a member of the Baha'i faith, then got off onto his concerns for integrity of the nation - one-parent children, drugs, decline in moral values and so-forth. "It's up to senior citizens to take up the slack, to help families and children. If parents can't do it, then grandparents must," he says. Damone has had more than his share of family tragedies brought on by booze and drugs.

In the war years of the 1940s, Damone came to fame as a Perry Como-Sinatra protege; he won an Arthur Godfrey "Talent Scouts" competition. He made a lot of records, some did well; ironically, in 1962 he hosted a TV variety show featuring "far-out and different music," meaning jazz. Among his guests were Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Dave Brubeck.

He still is a magnificent singer ("Best pipes in the business," Sinatra one said) and his newish 2-CD set is a beauty - gorgeous orchestrations, beautifully recorded and beautifully sung.

But, as he said, bravely, in ending the phone call, "Remember those years when you were always the youngest in the crowd? Now, it seems I'm always the oldest."

The Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival schedule:

Friday - Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, Scott
Hamilton at Concord Pavilion, 8 p.m.

Saturday - McCoy Tyner, solo piano; Shirley Horn
trio; Gene Harris quartet; Dorothy Donegan trio.
Concord Pavilion, 8 p.m.

Sunday - Marian McPartland Trio; Karrin Allyson.
Concord Hilton, 6 p.m. Tickets for either dinner
and concert, or concert only.

©Copyright 1997, San Francisco Examiner
Original Story

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