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Frank Jr., the Unsung Sinatra

"That's Nelson Riddle," he says at song's end, "but he must have had on his Duke Ellington hat that day."

He muses aloud about the legendary conductor as if dreaming: "Nelson Riddle was really something. Just something else."

The sky outside has darkened, and it's raining cats and more cats. Some musicians look up at the roof, where the rain is beating.

They're into another number, "The People That You Never Get to Love." Halfway through, Frank motions for quiet from the 38-piece orchestra, then walks over and leans on the piano. "Let's try that again," he says. "It has to be half that volume, everybody. This is a lullaby. That's what it is."

An old man - is helped from his wheelchair and led to the grand piano. Bill Miller, white-haired, beatnik glasses overpowering his face, leans over the keys.

"He's the greatest singer's pianist there ever was," Frank says, watching Miller as a father might watch his son walking across a log over a creek. Miller goes back decades with the Sinatra men. He played for Big Frank, served at one time as his musical director.

Miller never worried about the mountain or the shadows it cast. He's just the piano player.

"Take 10, everybody," Frank is soon saying.

Jim Fox, who looks like an aging surfer, sandy-haired and all, is Frank's guitarist. "He can sound exactly like his dad if he wants to," he says of Frank. "He can turn on the classic Sinatra sound anytime. It just depends on what kind of mood he's in. He has such high standards. He doesn't want to work unless he has his 38 band pieces. He knows every third trombone part, every cello part. You know, he conducted for his dad. So he knows the way Sinatra music is supposed to sound. He was at a lot of those original Capitol recording dates."

They live in an old world, this orchestra, a world of Ira Gershwin music and Johnny Mercer lyrics. Of Duke Ellington memories and Dinah Washington tributes.

"He's a great cat," Fox continues. "And he's really good to us. He takes us to dinner. Takes us to the best restaurants in town. He says it's the best thing for him -- to get us all out on the road, get us all together. Now, how sweet is that?"

After their break, Frank goes into "Come Rain or Come Shine." The ghost tugs at his memory. "You should have heard it the night it was recorded," he says of his father's version. "I shook."


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